Monthly Archives: June 2017

Facing The Black Sea And All Therein That May Be Explored… Mariano Baino’s DARK WATERS Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

The collapse of the Italian film industry in the mid-late ’80s was followed by an ever more significant one in the early ’90s, that of the Soviet Union. Energetic Neapolitan Mariano Baino had already moved to London in search of opportunity and made the short Caruncula (1991), on which Andy Bark served as editor. When the latter made contact with some of the new breed of Russian entrepreneurs, keen to invest in a motion picture, Baino didn’t need much persuading. Soon he, Bark (who would co-write the new picture), a couple of actresses and a small crew were Crimea-bound. They were young, talented, optimistic and enthusiastic. They had striking coastal locations and everything in The Ukraine was going to cost doodly-squat… what could possibly go wrong?

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Plenty, as it happened (much of which I’ve detailed elsewhere). A wild, wild East interpretation of entrepreneurship that extended to, e.g. film stock being pilfered and sold off before Baino could load it into a camera, coupled with a not exactly stringent work ethic, makes it miraculous that he actually managed to shoot anything at all, let alone a feature debut as promising as Dark Waters (1993). The story concerns Elizabeth (Baino discovery Louise Salter, who would appear in Interview With The Vampire and bag a substantial role in Our Friends In The North shortly afterwards), a young woman who goes back to Odessa to learn the sinister secret buried in her past. At the conclusion of a harrowing personal odyssey exceeded in weirdness and suffering only by the collective one undertaken by the cast and crew of this film, she learns the hideous truth and must decide to collude in or strive against the unleashing of a Cthulhuesque horror upon the Earth…

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OK, so Dark Waters is a triumph of visual style (the opening inundation of a church is a remarkable set piece… and Igor Clark’s lush orchestral score doesn’t hurt) over narrative content but that’s exactly the criticism that has been levelled at the likes of such previous Pasta Paura maestros as Argento, Fulci and Soavi (all of whom, incidentally, had nice things to say about Dark Waters and its director). In truth, Argento and Fulci were spent forces by the early ’90s and Soavi, the heir presumptive, was coming up hard against the fact that there wasn’t much Italian film industry left to work in… certainly in horror terms. Baino has found it equally difficult to pursue his Lovecraftian obsessions of twisted religiosity and perverse fairy tales on the silver screen. My last viewing of Dark Waters was in a Soho screening room, where author Graham Masterton had turned up to check out the film and discuss with its director a possible film adaptation of his auto-cannibalistic outrage Ritual. Now that would have been something to behold… and perhaps one day will be. It’s difficult to believe that we’ve seen the last from Mariano Baino, whose myriad cinematic talents are exceeded only by his moxy. Notable post DW credits include Lady M 5.1 (2016), starring Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni from Argento productions Opera, Demons 2 and Mother Of Tears, though you’ll never see my favourite Baino-directed effort… me and Mrs Freudstein’s wedding video!

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Incidentally, the eejit in his underpants, chewing on raw calamari in a rowing boat, is not only a nod to Mario Bava’s seminal Bay Of Blood but a role that was originally written for Yours Truly. I opted to skip the trip to Odessa and there’s nothing among the tales of woe about pain in Ukraine that abound among the bonus materials included on this set which could possibly persuade me that I made the wrong decision. However, as Baino’s short films are also included as extras you do get the opportunity to check out my show stopping turn as “cinema undesirable” in Caruncula and yes, if I ever write my memoirs I will be giving them the title Cinema Undesirable… but no, I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of boring people to death with memoirs culled from my übertedious life.

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MB (looking considerably svelter than last time I saw him) expresses gratitude here that Dark Waters is being afforded a second chance of discovery by horror fans. This Severin release is effectively a third chance, as after the 1995 UK video release disappeared without a trace (Tartan sparing every effort to get behind it) there was a rather nice special DVD edition from Italian outfit No Shame. This nifty looking Severin BD reprises the supplementary material from that (director’s intro and commentary track, deleted scenes and blooper reel, plus the 50 minute featurette Deep Into Dark Waters) and adds new featurettes Let There Be Water and Controlling The Uncontrollable, alongside those aforementioned Baino shorts.

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Grab this opportunity to immerse yourself in Dark Waters with avid alacrity. Revel in it. Buy multiple copies for yourself… your work-mates… your nearest and dearest… random strangers. I’m particularly keen to see Dark Waters rack up massive belated profits, because I’ve got points in it…

… and what do points make?

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A Zed & Two Noughts… Franco Prosperi’s WILD BEASTS Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

“Their madness engulfs everything and affects innocent victims such as children or animals…” Francis Thrive (Who he? *)

“I believe that research is taking place and it will show that these films (‘video nasties’) not only affect young people but I believe they affect dogs as well… it goes far too far!”  The ironically named Graham Bright MP, father of the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

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Nelly & pals pack their trunks and wave goodbye to the circus…

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Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti (above)… sincere and fearless proponents of the documentarian’s Art or shameless showbiz charlatans, devoid of any moral scruple in their ruthless determination to get bums on seats for their tawdry shockumentaries? As Blue Underground employees, Carl Daft and David Gregory played their part in the debate, amassing most of the relevant evidence for that label’s monumental 2004 box set, The Mondo Cane Collection. Now running their own show at Severin, the boys have settled the argument definitively, in Prosperi’s case anyway (Jacopetti went to meet his maker and account for his cinematic misdeeds in 2011) with this release of his 1983 directorial swan song, Wild Beasts (Belve Feroci), brought to you by the mighty Shumba International Corporation.

As well as generating mucho dinari and intense controversy (it’s safe to say that none of J&P’s documentary collaborations would ever find themselves being endorsed by PETA and there were serious concerns that some of the executions of hapless soldiers in 1965s Africa Addio had been arranged for the benefit of their cameras), the Mondo movies also spawned the Italian cycle of Third World cannibal movies that ran through the ’70s and ’80s. The best of that cycle, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) critiques the dubious ethics of such mondo efforts and while nobody (OK, hardly anybody) was daft enough to claim that people were actually killed in it, Holocaust and its inferior imitators were content to render human carnage via the special FXpertise of Gino De Rossi et al, while doubling down on genuine animal abuse. Prosperi underscored the connection between Mondo and these maverick man munching movies in 1980 by producing White Cannibal Queen, Jesus Franco’s piss awful Deodato / Lenzi / Martino / D’Amato rip off (below), though to the best of my recollection (I’m certainly not planning on watching it again, any time soon), no creatures – great or small – suffered anything particularly outrageous in that one.

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Three years later in Wild Beasts (with Mondo Cane 2 editor Mario Morra along for the ride), it was a very different story…

Lulling the viewer into a false sense of security, Prosperi takes an eternity establishing his earnest eco-conscious credentials with shots of pollution in “a north European city” (looks like Frankfurt though most of Wild Beasts was actually shot in Rome, after Prosperi’s Africa Addio notoriety got him and his crew kicked  out of Zimbabwe, then South Africa in quick succession). Nor are there any grounds for optimism in the boring “human interest” stuff that follows, in which “Rupert Berner”, played by wild animal wrangler turned one-shot “actor” Tony Di Leo (aka “John Aldrich” and his dodgy moustache certainly suggests a fair resemblance to his near namesake, the free-scoring ’80s LFC icon) attempts, in vain, to chat up ice queen Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle, who’s already had plentiful cinematic experience with such wild beasts as David Hess and John Morghen). Add all of this to Daniele Patucchi’s lame wallpaper jazz score and you could be forgiven for resigning yourself to another anodyne effort from the fag end of the Italian horror cycle … until somebody (who, why or how is never really established) slips a megahit of PCP into the city’s water supply and a bunch of elephants, big cats, polar bears, etc, all tripping off their furry faces, break out of the local zoo and embark on an evening of serious riot and rampage.

At this point you might reasonably raise the objection that PCP is supposed to tranquilise animals but before there’s any time to mull over such pharmacological niceties, we’re up to our asses in mondo carnage… a parked-up couple find their heavy petting session interrupted by ravenous  rats, who turn their carnivorous attentions to the emergency service personnel who attempt a rescue.  “Help… they’re attacking me!” points out one of their number, helpfully. Good job that in this “north European city” the emergency services are routinely equipped with flame throwers (for a minute there I thought I was watching a Bruno Mattei picture). Elsewhere a blind avant-garde composer, attempting to complete his symphony of animal noises, is dealt a devastating critical thumbs down when his guide dog goes all Dicky on him.

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While the lab team compete with each other to come up with the hippest street names for PCP (if you want a few more, season 4 episode 17 of Quincy – Dark Angel, directed by Ray Danton – comes highly recommended), a cheetah chases a dopey girl around in her vomit coloured car (serves her right for that eye watering paint job and for listening to a lame rap radio channel) until the inevitable pile-up ensues. Further RTA action is guaranteed as panicked livestock plus PCP-powered pachyderms promenade down main street and when the latter adjourn to the city airport, their presence on the runway causes a plane to crash into the city’s main power station (smart move to put that right next to a runway, right?) Among the general blackout mayhem, Laura’s subway train grinds to a halt and is soon attacked by tigers… what were the odds on that?

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When all that PCP has been successfully metabolised, the fugitive animals re-caged to contemplate their comedowns and the big clear up has commenced, it might appear that everything is done and, er, dusted but Prosperi still has one boffo twist up his sleeve. Laura goes to collect her bratty daughter from dance school, only to find that the tiny dancers who managed to survive a polar bear attack have, under the leadership of an insufferable little shit named Tommy, butchered their Terpsichorean tutor. Yep, fame costs and she paid in sweat and blood… never work with children or animals, eh? Then the most anticlimactic ending in living memory leaves us pondering further questions…

…. such as why, how and by whom was that PCP introduced into the drinking water? Why did it only effect the zoo inhabitants, those rats, that guide dog and those sawn-off Kids From Fame? Still, Prosperi has had way more troubling questions to respond to in his career, some of which he addresses on the bonus materials of this disc, stonewalling in the teeth (and bloody claws) of the evidence on view here that no animal was injured or killed during the making of his picture (!) and that all of them were handed back to the handlers when the cameras stopped rolling (some of them in considerably crispier condition than before they “starred” in Wild Beasts, he might have added).

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FP would prefer to talk about WB as a warning against pollution / drugs / terrorism / genetically modified crops… you name it… anything apart from an exercise in animal cruelty. He does admit, though, that “We’ve never been PC”. No foolin’…

Tony De Leo does admit to personal discomfort about the fate of some of his animal co-stars in Wild Beasts, when not flexing his muscles to prove “Ol’ Tony’s still here!” Form an orderly cue, ladies and casting agents… There’s also an interview with amiable circus hunk Carlo Tiberti, whose dad Roberto wrangled the unfortunate creatures in this film.

Mario Morra has a lot of interesting things to say about the personal chemistry and working relationship between Jacopetti and Prosperi (“those two scoundrels!”) and his own excursions into Mondo Africa. He retired from movie editing in 1994 (“… because of the arrival of the despicable computer!”) but is proud and happy to show off the moviola on which he cut Pontecorvo’s Battle Of Algiers (1966), among many other classic (and not-so-classic) pictures.

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Not to be bettered, Prosperi shows the men from Severin around his lavish country retreat in footage that was intended for a documentary that would unite him with his estranged collaborator Jacopetti, unfortunately scotched by the latter’s rapidly declining health. Chez Prosperi is predictably decked out with all kinds of non PC animal artifacts, pride of place among which must go to the genuine Triceratops egg. Just imagine the potential rampage should that one ever hatch… no doubt Franco still sits on it every night.

The way animals are treated in Wild Beasts is problematic, to state the bleeding obvious, but it’s difficult to claim the moral high ground if your shelves contain (as I suspect many of them do) copies of Cannibal Holocaust and / or Ferox… or even Argento’s Phenomena, given some of the revelations in the recent Arrow box set about how that poor chimp was “trained”.

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(*) As for the unanswered question which opened this posting… “Francis Thrive” sounds suspiciously like a clumsily literal translation of “Franco Prosperi”. Draw your own conclusions.

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The Other OTHER HELL Review… Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso’s Jaw-dropping Spaghetti Exorcist / Nunsploitation Hybrid Arrives On Severin BD.

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BD. Region B. Severin. Unrated.

I previously dug up and reviewed the Redemption VHS edition of The Other Hell (1980) elsewhere on this site, where I rashly described it as Bruno Mattei’s “wildest and best” movie (or something along those lines… go click the link if you can be arsed, because I certainly can’t). Since then, courtesy of a clutch of fine Severin / Intervision releases, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with the gob-slapping cannibal / zombie / WIP atrocities that Mattei perpetrated in the last few years of his career / life and am obliged to reconsider my assessment of this one as Mattei’s finest hour-and-a-half…. or perhaps that should be twenty minutes, as much of the supplementary material on Severin’s spanking new Blu-ray of The Other Hell lends weight to ongoing speculation that its nominal director “Stefan Oblowsky” comprises something like one part Mattei to every four parts Claudio Fragasso.

Fragasso contributes an amusing, highly self-deprecating commentary track (sample quote: “Zombie nuns… that’s cool… because it’s blasphemous!”) He confesses that shots of a burning priest were bought in from the producers of The Legacy, drops the fascinating aside that at one point he was going to write a sequel to Bay Of Blood for Mario Bava and wonders: “Why is Umberto Lenzo always so angry?” Most memorably, one of the many faults he finds with The Other Hell is that it should have been a lot “crazier”… a mind-boggling judgement considering that the film’s pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more studied, subdued and subtle moments in this film, which subsequently relates the vain attempts of trendy cleric Father Valerio (Carlo De Mejo) to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!

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Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (you guessed, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from a certain Dario Argento picture. The film’s title is clearly intended to reference another Argento picture, although naming this farrago “L’Altro Inferno” makes about as much sense as calling Alan Briggs’ Suffer Little Children, another upcoming and suitably wholesome Severin (Intervision) release,  “The Other Suspiria”!

Nobody’s ever going to confuse The Other Hell with an entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy (hang on, I was forgetting Mother Of Tears!) but its sheer go-for-broke audacity, its all-out  sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium puts it ahead of even Joe D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, its fluffed “shock” ending and its female lead Franca Stoppi) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.

Stoppi is probably The Other Hell’s trump card, chewing the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza. She comes across very well in the short interview on this disc, reminiscing about days spent shuttling back and forth between the sets of The Other Hell and Mattei’s True Story Of The Nun Of Monza topped off by evenings on stage! Sadly, stage fright ended her career prematurely but she reinvented herself as an animal rights activist (and no, she wasn’t at all happy about that chicken decapitation, though Fragasso describes it as “inevitable… chickens always end up like this!”) before sadly passing away in 2011. The featurette To Hell And Back comprises archive interviews with Mattei and Carlo De Mejo. Elsewhere Fragasso offers some interesting observations as to why the careers of both De Mejo and Garofolo fell short of what those actors might otherwise have achieved.

Inevitably when a film of this vintage and provenance is re-rendered in Blu-ray there’s going to be a certain amount of grain in evidence, but Severin have managed to keep this element within acceptable levels on a disc that cannot be denied a place on your shelf… Satan himself demands it!

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Incidentally, towards the end of Fragasso’s commentary track, he and his interlocutor are scratching their heads over the identity of the actor playing the priest in the film’s lame “twist” ending. Is it not (I could be wrong) “Mark Shannon” (Manlio Cersosimo), who starred in any amount of goofy horror / porno crossovers for Joe D’Amato? If so, he manages the unprecedented feat here of keeping his dick in his trousers when confronted by a movie camera. Thank heaven for small mercies, eh?

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ALL THE COLOURS Of Blu… Sergio Martino’s Classic Occult Giallo On Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

When Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage parlayed Mario Bava’s giallo formula into the stuff of international crossover hits in 1970, every spaghetti exploitation director worth their salt (and several who weren’t) scrambled to get a piece of the slasher action by setting killers in broad-brimmed hats and dark macs onto scantily clad ingenues. Sergio Martino surfed this filone particularly adeptly, aided and abetted by the most scantily clad and beautiful ingenue of them all, his producer brother Luciano’s room mate Edwige Fenech. The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s box-office smash and established a template in which Fenech’s neurotic character would jet set around the world in her attempts to live down the sexy skeletons in her closet and escape the homicidal nut job on her tail, only to discover that just because she’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that several of the men in her busy love life aren’t conspiring in various permutations and with miscellaneous motivations to do her in. Fenech wasn’t available (probably knocking out a few period sex farces) for Martino’s second giallo of 1971, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, which ran along disappointingly formulaic lines and proved conclusively that Anita Strindberg and Evelyn Stewart together couldn’t make up for the absence of one Edwige Fenech.

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Thankfully she was back for the following year’s All The Colours Of The Dark aka Day Of The Maniac / They’re Coming To Get You / Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh Part 2, et al, in which Martino would extend the giallo’s frontiers exponentially. Fenech’s Jayne Harrison in this one is even more screwed up than the spoiled Mrs Wardh and with considerably more justification. Cooped up in Kenilworth Court, Putney, she’s suffering post traumatic stress disorder following the car crash in which she lost her baby (and it’s only later that we learn that she witnessed the fatal stabbing of her mother when she was seven) but gets precious little emotional support from her cold fish, workaholic pharmaceutical salesman boyfriend Richard (George Hilton). He obstructs her sister Barbara (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro)’s efforts to set Jayne up with a psychoanalyst, insisting that she just pull herself together and keep taking the tablets (… but are they, as claimed, just vitamins?) Jayne is plagued by nightmares in which her various traumas are juxtaposed with all manner of Satanic psychedelia (good news for us because she tends to get over them by taking a shower in her nightshift… woah, baby!) and things go from bad to worse when a guy who resembles the assassin from her dreams (Ivan Rassimov, looking even more striking than usual in a pair of shocking blue contact lenses) starts stalking her. Her chic new neighbour, Mary (Marina Malfatti), waxes blasé about this (“Strange men have been following women since the stone age, Jayne!”) but does propose a novel solution to our heroine’s malaise, i.e. that she attend a black mass (?!?) Although much has made up to this point of Jayne’s indecisive character, by a flick of scripter Ernesto Gastaldi’s pen she decides there and then that she wants to participate in precisely such a shindig RIGHT NOW!

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“Chill-O-Rama”, huh?

In a gothic folly that will be only too familiar to fans of Toyah Wilcox’s The Blue Meaning album, Jayne gets down with the Satan worshipping junky set (I think this is what we’re supposed to infer from the calamine lotion daubed liberally over their faces) and during a Rosemary’s Baby-inspired scene, is taken (to the accompaniment of Bruno Nicolai’s ravished acid rock theme) by cult honcho J.P. McBrian (Julian Ugarte from Paul Naschy’s breakthrough picture Mark Of The Wolfman, 1968). Now “J.P McBrian” might strike you as a disappointingly pedestrian moniker for a Satanic cult leader, but he’s knobbing Edwige Fenech so the dude’s doing alright for himself, OK?

Far from her being mitigated by these occult dabblings, Jayne’s problems are exacerbated when, at a subsequent ritual orgy, she is implicated in the killing of Mary, who had apparently grown terminally jaded about life and delivered Jayne to the sect as her replacement. I love the way the Satanic acolytes shuffle round each other in a little dance routine while all this is going on. Now Jayne’s stalker (Rassimov) reveals himself as “Mark Cogan”, the murderer and former lover of her mother, who had been an enthusiastic participant in all these occult shenanigans (foreshadowing a plot point in Argento’s Opera)… “Now you’re one of us, Jayne…” he glowers: “It’s impossible to renounce us!”

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The plot descends into pure paranoia at this point, with the news that McBrain is a Big Cheese at Scotland Yard, though this is immediately revealed as a figment of Jayne’s increasingly traumatised, drug-addled and brain-washed imagination (check out the totally surreal “breakfast with dead people” vignette… did it really happen?) Turns out that significant characters have been motivated by all-too materialistic considerations (i.e. an inheritance) but, at the very death, Martino can’t bring himself to impose a purely logical wrap-up on the narrative. Once the mandatory shop window mannequin has been chucked off a roof, Fenech’s final (and almost certainly post-synched) lines, delivered with her face turned away from the camera, indicate that genuine psychic forces are awakening within her, an awakening which is going to either empower or destroy her… or is this is just one more level of delusion? ATCOTD’s ambiguous and haunting conclusion ensures that the viewer will keep turning the film over in his / her own mind after watching it, like a nightmare from which (s)he is struggling to wake. An inveterate mix’n’matcher of genres, Martino set the ball rolling here for a synthesis of straight giallo and the supernatural that would be handled to more influential effect by Dario Argento just a few years later…

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If you think you’ve read something very like the above review on this site before, congratulations on a) your excellent taste in blogs and b) being such an attentive, retentive reader. The first time we ran Sergio Martino’s occult giallo past the viewing panel here at HOF it was on the German Marketing-Film DVD, which occasioned a certain amount of moaning about its not-exactly anamorphic presentation and the fact that its 5.1 option was only available on the German language sound track… foreskin durch technik, indeed. The Shameless BD fits our TV screen much more agreeably, albeit with no Surround option whatsoever (though Nicolai’s black music theme still lit up our left and right frontal speakers, not to mention our Woofer, to diverting effect.) The digital upscale significantly enhances the beauty and subtlety of Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography, while noticeably boosting the graininess of certain passages… ah well, to quote an irate French chef from a P.G Wodehouse story, I can take a few roughs with a smooth and if you’ve had the Marketing-Film edition on your shelf for a few years now, you’ll certainly be wanting to upgrade to this.

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Extras include a bunch of trailers for Fenech / Martino oriented Shameless releases and Doors, a spooky (and apparently prize-winning) short by Michele De Angelis. Hi, Michele! There’s a new interview with the ever-affable Martino, in which he sings the praises of his regular repertory players (“If you’ve got a winning team, why change it?”) and recalls the memorable occasion of his first meeting with Edwige Fenech, apparently resplendent in leather trousers (and looking far more fetching in those, one imagines, than Theresa “Mock Turtle” May ever managed to.) Once again, Sergio assures us that he felt no disappointment when the divine Fenech took up with his brother Luciano (yeah, whatever) and acknowledges the passionate devotion of giallo fans. He describes how the process ATCOTD was shot in led to framing problems and recalls that ten minutes were cut out of the film’s tricky climax when it played in Roman cinemas. Most amusingly, he opines that when snooty critics condescendingly refer to him as a craftsman, it makes him “feel like a carpenter.” Undeniably though, such moments in ATCOTD as the Lewtonesque “bus shot” (actually a “black cab shot”) are, er, very well crafted…

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It’s always a pleasure to hear the thoughts of Diabolique magazine mainstays Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, who contribute a characteristically enthusiastic and knowledgable commentary track here. Their excitement about contributing to a Blu-ray edition of what is clearly one of their favourite films (and why wouldn’t it be?) registers almost palpably. While ATCOTD, for all its manifest merits, is thematically skinnier than e.g. Borowczyk’s The Story Of Sin (for which the Diaboliquel duo contributed an exemplary voice over to Arrow’s release), this disc is all the better for their efforts and yes, Kat does get to vent her ongoing obsession with Mathew Lewis’s The Monk. Hey, why not pick up a copy of that Gothic classic, stick some Bruno Nicolai on your stereo as you leaf through it and knock back a glass or two of absinthe while you’re doing so? Go on, you’ve earned it!

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Samuel Beckett’s Story Of O… FILM / NOTFILM Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. BFI. PG.

As readers of this blog will no doubt be aware, Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929) contains what is probably still the most audacious sight gag ever played on a cinema audience, in which a woman’s (actually a dead cow’s) eyeball is sliced open beneath an occluded moon. Anything promoting such a visceral reaction as that was always going to be anathema to the Emperor of Existentialist Ennui, playwright Samuel Beckett. Film, the 1965 short which he scripted for theatre director Alan Schneider, finds a gentler (as in “quietly desperate”) way to make a similarly potent gag, namely by casting silent screen icon Buster Keaton and “depriving him of his trump card… his face!” Equally perversely, film neophytes Beckett and Schneider resolutely ignored every suggestion offered by their star, a walking repository of cinematic savvy.

Keaton didn’t have a clue what they were up to but at this point the faded screen legend, depleted by divorce, drink and some bad business decisions, was accepting any paying gig. He hadn’t even been the first choice to play protagonist “O” but the part devolved to him after Chaplin, followed by established Beckett interpreters Jack MacGowran and Zero Mostel, passed on it in their turn. Fourth time turned out to be the charm, indeed it’s difficult to imagine anybody more qualified for what is essentially a chase movie (albeit a forbiddingly cerebral one… could have been scripted by Bishop Berkeley of Cloyne) than Keaton. Hotly pursued by “E” (the eye of the camera / viewer), he staggers rather than races through a drab, entropic landscape to the security of his cell like bolt-hole, where we see him forsaking human and animal contact, abandoning God and the claims of family / the past, resolutely refusing, throughout, to reveal his features… until he has dropped off and wakes to be confronted by his mirror image. Keaton’s deadpan dread, his Caliban cringe at the climatic moment of self discovery suggest the degree to which Beckett must have felt out of kilter with The Age Of Aquarius and everything else that unfolded over the rest of The Swinging ’60s.

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Film lasts about 22 minutes but, ably abetted by Boris Kaufman’s stark monochrome cinematography, it emerges as something more evocative of the Surrealist muse than David Lynch could ever manage even if he made a hundred series of Twin Peaks.  How though, did The BFI parlay a three disc BD / DVD set out of it? Well, much of the package is taken up by Ross Lipman’s 2016 “kino essay” Notfilm, which clocks in at something over two hours. Although one can’t completely shrug off the impression of talent taking a protracted ride on the coat tails of genius, Lipman manages a few thought-provoking insights along the way and his interviews with such Beckett associates as Billie Whitelaw, Haskell Wexler, producer Barney Rosset (his Alzheimer’s both poignant and strangely appropriate to the proceedings), Jean Schneider, Jeanette Seaver and James Karen are inevitably engaging stuff. Overspilling off cuts from these interviews take up much of the balance of the bonus features and in a separate one Karen, interviewed in front of a live audience, proves himself a very droll fellow indeed. After his interlocutor has reeled off a list of his allegedly most prestigious credits, the prolific actor laughingly chides him for not mentioning Return Of The Living Dead.

Other extras include a reconstruction of the abandoned opening section,  out takes from the scene in which Keaton attempts to evict a cat and a dog from his hovel (proving the wisdom of that old adage about children and animals) and David Rayner Clark’s inferior, Max Wall-starring 1979 remake. Somewhere among this embarrassment of bonus riches there’s mention of a stage play about the making of Film, though nobody captured a performance of it for inclusion here. Just as well, perhaps… by the time you’ve worked your way through the stuff already on this set, you might feel more than a little Filmed out. Minimalism blown up to cover three discs. Best consumed in discrete chunks.

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