Monthly Archives: June 2019

“They Called Her The Countess…” Twice The Vice In Riccardo Freda’s DOUBLE FACE.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

Arrow’s creditable crusade to afford decent BD releases to as many Riccardo Freda films as possible continues with this timely edition of Double Face (“A Doppia Faccia”), an Italian / West German co-production that initially emerged in 1969 on the very cusp of Germany’s “krimi” adaptations (and alleged adaptations) of Edgar Wallace potboilers and the Italian giallo cycle that was heavily influenced by but ultimately supplanted them.

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Here John Alexander (Klaus Kinski on uncharacteristically restrained form for one of his earliest leading roles) romances Helen Brown (his frequent Eurotrash co-star Margaret Lee) in whirlwind style (and amid some of the crappiest blue screen work in cinema history) but finds time to repent at leisure as his new bride rapidly cools on him in favour of female lovers, most notably Liz (Annabella Incontrera). On the upside, she makes him the beneficiary of her controlling interest in some ill-defined business empire or other, in the event of her death. Some upside… when Helen’s jaguar crashes (in one of the film’s two poorly mounted miniature RTAs) and she’s burned to an unidentifiable crisp, he becomes Scotland Yard’s number one suspect for her murder (somebody planted an explosive device in the jag…)

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As if he doesn’t have troubles enough, John returns to his impressive country pile from a recuperative break to find that sexy hippy squatter Christine (Christiane Krüger) has moved in. Dismissing her as one of his wife’s ditzy conquests, John is lured to a groovy sex / drugs / motorbike party where he catches a blue movie starring Christine and a veiled woman who, her distinctive jewellery and distinguishing neck scar strongly suggest, is Helen. You’d have to be particularly dim not to suspect that John is being set up for something and he’s probably not too dim to have worked that out for himself, but his curiosity and the tantalising suggestion that his beloved, albeit estranged wife, might still be alive propel him ever further down the rabbit hole…

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Like any self-respecting giallo (and this one is, any way you cut it, more giallo than krimi), Double Face owes much to French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose ongoing concerns with thwarted sexual obsession, personal identity and characters who might or might not be dead were adapted to the screen most notably as Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Long before he was sucked into Italy’s giallo feeding frenzy, Freda had shown his affinity for these themes in that 1962 milestone of Gothic Cinema known, not coincidentally, as The Horrible Secret Of Dr Hichcock, wherein their necrophiliac foundations were laid startlingly bare.

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Converseley, the Goth trimmings of that one and it’s non sequential companion piece The Ghost Of Dr Hichcock (1963) infect Double Face, whose entrepreneur class inhabit antique mansions scarcely less sumptuously appointed than that of Dr H himself. Freda has a ball indulging his fussy visual style while driving his compelling narrative forward at such pace that you don’t register how little sense it makes until after the end credit has rolled. DB’s FX scenes are as risible as anything in Freda’s Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire  (1971), Tragic Ceremony (1972) or Murder Obsession (1980) and he stages a visit to The Grand National (Edgar Wallace’s parents hailed from Liverpool, incidentally) in true Am-Dram style but he never bailed (as was his wont) on Double Face (though Kinski briefly did after these alpha males had butted heads)… when you sense that his mercurial mind is tiring of the proceedings, the director amuses himself by sending Kinski out sleuthing in a Philip Marlowesque mac and fedora for a paranoid perambulation down Fritz Lang Street… Freda was a more cultured character than many of his contemporaries and when I see this sort of thing, I can’t help feeling that it’s closer to the passages of stylistic parody and pastiche in  Joyce’s Ulysses than standard cheapjack film thievery.

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Hyped as a Wallace adaptation for its German release, Double Face was actually co-written by our old pal Lucio Fulci, who liked its wobbly plot so much that he rehashed elements of it in his own Perversion Story aka One On Top Of Another (which takes its Vertigo fetish so far as to be set in San Francisco) the same year and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). Nora Orlandi’s beautiful main theme was similarly reworked, to spectacular effect, in Sergio Martino’s extraordinary The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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Speaking of Orlandi (with pals, above), in his bonus featurette OST guru Lovely Jon gives us the run down on the great woman and her circle, with some priceless vintage clips. Better still, the lady herself is then interviewed and proves to be a formidable prospect, who by her own account battled to make her way in a man’s world but never took any shit off anybody. She flatly contradicts Lovely Jon’s assertion that she must have learned much from Alessandro Alessandroni, implying instead that without what he learned from her, Alessandroni would never have amounted to much. She’s particularly catty about another rival, Nino Rota and although she got on fine with Romolo Guerrieri (for whom she scored The Sweet Body Of Deborah, 1968), predictably fell out with Freda over his accusation that she recycled cues from picture to picture. Frankly, he had a point, as acknowledged by Orlandi when she jokes: “Better to steal from myself than from somebody else…”

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… unless they lived in the middle ages, of course, Orlandi happily bandying about the volume of medieval music from which she pinched her most celebrated theme. When it was recycled in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, she had to take steps to ensure that she got paid. Endearingly, she admits to not even knowing who Quentin Tarantino was at the time, though now she believes it enhanced her prestige to have her music associated with him. Why not the other way round? Cultural imperialism is a curious thing…

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Other supplementary materials include Amy Simmons’ video essay on Freda’s forays into giallo, an extensive image gallery from the Christian Ostermeier collection (including the original German pressbook and lobby cards, plus the complete Italian cineromanzo adaptation), original Italian and English theatrical trailers, also a reversible sleeve featuring vintage and newly commissioned Graham Humphreys artwork. The first pressing only will include an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on Double Face by Neil Mitchell.

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Tim Lucas’s commentary track is as erudite and informative as ever, though representing something of a change of tack. Unsure about which of the films many edits (see below) he was going to be discussing, TL delivered a lecture rather than the usual scene synchronised commentary. If you close your eyes or turn the picture off this works OK, otherwise there are points at which Tim discussing scene A while scene B unfolds is as jarring as a Dinky toy traffic accident.

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Lensed by Gábor Pogány (who also shot Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, among many others), Double Face’s bold primary colours, which previous releases have contrived to mute, really pop in this beautiful transfer. At 1:31:26, the main feature runs about four-and-a-half minutes longer than the previously circulated French language / English subtitled bootleg print of “Liz Et Helen” and a full thirteen minutes longer than the Das Gesicht Im Dunkeln version on Universum Film’s epic Krimi DVD box set. I’ve never seen the French version with hard core inserts featuring Franco favourite Alice Arno… hey, what kind of a boy do you think I am?

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Brain Salad Surgery… DEATH WARMED UP, Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“We’ve got an emergency here… a break out of psycho patients!”

Mad scientists…. a crazy bunch of bastards! Am I right or am I right? From Frankenstein to Moreau, Butcher to Dolittle, they’ve actually done very little to improve the human condition (which is generally their professed intention), more often than not opening up unprecedented vistas of dystopian degradation while trying. To be fair to Dr D, inter-species communication has proved to be a real boon but there’s always an exception to prove the rule and the rule, reasserted in spades in David Blyth’s Kiwisploitation epic Death Warmed Up (1984), is that disregard of medical ethics, no matter how lofty the reasoning behind it, bears catastrophic fruit, often in the form of psychotic survivors of speculative brain surgery running amok…

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Here, self proclaimed medical messiah Dr Howell (Gary Day) has decided to extend his surgical experiments on rats’ brains to human beings, confident that he can “make Death obsolete”. Pointing out the worrying side effects of these procedures (which will become all too painfully obvious as the plot unwinds), his colleague Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) demurs. Incensed by such lily-livered shilly-shallying, Howell brainwashes Tucker’s son Michael (Michael Hurst), by unspecified means, into going home and blasting Mom and Dad away with a shotgun (just as they were settling down to an agreeable spot of middle aged-nookie… he could at least have let Mom and Dad finish, out of simple courtesy!)

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Several years later Michael is released from the high security booby hatch to which he had, not unreasonably, been confined. He seems to have picked up the pieces of his life admirably well. While he looked even sillier than Angus Young as a schoolboy assassin, the grown up, bleached blond Michael more closely resembles Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner… quite the cool dude. He’s got a foxy girlfriend, Sandy (Margaret Umbers, whose swimwear stylings will interest all serious students of bactrian podiatry) and two great mates, Lucas (William Upjohn) and Jeannie (Norelle Scott). Together they embark on a happy-go-lucky holiday trip to a remote island but instead of sun, sand and sex, his friends are in for death, destruction and dismemberment… Michael forgot to mention that their destination is the location of Dr Howell’s Institute for Trans Cranial Applications, where he’s heading with vengeance uppermost in his damaged brain. As “luck” would have it, the Doc’s pissed-off patients start kicking off just as they arrive and Michael must fight his way through a horde of mutilation-bent mutants –  led by the relentless Spider (David Letch) – en route to the climactic confrontation with his Nemesis…

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“I’ll get you, you bastards!”

Over the Tasman Sea, Australian censors did’t get this film’s punk rock / comic book aesthetic of OTT outrage and Death Warmed Up found itself banned on the grounds of “excessive violence” (nowadays they’d probably be more worried about its stereotypical “comic” depiction of a Sub-Continental convenience store propreitor). Whatever, Peter Jackson obviously managed a squint at it, as cursory examination of his early gore trilogy eloquently testifies (thankfully David Blythe never made the jump to mega-budgeted muppet monstrosities). On account of this obvious influence, DWU has latterly been hailed as some kind of trailblazer for Antipodean atrocity, though it obviously owes its own debt to George Miller’s Mad Max I and II. Its sub-Blake’s 7 production design also brings to mind (to my twisted mind, anyway) that 1979 Lee Cooper commercial with the Gary Numan music…

… and of course Blyth’s cautionary tale of medical missteps would make for a tasty double bill viewed alongside Anthony Balch’s uproarious Horror Hospital (1973, below).

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Extras include interviews with David “Spider” Letch (who comes across as a benign, avuncular figure now that his eyebrows have grown back) and a double header with director Blyth and writer Michael Heath. Those two also provide optional audio commentaries to the main feature and also a reel of (sometimes mysteriously) deleted footage. As well as the expected trailers and TV spots, you can also watch original NZ 4×3 VHS cut, should you choose to do so. My copy came in an attractive slip case featuring the original poster art work by King of Quad, Graham Humphreys.

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The main feature is a bit grainy and there are some sonic imperfections but what do you expect, given the provenance of this picture… I mean, how slick do you want your Punk Rock, anyway?

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Buio Alpha (Before The Darkness)… Mino Guerrini’s THE THIRD EYE Reviewed

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Il Terzo Occhio (“The Third Eye”), 1966. Directed by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini). Produced by “Louis Mann” (Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati). Written by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini), “Dean Craig” (Piero Regnoli), “Phil Young” (=?) and “Gilles De Rays” (?!?) Cinematography by “Sandy Deaves” (Alessandro D’Eva). Edited by “Donna Christie” (Ornella Micheli). Production design by “Samuel Fields” (Mario Chiari). Music by “Frank Mason” (Francesco De Masi). Starring “Frank Nero” (Franco Nero), Gioia Pascal, “Diana Sullivan” (Erika Blanc), “Olga Sunbeauty” (!) (Olga Solbelli), Marina Morgan, Gara Granda, Richard Hillock, Luciano Foti.

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Mino Guerrieri’s The Third Eye concerns itself with the murderous misadventures of an uptight young man who’s dominated by his mother and spends too much time on his hobby of taxidermy… hm, remind you of anything?

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Said young man is a spoilt aristo who goes off the rails when his beloved fiancee carks it. He picks up young floozies and has it off with them in the company of his enbalmed paramour then does away with them, with the collusion of his infatuated housekeeper. Everything’s going swimmingly until his fiancee’s identical twin turns up… remind you of anything else?

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Yep, Mino Guerrini’s The Third Eye is the missing link between Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Jolly Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega / Blue Holocaust / Beyond The Darkness / Buried Alive (1979). That domineering mother figure, who’s absent from the D’Amato flick and only exists as a figment of Norman Bates’ warped imagination (albeit a pivotal one) in Psycho, is present here in the all too fleshy form of Contessa Alberti (Olga Solbelli) and the resentful, calculating housekeeper (Gioia Pascal’s “Marta”), completely missing from Psycho, foreshadows Franca Stoppi’s spectacularly overplayed Iris in Buio Omega.

The Third Eye 3.jpgThese two alpha females go mano a mano over young Count Mino (Franco Nero) but are smart  enough to call a pragmatic truce when his fiancee Laura (Erika Blanc) threatens to eclipse both of them in his affections. At the suggestion of The Contessa, Marta drains the brake fluid from Laura’s car and she ends up dead in a pond. Having witnessed this sorry spectacle, Mino returns to the family chateau to be informed by the local gendarmerie that his mother has died after a fall down the stairs (in fact Marta pushed her)…

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Mino’s definitely had better days but his response to these events, traumatic as they are, can only be classified as overreaction. After Guerrini’s given him a goofy nightmare sequence, he starts picking up a string of strippers and hookers (the first of whom reminded me more than a little of Ania Pieroni) and making out with them until they object to the presence of the mummified Laura, at which point he throttles them to death.

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Screams were heard in the night as the result of him stuffin’…

“I’ve done it again…” Mino confesses to Marta (who’s already mopping up the evidence of his latest homicide) before protesting that he didn’t want to … his third eye made him do it!!! That’s OK then… After Marta has assisted on a few clean ups, she has sufficient leverage over Mino to extract a promise of marriage from him… perhaps a happy, if seriously twisted ending is in prospect? No, because now Laura’s identical twin Daniela (Blanc again, obviously) turns up and things start getting really wiggy!

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For Franco Nero, who’s about to overtake Donald Pleasence and may well live to challenge Malcolm McDowell or possibly overhaul John Carradine in terms of sheer quantity of screen appearances, 1966 was a particularly busy and fruitful year, even by his standards… we’re talking this, Margheriti’s War Of The Planets and Wild, Wild Planet, no less than three important Spaghetti Western’s (Corubucci’s Django, Fulci’s Massacre Time and Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios) and playing the role of Abel in John Huston’s The Bible, among others. The following year, the role of Galahad in Joshua Logan’s Camelot would elevate Franco into the firmament of international stardom, though he continued to maintain a healthy prsence in Italian genre Cinema. It’s a single note performance that he gives here, but perfect for a part in which he’s effectively dominated by the female characters. Veteran Solbelli impresses as the Countess. Gioia Pascal as Marta chews nowhere near as much scenery as Franca Stoppi in Buio Omega but delvers a performance so solid that one is surprised to learn that this, only her second screen appearance (after Franco Indovina’s Menage Italian Style, the previous year) also turned out to be her last.

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Was Guerrini attempting some kind of auteurist statement by naming the character after himself? He directs well throughout, with his own distinctive eye for the camera angles and compositions that will best enhance the telling of his sick little tale, though hereafter he marked time as a filone hack-for-hire.

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Just as Hitchcock, feted for the “tastefulness” of Psycho’s signature shower murder, felt empowered by shifts in Cinema community standards to get a whole lot more brutal twelve years later in Frenzy, so Joe D’Amato (never the most shrinking of violets anyway) had no qualms whatsoever about bringing the viler implications of the Norman Bates legend to the screen in 1979. Mino Guerrini was never going to get away with anything like that level of explicit sadism in 1966 and any grand guignol eruption of guts, filmed as here in black and white, was going to lose much of its impact anyway. Picking up on hints in Riccardo Freda’s Dr Hichcock brace (1962/3), The Third Eye cracks on more in the manner of Italian Gothic (coming right at the end of that particular cycle) than the giallo as which it has sometimes been identified… presumably by pundits who haven’t actually seen it. Last time I checked, it was still available (subtitled) on Amazon Prime, complete with shots from the first stripper killing that were excised from some releases. What are you waiting for, you sick puppies?

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