Monthly Archives: April 2018

ORANGE ALERT…AMSTERDAMNED Reviewed

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DVD. Shameless. Region 2. 18. (We actually watched the earlier, out-of-print edition on the Cine-Excess imprint of Shameless sister label Nouveaux Pictures. Same specs and extras.)

Having considered one non-Italian giallo, Sidney Hayers’ Assault (1971) in our previous posting, I thought it might be in order to take a look at another one here.  This particular Italian genre has tended to travel as badly as Italian cheese but perhaps that distinct sub-strain of Venetian thrillers (the superior Who Saw Her Die and The Designated Victim, the execrable Giallo In Venice… even, if you stretch a point to breaking point, Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now) explains why the format translated so well to the canal-crammed capital city of Holland for Amsterdamned (1988)… not to mention the consummate skill of writer / director Maas and his collaborators.

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Much of the film plays like an unabashed advertisement on behalf of the Amsterdam tourist board, an impression underlined by the 35 minute “making of” featurette (“The City, The Film, The Makers”) included among the extras here… the action even adjourns to The Rijksmuseum at one point so we can check out Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (oh go, if you’re going to get all pedantic on me, that’s Rembrandt’s The Company Of Frans Banning Cocq And Willem Van Ruytenburch). Not sure though, how visitor numbers were ever going to be  boosted by this saga of a demented frog man emerging from the city’s canals to slaughter victims, seemingly selected at random, in sundry spectacular fashions before disappearing again in those waterways. The staging of and musical accompaniment to the kill scenes have more than a suggestion, albeit a heavily ironic one, of Jaws about them and, just like on Amity Beach, there are civic dignitaries with a vested interest in the crisis being handled in a manner likely to put off the fewest possible tourists (the suggestion is then, if anything, more of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, bringing the scenario Spielberg pinched for Jaws back to its North European roots).

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Over the mayor’s objections, the chief of police insists that the right man to crack the case is inspector Eric Visser (Maas’s favored male lead, Huub Stapel). It’s difficult to discern precisely what special qualities he brings to the investigation, beyond a facility for fairly amusing one-liners and looking cool in a scruffy kind of way. He seems to devote way more time to bringing up his similarly flip and anarchic daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet), putting up with her eccentric, nerdy boyfriend Willy (Edwin Bakker) and pursuing his own romance with sexy Rijksmuseum guide Laura (Monique Van De Ven from Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight… can’t say that I blame him) than applying himself to the small matter of all this canal carnage. Clues and leads just seem to drift his way as if by magic and it has to be said that when they do, he pursues them energetically via his participation in such beautifully executed (and edited) set pieces as a car / motorbike chase (complete with witty allusions to Bullitt and Starsky & Hutch) and, as if that weren’t enough, a rattling speedboat chase around the canals of Amsterdam (some of which was actually shot, somewhat contentiously, in the city of Utrecht) that’s every bit as good as its obvious inspiration, the equivalent scene in Geoffrey Reeve’s Puppet On A Chain (1971… the first AA film that the underage Freudstein ever snook into).

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Red herrings swim in and out of the plot and are dispensed with in their turn until Maas conclusively demonstrates his affinity with Amsterdamned’s Italian models by revealing the culprit to be a character to whom we haven’t even been properly introduced yet, and ludicrously motivated to boot (think of Sergio Pastore’s Crimes Of The Black Cat and you’re thinking along the right lines). While comfortably handling the genre conventions, Maas injects a pleasing vein of gentle humour that is generally absent from (or handled less successfully in) spaghetti thrillers and proudly flies the flag for his lowland homeland with plentiful visual and scripted allusions to iconic Dutch stuff… no Focus references, sadly, not even a glimmer of Golden Earring, but nederbeat outfit Lois Lane accompany the credit crawl with their insanely infectious title song…  even catchier than Simon Park’s signature tune for Van Der Wank. Allegedly on its original Dutch theatrical run, Amsterdamned finished with a jokey variant on the Carrie / Friday The 13th-type shock shot of a fist emerging from the canal, albeit clutching nothing more deadly than an ice cream cone. Just one gorenetto, eh Dick?

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Proof positive that it’s possible (albeit very rarely) to find a decent giallo that was made outside of the Italian milieu. No need to take my word for it… when I interviewed him, Lucio Fulci, no less, pronounced himself a fan of Amsterdamned and Maas’s work in general. If it’s good enough for Fulci…

… and indeed, Maas turned out to be a most amiable bloke while attending last year’s Mayhem in Nottingham, wowing festival-goers with his 2016 effort Prey, effectively an Amsterdamned remake with an escaped lion standing in for the skin-diving assassin.

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Can You Dig It? Armando Crispino’s THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN Reviewed

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The Etruscan Kills Again (1972). Directed by Armando Crispino. Produced by Artur Brauner. Written by Armando Crispino, Lucio Battistrada, Lutz Eisholz, adapted from a short story by Bryan Edgar Wallace. Cinematography by Erico Menczer. Edited by Alberti Gialitti. Art direction by Giantito Burchiellaro. Production design by Giovanni Nataluccu. Music by Riz Ortolani. Starring: Alex Cord, Samantha Eggar, John Marley, Nadja Tiller, Enzo Tarascio, Horst Frank, Enzo Cerusico, Carlo De Mejo, Mario Maranzana, Carla Brait.

“In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, lived a strange race of people… the Druids. No one knows who they were… or… what they were doing… but their legacy remains… hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge!”: Stonehenge by Spinal Trap. 
… and pretty much the same could be said of the Etruscans, whose civilisation shaped, but was ultimately supplanted by, that of Ancient Rome. Certainly tousel-haired Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord) is mulling their mysteries when he flies in to investigate some recently unearthed burial mounds, but archeological enigmas soon prove to be the least of his worries… for starters he’s trying to woo back his ex, Myra (Samantha Eggar), who finished with him on the pretty reasonable grounds that he’d stabbed her (“Sure, love can make you stab a woman and you might even knock her around a little” observes a sympathetic if not entirely PC cop). She’s now married to the tyrannical orchestra conductor Nikos Samarakis (John Marley) who, it turns out, still hasn’t divorced his first wife Leni (Nadja Tiller)… whose son Igor (a very young-looking Carlo De Mejo) is working on the Prof’s dig. A canoodling couple who choose one of the mounds for a spot of furtive nookie end up getting their brains beaten out (in a scene which might well have influenced the pre-credits sequence to Fulci’s House By The Cemetery, 1981) with a ceremonial club that turns out to look exactly like one wielded by an Etruscan deity (“Chakuka”? Sorry, my Ancient Etruscan’s a but rusty…) in a subsequently discovered mural. Is some kind of supernatural nemesis avenging the desecration of this sacred site? Or is some really weird shit going on?

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Suspects include choreographer Horst Frank (in a performance that is, even by his standards, floridly camp) and an insect torturing tour guide-turned-blackmailer (seriously, I’m not making this up!) but Jason finds himself fitting neatly into the frame (rather like Jon Finch’s character in Hitchcock’s Frenzy, 1972) on account of his track record in domestic violence and significant gaps in his memory, occasioned by his habit of downing a bottle of J&B a day… it’s nice to see the giallo wonderdrink actually serving as some sort of plot point for once, over and above its customary product placement purpose. Oh, Mr Porter… things are looking bad for our stab-happy, dipsomaniac academic but the fact that Verdi’s Requiem is heard playing every time some gormless youth gets messily bumped off amid the Etruscan remains (yeah, it happens a few times)  and the introduction of a shoe fetish motif suggest that some kind of primal trauma is being played out and if you pay attention, you shouldn’t find it too hard to identify the culprit before the climactic revelation.

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If TEKA was the only giallo ever attempted by Crispino, he would probably has made about as lasting an impression on the genre as those Etruscans did on world history, but fortunately in 1975, the year that Dario Argento perfected the form with Deep Red, our man Armando got his thematic shit (the soapy interaction of characters with improbable biographies, morbidly delineated in a macabre atmosphere) together and hewed his legacy into the living rock of pasta paura with the remarkable Autopsy.

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If this one whets your appetite for Etruscan-themed thrillers you’ll want to check out Sergio Martino’s so-so Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery (1982) and Andrea Bianchi’s gobsmacking Burial Ground (1980), the latter featuring some even weirder domestic entanglements than Crispino’s picture and also enough badly made-up zombies to improve the mood of any living dead completist who felt that they were tricked into seeing The Etruscan Kills Again by a misleading American retitling and ad campaign.

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Avanti Avati! The PUPI AVATI Interview

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Feted and decorated at Cannes, Berlin and Venice for such Arthouse efforts as Bix, Il Cuore Altrove and Il Papà Di Giovanni, Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati has pursued a parallel career in Freudsteinian film. In this archive interview from 1996 he reveals the full extent of his hidden Horror history, over and above such self-directed classics as The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and Zeder (1983), taking in collaborations with Mario and Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Signor Avati, many horror fans are frustrated that you have chosen to limit your participation in that genre…

I am not aware of being able to count on fans in the gothic genre. I know that The House With Laughing Windows is quite well known in some countries, and also certain other of my works. I don’t know if I could work exclusively in this genre without paying a price in originality and the kind of stimuli which are necessary for me to return to film-making with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

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I believe your horror spoof Tutti Defunti… Tranne I Morti was made with the specific intention of frustrating attempts to type-cast you as “a horror director”…

Yes it’s true, I made Tutti Defunti specifically to avoid having that label stuck on me.

Please tell us something about your early experience working as assistant director on films like Piero Vivarelli’s Satanik…

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It was a modest experience, in fact my role was actually that of second assistant… Piero Vivarelli was not a great director, but he was an able technician, from whom I learned the importance of organising a shoot properly, how to put together a troupe, the relationship between a script and a shoot, between the directors and his actors… a little of everything which I then developed on my own account.

What are your memories of working with Lamberto Bava on Macabro?

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Good memories! Lamberto has no ambitions to become a great auteur, but he is a tremendous professional. He loves the whole business of making a film, of using effects, music, actors, the script… the whole machinery. He had already worked as my assistant director, which was when I discovered that he is very gifted.

That film proceeds with the restrained menace that is characteristic of your own pictures… until that abrupt final twist with the head attacking the blind man!

My recollection of Macabro is rather hazy. Frankly, it’s a film that I haven’t watched again. I like the idea of the head being kept in the fridge, then taken to bed. It both amuses and terrifies me… the right mix, wouldn’t you agree?

Please tell us about working with Mario Bava on Bordella…

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He only worked on the realisation of the “invisible man” sequence towards the end of the film. After many false starts with other so-called effects men, Bava resolved the technical difficulties with ease. Looking back, the effect seems pretty infantile now.

What would you say are the respective talents of Bava Sr and Bava Jr?

Mario belonged represents a cinema with more convictions, with less irony… to a dark cinema which believed in itself. These films were directed at a more naive public, who would willingly go along with a story. Lamberto has had great success with fairy-tales, in a milieu of absolute unreality. What links them is their desire to astonish their audience.

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Tell us about collaborating with Pasolini and Sergio Citti on the script of Salò… what was your input?

Pasolini had never even read De Sade. We wrote the film with Citti, who was going to direct it. Then the company that was supposed to produce the film went bankrupt. One evening I met with Pasolini and proposed to him that he should direct the picture himself. He accepted my suggestion, and that’s what happened. Screen-writing with Pasolini was conducted on a basis of mutual respect and close collaboration, I have never been keen on collaborating with others, but I did enjoy my collaboration with Pier Paolo.

How do you remember Pasolini the man?

He was the mildest and perhaps the most sensitive man I have ever known. To work with him was simplicity itself, because he knew exactly what he wanted from you.

Although it is not generally known, I believe you collaborated on an early draft of Profondo Rosso… how do you remember your collaboration with Dario Argento?

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I only worked on the film for a few days. Dario had been sick, and was recovering in hospital. We came up with the film’s opening, without even writing a line. I believe something of that remains in the film, a seance I seem to recall. But Dario Argento, who I know very well, was already an established film-maker. He’s a centraliser, who doesn’t like to concede any control to anyone else. I’m the same… and two cocks in the same hen-house isn’t a good recipe for artistic collaboration.

What about Lucio Fulci, with whom you collaborated on the satire Dracula In Brianza? Did you find him as “difficult” a man as he has been painted?

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Fulci always comported himself very well with me. I wrote a script that he thought was perfect, then he made a complete about turn and rewrote everything. I completely lost track. It was not easy to capture exactly what he wanted. I think that ultimately, little of what I contributed ended up on the screen. Anyway the film’s star, Lando Buzzanca, had a big say on what went into the script.

You have always operated as an independent and stayed loyal to your regional base of Emilia Romagna… what has the region contributed to your artistic vision – particularly to your macabre sensibility?

The peasant culture in which I grew up is still very strong in Emilia Romagna… I was brought up on terrifying fairy tales and a religiosity which always emphasised the terrible penalties for sin. I was brought up in a state of fear, and these fears are acknowledged in my work. They have shaped my imagination.

You’ve made several movies in the U.S. but – true to your independent philosophy – in Iowa rather than Hollywood. Tell us about the affinities you see between this state and the Emilia Romagna…

They are two very similar regions with wide plains, farming land and the kind of people who are bred by that culture: a little restricted, a little conservative, deeply versed in tradition but also open to the future… a singular mix in each instance.

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Although you love the Emilia Romagna, your film The House With Laughing Windows (above) portrays it as place of degeneracy and decay…

I have tried to portray the dark side of my homeland. The secret side, which doesn’t appear in the tourist brochures. It was in Zeder that I best captured this unofficial side of “the Riviera Romagnola”.

You based the character of Paolo Zeder on Fulcanelli… are you aware of the way this character has also been used in Guillermo Del Torro’s Cronos and Michele Soavi’s La Chiesa?

Many people have been fascinated by Fulcanelli. I certainly was. Recently however, a document has come to light in France that proves he never existed, except as a literary invention.

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An unsettling moment from Avati’s Zeder (1983)

Is it true that L’Arcano Incantatore is based on another allegedly “real-life” alchemist…

Another real-life figure, yes, but not an alchemist… he was a student of necromantic texts, named Achille Ropa Sanuti and he was another Bolognese. He stayed in my city halfway through the eighth Century. Excommunicated for his studies, he took the esoteric name “Arcane Enchanter”.

Would you agree that Zeder has influenced Soavi’s more recent effort Dellamorte Dellamore (not to mention Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary)?

I couldn’t comment, because I haven’t seen either of those films.

Your female lead in Zeder was the gorgeous Anne Canovas, an actress who I haven’t seen much of anywhere else…

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I don’t know how Anne Canovas was chosen. She was very good in a TV film by my friend Giacomo Battiato, perhaps I saw her there.

Isn’t it true that you like to work more closely with your actors than is generally the case in Italian horror cinema?

Yes. In Italian horror cinema (which is considered unworthy by everybody, particularly by actors) the director’s rapport with the cast tends to be non-existent. This isn’t exactly the best way to get good performances! I always approach a dark film in exactly the same way as I would approach a realistic one.

I believe though that Zeder, the only one of your horror films to get a proper release in the US was shot in the English language… Gabriele Lavia has said that this made it a difficult film for him to work on… what are your recollections of this?

I didn’t manage to achieve much of a rapport with Lavia. Because the film was shot in English, it was difficult to devote as much attention to the nuances of his performance as he would have liked.

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I was told that The House With Laughing Windows was originally shot in the dialect of Emilia Romagna… is this why it has never received the distribution that it deserves?

It wasn’t shot in any dialect and it received excellent distribution in Italy, where the film was a great success. It didn’t get much overseas distribution because of the inadequacy of our organisation then… our fault, entirely.

Rumours persist that you are planning an English-language remake of House With Laughing Windows… aren’t you discouraged by the poor results when other classic European films have been remade in America?

It’s true, we’re studying the feasibility of doing an American remake. There are many small towns over there that remind me very much of Comacchio… with rivers, uninhabited houses, old churches… I think it would be a fantastic film.

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Is it true that you wanted Alec Guiness to star in the original?

Yes, we made a rather naive attempt to sign him up.

Do you see any affinity between the paranoid sensibility of a film like The House With Laughing Windows and films like Francesco Barilli’s Perfume Of The Lady In Black, Aldo Lado’s Short Night Of The Glass Dolls and Gianfranco Giagni’s Il Nido Del Ragno?

Of these films, I’ve only actually seen Perfume Of The Lady (below). There are affinities, probably because Barilli originates from the same region as myself. Also, we shot these films during the same period.

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In connection with this paranoid ambiance, I’m told that you once worked as an investigative reporter…

I’ve never been an investigative reporter, though I have worked as a researcher of historical documents, which is a rather different field.

Bologna is noted as a centre of left-wing intellectualism, and I believe that you took a degree in political science… do you consider yourself in any way a political film-maker?

I’ve tried to avoid any possibility of being defined as a political film-maker. I’m not happy to be tied to any one party. I have never felt that anyone could represent me, apart from myself. I can’t delegate anything, and for that reason I’m a loner. Perhaps an outsider. In this aspect, I’m an atypical Bolognese.

Looking back, how satisfied are you with an early effort like Balsamus?

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Balsamus was my first film. It was the culmination of 30 years of life, of waiting. It was 1968 and I wanted to put everything into it. Too much. It has too much energy, too much invention, not enough communication… very little heart.

Do you agree that your film Thomes… The Possessed in many ways foreshadows Peter Greenaway’s subsequent, more famous film, The Baby Of Macon?

I don’t know, I haven’t seen Greenaway’s film.

How do you remember working with actor / writer / director Luigi Montefiori (“George Eastman”) in films like Regalo Di Natale and (below, right) Bordella?

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He’s an actor with a very wide background in films of every genre: westerns, Italian thrillers, and so on… he’s written many scripts. It was a pleasure to work with him, because he was so familiar with every aspect of film-making.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a producer who is also your brother?

With my brother Antonio there have been only advantages. He protects me from everything, from all the difficulties that can plague a director. And he counsels me… he’s the only person I’ll take advice from.

Do you enjoy your role of producing for other directors?

It’s my brother who is mostly occupied with these new young directors. I’m rarely involved in the choice. At times I’ll collaborate in the writing or editing, but I never set foot on their sets.

Why do you feel that the Italian industry in general is in such a poor state? Are you optimistic about the prospects of a revival?

Italian cinema has been suffocated. It is afraid of telling impossible stories. It has made a fatal pact with reality, with time, with politics, that has stifled it and restricted its growth.

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Please tell us a little about the films you’ve produced in the USA, such as Maurizio Zaccaro’s Dove Comincia La Notte and Fabrizio Laurenti’s La Stanza Accanto…

Dove Comincia La Notte is based on one of my stories, a story I really like. La Stanza Accanto is based on other stories and perhaps is less direct. But they are both honourable efforts. The first met with some success, though the second didn’t.

Can you tell us how your love of jazz structures in music translates into the way you structure a film?

Improvisation is at the heart of jazz. Certain sequences in my films have been saved by improvisation. Sometimes you have to go with the flow of your imagination, to rely on it, to trust it to provide you with what you need. Often you wait in silence, as though pregnant, then something just happens.

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Does the success of L’Arcano Incantatore (above) mean that we can look forward to more fantasy / horror films from Pupi Avati in the future?

Of all my fantastic films L’Arcano Incantatore is dearest to me, because of what it doesn’t contain, because of what it leaves unexplained. Stories that connect you with extraordinary, disturbing co-incidences… this is what I like. I myself do not thoroughly understand the stories I tell. The mystery remains.

Signor Avati… thanks for your time and your kind attention.

You’re welcome. I’m delighted by your profound knowledge of my work.

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