Monthly Archives: December 2016

What Did You Axe Santa For? SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT Reviewed.

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“Silent Night Has Turned Into A Night Of Fear” (Roy Wood)

DVD. Region 2. Arrow. 18.

“What are we coming to, what sort of people are we… to make, or see, or seem to want a film like this? The sickest and filthiest film… Children’s terror used as entertainment, atrocious cruelty put on the screen for fun.”

Isabel Quigley’s review of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom in The Spectator, 15.04.60.

Santaphobia aka Clausophobia, is an irrational fear of Father Christmas, closely associated with (deep breath) Christougenniatikophobia, an irrational fear of the festival itself, not to mention Pogonophobia, an irrational fear of beards (sufferers of which are living through particularly tough times right now, given that every hipster toss pot on the block is currently cultivating ridiculous chin foliage.)

Although it’s entirely possible that youthful viewings of Charles E. Sellier Jr’s Silent Night, Deadly Night (aka Slayride, 1984) could induce such phobias in nervous Nellies, there’s nothing irrational at all about its protagonist Billy’s fear of the guy in the big red duffel coat. When he was a kid (as portrayed by Jonathan Best), Billy and family spent one Xmas Eve visiting his senile grandpa (Will Hare) in a rest home for the viciously addled.

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While Dad and Mom (Tara Buckman from several subsequent soft core Joe D’Amato atrocities) were in the director’s office sorting out some paper work, the miserable old cunt snapped out of his catatonic state long enough to warn little Billy that Santa spends the night before Christmas looking for bad children to punish. Presumably Billy would have been able to laugh all this off as the demented ravings of a pyjama pants-pissing window licker, but for an unfortunate incident that befell the family on their way home and tended to reinforce Grampy’s downbeat interpretation of the Festive Period. A stick up man in a Santa suit, on the lam from a messy heist, flagged their car down, shot Dad in the head and cut Mom’s throat as she resisted being raped by him. Billy witnessed all of this from the ditch he was hiding in. From this point on, the regular recurrence of December 25th gives Billy considerably more to angst over than the issue of whether or not he’s going to get the latest Pokemon game in his sack.

Billy (now played by Danny Wagner) and kid brother Ricky (who was mercifully too young to register the massacre of his parents) are farmed out to St Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children, a Utah Orphanage run by nuns (I thought everyone in Utah was a Mormon?) whose Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) was obviously trained in the Eric Bristow school of PTSD counselling. She insists that Billy take part in Christmas celebrations like all the other kids (pity they didn’t put him in a home run by Jehovah’s Witnesses) despite the fact that it’s obviously freaking him out. When he demurs he gets tied to his bed and whupped. He’s also beaten after spying through the keyhole on a couple making out (gotta be loads of them in Utah’s Catholic orphanages, right?)  When forced to sit on Santa’s knee he responds by chinning Mr Claus and boy, does he gets a whuppin’ for that, during which his tormentor assures him that “Punishment is good”… just like Grampy used to say!  “You’ll see my methods work” Mother Superior assures Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick), though the latter has her doubts. She’s the only one in this joint, probably in the whole picture, who treats Billy with any sympathy or humanity…

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… possibly not with total understanding, though, as when Billy has grown up (in the hunky shape of Robert Brian Wilson) and it’s time for him to seek gainful employment, Sister Margaret secures him a job in Ira’s toys store (they’ve had to diversify a bit since the terrorism thing petered out.) Everything’s fine, Billy’s a model employee and even attracts the admiring attention of sexy colleague Pamela (Toni Nero) but then, sure as shit, the Christmas season rolls around…

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… and Billy is obliged (what were the odds on this?) to stand… er, sit in for the store’s no-show Santa. After a day of being wound up by foul children and unwisely plied with alcohol by his stupid boss, Billy is just about ready to blow. When he finds Pamela making out with a boorish co-worker in the stock room, our boy (still in full Santa drag) proceeds to slaughter everybody in the shop with box cutters, bow-and-arrow and an axe (precisely what some of these murderous implements were doing in a toy shop is something you’d have to ask script writers Paul Ciami and Michael Hickey.) Clutching that axe, Billy  heads into town to continues what he sees as his Santarly duties. Among those of whom he makes mincemeat is “a well-known Scream Queen” who’s been making out with a guy on a pool table… and that’s naughty. Dishing out poetic justice in the Christmas spirit, Billy impales her on the horns of a mounted reindeer head… deck the halls with Linnea Quigley!

One cute little Munchkin wisely insists, when challenged, that she’s been nice rather than naughty, thereby saving herself. Billy chops up everybody else he encounters, all the while screaming “punish… PUNISH!” Personal favourite? The town bully who’s imprudent enough to pilot his stolen sledge within axe-swinging distance of Billy and arrives at the bottom of his run significantly shorter than he was at the crest of it. Billy rocks up at The Orphanage to settle accounts with Mother Superior, only to be gunned down by the Sheriff. His axe falls at the feet of kid brother Ricky (Alex Burton), whose nutzoid stare and muttered “Naughty!” suggests, in that laziest of wrap-up clichés, that he will grow up to take on Billy’s murderous red and white-trimmed mantel. I’m reliably informed that he did in at least one of the film’s interminable sequels, but I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself so desperate for something to do that I’ve watched any of them.

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Christmas themed horror flicks were an established sub-genre well before Mr Sellier Jr turned his directorial hand to this monstrosity. 1972 yielded Theodore Gershuny’s Silent Night, Bloody Night and Freddie Francis’s portmanteau effort Tales From The Crypt, in one episode of which Joan Collins fell foul of a Santa-outfitted strangler. Bob Clark’s gialloesque Black Christmas (1974) is probably better than the rest of the X-cert Xmas epics put together. 1980 brought us another brace of the bloody things, Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil and To All A Goodnight, directed by David Hess (yes, that David Hess…) The real impetus for a flood of Satanic Santa sagas, though was when John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) took the laurel for biggest grossing independent movie of all time (an accolade it hung on to until surpassed by one of the dopier Elm Street Sequels) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday The 13th (1980) made a similar box office impact, at which point horror film producers left no significant calendar date untouched in their lust for filthy festive lucre. Christmas proved a particularly fertile furrow for them to plough, yay, even unto Charles Band’s immortal Gingerdead Man vs Evil Bong (2013.)

Silent Night, Deadly Night stands out from the pack, however, in terms of sheer tastelessness, insensitivity, misanthropy and mean spirit… its writers have contrived a series of life events for poor l’il Billy that rank right up there with the successive misfortunes suffered by any De Sade heroine and Sellier wallows every bit as gleefully in the catastrophic consequences of child abuse as Joseph Ellison does in his equally reprehensible Don’t Go In The House (1979), a title I promise / threaten to examine on this blog some time in 2017.

Given the general tackiness of the whole endeavour, one wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the various picketing, protests and press campaigns launched against SN,DN by various concerned citizens / parents, media morals watch committees and what have you were actually orchestrated by the film’s publicists.

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“31 bucks? Merry Fucking Christmas!!!”

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Lovelock Lies Limp… Edwige Fenech in THE VIRGIN WIFE

valentina-movie-poster-1978-1020205099.jpgTHE VIRGIN WIFE / “LA MOGLIE VERGINE” aka VALENTINA – THE VIRGIN WIFE, YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HEART and AT LAST, AT LAST (1975)

Directed by “Franco Martinelli” (Marino Girolami).
Produced by Edmondo Amati.
Written by Marino Girolami & Carlo Veo.
Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli.
Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Starring: Edwige Fenech, Ray Lovelock, Renzo Montagnani, Carrol Baker, Gabriella Giorgelli.

“What’s eating you” Ray Lovelock asks Edwige Fenech at one point in this picture. Not him, apparently. C’mon Ray, get down and get down to it… today is La Fenech’s birthday! (It’s rather a special occasion for everybody here at The House Of Freudstein, too… our 100th posting in this, our first year of blogging!)

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If Lovelock’s career reached its zenith in Jorge Grau’s sublime Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974), its nadir can surely be fixed in this fitful, unfunny effort by Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad and director of Zombi Holocaust.) The Virgin Wife is a variation on Ray Boulting’s The Family Way (1966) done as Sexy-Comedy all’Italiana and comes as an overdue opportunity to probe the link between Italian machismo and mama-worship, in which we’re supposed to believe that ol’ Ray (as “Giovanni”) can’t bring himself to consummate his marriage with the truly   (“Valentina”), despite the encouragement of lecherous old Uncle Fred (Renzo Montagnani, he of the ever-popular catch-phrase “Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”) Priapismic Fred likens his own unbridled manhood to “an Olympic torch burning a hole in my breeches”, simultaneously complaining that “My nephew’s got a limp sardine in his pants!”

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“Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

Bottles of schnapps, red hot chillies in the minestrone, “bull’s hormones” and the contagious eroticism of cousin Gianfranco (Michele Gammino, an astonishing Peter Sutcliffe lookalike) and his nymphomaniac French girlfriend Brigitte (Florence Barnes), much addicted as she is to nibbling sensually on bananas, the ministrations of Maria the naughty maid… even Fenech’s restaging of Sophia Loren’s strip for poor old Marcello Mastroianni in Ieri, Oggi E Domani… all of these attempted remedies, and more, fail to get lovelorn Lovelock’s limp dick rising to the occasion (don’t forget, all of this took place in the days before Viagra.)

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Nature abhorring a vacuum, Fenech is soon on the receiving end of Sapphic overtures from Brigitte (“Your skin is fantasteek… eet must drarve your ‘usband warld! Your breasts are magnifique… lark a marble statue!”) as well as warding off the unwanted overtures of a smarmy family lawyer who’s trying to get into her briefs.  At one point Fenech is driven to take herself in hand, fantasising about Lovelock in a Superman costume… a virile horse also features in this dream sequence, so it’s probably just as well that Girolami rather than Joe D’Amato directed the picture!

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Any scant sympathy one might have felt for Lovelock’s plight, even after the realisation that it’s him croaking the godawful theme-song to this film (one section of the lyrics sounds horribly like: “Teek-tock, the time goes on / Teek-tock, my love has gone / Teek-tock, my goat goes on without you here”) flies right out of the window when the root of this Oedipus wreck’s trouble is revealed as a fixation on his mother-in-law, played by the matronly Carroll Baker. Distraught, Fenech runs off during a downpour and is discovered and deflowered by a member of a nudist colony (“They’re Americans – they like to do that sort of thing!”) Lovelock and Baker, searching for her, are themselves obliged to take shelter in a derelict building, where they make out  while Lovelock weeps and wails: “I want my Mama”, setting a new low for unwholesome Mommy love that would stand for several years, until Peter Bark and Marianga Girodano’s gob-smacking shenanigans in Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981.)

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The unhappy family come to an awkward modus vivendi in an unexpectedly downbeat ending for such a frothy piece (something Hollywood took years to work up the courage to do – remember the fuss that was made over War Of The Roses?) Otherwise, this is typical and typically broad Italian comedy, complete with its groan-inducing compliment of double-entendres. Unfortunately Fenech’s oft noted comedic talents are severely compromised, in the British VPD video release, by the clumsy translation and disastrous dubbing of her waspish asides.

Trivia note – when the family doctor “tests” Giovanni for homosexuality, he does it by showing him pictures of a (then) little-known body-builder… yep, it’s Arnold Schwarzennegger!

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“Stop me if you’ve heard this before… oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

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Back To The Future? THE REPROBATE – FIRST TRANSMISSION Reviewed

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The Reprobate – First Transmission. Edited by David Flint. A Colmena Publication. P/B. ISBN 978-0-9955719-0-7

One of the things that the current Mrs F found particularly entertaining about your humble blogger, in the early days of our acquaintance, was the spectacle of me carting my granny’s wonky shopping trolley around Manchester, stuffed with copies of Samhain to be hawked to Forbidden Planet, Odyssey 7 and assorted smaller retailers. Yep, I’ve paid my dues in the  ‘Zine trade…

Mrs F was particularly tickled by the regularity with which the wheels came off and required fixing and how some misaligned spoke or metallic whatnot hanging off this contraption would scour a record of my passage in the pavement behind me. Legend has it that instalments of my progress around Albert Square and up and down Oxford Road are still traceable to this day, which will no doubt be helpful when the burghers and aldermen of Manchester finally get round to putting up some of those blue plaques to mark the landmarks of the ’80s-’90s North West fanzine scene…

… and what a golden age it was, yielding among others (and apart from my contributions to the seminal Samhain) Paul Higson’s Bleeder’s Digest, Ian Caunce’s mighty Absurd (still my all-time favourite ‘Zine) and Sheer Filth, courtesy of one David Flint. David Kerekes and others were lurking in the wings and I also seem to remember a fresh-faced kid called Hayden Hewitt…nice guy but it was always clear to me that he was never going to amount to anything. The acuity of my judgement was recently confirmed to me when I saw Jeremy Paxman interviewing him on Newsnight.

Here we are, towards the end of 2016 and I’m sedately ensconced in the blogosphere. It took me quite a while to get here (The House Of Freudstein hasn’t even been online for a full year yet) but now I’ve arrived, I’m happy to say that it suits me just fine. No more lugging bags and boxes of hard copy around to distributors who might or might not cough up (obviously this became even more of an issue for me when I started running my own show with Giallo Pages, et al)… sure, there’s no prospect of turning the kind of small profit that occasionally came your way in the Golden Age of ‘Zines, but nor are you subject to the kind of loss that was much more frequently your lot … and people still send you stuff to review! So no more ‘Zines, fan or pro, from your truly… uh-huh… and that’s a fact, Jack! But apparently not everybody feels the same way…

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… the aforementioned David Flint, for example, has clearly never lost his love for the print medium. After Sheer Filth he was a founder editor of Headpress before flying solo with Divinity and Sexadelic. David’s interest in horror and exploitation has always been part of a wider-ranging focus on transgression that has involved him in many other genres and art forms. Having run the Strange Things Are Happening (Popular Culture Gone Bad) website for several years, he’s now fronting up the The Reprobate, which has maintained an online presence (https://reprobatemagazine.uk) for some time and now here’s the long-gestated first quarterly issue of its namesake magazine “for the modern contrarian.” Is the very act, nay, the very idea of publishing  such a thing in 2016 itself the dictionary definition of contrarianism (if, indeed, such a word can be found in any dictionary)? Well, the evidence is here before me in the shape of 164 glossy, perfect bound A5 pages, dripping with seditious text and heavily illustrated in both black’n’white and colour. Looks nice, now let’s investigate the contents…

The (one imagines) regular “Reprobates In The News” section features, among other scoops, the notorious case of the Devon woman who sexually abused a plastic tyrannosaurus emerging from an egg (the very one pictured below) on Exmouth’s Dino Trail. We Freudsteins were also rather disappointed with this particular “tourist attraction” but none of us felt the need to mitigate our disappointment by masturbating over any of the paleantological tableaux.

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David himself interviews Human Centipede auteur Tom Six but chooses to concentrate on the latter’s notions of personal style rather than the meanings beyond his films, possibly because there is no discernible meaning to those films beyond the idea that shock is, in and of itself, a good thing, an idea towards which I’ve never felt particularly sympathetic. Some would argue that this makes Six a kind of latter-day John Waters, but I’ve always loathed Waters’ films too. Hey, what’s the world coming to if I can’t review this cavalcade of contrariness without tossing in a few contrary opinions of my own?

Daz Lawrence’s profile of “Reprobate Hero” Lord Buckley is engaging stuff. Daz might also have mentioned that Buckley plays a role in one of several competing theories about how Prog Rock pioneers The Nice got their name. He might have but doesn’t, probably on the reasonable grounds that he’s nowhere near as obsessed with such Prog minutiae as I am. The ever readable Mr Lawrence also gives us the amusing lowdown on his quest to bring faux fag wrestler Adrian Street’s music to the masses and remembers Tiny Tim.

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Objects Of Desire that get promoted herein range from luxury chocolates and undies, off-the-peg bar cabinets, a penis-shaped flash drive containing the collected works of some Danish comedians, Arrow’s homounguous Herschell Gordon Lewis box set and the monstrously priced Pink Floyd Early Years collection.

Expensive as it is, I’m more likely to be seen purchasing that Floyd anthology than anything by noise terrorist William Bennett who, under the handle Whitehouse, assaulted our ears and morals with such family favourites as Tit Pulp, Just Like A Cunt, Shit Fun, Rape Master and I’m Coming Up Your Ass. As reported by Bruce Barnard, they signally failed to ignite the anticipated dance craze with their anthemic Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel. Elsewhere Mr Barnard inveighs against the vapidity of the cocaine lifestyle.

Nigel Wingrove returns with a primer on Scandinavian Black Metal and accompanying Chris Bell fashion shoot. Wingrove’s Redemption outfit are allegedly releasing Japanese Cosplay / mutilation epic Mai Chan’s Daily Life in the US and Mister Flint gives us the lowdown on that later in the mag.

Eli Bell interviews Billy Chainsaw, a man with far more strings to his bow than I’d previously suspected, some of his canvases reproduced here (striking collisions of Burroughs and Baphomet, Crowley and comix) being genuinely impressive. The man himself later takes time out from his artistic creations to interview Michelle Mildenhall, “the Latex Queen of the Art Scene.”

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A visit to The Demis Roussos Museum in Nijkerk inspires CJ Lines to remember the great man’s extraordinary career. Keri O’Shea surveys the history of Great British Courtesans and rates the beers and museums of Prague. Flinty flexes his Jeffery-West shoe fetish by interviewing that company’s Guy West in their swanky Piccadilly Arcade store. Then he reviews Victor Matellano’s recent Vampyres remake, comparing it unfavourably with Jose Larraz’s cult original, a judgement with which I concur elsewhere on this blog. Somebody called White Dolemite fills us in on his non-existent films (don’t worry, it’ll all make sense when you read it… or maybe not) and if Gipsie Castigloione’s interview with novelist-turned-perfumier Sarah McCartney doesn’t get your olfactory bulb twitching, I don’t know what will!

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Arguably the highlight of this volume, Gavin and Lucy Morrow’s Close Encounters relates their experiences “travelling the extraterrestrial highway” in words (hers) and photos (his.) Apparently they’ve got enough documentation of their explorations of arcane Americana to fill a book of their own and I, for one, would very much like to see it.

Further reviews of books, film, music, food and drink, grooming and lifestyle, places and events follow before the proceedings close with a personal memoir / true confession regarding a spontaneous S/M orgy that broke out in a nightclub toilet on Valentine’s Night, 1991… more tea, Vicar?

The Reprobate’s First Transmission is a fine maiden effort, most worthy of your attention… a trustworthy map to guide you down the road of excess which will lead you, inexorably, towards that palace of wisdom. Has it tempted me to consider a return to physical ‘zine publishing? Nah… my granny’s shopping trolley has gone the same way as my granny and there are no scratch marks on the sidewalks of cyber space. But do I wish David well with his new endeavour? Sure I do and would urge you to visit, post-haste https://reprobatemagazine.uk/2016/11/29/buy-the-reprobate-first-transmission/

Is the print revival going to take off, then? The outcome will (hopefully) be in your hands…

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Me Me Lai Vs The Satanic Majesty Of Wonderful Radio 1 … CRUCIBLE OF TERROR Reviewed, Pop-Pickers!

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DVD. Region 0. Severin. Unrated.

James Bolam is John Davies, a struggling art dealer… struggling with a terrible ’70s moustache as much as anything. His commercial fortunes, if not his grooming regime, seem set to improve when several punters take an interest in a beautifully fashioned bronze of a naked woman. But John’s alcoholic friend Michael Clare (Ronald Lacey) explains that the sculptor, his father Victor (Mike Raven), will never part with the piece… and with good reason. Before the titles we saw Victor using the body of Chi-San (Me Me Lai or Me Me Lay, as she’s identified here) as the armature for this piece. John’s not so easily put off though, even after one of his backers, while trying to half-inch the bronze, is suffocated with a plastic bag.

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“By ‘eck, lad!”

John bugs Michael into taking him and his girlfriend Millie (Mary Maude, last seen on this blog lustily administering corporal punishment to boarding school girls in Serrador’s The House That Screamed) out to Victor’s West Country retreat and it doesn’t take long too long to work out why Michael is such a booze hound. Victor is a loopy, domineering psychopath who uses his “artistic temperament” as an excuse to bully his family, flaunting his female conquests in the face of his long-suffering wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge) who’s senile, dresses like a little girl and carries a doll around with her. The whole set up plays like an indigestible mash-up of Mystery Of The Wax Museum, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (*),  and The Old Dark House. I haven’t quite worked out exactly who Derek Guyler-lookalike Bill (John Arnatt) is or what he’s doing there (does Victor swing both ways?), suffice to say that this is one of the most badly miscast films I’ve ever seen.

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Anyway, various cast members who come too close to discovering the secret of that bronze are variously butchered, bludgeoned and drowned, then Vincent pursues Millie around some Cornish caves prior to preparing her to serve as the centrepiece of another sculpture. At this point the malevolent spirit of Chi-San manifests itself and Raven, over acting even more preposterously than in the rest of the picture, meets a suitably ironic and infernal fate. “She was very high up in a sinister religious sect…” Bill tells the traumatised John, while wrapping things up with an unlikely tale of reincarnation and possession “… and Evil is always more powerful than Good” (neatly reversing the more familiar Hammer formula there.)

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I originally intended to entitle this piece “Raven Bonkers” but soon-to-be Italo Cannibal Queen Me Me got the nod after a quick look at this site’s stats proved that  Ms Lai is its bronze medallist in terms of attracting hits, trailing only Irene Miracle and David Warbeck and yes, beating Lucio Fulci off into fourth place. One day some pervert sitting somewhere in his lonely room and cultivating his dubious niche fantasies will google “Me Me Lai beating off Lucio Fulci” and find himself reading these very words…

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Her brief but pivotal appearance in one-shot director Ted Hooker’s Mystery Of The Wax Museum variant Crucible Of A Terror (1971) is one of the minor points of interest of this engaging little oddity and erstwhile staple of late night regional ITV programing, but the flick’s primary appeal to students of Schlock Cinema – and indeed, of larger than life eccentrics – is the presence in it of Mike Raven.

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“All the world’s a stage…” as Shakespeare once pointed out, “… and one man in his time plays many parts.” Austin Churton Fairman worked as a photographer, conjuror, interior decorator, travel writer, flamenco guitarist, ballet dancer and presenter of religious TV programs and Woman’s Hour before emerging as “Mike Raven”, a Pirate DJ specialising authoritatively in blues, soul and RnB (that’s real, Booker T-type RnB, junior… as opposed to the tripe that gets passed off under that description these days.) Such was his expertise in this field that when Tony Benn closed down the pirates, at Raven’s door the newly minted and totally wonderful Radio 1 came rapping (cue Flowers In The Rain…) That’s him below in the Colonel Sanders outfit, front row, two places to the left of Peel.

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Perhaps it was due to the preponderance of black cat bones and John The Conqueror roots in all those old blues standards that Raven developed a growing interest in the occult (how unlike a Radio 1 DJ to have scandalous skeletons in his closet), started dressing entirely in black and adopted suitably sinister facial fuzz… or perhaps that stuff wasn’t entirely unconnected with an attempt to rebrand himself, yet again, as a horror film icon. His impressive physical stature secured him the role of Count Karnstein in Jimmy Sangster’s Hammer effort Lust For A Vampire (1971) after Christopher Lee had turned up his nose at it. Unfortunately Raven’s voice was dubbed and after you’ve seen Crucible Of Terror that won’t come as too much of a surprise, his stab at Boris Karloff coming across more like Bobby Picket of The Crypt Kickers.

In the same year he actually starred opposite Lee to tolerable effect in Stephen Weeks’ Amicus offering I, Monster, a film often cited as the most faithful cinematic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll And Mister Hyde… why all the characters’ names were changed remains a major mystery. It was all downhill after DJ Horrible’s Crucible Of Terrible though…  Raven pseudonymously wrote and produced, as well as starring in, Disciple Of Death (1972) which at least managed the mean feat of making Crucible look like a vaguely coherent film.

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Mike Raven never manage to claim that place on the Horror pantheon which he clearly coveted but his wayward mini-career in the genre constitutes a brief byway with which any self-respecting trash film fiend should be familiar, suitably commemorated in this spanky Severin release, “transferred in startling HD from the only known uncut 35mm print in existence, loaned to Severin by a Bodmin Moor coven!”

So… whatever happened to Mike Raven? In a spooky case of life imitating Art (or at least, imitating schlocky horror flicks) he did indeed relocate to Bodmin Moor to successfully pursue parallel careers in Art and sheep farming, completely unperturbed by the announcement of his death during Radio 1’s 25th Anniversary celebrations in 1992. Before his actual passing, five years later, Raven declared that his perpetual personal reinventions were an ongoing attempt to come to terms with his sexuality and his spiritual beliefs. He was buried on his beloved Bodmin Moor in a plot he had dug himself, something I’m sure all his Radio 1 peers really dug.

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore…”

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A good cast is worth repeating…

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(*) Bolam, of course, went on to star in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads.

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Altared States… Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH and Robert Eggers’ THE WITCH Reviewed

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The Church. DVD. Region 2. Shameless. 18.

The Witch. BD. Region B. Universal. 15.

The wheels grind slowly here at The House Of Freudstein. Maybe it’s something to do with that split in the space / time continuum we’ve got going on down in the basement… one minute a badly dubbed Italian brat is running away from a shambling mosaic of putrescent human flesh, the next he’s popping up in a fin-de-siecle parallel universe. Makes my fucking head spin, I don’t mind telling you! Anyway, the wheels grind slowly…

… case in point, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, a film released in 2015. When I interviewed Harvey Fenton at Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival that year, for a piece which ultimately appeared in Dark Side magazine, he raved to me about this film, citing scenes such as the one in which a child dies in the throes of religious ecstasy

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and enthusing about its possessed goat. “What… better than the possessed goat in Drag Me to Hell?” I asked. “Better than that!”, he assured me. So I promised him I’d watch it. A year went by and finding myself on the winning team at Mayhem 2016’s Flinterrogation quiz (yeah, I do bang on rather a lot about this but what you going to do about it?) I grabbed a couple of BDs as my share of the winners’ swag bag, one of them being The Witch. A month or so after that I finally watched it… and now I’ve got my shit together sufficiently to review it!

The final poke that stirred me from my default state of inertia was the arrival on my in tray of Michele Soavi’s The Church (1981), debuting on UK disc courtesy of Shameless. The striking parallels between the two films strongly suggested to me that they should be considered together. I mean, both of them offer a simplistic, Manichaeist world view in which the principal characters’ loss of faith is precipitated by and / or precipitates an inexorable paradigm shift into a new and malign reality… the other stuff they share in common being caprine capers (or, if you will, hircine horrors) by which the ram Black Phillip eviscerates Ralph Ineson in Eggers’ picture and (a much smarter day’s work, in my estimation) a Rosemary’s Baby reject bonks the beautiful Barbara Cupisti in the bowels of a cathedral crypt during Soavi’s… Country File was never like this!

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Eggers’ New-England Folk Tale (as the film’s subtitle has it) plays out in the 1630s and concerns a family of Puritans (the ever excellent Ineson as patriarch William, Kate Dickie as his wife Catherine and Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, the oldest of several children) who leave their settlement on account of some obscure doctrinal dispute and set up in a small holding in the wilderness, throwing themselves on the bounty and mercy of God…

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… but darker Gods are at work in the woods.

When their infant son is abducted (and a murky, impressionistic Blair Witch-style sequence suggests that he is indeed ritually sacrificed by some hovel-dwelling hag) the family turns in on itself amid mutual suspicions of Satanic involvement. Thomasin becomes prime suspect after searching secretly in the woods, with her brother, for the missing baby but returning alone. Suspicions are not exactly allayed when the boy reappears, only to die in the aforementioned religious ecstasy. As paranoia peaks, recrimination turns into physical confrontation. Black Phillip lends a hand (hoof?) in the ensuing bloody carnage which leaves just one family member standing and ready to throw in their lot with The Dark Side for a truly delirious conclusion.

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The above makes The Witch sound like a pedal-to-the-metal Evil Deadalike but in fact it’s a suspenseful, satisfying, slow burn of a movie with ravishing cinematography (courtesy of Jarin Blaschke) and sound design. Hats off to Harvey (though for me, Black Phillip’s not a patch on the possessed goat in Drag Me To Hell.) You keep expecting a rational explanation or at least an upturn in the family’s miserable fortunes until the penny finally drops, the shock realisation that this just ain’t gonna happen… reminded me of the point in Blow Up where you twig that the mystery is never going to be solved… of watching Match Of The Day pundits acknowledging, long after everybody else had sussed it, that Leicester City were not going to blow their 2015-16 title challenge… and going to bed on the 9th of November when it was obvious that Trump was going to win, while the TV talking heads were still blathering about how Hillary’s best wards were yet to be counted and she was going to turn it around.

Writer / director Eggers plundered the archives of 17th Century witchcraft testimony to mount The Witch as a realistic story and the events in it are real, if only in the minds of its religiously fanatical participants. “Buddha says…” as we were so helpfully reminded in the title sequence to every episode of Monkey: “… that with our thoughts we make the world.” The paranoid Puritan mindset made The USA and the ongoing story of how it, in turn, makes over The World in its own image is, one suspects, going to take a significant twist or two over the next couple of years. One also suspects that we will see, over a similar period, Ms Taylor-Joy emerging as “the new Christina Ricci”…

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Anya Taylor-Joy, emerging as “the new Christina Ricci”… yesterday.

Universal’s BD edition of The Witch looks and sounds quiet beautiful and comes with the bonus of Digital HD Ultraviolet, though I’m too much of a Luddite to have anything more than the vaguest of ideas what that actually means… not such a technophobe thought that I don’t feel justified in having a moan about the clunky interface and slow response of the menus on this disc, problems I’ve encountered on various other Universal releases. It’s a bit short on supplementary features too, boasting precisely… none…. not a sausage… barer than William and Catherine’s family food cupboard!

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Shameless’s Soavi disc is somewhat better apportioned in terms of extras. Alongside the mandatory clutch of trailers for the label’s other releases, you get the featurette Cathedral Of Fear in which the director (still looking cool, if a touch grey and grizzled around the edges) talks about his sophomore feature effort and how it emerged from the remnants of Lamberto Bava’s abandoned Demons 3. He acknowledges that Argento was a generous producer who scrupulously avoided stepping on his toes, while admitting that he found  it difficult to see The Church and his follow-up effort The Sect (1991) marketed as “Argento productions.” Soavi also concedes that he, Argento and Franco Ferrini struggled to come up with an effective ending (no foolin’) and remembers trying to coax the enigmatic smile required for the film’s closing shot out of Asia Argento, whom he describes as “handsome, attractive and talentish.” “Now everyone has gone their own way…” concludes MS “… but it was a very beautiful period of my life.” Nice.

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And what of The Church itself? On its release, almost (cripes!) thirty years ago, I reviewed the film with something less than whole-hearted enthusiasm… “style over substance” was the burden of my complaint against it. With hindsight and in the light of my previous championing of such comparably amorphous entities as Argento’s Inferno and Fulci’s The Beyond, that verdict does seem rather a perverse one. It was arrived at in the context of my expectations following Soavi’s stunning directorial debut Stagefright (1987), a cracking giallo (arguably the last worthwhile offering in that genre) that packed more than its fair share of visual flair but proceeded, nevertheless, along the ruthlessly logical lines of Luigi Montefiori’s script and producer Joe D’Amato’s commercial demands. At this remove, having very much enjoyed this Shameless release, I’m more inclined to celebrate Soavi’s wayward pictorial sense than to question it, especially in view of the Pasta Paura drought that we’ve suffered in recent decades.

The Church couldn’t be further removed from ruthless logic, opening with a posse of Teutonic Knights galloping through a lush forest at daybreak to the accompaniment of Keith Emerson’s infernal fugue (the film’s score, by Emerson, Philip Glass and Goblin – which at this point was effectively Fabio Pignatelli – is one aspect of The Church with which I’ve never had any issues). Acting on a hot tip-off from an over acting village idiot (Gianfranco De Grassi, “Curlie” from Aldo Lado’s notorious Night Train Murders), the knights storm the cave HQ of some devil worshipping peasants and put them to the sword.

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This sequence features a memorable cross-shaped P-O-V shot through a knight’s helmet visor, suggesting again a world shaped by a narrow world view. After the witches have been buried in a communal grave and the site marked with a huge cross, an epic steadicam shot brings us to the present day and to the cathedral which has been erected on this spot, where one of the presiding prelates is spaghetti splatter legend and Stagefright alumnus Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen.

Yuppie dark ages buff Tomas Arana arrives at the church to assist Barbara Cupisti (another Stagefright alumnus and Soavi’s real life main squeeze while this movie was being made) in the restoration of a demonic mural (shades of Pupi Avati’s masterly The House With Laughing Windows), while scowling Father Feodor Chaliapin (Name Of The Rose, Inferno) sermonises endlessly about the ever-present threat of demons. Apparently the ghosts of those Teutonic knights are also hanging around the place, because somebody in the foley department is working overtime banging coconut shells together to render the signature hoof tattoos of their spectral mounts. Arana, who has already displaced a marked tendency towards flakiness with his preference for the perusal of medieval inscriptions over the charms of Cupisti, is possessed by evil spirits while prying into the basement pit of souls. We know that he’s possessed because he stops combing his hair, sits at a typewriter endlessly tapping out the legend “666” (yes, we’ve seen The Shining too) and starts foaming at the mouth over Asia Argento’s ankle socks. More spectacularly, Arana is later seen in a telephone box – not changing into a superhero costume, as you might think, but tearing out his own heart and offering the still pumping organ to a boiling blood-red sky.

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When the church warden skewers himself to the basement cross with a pneumatic drill he activates an intricate system of cogs and levers (just think of Howard Hawks’ Land Of The Pharaohs, and if you haven’t seen that try the board game “Mousetrap”) that seal our hapless protagonists (now including a party of school children, models and fashion photographers on a location shoot, and assorted tourists) off from the outside world. In connection with this the characters explicitly reference Fulcanelli, whose “Mysteries of The Cathedrals” tome also inspired Pupi Avatis’ The Arcane Enchanter, 1996 (though it was Avati himself who subsequently told me that Fulcanelli was a mythical rather than historical figure.)

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At this point the plot, which was already as creaky as one of those Medieval ratchet devices, flies out of the stained glass window as the increasingly bemused looking participants are left to wander around the cathedral confines, rapidly losing their marbles. Antonella Vitale, who for most of the film has little to do except flounce around looking gorgeous, is nearly squeezed to death by a wedding dress she’s modelling at one point, but the fact that Argento can manage such an arch comment on the state of his relationship with this actress can only have encouraged the above mentioned doubts about the authorship of La Chiesa. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the only other memorable scene involving La Vitale (a ludicrous one in which she pulls her face off) has been crudely cribbed from Poltergeist, a film on which producer Stephen Spielberg reputedly called more shots than nominal director Tobe Hooper.

Soavi swears that Argento was no back seat director but here has been charged with cooking up something from an Argento outline so half-baked that it could probably induce listeria poisoning (“My brief to Michele was to explore the feelings I had about life in contemporary Germany beginning a new Middle Ages.”) The viewer will have to make up his / her own mind about the exact working relationship between director Soavi and the man who “presented” his second and third feature films.

Elsewhere a castor mounted demon is wheeled in to spirit a girl off into a cloister; two bikers tunnel their way out of the church, only to discover that the light at the end of the tunnel really is an oncoming train; an old buffer’s face literally rings a bell after his wife has decapitated him (off camera, regrettably, likewise the eagerly awaited demise of John Morghen) and a risible rubber fish monster leaps out of the font to clamp its latex jaws around an unfortunate bystander’s head. Stivaletti’s attempted show stopper is an Archimboldo demon head that finally bursts through the floor of the cathedral and reminded me of nothing so much as the climax to Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass And The Pit.

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The mounting confusion is hardly mitigated by the fact that various characters don’t let their deaths discourage them from returning to participate further in the escalating surreal shenanigans and in a heart warming cast reunion where they witness Arana (now in full Devil Rides Out billy-goat drag) and Cupisti restaging the devil impregnation scene from a certain Roman Polanski movie… and then that unconvincing coda.

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He’s so horny… horny, horny, horny…

The Shameless DVD looks OK but the music and sound effects seem to have been mixed kinda low. I wish they’d included a 5.1 audio option (when I saw La Chiesa in Rome on the big screen with a nice sound system, it proved to be a pretty immersive experience.) In fact I’d really like to have seen their (near) simultaneous Blu-ray release but you know what they say… bloggers can’t be choosers!

This release also comes with reversible sleeve options and for once I prefer the “newly commissioned art work” to the “classic” imagery on the flip… though I’m not sure they would have gotten away with it back in the heyday of the Video Packaging Review Committee… those pesky kids!

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“The Ruthless Logic Of Commercial Production”… THE SERGIO MARTINO INTERVIEW

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Sergio Martino interviewed in March 1997.

Were you surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino was one of your biggest fans?

When I first read his comments in Giallo Pages, yes – but after reflecting a lot on it, I realised that he was paying tribute to myself and also to a whole generation of Italian film-makers who knew, above all, how to improvise,  and use their imaginations to overcome restricted resources and shooting schedules. Tarantino started off in “low budget” cinema himself, so he appreciates only too well what it takes to get good results under these circumstances.

Are you aware of the increasing “cult” status of Italian genre films in America, England and Europe?

Yes, because with increasing frequency I’m hearing from journalists like yourself, who want to interview me about films I’ve made in the past… I hope that in the future I’ll get to make some more that will also be of interest to you!

Me too, but the present state of the Italian film industry isn’t very promising… what is the reason for this? And can you see any remedy?

The present state of Italian genre cinema is, indeed, very sad. The cause of our decline has been the massive economical and technical superiority of Hollywood, which you can only fight with improvisation and imagination for so long. The investment sources that we used to have in Italy have just dried up. If we could get a million and a half dollars to make an action film, then perhaps we would again be able to get the attention of the international market, but there is no Italian producer in a position to risk such a sum. Perhaps the future lies with more European co-productions, though these bring difficulties due to differing languages and national taste.

Have you managed to keep making movies during these last few difficult years?

I’ve been offered opportunities to shoot a few films on which the budgets would have been disgraceful, so instead I’ve been concentrating on making TV series.

I believe that in the early days, you worked as an assistant to the great Mario Bava… how do you remember him, and what did you learn from him?

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I worked on the shoot of Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963) as a production assistant. I remember his technical ability, his expertise in constructing scale models and how skilfully he used lighting and camera positioning to make up for certain deficiencies in the acting department. He had previously worked as a cinematographer, so he knew that a shaft of light or a lower positioning of the camera lower could heighten the dramatic impact of a line. Also, he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and would never shoot anything superfluous. If a film was to last 90 minutes, he would scarcely shoot any more than that.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti and Umberto Lenzi on some of their films…

I have very positive memories of them as two real pros, who had mastered the technical side of film-making.

Your earliest directorial credits were “mondo” efforts such as Mille Peccati… Nessuna Virtu (1969) and America… Cosi’ Nude, Cosa Violenta (1970)… how do your remember those?

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Extraordinary memories. These films allowed me, while very young, to live through unrepeatable experiences… this was the time of the youthful rebellion in 1968, the hippies, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation and the first men on the moon…

You also worked in a genre, which is a descendent of the “mondo” documentaries… cannibal movies: how would you compare and contrast your Mountain Of The Cannibal God with the cannibal pictures of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato?

I saw one of Deodato’s films, though unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. It was made before my Montagne Del Dio Canibale…

That would be L’Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, then…

 … but it was trying for the same sort of ambience. I think Lenzi’s films in this genre  were made after mine, but I must confess that I haven’t seen them. I think that between all of them there was some affinity… once one such film has been successful, the producers obviously want you to come up with something similar.

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Did you, your cast and crew encounter any real dangers in the jungle?

The only problem was the wasps, really. I made Montagne Del Dio Canibale and The Great Alligator in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The most effective jungle scenes were actually shot in the botanical garden of Kandj, in very comfortable circumstances. I remember though, shooting in the cave in Montagne Del Dio Canibale… it was so hot and humid, even more so under the lights. In addition, we’d just had to climb 500 metres up a mountain!

Because she’s such a big star, did you have problems convincing Ursula Andress to have all that crap rubbed all over her?

Ursula had already experienced a lot in life and made other films in the jungle, so she was not worried on that occasion, nor indeed  in the scene with the python, which she insisted I shoot without using a double.

How do you respond to the charge that such films are “racist” or “cruel to animals”?

Racism? This is a first for me, but the things critics come up with never cease to amaze me! As far as I’m concerned, these films were inspired by American adventure cinema of the 4O’s like King Solomon’s Mines, and other American and European adventure cinema. I can understand the “cruelty against animals” charge, but the scene in which the python strangles the monkey, for instance, was shot almost by chance. Admittedly, the monkey was put next to the snake, but it had every opportunity to escape… there was nothing inevitable about it being killed. Anyway, in the jungle the law of life is the law of survival. I don’t believe, moreover, that the makers of all these “respectable” nature documentaries we see on TV just shoot what they find… I think that many of their violent scenes of jungle life are contrived and reconstructed.

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Were you surprised that your brother Luciano put some of your footage from Montagne Del Dio Canibale into Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive?

Not at all – it’s the ruthless logic of commercial production. Would it be more just to shoot another scene of violence to animals? So it seems right to me to re-use the footage, as it suited the purposes of that film so well.

Is it more or less difficult working with a producer who is also your brother?

As with any other situation, there are both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have managed to keep working in a field that is otherwise rather precarious, and I am allowed to make my films with a certain autonomy. The disadvantage is that, I’ve made so many films with my brother that other producers are less inclined to call me for their projects.

How would you define the term “giallo” and assess the Italian thriller’s influence on the thriller genre internationally?

It’s obvious that directors like Romero and De Palma have been influenced by their viewings of Italian gialli. In essence, these are thrillers based not only on the intricacies of uncovering the identity of the culprits, but also on the use – and, at times misuse – of violent imagery. As for myself, the biggest influence on my own gialli has been Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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That influence is very apparent in a film like Your Vice Is A Closed Room… what are your favourite and least favourite of your own entries in this genre?

My least favourite would certainly be Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery, my favourites are All The Colours Of Darkness and – my absolute favourite – the sequence at the end of Torso in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there.

Was Kendall cast as an hommage to her role in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

Suzy Kendall is an excellent actress, and at that time she was very bankable, internationally. The film was shot in English, and her casting was partly motivated by this, though of course the fact that she had been in Argento’s film was also a major factor.

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Do you agree with the assessment that Torso represents a transition from the stylish gialli of the ‘60s and early ‘70s to the brutal “splatter movies” that came later?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t recall the kind of films that were being made at the same time or just afterwards… in fact I followed Torso up with a comedy and two tear-jerkers.

How did you find the experience of working with Carlo Ponti?

It was a very positive experience. There was a great deal of trust between us. I was then a very young director, and not particularly self-confident… it’s fair to say that I became one of his pupils. Unfortunately we only made a few films together… three, and all successful. Soon after this, he had his tax problems, and could not work as a producer in Italy for a long time. A pity from my point of view, but above all for the Italian film business, because he was one of the most intelligent producers we ever had.

What did you think of the alterations that American distributors made to your films, e.g. Joseph Brenner with Torso, the way that All The Colours Of Darkness lost its opening nightmare sequence in America, and the way that more gore was added to Island Of The Fishmen?

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For a long time, I was not even aware of this. I was later told that these changes were made to make the films more appealing to an American audience. It’s not that the distributors found the content of these films below par, just that different audiences are looking for different things.

The theme of female masochism in your The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh echoes that in Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh, which as we mentioned earlier, you worked on…

Possibly so… the films shared the same writer, Ernesto Gastaldi. But the real inspiration for Strange Vice, of course, was the commercial success of Argento’s first film.

What was Nora Orlandi’s inspiration for the haunting theme music to that film?

Nora Orlandi is a woman of great musical sensitivity and passion. I thought it was right to use her because she would be better able to interpret the sensations of the female protagonist.

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Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery and Delitti Privati are both, in their different ways, “TV gialli”. Is the genre suited to this medium?

In a TV series, which runs longer than a feature, it’s more difficult to keep suspicion moving between the various characters… the plot must be much more intricate to hold the viewer’s interest and persuade them to tune in next time. In the case of Delitti Privati, I think we managed this quite well.

Sergio Stivaletti worked on Etruscan Cemetery and other  of your movies… how do you rate this FX man-turned-director?

He’s a young man with a fantastic talent. I think that it’s a good move for him to start directing, and I’m sure that he will be successful.

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Giovanni Lombardo Radice from Etruscan Cemetery told me that he found you a very “cold” director, but later realised that you had made him give one of his best performances… do you have a set way of working with actors?

I think that the rapport between director and actors is determined, above all, by the quality of the story and by adherence to the truth of the characters’ motivations. In genre films the stories are often very mechanical and the characters are moved not by true reactions to the situation, but by the necessities of moving the story along. For example – why, in giallo films, do so many beautiful and vulnerable girls sleep alone in sinister, isolated  castles instead of comfortable and secure hotels in the towns nearby? Because otherwise, it would not be possible to generate any suspense. The characters are motivated by the will of the writer and the director. In this respect it is difficult to communicate to the actors how they should be interpreting their roles, when it’s mainly a matter of mechanics. Perhaps my “cold attitude” towards actors in certain films was determined a little by my own natural timidity, but also from my awareness of the limitations on creative possibilities in these circumstances, where all you want from them is a routine “fearful” expression, or whatever. If Lombardo Radice believes that this brought out the best in him as an actor, so much the better.

Was it important for you to keep a regular cast (e.g. Edwige Fenech, George Hilton) from picture to picture?

It produced a great sense of camaraderie among us, which probably helped everybody to give their best to the production.

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What are your memories of working with Fenech?

Very agreeable and positive. I hope to work with her again in the future.

What did you think of her appearances in gialli made by other directors, like Giuliano Carnimeo and Andrea Bianchi?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge the work of my colleagues, in the giallo field or elsewhere. I will say though that these are excellent professionals, who have worked well in most genres, not just the giallo.

Do you think Fenech is better as a giallo ingenue, or a comedienne?

Her sunny face and Mediterranean beauty inclines me to think she’s more suitable for comedy. On the other hand, Delitti Privati demonstrates just how well she can do in a dramatic role.

Any memories of Barbara Bouchet?

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Another actress with a great comic talent. I think it’s a real pity that she doesn’t seem able to get roles in the cinema and on TV these days. She works mainly in the theatre, now…

Presumably you used international actors like Marty Feldman, for example, in Sex with A Smile, in an attempt to make the Italian comedy a less domestic affair and more saleable abroad?

Yes, obviously. Marty Feldman in particular was a great comic. In fact, at this time Italian comedies did have a certain amount of international success, and actors like Buzzanca and La Fenech became quite marketable.

Your cop films – like Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia (The Violent Professionals) with Luc Merenda – were criticised for being “fascistic”…

I remember that in Italy at the start of the seventies there were moves in  parliament to disarm the police, and sociologists were arguing against putting people in prison. But the man in the street wanted strong, decisive action against crime. All the cop films of the time had this same theme, like the American films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson – are they, then, “fascistic”?

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In 2019: After The Fall Of New York, you tried to put a new slant on the hackneyed “after The Bomb” scenario, with Wagnerian allusions, and so on…

To be honest, although the Wagnerian tone is a suggestion that pleases me, I’m not sure how intentional it was.

Well, you’ve got a character named “Parsifal” in there, for starters… what are your memories of the Westerns you made?

Arizona Si Scateno was my first non-documentary film. I remember with nostalgia how green I was in those days. I think that with Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) I made a good film with some beautiful sequences, though it came a little too late in the great “spaghetti western” cycle.

Can you tell us something about Claudio Cassinelli’s tragic death during Vendetta Del Futuro (Hands Of Steel)?

More than ten years later, it still feels like an iron in my soul! Claudio was one of my dearest friends, a sensitive and gentle person. The circumstances of his death were really absurd… I don’t want to go over it all again, because no amount of that will bring poor Claudio back. I prefer to cherish the beautiful, personal memories I have of him.

What can you tell us about your 1993 film Craving Desire, with Serena Grandi?

It’s a film that I was able to make after the TV success of Delitti Privati. Serena did play a part in that film, though the star was Vittoria Belvedere. Serena had already played some small roles for me at the beginning of her career, so I knew very well how good she was.

Has Queen Of The Fishmen been completed yet? Is Edwige Fenech in it, as announced?

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The film was shown, with some success, at the Cairo Film Festival in 1996. It’s a kind of fairytale that uses repertory footage from Island Of The Fishmen and 2019.  La Fenech did not appear in the film, because at the last moment she decided that she couldn’t face wearing a heavy costume in the equatorial climate that we would be shooting in.

Why do you use two American-sounding pseudonyms (“Martin Dolman” and “Christian Plummer”) instead of the customary one?

The name “Plummer” was used only for the abridged version of Etruscan Cemetery, the feature that we “salvaged” from the TV series. At this time there were so many films by “Martin Dolman” on the market, we thought that another pseudonym was in order, so as not to devalue the name.

Any future projects that we should be anticipating?

Some TV projects, then another “giallo” serial.

Sergio Martino, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

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In Memoriam, Luciano Martino (22.12.33 – 14.08.13)

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Who Dies In A House Like This? YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 18.

Perhaps more than those of any other director, Sergio Martino’s gialli have covered a diverse range of styles and approaches. 1972’s Your Vice Is A Locked Door And Only I Have The Key (fair trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?) emerges as something of a chamber piece (perhaps big brother Luciano, Sergio’s producer, was feeling the need to trim the budgets a bit at this point) borrowing its story template from the much misadapted Poe yarn, The Black Cat and grafting on elements of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955.)

That florid handle quotes one of Ivan Rassimov’s endearments to Edwige Fenech inMartino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971.) Whether viewed under that title or alternatives including Excite Me or Gently Before She Dies, Martino has seasoned his malevolent moggy mischief with more than a pinch of melodrama, recasting Poe’s gothic fragment as a superbitch showdown between Fenech (as Floriana, sporting a shorter hair style than we are accustomed to) and the Titian haired Anita Strindberg as neurotic Irene, holed up in a Padovan country villa with the latter’s drunken husband Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), a dissipated, mother fixated writer suffering terminal block. For once Fenech plays not the wide-eyed ingenue, rather “a loud-mouthed little ball breaker” (“Finally I got my moment of wickedness”, she remembers), an appropriately feline predator who arrives in that ironic Snow White bob to stir the final drops of poison into Pistilli and Strindberg’s already severely dysfunctional diptych. Careful, Edwige… Strindberg could probably cut your throat with those cheek bones!

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The picture opens with Oliviero humiliating Irene at a swinging party for trailer trash hippies where Dalila Di Lazzaro (in her alleged screen debut) drops her pants and starts dancing on a table.

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Jeez, it’s donkey’s years since I was invited to a party at which Dalila Di Lazzaro danced naked on a table… anyway, two of his jailbait girlfriends are subsequently murdered with a scythe. Oliviero proclaims his innocence to Irene but, paranoid that he will be fitted up by the police, he persuades her to help him wall up the evidence in their wine cellar. It’s at this most inconvenient juncture that Floriana invites herself to stay with them. Lecherous Oliviero is delighted at the way his “snotty little bitch” of a niece has grown up and she’s soon bedding both of them, with the milkman thrown in for good measure! Irene sensitively confides in her that Oliviero is “sexually retarded and afraid of impotence” (ooh, catty!) Meanwhile “Walter” (Ivan Rassimov, still going through his peroxide period) lurks menacingly in the shadows… if only they’d awarded Oscars for lurking menacingly, Ivan would have collected a shelf load. Elsewhere a prostitute becomes the latest scythe victim before the assassin (a completely unknown character) is himself killed.

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Irene hates Pistilli’s cat Satan and when it savages her doves, she carves its eye out with a pair of scissors. Nice. Later she’s grossed out by a delivery of sheep’s eyes for pussy’s dinner (hmm, Sheep’s Eyes For Satan… that’s not a bad title for a giallo, actually!) Stalked by the moggy she maimed, goaded on by Floriana, then discovering Oliviero’s endlessly retyped intention to bump her off and wall her up, she cracks and grabs those scissors again… it would be unfair to spell out the murderous final steps of this dance macabre, suffice to say that if you’ve ever read Poe‘s Black Cat or sat though one of its innumerable Italian (or other) screen adaptations, you won’t need telling how the crimes of the last surviving baddy are ultimately brought to light.

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At this point it’s customary to invoke the “(Film X) has never looked better” cliché and that is certainly the case with this 2K restoration of YVIALRAOIHTK, which showcases the subtlety of DP Giancarlo Ferrando’s palate in admirable fashion, reminiscent of how beautifully Arrow served Luigi Kuveiller’s work on their recent 4K restoration of Argento’s Deep Red. Nor has Bruno Nicolai’s OST ever sounded better, whether you’re listening to the original English or Italian soundtracks in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio.

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“What about bonus materials?”, I hear you ask (must get these walls insulated!) Unveiling The Vice, in which Martino, Fenech and co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi look back on Your Vice, will be familiar to anybody who’s seen the No Shame DVD release from several years ago. In it, Fenech recalls her own and Strindberg’s embarrassment about the lesbian scenes and waxes nostalgic about the enormous onion omelettes she was fed on set. Tasty stuff. Through The Keyhole is a new interview with the director, who’s on charming and engaging form as usual. He talks about how the film’s title originated from audience response to that Rassimov line in Mrs Wardh (“We thought it would be a captivating title, full of depraved innuendos”) and talks of the “inspiration” he took from the real life Fenaroli murder case of 1958, a notorious insurance scam. Martino expresses amazement at the level of fannish activity devoted to him on social media, where he believes that he is over praised, while conceding that when his films were released contemporary critics significantly underrated them. When he’s reminiscing about collaborators (including the ill-starred  Pistilli) we learn interesting stuff about the discovery of Fenech and how her face and figure went against the grain of what he wanted in a giallo heroine, only for him to be persuaded otherwise by her acting talent.

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Arrow are really pushing these “visual essays” and here you get not one but two of them. Michael Mackenzie’s Dolls Of Flesh And Blood: The Gialli Of Sergio Martino opens with the suggestion that Martino be recognised as a peer of the “big three” giallo directors, Bava, Argento and Fulci, though I’d have thought most genre buffs have long accepted him as a member of an actual “big four.” Mackenzie works hard trying to flog his “M-gialli vs F-gialli” thesis and there’s some impressive deployment of split screen techniques whereby the action from as many as four films is unfolding simultaneously to illustrate whatever point he’s making. In his The Strange Vices Of Ms Fenech, Justin Harries alternates such academic observations as “Sartre viewed through an exploitation lens…” with barely concealed lusting after the focus of his dissertation. Well, who can blame him? The accompanying cavalcade of clips and cheese cake shots is very predictable but none the less welcome for that… slightly less welcome is the innovation of Mr Harries hogging centre stage, mugging and gesticulating for much of the time that they’re playing out. No slight intended against Justin’s photogenic credentials, I’m just not sure that we want anyone – however finely chiseled – interrupting our view of Fenech. He does admittedly fill in some interesting biographical minutia for our girl while he’s at it, too.

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Eli Roth also gets to wax enthusiastic about Martino without really telling you anything that you didn’t already know. He drops a clanger of misattribution but redeems himself at the end with an amusing personal anecdote.

There’s no booklet, all the written stuff all having been reserved for the expensive Arrow box which teamed this title with Fulci’s The Black Cat. The reversible sleeve features classic YVIALRAOIHTK artwork and a newly commissioned artwork by Mathew Griffin… dunno about you guys but I always tend to go classic.

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The Sergio Martino Weekender concludes tomorrow evening, with… The Sergio Martino Interview!

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Edwige Fenech Gives Mutant Nazi Sex Midget The Boner Of The Year… SEX WITH A SMILE Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Skyline. Unrated.

Justly feted as one of the masters of giallo (see reviews of The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Torso elsewhere on this site) Sergio Martino was also a nimble genre jumper, diving fearlessly and  proficiently (as was required from any journeyman director of his generation) into several other filoni. The “Sexy-Comedy” proved a particularly fertile furrow for his plough and his favoured giallo ingenue Edwige Fenech doubled, of course, as the Queen of Sexy-Comedy. Her only serious rival in both genres, Barbara Bouchet, shares prominent billing (though no scenes) with her in this 1976 portmanteau effort, Martino’s take on Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). It seems fitting to kick off our Martino weekender with a look at Sex With A Smile (aka 40 Gradi All’Ombra Del Lenzuolo), as this prolific field of spaghetti endeavour has so far received pretty short shrift here at The House Of Freudstein… and perhaps we’re about to find out why.

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The title of the first episode, One For The Money, actually short changes Enrico Montesano, who manages to seduce the glacially beautiful Barbara Bouchet on three separate occasions in return for money which… well, I’ll leave you to discover the twist for yourself if you’re not already familiar with it. Suffice to say, this is a well constructed little piece of ribaldry, probably the best segment of the picture. Which means, of course, that everything goes downhill a bit, thereafter. Marty Feldman and Dayle (Spermula) Haddon star as The Bodyguard and his client, the latter finding her love life thwarted by Marty’s tendency to see kidnap plots everywhere. Feldman was cast to enhance the international box office appeal of SWAS but for me he’s the most irritating thing in a film that’s chock full of “broad” performances. I’ve enjoyed him in plenty of other things but his lame attempts to do Buster Keaton here come across more like Buster Cretin. In Catch It While It’s Hot Alberto Lionello is a chauffeur being mercilessly prick teased by his aristocratic mistress Giovanna Ralli, a situation which resolves itself in another entertaining if not exactly unguessable twist.

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In Dream Girl, Edwige Fenech is the town hottie driving the horny locals crazy (“She’s giving me the boner of the year!” drools Salvatore Baccaro), none more so than Tomas Milian, nebbishly cast against type as the schmendrick getting completely lost in his nerdy daydreams about her. When he phones his fantasies in to the divine Edwige she starts getting hot pants herself, coming over all twitchy while watching a Dracula movie whose lighting is highly suggestive of that on Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963), in which Christopher Lee starred and Martino served as assistant director. The ultimate, accidental beneficiary of her stoked libido, however, turns out to be Baccarro. Yes – spoiler alerts be damned – “Sal Boris”, the mutant Nazi sex midget from Luigi Batzella’s “video nasty” The Beast In Heat enjoys carnal knowledge of Edwige Fenech… there’s hope for all of us!

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This instalment might have made a good closer but regrettably Martino opts to wind things up with a mutt of an episode entitled A Dog’s Day in which Aldo Maccione saves dotty Sydne Rome from suicide and seems set for a carnal reward, only to fall foul of her protective Alsatian… the same one from Suspiria? Or is it Dicky himself from The Beyond? Buggered if I know…

Italian comedy travels about as well as Gorgonzola and my Skyline video of Sex With A Smile, having sat gathering dust on the shelf for some decades now, doesn’t look that fresh either. I have to admit, I just don’t get the “Comedy” component of “Sexy-Comedy”… which is fine, as I’m sure your average Italian hipster would similarly struggle to get any chuckles out of Keith Lemon (and why wouldn’t they? That guy is about as funny as popping a hemorrhoid!) As for the “Sexy” bit.. well, we’re talking international language here. Martino’s celebration of the physical charms of Haddon, Rome and Ralli requires little explanation, though it might need justification in some politically correct quarters. As for the naked vistas he affords us of Bouchet (impressive) and Fenech (quite jaw dropping)… forget about it!

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Skyline Video found themselves dragged into the whole “video nasties” brouhaha when they released Ruggero Deodato’s sexually violent essay in crude class struggle, House On The Edge Of The Park. Although that one has now been released (albeit with cuts) on DVD by Shameless, I suspect that this Martino effort would struggle to get certified today, cutting perilously close to depicting, as it does in at least three of its episodes, women who mean Yes when they say No and rape as suitable subject matter for comedy. Nothing remotely funny about that, Sergio. Different times, different mores as several UK radio DJs could no doubt have told you…

The Sergio Martino Weekender continues tomorrow evening, with all eyes on Edwige Fenech…

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