Monthly Archives: September 2019

Signs Of The Times… A Round Up Of Recent INDICATOR Releases

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They Made Me A Fugitive. BD. Indicator. Region Free. PG.
The System. BD. Indicator. Region Free. 12.
90º In The Shade. BD. Indicator. Region Free. 12.
Hussy. Indicator. Region Free. 18.

Over the course of three short years Indicator has become a label to be reckoned with, boasting a track record of quality restorations, beautifully packaged and loaded with niche extras rivalling the kind of stuff you’d expect to find on releases from the BFI (with whom Indicator seem to work in close cahoots). This latest batch of limited (to 3,000 units each) editions comprises telling snapshots of developing social and sexual mores in the UK (and Prague!) over some thirty odd years.

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Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me A Fugitive (1947) is part of what is now perceived as a Golden Age of British Cinema, though received in its day as residing very much on the seamy underside of that glittering era… not exactly St. John L. Clowes’ No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948) in terms of notoriety, but definitely not a very nice film. How could it be, when it deals with the morally distorting fallout of the Second World War (with similar forensic intensity to Carol Reed’s The Third Man, 1949)?

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Trevor Howard is demobbed RAF man Clem Morgan, trying to make sense of “peacetime” in bleak ol’ Blighty. A sense of existential ennui drives him into common criminal cause with the psychotic Narcy (Griffith Jones). That’s “Narcy”, as in narcissistic, nasty, Nazi… and narcotics. When Clem refuses to get involved in the dope trade, Narcy frames him for the murder of a copper and he ends up breaking rocks on Dartmoor… only to escape and home in on his nemesis, embarking upon an odyssey through an ethically empty terrain where he encounters a seemingly respectable woman planning to murder her husband and hitches a lift from a sinister, sadistic lorry driver. These moral distortions run parallel with alarming visual outbreaks for which much credit must go to cinematographer Otto Heller but which also remind us that  Cavalcanti directed the deeply unsettling “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” episode in 1945’s Horror portmanteau classic Dead Of Night. One of the problems contemporary critics had with TMMAF was its stylishly shot misogyny (gialloesque before its time?)… “What’s England Coming To?”

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This UK Blu-ray premiere is a 2K restoration by the British Film Institute, whose Kieron Webb outlines all the work that went into that on one of the bonus featurettes. Film historian Neil Sinyard delivers an illuminating appreciation of TMMAF in another. Trevor Howard features in two bonus shorts, 1941’s Squaring The Circle (a dramatised Royal Air Force training film in which he makes his first screen appearance) and The Aircraft Rocket (1944), an extract from a multi-part RAF technical film. There are image galleries and an archival audio recording of the John Player Lecture with Cavalcanti from 1970, when nobody apparently had any qualms about sponsorship by tobacco companies. There’ll be an accompanying booklet stuffed with essays too, but (and this also goes for everything reviewed below), I haven’t seen that yet.

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There’s more misogyny, albeit expressed (for the most part) via utterances and attitudes in The System (1964, U.S. title The Girl Getters), a drama of social and sexual manners whose guiding existential ennui is generated by ’60s Affluence rather than post-war Austerity. The eponymous “system” refers to the modus operandi of girl-hunting buckos on the make in Devon at the height of the holiday season rather than any crack at British class arrangements, though the film does kind of mutate into that as its story develops.  Oliver Reed is the philosophical beach bum (taking sunbathers’ photos, unsolicited, then asking them for money? Try that now and see where it gets you) who, for all his macho front, finds himself getting hooked on upper crust model Nicola (Jane Merrow, a late replacement for Julie Christie).

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The film which started getting attention for its director Michael Winner, The System contrasts very favourably with e.g. Ken Russell’s unwatchable (despite the presence of Marisa Mell in its cast) French Dressing, shot and released at virtually the same points in 1964. At that time your money would have been on Winner emerging as the more interesting director (a bet you’d obviously have lost). Then again, Winner is leaning heavily here on writer Peter Draper and his DP Nic Roeg. Why wouldn’t he? Roeg turns in some characteristically extraordinary shots in what is a fairly ordinary picture and there’s plenty of testimony in the supplementary interviews regarding how much Winner deferred to his judgement.

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By the time he penned his unreliable memoir, 2004’s Winner Takes All (relevant fragments of which, I’m reliably informed, will appear in the booklet accompanying this release) the director had become altogether less modest and suggested that The System (specifically the scenes of larking around on a train) preceded A Hard Day’s Night (a quick glmpse at IMDB confirms that the opposite is true) and that Epstein wanted him to direct the Beatles’ flick… sure thing, Mike. No Fabs here, so Winner makes do with The Marauders, The Rocking Berries and the Searchers, who contribute an annoying ear worm of a title song (co-written by by Bobby Richards and Mike “Jeff Randall” Pratt). He did benefit from the services of a strong cast of up’n’comers… John Alderton… Julia Foster… a curiously underused David Hemmings, just two years away from Antonioni’s Blow Up. The bonus interviews on this HD remastered BD world premiere include predictable tales of Reed Rowdysim, though by all accounts Ollie was very reluctant to strike Merrow for real and ultimately bullied into it by Winner, whose non-fan club will no doubt receive a posthumous boost in membership on account of that and other anecdotes on this disc… What’s England coming to? Cast members Merrow, John Porter-Davison and Jeremy Burnham reminisce to good effect, there’s an audio commentary from film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams, plus image gallery. Haunted England  is Winner’s woefully unfunny 1961 travelogue about British stately homes and their ghostly inhabitants, hosted by an embarrassed looking David Jacobs, which you might find yourself wishing had remained interred.

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What was Czechoslovakia coming to in 1965? Jiří Weiss’s 90º In The Shade portrays a Prague not overly troubled with the problems of Affluence but still seething with troublesome social and sexual politics. Anne Heywood (from The Killer Is On The Phone, et al) is convenience store worker Alena, who’s having an unsatisfying clandestine affair with her married manager Vorell (James Booth from Zulu), a jack the lad who’s drinking / appropriating his way through the store’s non-selling stock of expensive spirits. Enter the auditor Rudolf Kurka (Lucio Fulci lookalike Rudolf Hrusinsky from Juraj Herz’s Cremator, 1969) and the jig might well be up. Cue a mad night for Vorrell and Alena, scrambling all over the city in an attempt to drum up replacement booze and the money to buy it. Their efforts are in vain and I’ll give you three guesses as to who ends up carrying the, er, can. Meanwhile the stuffy auditor, himself trapped in an unhappy family situation, goes through a humanising experience due to his involvement with Alena. Not exactly a happy ending, though. Is it all an allegory of the build up to the coming Dubcek thaw? It would take a greater expert in Czech politics and culture than me to tell you…

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“Lucio who?”

… which is why it’s a good reason that Michael Brooke supplies the audio commentary to this Blu-ray world premiere. One of the fascinating things about this English / Czech co-production is that the English and Czech language versions, quite aside from there significantly different running times (the English language version, at 91 minutes, running longer than the Třicet Jedna Ve Stínu cut by a full 8 minutes) frequently feature alternative shots and takes. Both versions appear (as 2K and HD restorations, respectively) here and Brooke details their differences in one of the disc’s bonus featurettes. Other bonus goodies include an archival audio review with director Jiří Weiss and three of his WWII propaganda shorts, supporting Czech and Norwegian resistance to the invading Nazis and bigging up the Soviet airforce. Stirring stuff.

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After all those Angry Young Men, it’s time to turn the spotlight onto a Tart With A Heart… Mathew Chapman’s Hussy (1980) stars Helen Mirren as Beaty, an escort / single mum seeking  a better life for her and her son. Can she find it with American drifter Emory (John Shea) or will compromising past entanglements (in which Emory himself becomes increasingly entangled) frustrate their developing love story and her longed for escape from seedy pick up joints?

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Neither as raunchy as Caligula (1979) nor as gritty as The Long Good Friday (1980), between which it sits equidistantly poised on Mirren’s illustrious resumé, Hussy is a romantic melodrama involving people who make their living in the down market smut milieu, rather than a piece of down market smut. Inevitably, the latter is how it was presented in the UK media, as regretfully conceded in the supplementary featurettes by producer Don Boyd, among others. Maybe that’s why Mirren couldn’t be persuaded to associate herself with this release. John Shea, the ever fascinating Jenny Runacre (below with Dame HM) and OST composer George Fenton do get to have their say… sad that the ill-fated Sandy Ratcliff is no longer around to do so.

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Very much of its time (there are some casual references to sex tourism that wouldn’t go down very well today) Hussy is a beautifully vivid evocation of life in late ’70s London, more properly (after all, how would I know?) of London life as it was lived on the likes of The Sweeney and Minder… I’m surprised it hasn’t turned up on ITV 4 recently. Then again, now that we have this HD remastered UK BD premiere, there’s no need for that. After all the misogyny soaked up by the female leads of the other three films in this batch, Hussy’s upbeat conclusion comes as a welcome relief.

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The real hidden gem here is an archival audio micro interview (all 4 minutes of it) with Hussy’s poster artist Sam Peff (1921-2014), whose distinguished career illustrating pulp paperback covers, quad posters and video boxes (Peff’s iconic / notorious work on Go Video’s release of Cannibal Holocaust is just one of his contributions to this field) deserve a more expansive featurette… Severin, I’m looking at you!

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You Need Your Bumps Feeling, Mate… José Ramon Larraz’s DEVIATION Reviewed.

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Deviation (Sweden / UK / Spain, 1971).  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

Oh to be in England, now that Autumn’s there. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… not to mention voyeurism, porno shoots, gerontophilia, drug abuse, black magic, lesbian vampires, murder and human taxidermy, if you happen to be visiting one of the country piles inhabited by Karl Lanchbury (pictured below in one of his more subdued moments) during some of the pictures made by Catalan Horror maven José Ramon Larraz in his English period (1970-74). We’ve already considered Whirlpool (1970), The House That Vanished (1973) and Symptoms (1974) on this blog and now turn our gimlet eye upon Deviation (1971), hitherto the most elusive of these films, recently discovered lurking on Youtube.

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After a disorientating title sequence (whose action is never really explained) and an opening scene which establishes that Julian (Lanchbury) is an intense young taxidermist (hm, remind you of anyone?) but relatively normal compared to his weirdo sister Rebecca (Whirlpool holdover Sibyla Grey), we find ourselves in the company of odd couple Paul (Malcolm Terris) and Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist… yes, like its predecessor Whirlpool, this is a Scandinavian co-production) who are driving through some dark woods, having an argument about his refusal to leave his wife. Their evening goes from bad to worse when Paul runs over a tripped out Satanist (“He didn’t know how to smoke”, we subsequently learn).

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Seeking refuge at Julian and Rebecca’s tumble down manor (some of whose underground tunnels bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones Marianne Morris and Anulka spend much of their time running up and down in during Larraz’s Vampyres, 1974), they are drugged by their hosts. Having already taken uppers to keep him awake while driving, Paul revives enough to have a poke around the house (discovering a cat obsessed, doom prophecying, Alzheimer’s addled Auntie) and becomes aware that some kind of ceremony is going on. Discovered, he is dragged down into the cellar to be sexually humiliated by Jules and Beccy’s hippy pals, until his obvious arousal so disgusts Rebecca that she stabs him to death.

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Olivia doesn’t seem unduly disturbed by Paul’s’ disappearance (readily swallowing the story that he had to get back to his office) and happily submerges herself in the ongoing drug party life style of Jules, Beccy and their far out mates. When Julian shoots her up with heroin she enthuses that anything is preferable to her dreary affair with Paul.

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Rebecca visits a sleazy old Dr Feelgood (former BBC announcer Geoffrey Wincott) to stock up on more dope and after initially seeming to succumb to his superannuated advances (inter generational sex crops up so regularly in these films, it’s fair to speculate that Larraz had a pretty keen personal interest in the subject), stabs him too. Back at the mansion, Olivia discovers Paul’s distinctive mermaid tattoo preserved as a taxidermalogical trophy and finally turns on her hosts / captors… the film’s bungled twist ending falls completely flat, accomplishing the difficult trick of making its opening look like a relative model of coherence and clarity.

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The first shot we see in this film is a brief glimpse of a phrenology bust, suggesting that for all those occult trappings, its actual narrative motor is sheer human craziness… deviation from some norm of “mental health”. Rebecca has clearly been sexually traumatised some time in her previous life (Larraz’s attempts to appropriate / approximate elements of Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965, would be more convincingly attained in Symptoms). There’s also a pretty on-the-nose statement about contemporary deviation from traditional moral norms… just as with Vivian Neves’ character in Whirlpool, we’re invited to conclude that Lundquist’s “had it coming”. You can take the director out of fascist era Spain but the converse isn’t, apparently, so easily achieved. Indeed, Deviation looks a lot like a dry run for a film Larraz made in Spain after the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, 1982’s Black Candles (UK quad below).

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Deviation is, frankly, a right old mess (and typically of Larraz’s output in this period, the dialogue is clunky as fuck) but I was glad of the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in donkey’s years. Like Whirlpool it boasts a nifty OST from Italian maestro Stelvio Cipriani but the understandably crappy picture quality here makes it difficult to pass comment on the film’s visual merits or otherwise. Perhaps, if possible (one gathers the rights are in dispute) Arrow could continue the good work they began in their “Blood Hunger” Larraz BD box set by giving this one the kind of release it deserves. Fingers crossed.

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High Carati… ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Piling on its preposterous pretensions to penal reform / socio-political significance, one-shot director “Conrad Brueghel” (Giovanni Brusadori)’s Escape From Women’s Prison (“A Tale Of Sex And Violence”, 1978) is nothing more nor less than another blast of bad taste Italian (s)exploitation from the seemingly inexhaustible Severin vaults, in “a new 4k scan of a dupe negative seized from notorious NYC distributor 21st Century Film Corp”. Just the way we like it… a Tagliatelle Trash fan’s wet-dream collision of the W.I.P., home invasion and rape / revenge filoni.

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The sleazy action kicks off with four female convicts escaping over a prison wall. The film’s budget doesn’t extend to any depiction of the jail itself, but what the hey? Diana (Marina D’Aunia), Erica (Ada Ometti) and Betty (Artemia Terenziani) are ten-a-penny prostitutes, drug dealers and killers but Monica (Lilli Carati at her beautiful peak as Italy’s answer to Isabelle Adjani) is a Marxist terrorist so naturally she becomes top dog.

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These desperate individuals hijack a team bus full of female college tennis players (usual suspects Zora Kerova, Ines Pellegrini, Dirce Funari and Angela Doria) and drive it to (where else?) the country pile of the judge (Filippo Degara) who put them all away in the first place. The girls seem mostly miffed about the fact that they’re going to miss their tennis tournament and when one of them complains about this, she’s slapped down with the witty retort: “Shut your hole, cunt!” Looks like it’s going to be a long night…

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As armed police lay siege to the house, earnest discussions of dialectical materialism give way to a drunken lesbian grope fest (during which there are as many blatant plugs for Jagermeister as for J&B) and – obviously figuring “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” – the judge rapes Monica (!?!) After this questionable judicial intervention, she saves the hostages (by shooting her fellow cons) and attempts to abscond with Pellegrini’s character (who seems to have undergone some kind of radical political conversion) only for a “hail of bullets” sound effect to suggest that they didn’t get very far.

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So, what moral can we possibly deduce from this tawdry tale? That stroppy female Lefties respond well after having some sense shagged into them by male authority figures? Nope, I don’t think that one’s gonna fly in 2019. Brussadori also seems to be suggesting that no prisons are more constricting than the ones which we construct for ourselves. Carati’s prison was heroin, a confinement she finally escaped for good on 20/10/14. She was all of 58 years old.

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Extras include a particularly ripe trailer which plays out under a ludicrous police radio bulletin clearly fashioned on the one in Last House Of The Left, plus an interview with Brusadori, who seems like a nice guy and is never going to get lost in a crowd wearing that cardigan. You also get the longer Italian cut entitled Le Evase, in which certain scenes are allowed to ramble on a bit longer. Perusal of this reveals no significant new sleaze, but it’s not as though you’ve been short-changed in that regard by the main feature.

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Sex Dwarf, Isn’t It Nasty? THE BEAST IN HEAT Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
(“The World Blu-Ray Premiere Of The Most Bizarre Nazisploitation Shocker Ever!”, no less…)

“Don’t spit on the plate from which you eat your dinner”, John Morghen once told me and while that’s eminently sensible advice vis-a-vis basic culinary hygiene, he was actually responding to my enquiry as to how he felt about being typecast as a series of mentally unstable grotesques. Somebody else who probably thanked God for typecasting (if possibly for very little else) was Salvatore Baccaro (1932-1984). Talent spotted outside a Roman film studio, working as a fruit and veg vendor (a role he plays, fleetingly, in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, 1975), Sal was never likely to be nominated for a Rondo award, unless it was one for the closest physical resemblance to Rondo Hatton (both suffered from the disfiguring condition acromegaly). Baccaro’s brutish features and sawn-off, barrel-like physique earned him 65 roles, many of which turned on the old “beauty and the beast” chestnut, either with gently ironic intent (he beds the exquisite Edwige Fenech in Sergio Martino’s 1976 portmanteau effort Sex With A Smile) or to rather more sinister effect…

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After appearances in, among others, Argento’s Five Days In Milan (1973), the 1974 Dick Randall monstrosity Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks (credited as “Boris Lugosi”, our boy played Ook The Neanderthal Man, above) then Jacopetti & Prosperi’s Mondo Candido (1975), Salvatore found his career-defining (though uncredited) role in Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty (1976). Ramming home, with characteristic lack of subtlety, his message that the Nazis’ obsession with racial superiority made them infinitely more bestial than the “üntermensch” they so despised, Brass shows hookers for Hitler proving their loyalty to the Fuhrer by coupling with non-Aryan, disabled, deformed and otherwise “undesirable” prisoners. Sal features prominently as a randy retard. When I caught up with Salon Kitty courtesy of a University film society in the late ’70s, I counted more walk outs during this scene than for any other public screening of any film I’ve ever attended (though David Cronenberg’s Shivers ran it close).

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Not everybody was so turned off, though. In 1977 (a proper annus mirabilis for Signor Baccaro, who also appeared in Luigi Zampa’s The Monster, Luciano Martino’s Erotic Exploits Of A Sexy Seducer and Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America), Sal was called upon to briefly rehash that Salon Kitty role in Bruno Mattei’s xerox of the Brass film, SS Girls. Later in the year producer Roberto Pérez Moreno decided, for reasons over which we can only speculate, to expand the spectacle of Sal as mutant Nazi sex machine to feature length in Luigi Batzella (as “Ivan Kathansky”)’s once-seen-never-forgotten “The Beast In Heat – Horrifing (Sic) Experiments Of SS Final Days”. Well, half feature length, anyway…

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… footage from When The Bell Tolls, a partisan saga Batzella had directed (as “Paolo Solvay”) in 1970 was stitched in to provide some kind of context against which Salvatore (as “Sal Boris”… are you getting all this? I’ll be asking questions later) can spend the balance of the picture doing his inimitable thing, bonking any women unfortunate enough to be thrown into his cage (and sometimes eating their pubic hair), hamming it up in a Cosmo Smallpiece-like caricature of lust, mugging and smacking his lips into Batzella’s on-rushing zoom lens while all around him other overacting captives are sexually humiliated, tortured, castrated and fed to ravenous gerbils and guinea pigs, all of this presided over by sexy, mega-aphrodisiac wielding SS doctor Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall, who’s also in Mattei’s SS Girls, not to mention Ken Dixon’s The Erotic Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, 1975).

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Dr K seems very, er, enthusiastic about her work. Whereas Sal’s role in the Brass and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Mattei films seemed to be to blur the lines between the supposed “subhumans” and the übermensch who were stealing themselves to have it off with them, here he seems to be Doc’s pride and joy, an… er, end in himself, though it’s difficult to see exactly how his retarded rutting is supposed to further the cause of  Aryan racial supremacy. Clearly, Fraulein Kratsch has taken her eye off the prize. As Bruce Lee advises a kung fu novice during the opening scenes of Enter The Dragon: “It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon… don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory”. Dr Kratsch is missing out on a shitload of heavenly glory here, though she appears to be having a whale of a time, all the same.

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When Batzella (who also edited this thing) finally manages to stitch the old and new footage together into some semblance of a climax, those partisans have very definite views on the Doc’s conduct. Not trusting in a malpractice hearing, they stuff her into Bonking Boris’ cage, exactly where we all knew she’d end up. Unfortunately the kill-joy guerillas shoot them both before the full measure of poetic justice can be meted out.

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Severin’s mission to rehabilitate as many official “video nasties” as possible continues unabated. They’ve done a characteristically splendid job on The Beast In Heat, a movie that’s rarely been topped for tastelessness but whose almost palpable absurdity would make it very difficult for anyone to take too much offence at it, aside from opportunistic muck rakers trying to start moral panics during the early ’80.

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In the featurette Nasty Nazi, Stephen Thrower, a dependably articulate commentator, struggles (as would anyone) to convey the tawdry ridiculousness of the whole affair and wonders how a dapper, urbane character such as Luigi Batzella (pictured above, right) could have been roped into it. I guess the answer is that he had bills to pay like everybody else. No doubt the same was true for The Beast’s OST composer Giuliano Sorgini, previously responsible for the sublime score to Jorge Grau’s masterly Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974). Thrower suggests that TBIH was as much “inspired” by the dishonourable tradition of OTT Italian horror comics (“fumetti”) as by any cinematic antecedents which sets up an interesting feedback loop, given that such comic book fodder (see for instance the controversial case of IPC’s Action comic in the UK) often exists to feed a demand for rite of passage forbidden thrills from kids too young to sneak in and see adult-certified films.

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Of course you get a (French) trailer, plus Naomi Holwill’s exhaustive, alternately informative and amusing feature length SadicoNazista doc, Fascism On A Thread – The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema. The aforementioned Giuliani Sorgini opens proceedings by declaring these films”the lowest of the low”. Other genre luminaries interviewed include directors Bruno Mattei, Sergio Garrone (SS Experiment Camp), Mario Caiano (Nazi Love Camp 27), Rino Di Silvestro (Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) and Liliana Cavani (who reveals that what worried Italian censors most about The Night Porter was the spectacle of Charlotte Rampling on top during sex). Night Porter writer Italo Moscati and Sergio D’Offizi (DP on Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) also have their say, along with actresses Melissa Longo (Salon Kitty and various French stabs at SadicoNazista) and Dyane Thorne (Ilsa herself… now an ordained minister!) plus her husband and collaborator Howard Maurer, along with commentators and academics including Mike Hostench from the Sitges Film Festival, Mikel J. Koven, Russ Hunter, Anthony Page, Kim Newman, Allan Bryce and the inevitable John Martin. Yep, it’s another winner from High Rising Productions.

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“Oh, the subhumanity!”

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Holding Out Against The End Of History… Pier Paolo Pasolini’s TRILOGY OF LIFE On BFI Blu-ray.

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BD. Region B. BFI. 18.

In 1992, shortly after Stormin’ Norman and co had kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, cultural commentator Francis Fukuyama declared The End of History in a briefly voguish book of that title. Fukuyama’s thesis (into which subsequent global developments have poked several significant holes) was that The Washington Consensus / Neoliberal model had triumphed  over all other forms of economic, political and social organisation and would be the only game in town for the remainder of mankind’s tenure on planet Earth. Not everybody believed this when Fukuyama said it and among those who suspected he might be right, not everybody was wildly enthused about the prospect.

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Even before he got side tracked into film making in the early ’60s, Italy’s (then) foremost living poet Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well versed in the works of Antonio Gramsci as he was in those of Petrarch and Dante, had been decrying the degeneration of Italy’s Popular Culture into Mass Culture. “Italy’s post-War economic miracle”, as far as he was concerned, was turning out a generation of dead-eyed, dollar-chasing drones.

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After a decade of cinematic and personal provocations, Pasolini conceived and executed his Trilogy Of Life, here gathered in a new BFI Blu-ray set. By (rather freely) adapting classic story cycles from Boccaccio, Chaucer and the various compilers of The Thousand And One Nights he offered glimpses of lost worlds, uncorrupted by consumerism, where unalienated people, in all their crapulent, flatulent fleshiness, lived lives of innocent sensuality in defiance of their own poverty and contemporary restrictive social mores.

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The Decameron (1971) and Canterbury Tales (1972) are expressions of PPP’s contemporary faith in the common people (or his picaresque vision of same), in all their lustful, acquisitive and roguish “authenticity” (a quality which Pasolini, on account of his homosexuality and genteel antecedents, felt that he lacked)… the great unwashed, whose ribaldry and very zest for life could yet recapture the pre-capitalist, essentially pagan idyll for which Pasolini pined. This, however, was looking less and less likely. In 1973 Allende was overthrown in Chile and the country turned into a prison camp / lab for the development of the neo-liberal policies that were subsequently rolled out internationally and have been rolling over the backs of the 99% ever since.

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Arabian Nights (1974) unfolds with the kind of narrative complexity that Quentin Tarantino would give his right hand (or maybe his girlfriend’s right foot) to attain and showcases the ravishing natural beauty of Yemen, Iran, India, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nepal. In this film (and e.g. his 1970 documentary Notes For An African Oresteia) Pasolini was pondering the possible beneficial cultural influences that these Third World countries could exert over The West. No doubt he would have wept if he’d lived to see the scars inflicted by the proxy wars of “more developed” nations on some of those landscapes and their unfortunate inhabitants.

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These are unalloyed gems of European Arthouse Cinema, guaranteed to significantly lift your spirits even if they don’t propel you to the nearest barricade. The fact that they didn’t was a big problem for Pasolini. Even worse, the box office success of his paeans to pagan innocence “inspired” an interminable cycle (“a circus” in the words of trash film producer and prolific participant, Gabriele Crisanti) of lowest common denominator, smutty “Decameronesque” imitators, examined and analysed in David Gregory and Alberto Farina’s  35 minute bonus featurette Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film. In that, PPP biographer Serafino Murro posits that the alacrity with  which the Italian public gobbled up this garbage (in addition to the political passivity of the Italian youth in whom he’s invested so much revolutionary hope) was Pasolini’s direct inspiration for a notorious banqueting scene in his next (and final) film. Read backwards, the fierce joy that characterises his Trilogy Of Life could be construed as softening us up for the sickening sucker punch of Salò (1975). Indeed, in a dialectical twist that the director, as a convinced Marxist, must surely have appreciated, the sheer scatology (which peaks in the gobsmacking vision of Hell at the conclusion of Canterbury Tales), duplicitousness in relationships and casual attitude towards life and limb evidenced by his unalienated, sensuous salt-of-the-Earth types are the germs of the outrages perpetrated by De Sade’s libertines. Just chew that one over for a minute…

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Extras include a collectors’ booklet (which, as usual, I haven’t seen yet) and trailers for all three films. You might well have seen some of the bonus stuff on previous editions. On the Decameron disc you get Notes For An African Oresteia, which would possibly have made more sense accompanying Arabian Nights, but there you go. The latter film is complimented by 21 minutes of footage that were excised after its award-laden screening at the Cannes Festival in 1974. The aforementioned Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film can be found on the Canterbury Tales disc, along with an all new (to me, anyway) interview with Robin Askwith. Boy, he’s aged well… barely looks any different from the way he did in his ’70s heyday and some of his distinctly non-PC asides suggest that his attitudes haven’t changed much since then, either. RA suggests that Pasolini cast him because of their mutual aversion to Franco Zeffirelli and his account of an audition, most of which the director spent mocking the appearance of Askwith’s penis, corroborate that given by one of his Canterbury Tales co-stars in the latter’s riotous autobiography, Who On Earth Is Tom Baker? Pity nobody thought to interview Adrian Street (assuming he’s still interviewable).

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The new transfers look and sound pretty good. Some grain is evident on The Decameron, somewhat less on Canterbury Tales and least of all on Arabian Nights, though I counted at least three subtitling howlers on that one (not sure if they’re being corrected for street copies). If you don’t own these films already, here’s the perfect opportunity to rectify a serious deficiency in your collection.

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Not So Wonderful Copenhagen… A Quick Take On Brian De Palma’s DOMINO.

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Domino (Denmark / France / Italy / Belgium / Netherlands, 2019). Directed by Brian De Palma.

Looks like Brian De Palma burned all his Hollywood bridges with Redacted (2007) and presumably his proposed Harvey Weinstein picture isn’t designed to rebuild any of them any time soon. Passion (2012) was a Franco-German co-production and his latest, Domino, sucked up tax shelter investments from several European countries, principally Denmark, where BDP experienced sufficient problems with producers to declare that this will be his first and final foray into Scandinavian Noir. The film recently crept out on disc in the UK without much fanfare and I was pleasantly surprised (also kinda shocked) when antisocial media pal @GIALLO_GIALLO advised me that it was available on Amazon Prime.

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So, what we got here? Things start promisingly enough when Copenhagen cops Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Lars (Søren Malling) roll up to a reported domestic abuse incident. Lars is running down the clock to retirement and talking about taking his wife on a Caribbean holiday, so no prizes for guessing what happens to him when the incident actually turns out to be a bit of jihadist score-settling. All this plays out as yet another Vertigo (1958) rehash and Christian’s guilt over his part in the death of a colleague, interacting with the motivation of Lars’ pregnant lover Alex (Carice van Houten) and machinations of slippery CIA man Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) promise much but ultimately, De Palma flatters to deceive.

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Lip service is paid to signature concerns such as media / message, scopophilia and the surveillance society (updated to include drones and facial recognition technology) and Pino Donaggio (above, with De Palma) delivers his mandatory Herrmannesque score but Domino lacks the kind of camera and editing virtuosity we’ve come to expect from BDP and packs just one significant set piece scene, at a Spanish bull fighting arena, where suspense is adeptly built then fizzles out with a well-aimed kick in the balls.

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De Palma seems to have reached that point in his career to which Dario Argento has been reduced for some time now. You know: Sleepless is better than The Phantom Of The Opera, but… Domino is a competent thriller on which you won’t begrudge spending 90 minutes of your time, but any amount of competent directors could have knocked it out. Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale and Passion, never mind Dressed To Kill, Blow Out or Raising Cain, would all knock spots off it.

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Would probably make quite a nifty double bill with Sergio Pastore’s Crimes Of The Black Cat (1972)…

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Don’t Like The Look Of Yours Much… DOUBLE DATE Reviewed

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BD. Sparky Pictures. Region B. 15. @SparkyPictures

Ever since 1981’s miraculous An American Werewolf In London (which was kind of a British picture), attempts to revive the British film industry or just keep it ticking over have frequently taken the form of Horror Comedy.  Discounting Shaun Of The Dead (2004) most of those have failed miserably and most of those miserable failures have been all too well deserved. I was dismayed, though, to see Benjamin Barfoot’s Double Date, which kicked off 2017’s Mayhem Festival in barnstorming style, disappear into film limbo for the last couple of years (still, I thought Mandy was going to break all box office records, so WTF do I know?) There are trailers among the extras on this disc which describe DD as “in cinemas now”. Was it ever? Did I blink and miss it? No matter, I’m clutching the blu-ray in my clammy little hand right now and I couldn’t be happier.

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Where AAWIL was simultaneously scary, funny, sexy, adrenalising and surprisingly tender, Double Date ticks just about all of those boxes, too. Well, it’s not particularly tender, but like Joe E. Brown says at the end of Some Like It Hot… nobody’s perfect. What Barfoot and writer Danny Morgan do bring to the table is a ferociously satirical take on the dating game and its attendant rituals, on what boys and girls are respectively expecting from their social and sexual intercourse. Terminal virgin Ginger Jim (Morgan) wants to get over his crippling shyness with women. Jack-the-lad Alex (Michael Socha) wants to help his mate Jim out with that and hopefully get his own end away. Sisters Kitty (Kelly Wenham) and Lulu (Georgia Groome) are after something more lasting and meaningful… you know, commitment… devotion… stability. Sorry, wrong movie… Kitty wants to complete the ritual that will raise their occultist father from the dead. Lulu thinks that’s a pretty good idea in principle, she just wishes that it didn’t involve quite so much serial killing.

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The film’s most profound statement on the vexed issue of sexual politics is left to a cameoing Dexter Fletcher (unrecognisable from Press Gang days), to wit: “You know what they say about women… can’t live with  ’em, can’t have a wank without  a naked photo of one of them!” That’s the best line in the film, though one of the closing exchanges between Jim and Lulu (“I’m so sorry we tried to kill you, Jim”… “I’m sorry I kicked your dad’s head off”) runs it close.

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Double Date is essentially José Larraz’s Vampyres on E (it’s a toss-up between Jim’s family birthday party and the numerous clubbing scenes as to which is the more wince inducing) with a spot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in at the death. American Werewolf did had a much better soundtrack. I really could have done without Big Narstie (now that’s not what I call music), though the Goat stuff was vaguely more to my liking.

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This is exhilarating stuff with some great ensemble playing. Groome is endearing, Socha is a hoot, Morgan reminds me of James Corden, only with talent and likeability. The terms of my restraining order oblige me to refrain from blathering on too obsessively about Wenham, but…

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As if that wasn’t enough, extras include a commentary track with director, cast and crew, the aforementioned trailers, photo gallery and engaging “making of” featurettes. One of my favourite releases so far this year. Kudos to (who the fuck are?) Sparky Pictures.

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“Sweet Mother Of Mercy, Can’t You Smell That Stink?” Further Fragasso / Mattei Madness From Severin… NIGHT KILLER And ROBOWAR Reviewed

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Night Killer. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Robowar. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Does the image above suggest a Felliniesque cinematic sensibility? Perhaps there’s a touch of the Bergmanesque about it? Well, unlikely as it may seem, on one of the extras to Severin’s spanky new BD release of Night Killer (1990), writer / director “Clyde Anderson” / Claudio Fragasso states (with admirably straight face) that these were the rarified levels of cinematic attainment to which he was aspiring here. Unfortunately, when his partner in crud (OK, the guy’s dead, let’s be a bit respectful, now)… “his uncredited co-director” Bruno Mattei saw the rushes he declared Fragasso’s wannabe Arthouse classic a dud and (at the insistence of producer Franco Guadenzi) cut in interminable clumsy dance sequences and stuff involving a gonzoid killer in Freddy Krueger mask and kill glove (the latter wobbly prop looking like it would struggle to slice its way through warm butter) before releasing the whole resultant mess in Italy under a title and publicity campaign that suggested it was the second sequel to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (!?!) at exactly the same time as Jeff Burr’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III came out.

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Did Mattei’s revamp do the film any favours? Probably. After spending way too long pondering what Fragasso’s “psychological thriller” cut of the movie would have looked like, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither version was ever going to make a lick of sense, but that Mattei injected sufficient (additional) unintentional laughs into the proceedings to make it worth your while.

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In Virginia Beach, VA, some nut job is raping and killing his way through the local female population. Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman) is the only victim to have survived one of these assaults, only to find herself apparently falling into the clutches of the psycho all over again… but is her captor Axel (Peter Hooten) the same loony as the one with the Freddy mask? And if not, WTF is going on? And should you give a toss? Prepare yourself for one of the stupidest twists in stupid movie history, closely followed by one of the lamest “so, the nightmare is finally over… oh no it isn’t!” codas you’ve ever witnessed. No doubt about it, this is one of the dumbest movie I’ve ever sat still for. Hm, might watch it again tonight…

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In the ’70s and ’80s Tara Buckman compiled a pretty solid CV, appearing in many of the classic TV series of that era. She played in Kojak, The Rockford Files, Baretta, Hart To Hart, Barnaby Jones, CHiPs, T.J. Hooker, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (on which, more below) and not one but two episodes of The Greatest TV Show Ever (and I’ll brook no argument on this score), Quincy ME (including 1979’s Never A Child, in which the irascible coroner battled child pornography, an episode informally banned from UK TV screenings until recently). In 1981 she rubbed shoulders with a shedload of Hollywood A-listers in Hal Needham’s The Cannonball Run. Three years later her career trajectory was describing a downward curve (or not, depending on your personal orientation re trash films) with an appearance in Charles E. Sellier Jr’s miserably tasteless Silent Night, Deadly Night. TB’s resume petered out in the early ’90s (partly, perhaps, for reasons hinted at in some of the bonus interviews on this disc) amid some of Joe D’Amato’s stodgier soft core efforts and the likes of Night Killer. To be fair, she puts in a half-decent performance here, with nary a hint that she considers herself above all the nonsense unfolding around her or of her apparent animosity towards her co-star… again there are hints at the (not entirely PC) grounds she might have had for this in the supplementary materials.

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If only the performance of Peter Hooten as Axel could be dignified with the accolade “half (or even quarter) decent”… having worked his way up through the same TV terrain as Buckman, Hooten made his first inroads into Italian cinema into Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards (yeah, the real one) in 1978, the same year as he filled the mystic threads of Dr. Strange to rather less elegant effect than Bendydick Cucumberpatch in a weedy TV adaptation of the Marvel character’s trans-dimensional exploits. In 1982 Hooten popped up in Joe D’Amato and Luigi Montefiori’s post-Apocalyptic romp 2020 Texas Gladiators and here he is in Night Killer, looking very much like a fish out of water… I mean, for an allegedly intense psycho, he doesn’t half mince around!

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Rossella Drudi, Fragasso’s other half and uncredited co-writer suggests, in one of the accompanying featurettes, that Night Killer is about how sexual assailants penetrate the minds of their victims as devastatingly as their bodies, which smacks of an after-the-fact attempt to claim Night Killer as some kind of influence on Dario Argento’s 1996 giallo The Stendhal Syndrome (itself a pretty awful film, albeit with many less excuses for being so). That’s as may be, but die-hard sleaze film fanatics will be way more interested in such scenes as the one where the masked dude’s in a heated clinch with a floozy, who observes “Ooh Grandma, what a big schlong you have!” and the big reveal of the psycho’s true identity, after which Buckman stabs him in the dick.

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“Ooh, Grandma…”

Additional bonus materials include a trailer and an interview with Fragasso which, like Drudi’s, looks like it was recorded in someone’s home recording studio. He remembers how their disagreement about the editing and promotion of Night Killer led to a temporary estrangement between him and his co-director, though happily they made it up and Claudio was eventually gracious enough to admit to Mattei that he’d been right. Hey Claudio, when it came to spaghetti exploitation, Bruno Mattei is always right!

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Bruno’s Robowar – Robot De Guerra (directed under his trusty “Vincent Dawn” alias in 1988) is an altogether different and ultimately more satisfying kettle of crud, in which a crap (sorry, crack) team of mercenaries / ‘Nam vets and the like are shipped off to a remote and war infested Filipino island to bring down Omega 1, a prototype battle droid that’s gone AWOL / rogue / native and all sorts of other bad places to which you wouldn’t reasonably want a homicidal cyborg to go.

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I love everything about the mercenaries / ‘Nam vets, starting with the fact that they call themselves “The Bad Ass Motherfuckers” (hilariously mistranslated on the English soundtrack as “Big Ass Motherfuckers). I love their ridiculous insistence (mandated by Mattei, apparently) on screaming like loons as they unload the inexhaustible magazines of their machine guns on platoons of acrobatic Filipino extras and stunt men (well, it worked OK for Stallone..) Then there’s their ridiculous designations: “Diddy or Diddy Bop”… “Papa Doc”… Sonny “Blood” Peel… “Quang (a carry over from the Vietnam campaign)”… and (as portrayed by Reb Brown) “Major Murphy Black, a multi-decorated field officer, better known as… Kill Zone”. It bothers me a little that Romano Puppo’s Corporal Corey doesn’t get a nick-name, so I’m gonna award him one myself, OK? From now on he’s “Big Apple”. It’s my blog and I’ll award nick names to fictitious characters  if I want to…

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Actually, despite Massimo Vanni’s Diddy Bop bearing a spooky resemblance to Chuck Norris, this is actually a pretty weedy-looking bunch of special forces operatives. Don’t worry unduly on their behalf though, because the cyborg assassin they’re up against is a particularly sad sack looking piece of robotic shit. His suit must have been pinched from some cut price fancy dress shop and as for his voice… registering in a range that makes Giovanni Frezza in House By The Cemetery sound like Barry White, it recalls nothing so much as that gobshite garbage pail Twiki from the aforementioned Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.

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The guys are further hamstrung by the unwanted presence of Mascher (Mel Davidson), a representative of some sinister corporation or other who, it turns out, designed Omega 1 (“… with my team of bionic experts”) and in an unexpected twist (unexpected by anybody who’s never seen Alien) is only on board the mission to check how his baby does against a crap (sorry againcrack) special forces unit. Rather more serious accusations than that are made against Davidson in some of the extras on this disc, but I’m not going to get into any of that stuff here. The boys also rescue an UN aid worker called Virgin (!), played by the likeable (she comes across very well in the extras, anyway) Catherine Hickland, who was in the process of becoming the former Mrs David Hasselhoff during the Robowar shoot. Spagsploitation stalwart “Alan Collins” (Luciano Pigozzi) is listed in the credits (and appears in some of the “making of” material) but any trace of him has been ruthlessly excised from the final release, as also happened on Mattei’s Zombi 3, Strike Commando 2, Cop Game (all 1988) and Born To Fight (1989)… I’d love to know what happened to occasion this obviously serious falling out.

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Bruno never seemed to tire of ripping off John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). In 2004’s Land Of Death, he combined its plot line with that of Cannibal Holocaust, to pants-pissingly hysterical effect. Robowar boasts the aforementioned Alien pinch and at its “climax”, when Murphy / “Killzone” discovers that the human remnants inside Omega 1’s helmet are those of an old ‘Nam buddy, it strays over into Robocop (also 1987) territory.

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Bruno, we miss you…

*SPOILER ALERTS* The scene in which Murphy jumps down a waterfall before Omega 1 self-destructs is ambitious and well realised but my favourite memories of the film remain the one in which everybody’s angsting about Sonny “Blood” Peel having his face ripped off by the cyborg, only for a reassuring glance at Sonny’s corpse to reveals that it’s right there, still plastered to the front of his head… not to mention the moving credits sequence, in which the actors’ names are attached to the wrong clips!

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Like Night Killer, Robowar has been remastered in a 4K scan from the original original negative. In the extras, Fragasso and Drudi have their say, the latter revealing just how much sexist shit creative women had to put up with in the world of exploitation all’Italiana.  There are further interviews with Massimo Vanni, John P. Dulaney (Papa Doc), Jim Gaines Jr. (Sonny “Blood” Peel) and Hickland, whose behind-the-scenes home movies we also get to see (and which confirm that Collins / Pigozzi was definitely in this movie at one point).  Fragasso doesn’t need much persuading to recount some of his favourite Al Festa anecdotes (anybody who doubts that audience and film makers came to blows at a Roman screening of Gipsy Angel (1990) obviously didn’t attend the world premiere of Al’s Fatal Frames at the 1996 Bradford Film Festival) and the first 3,000 units of this release come with a bonus CD of Festa’s Robowar soundtrack. I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the title theme, in which a squad of grunts seems to be chanting what sounds like “hot sluts!”, suggesting a different kind of movie altogether… whatever, great fun and another indispensible brace of Severin releases. What are you waiting for?

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