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Old geezer, learning to embrace and enjoy oldgeezerhood. "... and I looked and I saw... that it was GOOD!"

DEATH Winks At Weirdness And SMILES ON A MURDERER… Joe D’Amato’s Gory Gothic Folly Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

Life certainly smiled on Joe D’Amato (b. 15.12.36), a man who spent most of it consummating his love for Cinema, cranking out literally hundreds of movies in various genres and of varying merit, under scores of pseudonyms, travelling the world and disregarding the strictures of censors, taste makers and film snobs alike, doing just as he pleased, before checking out under what were apparently “A1” circumstances on 23.01.99. “He wanted to shock and entertain and he spent a life time doing just that”, as Kat Ellinger has it in a 22 minute video essay that appears among the supplementary materials on this must-have Arrow release.

Sure, he died young(ish)… if he’d continued another for twenty (or even ten) years, D’Amato would have racked up a tally of credits that must surely have stood as an insurmountable world record, making even the indefatigable Jesus Franco (the director with whom he is most frequently compared) look like a feckless slacker. Joe packed more into his 62 years than most of us could manage in several incarnations and loved every minute of it. As I discovered when I was privileged to breakfast with him in October 1995, he was a larger than life, joyous and thoroughly charming bloke. It’s a cliché, which I’m as guilty as anyone else of overusing, but the world really is a significantly duller place without Joe D’Amato.

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Although he’d already shot several films for other directors (notably Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange? in 1972) under his given name of Arisitide Massaccesi and directed or co-directed a bunch of spaghetti westerns and Luigi Batzella’s The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) anonymously, plus More Sexy Canterbury Tales (his directorial debut in ’72) as “Romano Gastaldi” and Diary Of A Roman Virgin (1973) under the soon-to-be-legendary D’Amato brand, it was not until the same yea’s La Morte Ha Sorriso All’Assassino, the film under consideration here, that our man (previously keen not to queer his DP pitch) signed off a film he’d directed under the name by which his Mama knew him.

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Proudly announcing his arrival as a for real director, artful Aristide packs Death Smiles On A Murderer with mannered visual tricks, deploying fish eye lenses, slow motion, enigmatic cutting, extreme close-ups and vertigo-inducing repetitious zooms… it’s as though he’s trying to remind us that he once served as Godard’s assistant on Le Mépris (1963), though the results bear more comparison with the works of the aforementioned Senor Franco, a comparison underlined by the presence of Klaus Kinski (fresh from Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath Of God), improvising manfully with flasks and bunsen burners while D’Amato furiously attempts to figures out how to fit him into the narrative before time runs out and Kinski’s off to whore himself in some other atrocity…

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… did I say “narrative“? Well frankly, precious little of that emerges from this succession of odd directorial flourishes. Tim Lucas opines on his commentary track that DSOAM is more of a poem than a narrative. It’s worth noting that Mario Bava made his most baffling picture and one of Lucas’s favourites, Lisa In The Devil, in the same year… there was definitely something in the air – or the drinking water – in Rome during 1973. Lucas makes a good fist of trying to explain what’s going on but is often reduced to describing things that you’ve just seen happen. Various people on IMDB have attempted to come up with a synopsis for DSOAM, if you check out some of these attempts it might spare you the effort of watching it ten times over before you get some kind of inkling. One finds oneself sympathising with Attilio Dotessio’s Inspector Dannick when he confesses: “I begin to doubt that I’ll ever solve this mystery… it just doesn’t add up!”

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For what it’s worth, here’s what I managed to figure out. In some ill-defined “period” setting, Franz von Holstein (perennial Italian screen lowlife Luciano Rossi) rapes his sister Greta (the bum-chinned Ewa Aulin from Candy) which she regards, rather worryingly, as the commencement of a love affair. She subsequently strays, however, from the fraternal bed and into the arms of local toff Dr von Ravensbrück (perennial Italian screen smoothie Giacomo Rossi Stuart). Blaming the von Ravensbrücks for his sister / lover’s subsequent demise, Franz re-animates her with the aid of an Ancient Incan incantation (as you do) and sends her back to the Ravensbrücks’ country pile to seduce various members of the family before revealing her true, rotting corpse’s face (cueing a grand mal-inducing flurry of zoom shots) and killing them.

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Kinski’s Dr Sturges figures out what is going on (by inserting a needle into the unflinching eye of Greta) and subsequently manages to reanimate a corpse of his own with the aid of that incantation, only to be bumped off by unknown hands. Murderous mission accomplished, Greta returns to Franz but their loving reunion doesn’t go to plan – Greta throws a cat into his face, initiating a seemingly endless scene in which the moggy rends his flesh and gouges his eyes out, a scene described by Lucas as “beyond taste and terror”…

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… a description which might just as well serve for the whole picture. So what’s it all about, Aristide? When I interviewed the director he told me that he “was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film” rather than getting hung up on narrative coherence, also that the casting of Klaus Kinski was instrumental in achieving his desired effect.“For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him… because he was crazy!” Indeed… and a succession of post-mortem revelations continue to suggest that this craziness was a) genuine and b) sometimes manifested itself in repulsive ways.

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D’Amato’s success in achieving that “certain atmosphere” visually, complimented by Berto Pisano’s score (enthralling in its own sub-Morricone kind of way) effortlessly anticipates the subsequent delirium of D’Amato’s  Beyond The Darkness… in other words, you need this one in your collection, dear reader.

Additional extras include interview material briefly excerpted from Roger Fratter’s documentary Joe D’Amato – Totally Uncut, in which JDA talks some more about working with Kinsky and expresses sadness on hearing that Luciano Rossi had become a street person, in and out of institutions (indeed, he was dead with in six years of D’Amato)… also a recently filmed, career-spanning interview with Ewa Aulin, who speaks fluent Italian and these days looks like a librarian or a headmistress.

The first pressing of this edition apparently includes new writing on the film by Stephen Thrower and Roberto Curti… not that we humble horror hacks ever get to see any of that stuff.

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Do You Think He’s What They Say He Is? SATAN SUPERSTAR Reviewed

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Edited by David Flint. The Reprobate. A5, P/B. 240 Pages. ISBN 978-0-9955719-2-1

From the first tentative samizdat steps of Sheer Filth in the late ’80s, there doesn’t seem to have been a moment when David Flint hasn’t been agitating furiously for  freedom of expression, subsequently via such increasingly sophisticated publications as Headpress, Divinity, Sexadelic and – most recently – The Reprobate (debut issue reviewed), not to mention numerous book projects and his web incarnations Strange Things Are Happening and latterly, https://reprobatemagazine.uk. Flint’s transgressive tiltings at perceived propriety have not been conducted without personal cost but this angry, now not-quite-so-young man shows no sign of slowing down or mellowing… he will not serve.

In other words, one accusation that could never reasonably be levelled at Flint is that of possessing idle hands… yet still The Devil has found work for him to do.

In the introduction to Satan Superstar (into which The Reprobate seems, for the time being, to have mutated)  its editor remembers growing up in a vaguely restrictive C of E milieu (I’d wager that my own Catholic upbringing was a more pernicious formative environment), prior to being bombarded by pop culture representations of Satan and Satanists who, forever surrounded by naked nubiles, seemed to be having all the fun.

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It’s this life-affirming, pleasure-embracing aspect of The Left Hand Path that Flint and his contributors stress here, rather than any propensity to do Evil. Styling itself as “a handbook of the infernal and the immaculate in pop occulture”, Satan Superstar pretty much does what it says on the tin.

Is Satan a pagan deity in his own right? The bad guy in the Christian dramatis personae? A symbol of self realisation through enlightened self-will? These and other standpoints are discussed by such practitioners and advocates as the Church Of Rational Satanism’s John Wait (interviewed by Sarah Appleton), Nikolas Schreck (formerly of Radio Werewolf, now a teacher of tantric buddhism) and the Church Of Satan’s Reverend Raul Antony (interviewed by the editor). Logospilgrim and Jason Atomic of Satanic Mojo Comix provide further personal testaments and Billy Chainsaw quizzes Shaun Partridge, Whale Song Partridge and Boyd Rice on the philosophy of the Partridge Family Temple. Sammm Agnew (complimented by the photography of Ilya Falchevsky) discusses entry points into the occult.

As well as his own take on the public image of Satanism since the ’60s, Nigel Wingrove details his involvement in the Satanic Sluts saga, which ignited the red tops in unanimous sound and fury after Manuel from Fawlty Towers received a rather puerile phone call.

David McGillivray chips in with a portrait of Gerald Gardner, who anticipated Alex Sanders in being recognised as “Britain’s first celebrity witch”, coming out as one in 1951 after the long overdue repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1753 (under which Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan aka “Hellish Nell” had been imprisoned as recently as 1944… as though the British government had nothing more pressing to worry about in those days!)

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Elsewhere Flint himself reflects on the legacy of Dennis Wheatley, champions the occult photography of William Mortensen and celebrates (with Darius Drewe) “the strange world of the occultist instructional LP” and the witch-hunting pulp fiction atrocities of “James Darke”, also identifying Doreen Irvine’s rather less-than-reliable memoir From Witchcraft To Christ as the starting point for Satanic panic in the UK… a subject further explored in Bruce Barnard’s account of two true crime stories that were given the full, lip-smacking tabloid treatment.

Presumably figuring that Zeppelin and Bowie’s Crowley connections have been amply debated elsewhere, Drewe’s Satanic Rock Top 10 spans Graham Bond, Comus and Venom (Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Abbadon from the latter combo remains one of the most mind-boggling things I ever saw on Newsnight, right up there with Paxo’s interrogation of Hayden Hewitt). Still on a music tip, C.J. Lines interviews Christian Falch, co-director of 2017 black metal documentary Blackhearts and Sina, one of the musicians featured in it.

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Proving conclusively that the Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes, Daz Lawrence investigates the oft-touted connections between country & western and Satanism, with a particular focus on the extraordinary Louvin Brothers. As things get weirder still, Daz also details the case of a certain canine saint.

While Ben Spurling surveys Satanism in ’70s TV movies, Keri O’Shea does the same for depictions of the witches’ sabbat in Western Art and delves into the background to Husymans’ scandalous occult novel Là-Bas. K.K. Eye suggests that the introduction of sigils to your next act of self love could make it a truly magickal experience and Lucien Greaves recounts the pink mass he conducted to counter the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church. Meanwhile Gipsie Castiglione interviews the man behind Divine Interventions, purveyors of satanic sex aids.

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A running thread throughout the book, curated by Billy Chainsaw, consists of personal takes on Satan from such counter-cultural luminaries as A.D. Hitchin, Lydia Lunch, Groovie Mann of Thrill Kill Kult, Carl Abrahamsson, Boyd Rice, Tom Six and Mr Chainsaw himself.

Plenty there to keep you out of mischief… or possibly in it. As an introduction to the ideas of those who sympathise with the Devil, this volume serves admirably. Grab ’em while they’re hot but don’t hang around… the physical print run of Satan Superstar is limited to (you guessed) 666 copies.

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“A Man Turned Inside Out”… Kat Ellinger’s ALL THE COLOURS OF SERGIO MARTINO Reviewed

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Ra ra me! The man and his muse in the early ’70s.

Arrow Books. P/B. 91 Pages. ISBNs 0993306063 / 978-0993306068.

I’ve been after this one for a while and finally got my hands on a PDF version (if, indeed, such a thing is possible) through the good offices of the guys and girls at Fetch Publicity.

Kat Ellinger, a commentator and critic who’s proving almost as prolific as Sergio Martino was in his heyday, has gone through all the available material (including our interview and the director’s autobiography Mille Peccati)

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to come up with an engagingly sure-footed and wide-ranging introduction to his career, even if (as the author herself concedes) the limitations of her word allocation meant that she couldn’t always delve as deeply into it as she might have liked.

Nevertheless, over and above its usefulness as a primer for curious general readers (their interest possibly piqued by the praise levelled at Martino by Messers. Tarantino and Roth), there’s plenty of stuff in here that might come as news even to those who consider themselves well boned-up on the director… e.g that he participated in his family’s home movie version of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde in 1955 (what wouldn’t I give to see that?) and nearly made a movie with (just imagine!) Bruce Lee.

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Speaking of boned-up, Ellinger devotes plenty of coverage to Martino’s working relationship with Edwige Fenech and also delves further into his innumerable sexy-comedies than is customary in these things, while acknowledging the near impossibility of viewing many of them. Perhaps Arrow, Shameless, Severin and / or 88 Films might look into acquiring some of these titles for UK release? And while they’re at it, what about Martino’s 1993 TV giallo series Delitti Privati / Private Crimes, whose cast reconvenes the Virgin Wife teaming of Fenech and Ray Lovelock and about which the author writes tantalisingly.

I particularly love the quote in which Fenech avers that she sees no significant distinction between a Bergman film and Guido Malatesta’s Samoa, Queen Of The Jungle (1968), one of her earliest starring vehicles… she obviously appeared in enough issues of my beloved Continental Film Review to absorb its editorial policy.

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Ellinger covers Martino’s family background and the sociological / historical context of the various genres he worked in well and in discussing the evolution of the Italian thriller, picks up Michael Mackenzie’s concept of the f-giallo and the m-giallo and takes a run with it. It was also interesting to be reminded of Martino’s comments on how increasing sexual permissiveness and the reaction against it in Italy led him to explicitly and quite self-consciously impose the dreaded “have sex and die” rule in Torso (1973) and to reflect how massively influential that was, five years later, on Halloween (and everything that came after it!)

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Here at The House Of Freudstein we pride ourselves on snappy titles (that of this posting refers to the US mis-marketing of Martino’s Island Of The Fishmen, 1979) and Kat clearly does too, on the evidence of chapter headings like “Trembling Cities, Cops In Action” and “Cannibal Slaves, Cyborgs And Other Exciting Stories”. Things are rounded off nicely with a discography, bibliography and index. An original Gilles Vranckx cover doesn’t hurt, either. One minor grouch… a still from Enzo Milione’s The Sister Of Ursula (1978) seems to have gate-crashed the book, or at least my PDF version of it.

I’d dearly love to see this volume on sale in a few more shops. In the meantime, you can get it here. Hopefully the author will find the opportunity, amid her prolific other outpourings, to expand ATCOSM into the door-stopping tome it deserves to be at some point in the future.

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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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Pylon On The Agony… ASSAULT Reviewed

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DVD. Network. Region 2. 15

1971 was arguably the annus mirabilis of the giallo, the year that brought us Mario Bava’s überinfluential Bay Of Blood, Fulci’s psychedelic three-ring circus Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Sergio Martino’s masterly The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and an Argento brace in the shape of The Cat O’Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, amid countless others. One of the most intriguing yellow shockers from this year, though, was made right here in dear old Blighty and produced, as if that weren’t already a sufficiently surprising proposition, by Peter Rogers,  the man responsible for all those jolly Carry On Romps.

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The director of Assault, though, was ideally placed to handle a British attempt at the giallo (which this film so clearly is)… Sidney Hayers, having racked up a couple of routine thrillers in 1950, revealed a knack for transcendental cinematic delirium with the completely demented Circus Of Horrors (1960), a film that would give the trashiest Eurotrash competitors a run for their cheesey money. Hayers subsequently directed Peter Wyngarde in Night Of The Eagle aka Burn, Witch, Burn (1962) an effective little variant on Jacques Torneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957) but 1971 turned out to be his busiest year in terms of Freudsteinian credits. As well as the  The Firechasers (an insurance fraud thriller) and episodes of both The Persuaders and the short-lived Shirley MacLaine vehicle Shirley’s World, Hayers directed Revenge aka After Jenny Died and Inn Of The Frightened People, in which Joan Collins and family take the law into their own hands when their young daughter is raped and murdered… not a million miles removed, thematically, from the film under consideration here.

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Straight after Circus Of Horrors, Hayers began a prolific career in TV direction with episodes of The Avengers and The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre. Anyone whose caught even a handful of the German krimi cycle, which was so influential on the giallo, will know how often these Wallace thrillers featured schoolgirls in peril as a plot point and that’s the theme around which both Assault and Revenge (not to mention the subsequent Italian trilogy written and / or directed by Massimo Dallamano) rotate…

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… but Assault’s giallo parallels go way deeper than that. You want a plot that hinges on its protagonist half-glimpsing a crucial clue and agonising about its exact significance? You got it. You want said character to be played by giallo icon Suzy Kendall? Here she is. Lascivious subjective camera work… a hard-ass cop… a shoal of lecherous and disreputable red herrings… convoluted plotting wherein all sense of proportion is lost (a trip to pick up some sodium pentathol ends with the pharmacy blowing up… *) … a spectacular demise for the newly-unmasked culprit, so ingeniously (some would say stupidly) devised that it suggests divine retribution? All present and politically incorrect. Overblown alternative titles? Well, Assault played the US grindhouse circuit (presumably post-Exorcist) under the alias In The Devil’s Garden, a rebranding actually justified (kind of) by the fact that Kendall’s feisty Julie West spends much of the film believing she literally saw Satan himself at work when she stumbled upon a fatal sexual attack inflicted on one of her students in the woods adjacent to the posh school where she teaches. Indeed, her insistence on sticking to this lurid account leads to her being ridiculed by the prickly coroner (Allan Cuthbertson) when she gives evidence at the inquest. Det. Chief Supt. Velyan (Frank Finlay) co-opts a sleazy tabloid reporter (Freddie Jones) to vindicate her, unmask the culprit and set up a truly electrifying climax…

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Network presents Hayers giallo all’Inglese in pristine condition, the knackered looking theatrical trailer included among the supplementary materials making for a nice point of comparison. Other unimpressive extras include an unremarkable still gallery and There’s One Born Every Minute, a 1981 Tales Of The Unexpected episode which seems to be on this disc for no other reason than that it stars Frank Finlay. The liner notes claim that Assault “has not been seen since its original cinema release” which is both inaccurate (I remember it playing regularly on late night ITV when I was growing up in Granadaland) and ironic (given that Network is part of the Granada media empire). It also had a VHS release, courtesy of Rank.

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Given unfairly short shrift (IMHO) in Flint and Fenton’s Ten Years Of Terror tome, Assault is a gripping but problematic viewing experience from a 2018 perspective. While the assaults on the schoolgirls are obviously not rendered with any kind of pornographic expliciteness, the presentation of such subject matter in the guise of entertainment now seems vaguely questionable, the BBFC’s classification of it as ’15’ notwithstanding.

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The casting (as a traumatised and catatonic assault victim) of Lesley-Anne Down, whose name so closely resembles that of a real life victim of Britain’s most notorious sex killers, seems insensitive and when emasculated teacher Leslie Sanford (Tony Beckley, who had already co-starred with Kendall in The Penthouse, 1967) tells Velyan that he has fantasised about raping all of his students, you ask yourself if things could get any more non-PC… only for the cop to retort by suggesting that he’s “not man enough” to rape anyone… ouch!

Trivia note: much of Assault was filmed in Black Park, Iver Heath, Bucks, subsequently the home of pre-Cert video distribution legends IFS.

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(*) … and taking with it,in his first credited screen role (as “Man in chemist shop”), David Essex. Is he more, too much more than a pretty face in Assault? I don’t think so…

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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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Dreams Of Discontent … THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Note: The disc under review here was issued as a bonus on Blue Underground’s 2-disc set of Harry Kümel’s Daughter Of Darkness, which has subsequently been upgraded, in its entirety, to Blu-Ray.

Asking a man how down he is with the aims of Feminism is a bit like asking him if he’s stopped beating his wife. Feminism is too broad a movement for that question to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Do I believe that women should have equal opportunities and receive equal pay for equal work? Yes, it’s a no brainer, though I’m getting fed up with showboating offers from male media personalities to have their pay cut to the same level as female colleagues… let’s level things up, fer Chrissakes! Do I believe that the law should protect women from sexual assault and harassment? Yep. Do I believe that every attempt by a man to chat up a woman constitutes assault or harassment? Nope. Do I buy the argument that more women in the corridors of power will automatically lead to a more caring, sharing, nurturing world? Well, check how the influx of female Labour MPs in 1997 (“Blair’s Babes”) voted re waging war on Iraq. Do I believe that Page 3 girls should be banned? No. Do I believe, like Andrea Dworkin, that sexual intercourse should be abolished? Are you out of your fucking mind?!?

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They sure knew how to put together double bills back in the day…

During the #MeToo moment we’re currently living through, our mass media regales us on a daily basis with the argument that every possessor of a penis spends their every waking hour ruthlessly abusing and exploiting everybody with a vagina. Although the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Tribunals disallowed the concept of collective guilt, the fact that Harvey Weinstein allegedly liked masturbating in the company of actresses and female employees has been used to justify constant injunctions to the rest of us to reconsider our behaviour and attitudes towards women. I’ve decided, instead, that now is an appropriate moment to revisit Vicente Aranda’s La Novia Ensangretada (“The Blood Spattered Bride”, 1972), which co-opts Sheridan Le Fanu (previously adapted into Dreyer’s Vampyr, 1931, Vadim’s Et Mourir De Plaisir, 1960 and miscellaneous Hammer “lesbian vampire” efforts) in the service of a feminist parable of Aranda’s country waiting for the death of Franco so that it can take its place in the 20th century and at the heart of Europe. It was precisely such (often female centred) exploitation movies as this that blazed the trail subsequently taken up, to international acclaim, by Arthouse directors like Pedro Almodovar.

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The House That Screamed and Bell From Hell refugee Maribel Martin (as Susan) and Simón Andreu (as her husband, whose name we never learn… in fact none of the male characters seem to have names) are newlyweds, honeymooning in his family’s country seat. Things seem idyllic enough but Susan is rapidly alienated by her beau’s increasingly boorish, macho behaviour, which includes rough lovemaking, brusquely helping himself to al-fresco blow jobs, shooting foxes and even at one point  (that old cave man cliché) literally dragging her around by her hair! During a visit to the family crypt, Susan discovers the ancestors of her in-laws included one Mircalla Karstein, who married into the clan only to butcher her disagreeable spouse…

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As her own husband’s obnoxious behaviour intensifies, Susan becomes increasingly obsessed with the figure of Mircalla, catching glimpses of her (in the comely form of Alexandra Bastedo) around the grounds, dreaming of sexual encounters with her (recalling some of my own adolescent reveries concerning the divine star of The Champions) and also of embarking with her on the gory dispatch of her husband. A trendy shrink (Dean Selmier) spouts supposedly reassuring stuff about “the Judith complex” and hysterical young ladies’ fear of penetration.

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Judith With The Head Of Holofernes by Luis Cranach the Elder, 1530.

Indeed the Andrea Dworkin-type coaching that Susan receives in her dreams from Mircalla (“He has pierced your flesh to humiliate you… he has spat inside your body to enslave you… punish his arrogance, destroy his masculinity!”) seems to bear out his diagnosis… but is Mircalla merely a hallucination? Why does a vicious carving knife keep turning up under Susan’s pillow, despite all attempts to hide it? And will Susan actually enact her murderous dreams? Well, an opening title informed us (and the good doctor reminds us) that, in the words of Plato: “The good ones are those who are content to dream what the wicked actually practice”…

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“Eeh that’s champion, lass!”

One morning, walking on the beach, hubby discovers Susan’s mystery woman completely buried in the sand…. just like that! He brings the amnesiac girl (who can only remember that her name is Carmilla… geddit?) home and blithely waffles on about himself, blissfully oblivious to the growing sexual tension between his bride and the attractive newcomer. They start taking long nocturnal walks together and, after a tip-off from that psychiatrist, hubby eventually discovers them sleeping naked together in a coffin, down in that crypt. It’s too late for Relate to save this one, as the now vampirised Susan and her supernatural sapphic pal, having already killed off the doc and a gamekeeper, turn their murderous attentions on Andreu’s character.

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Love is a battlefield…

He dispatches their schoolgirl victim / accomplice then traps them in their coffin, shoots it full of holes and is about to carve open their breasts when a freeze-frame and the arrival of the newspaper headline shown below definitively concludes matters… or does it? Andreu can be heard at the end insisting that the female vampires will return.

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Such dreams of discontent are the natural product of a pressure cooker society but in an ideal world, nobody’s going to regard their contents as the template for a social program (Andrea Dworkin is no longer with us, I’m told and it’s unlikely that she left any heirs) but like De Sade, Mircalla and Susan must be allowed to dream…. indeed, how can anybody stop them? The fact that their dreams are mediated for our consumption by Sheridan Le Fanu and Vicente Aranda is something to ponder. And while we’re pondering it, here’s a word from our sponsors…

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“Double bill be damned…”

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China In Your Hands… Umberto Lenzi’s THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST Reviewed

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DVD. Alfa Digital. Region Free. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s comments re The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) in our last posting (on Lenzi’s Eaten Alive!) prompted me to prise this one off the shelf and give it another go. Enhanced by appropriate beverages and a selection of salty snacks, an agreeably chucklesome 90 minutes or so duly ensued…

Everybody’s favourite Italian answer to Dirty Harry, Maurizio Merli’s ex-Inspector Leonardi Tanzi (he must have pissed off his shilly-shallying, “by the rule book” superiors one too many times) is scraping a living in Milan, sub-editing detective novels. Suffice to say, his hard-ass cop days are behind him. Try telling that to Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto (Tomas Milian), though. Recently sprung from the jail where Tanzi’s sterling hard-assed detective work had landed him, the vengeful “China” sends Tanzi one of his trademark greeting cards, announcing the date of our hero’s death. Sure as shit, he’s promptly confronted by gun-totin’ goons but despite talking a good fight (“Hey motherfucker, I’ve got a real quick nickle-plated lead message from the Chinaman for you”), their work is so shoddy that he only sustains a shoulder injury before the assassins are disturbed in their work and scarper. The papers having reported his death, Tanzi is advised by his old boss Commissioner Astalli (Renzo Palmer) to go lie low in Switzerland, advice to which he gives characteristically short shrift, relocating to Rome before getting back on the case… Tanzi’s no pansy! He hits back at China by sewing suspicion between him and Frank DiMaggio (John Saxon), the American gangster whom China is aiming to team up with and ultimately supplant, setting the scene for a climactic kick-ass confrontation between this unholy trinity of Crime Slime titans…

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… well, that was the general idea but TC,TR&TF ultimately emerges as a slow burn that never quite ignites and lumbering it with a title that evokes one of Sergio Leone’s finest hours was always leaving it with a lot to live up to. It’s generally agreed that Tanzi = “The Fist” in the eponymous equation, but opinions differ as to whether China or DiMaggio should be taken as The Cynic or The Rat. There are also those who wonder why Maietto is known as “Chinaman” but I’m pretty confident that this is a reference to his “inscrutable” demeanour. He’s also referred to by one of the cops as “the Clockwork Orange kid” so you can take it as read that beneath said inscrutable facade, there lurks the squirming brain of a stone psycho. He’s particularly dead pan while supervising the breaking of an offending dude’s legs. Meanwhile DiMaggio, who cultivates a similarly urbane persona, bounces golf balls off the head of a lieutenant who’s pissed him off, before turning his dogs on the guy.

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Mistreating women is thirsty work in TCTR&TF… better keep that J&B bottle handy!

Being one of those morally ambiguous cops, Tanzi’s behaviour is scarcely more PC at times… although he advises one hood who’s been roughing up a woman to “pick on somebody your own sex” before beating the crap out of him, he’s not averse to slapping the ladies round himself (though, to be fair, unlike his opponents, he draws the line at repeatedly addressing them as “twot” and throwing acid in their faces). Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti keeps the fruity dialogue coming thick and fast, e.g. “That blond faggot… I should have known that bastard was a Pig!” and “Why are you with that cop? Has he got loads of money? Or a big wang?” (we’ve already established that Tanzi’s living in reduced circumstance, but he’s got a hairy chest and a fuck off gold medallion… so yeah, on the balance of probability, I’d imagine he’s got a pretty sizeable wang). There are plenty of pleasingly outrageous ’70s fashion mis-steps on display and Lenzi keeps things chugging along with his customary efficiency if not, perhaps, quite the flair evidenced in most of his other Crime Slime outings.

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“How d’you like your coffee?”

There’s a sub-plot about Tanzi avenging his antique-dealer uncle (Guido Alberti) which although far-fetched (learning that the kid who beat and robbed Unc is nicknamed “Cappuccino”, Tanzi hangs around bars and pool halls till he spots somebody drinking cappuccino and kicks the shit out of him… lucky he got the right guy, eh?) is well-integrated into the wider narrative, but I could have done without the interminable “caper” sequence in which Tanzi burgles DiMaggio’s apartment… Merli should leave the “wriggling through laser sensors” stuff to Catherine Zeta Jones and stick to what he does best, i.e. shouting abuse at / pistol-whipping / punching / kicking / shooting people who irritate him (i.e. just about everybody he encounters) and asking questions later. That sequence could usefully have been replaced with a car-chase, of which TC,TR&TF is woefully bereft. What does it matter that Lenzi’s budget wouldn’t stretch to staging one? Producer Luciano Martino could have just lifted the one from his brother Sergio’s The Violent Professionals (1973), as he did in so many other ’70s Italian cop epics. While I’m moaning, Franco Micalizzi’s “OST” is a tepid warm over of his thrilling contribution to Lenzi’s superior Violent Naples from the previous year.

My principle gripe though, as mentioned already, is the way that the climactic dust-up between Tanzi, China and DiMaggio, a consummation devoutly to be wished, ends up being phoned in by all concerned…

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… I mean, Merli and Milian don’t even appear in the same shot during their alleged settling of accounts, something which I’m inclined to attribute to scheduling problems on a low-budget picture. Sure, Lenzi perpetuates the notion that there was a feud between the two actors but I suspect that this was just a publicity stunt. Then again, I am a bit of an old cynic…

Often rated a classic by the Crime Slime cognoscenti, The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist strikes me as more of a missed opportunity. Poliziotteschi, nevertheless, are very much like pizzas… even when they’re not great, they’re pretty good, so waste no time grabbing yourself a slice of the action, presumably via 88’s recent DVD or Blu-ray releases. The OK-looking edition under review here came courtesy of the mysterious Alfa Digital label, an allegedly Portuguese outfit that put out some interesting titles at the dawn of the DVD era and promptly disappeared.

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Ex-Inspector Tanzi… has he got loads of money? Or just a big wang?

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The Electric Sex Aid Acid Test… Umberto Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! on Severin Blu-Ray

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“He’s not The Messiah… he’s a very naughty boy!”

BD / CD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s third cannibal outing / outrage, Eaten Alive (1980… its title thoughtfully expanded to Eaten Alive By The Cannibals! in some territories) makes its BD debut via Severin and arrives in our in-tray with a thud and an added whiff of unexpected topicality, opening as it does with assassinations by nerve toxin (derived from cobra venom and delivered via blow darts) in major Western cities. The unfortunate victims  are disaffected members of The Purification Sect, a wacked out religious cult operating out of Sri Lanka (doubling for New Guinea) under the acid fascist leadership of a certain Jonas (Ivan Rassimov). Any resemblance to the Reverend Jimbo of  Jonestown massacre infamy is, of course (cough!)… purely coincidental!

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As in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (made the same year), the bad guy is using cannibal-infested country as a buffer zone to shield his nefarious antics from the prying eyes of outsiders… but again, this ploy fails when Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) approaches Vietnam deserter-turned-mercenary adventurer Mark (Robert Kerman), whom she finds arm-wrestling over sharp knives in a Deer Hunter-type dive, to help spring her brainwashed sister Diana (Paola Senatore) from the cult’s grasp. I’m sure we’ve already commented on Robert Kerman / Bolla’s extraordinary CV elsewhere on this blog, alternatively get your cyber self over to IMDB and prepare to be amazed.

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Anyway, after the expected jungle hazards and hi-jinks (much of them comprising crudely transplanted stock footage from Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World and Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God), Janet and Robert make it to Puresville and discover Diana alive if not exactly well, living under the thrall of the insane Jonas, who alternates bible quotations with the application of venom soaked dildos to his comelier acolytes, justifying such shenanigans on the grounds that pain will reunite mankind with Nature… yeah, whatever!

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There are further kinky developments when villager Mowara (Me Me Lai) finds herself widowed, Purification doctrine demanding that she lays down in her recently cremated husband’s ashes while his surviving brothers queue up to bonk her. In another echo of Martino’s earlier cannibal epic, Sheila is stripped down and painted gold for Big J’s drug crazed gratification. When she and Mark  have had enough of Rassimov’s dystopian New Jerusalem, they make a break for it through cannibal country with Diana and Mowara, who are promptly trapped, messily dismembered and eaten by the locals.

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Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Mark and Sheila are on the verge of carrying out a suicide pact when police helicopters arrive to whisk them away. The same choppers prompt Jones… er, Jonas to utter the memorable line “Have them prepare that mixture, Dick” and harangue his followers into consuming the killer Kool Aid so they can accompany him on his final trip, though the film’s ending suggests that he declined the drink himself and is still on the lam somewhere (the Jones cult, explicitly identified as such, would feature again as a plot point in Deodato’s Cut And Run, 1985). Mark is cheated out of his money but gets the girl and Sheila is browbeaten, in time honoured cannibal film fashion, not to reveal to the media the extent of anthropophagous antics still going on under our complacent Western noses just a piddling plane ride away.

Among other familiar cannibal film tropes vying for our attention we find the expected troubling “found footage”, casual racism (one of Agren’s “comic” lines about life in the cotton fields will have you reaching for rewind to check she actually said what you thought she just said)… it’s fair to say that there was never any realistic chance of this film’s credits carrying that line about “no animals having been harmed during the production” and inevitably, despite the tough line Jonas takes on alcohol, the onscreen action is sometimes obscured by the sheer volume of J&B bottles, piling up on conspicuous display.

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Kudos to Mel Ferrer (as anthropologist Dr Carter) for starring in two films entitled Eaten Alive (which was one of the many alternative titles for Tobe Hopper’s sophomore Horror feature) when most actors would have considered one to be more than enough. I also appreciate the fact that at one point Agren looks like she’s about to go into a grindhouse cinema to watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.

With this release Severin prove themselves once again the masters of, er, remastering, delivering an Eaten Alive! that looks better than you probably believed possible. The claim in their typically gonzo sleeve notes that watching this film is equivalent to having your dick ripped off can safely be dismissed as hyperbole, but Lenzi’s rendition of “cannibal movie greatest hits in bite-sized chunks” might well register as a painful twist on your short and curlies. Although even its the director concedes its shortcomings (see below), Lenzi directs the 90% of Eaten Alive! that he did direct with consummate craftsmanship and characteristic gusto, earning this 42nd St classic a space on the shelves of any self-respecting spaghetti exploitation buff.

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Extras include a Freakorama interview in which Lenzi (who seems to have borrowed Craig Wasson’s porn star pullover from Body Double) airs a familiar grievance, namely that people ignore all the war films he made. I remember him moaning about that rather a lot when I interviewed him, but Lenzi seems to have mellowed a bit. He still calls Ruggero Deodato “a liar” for claiming to have invented the Italian cannibal genre (which, of course, Lenzi kicked off with The Man From Deep River in 1972) but admits that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is far superior to any of his own jungle pot-boilers, indeed that it’s “a masterpiece”.

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We’re treated to a recording of Lenzi’s Q&A session at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester, moderated by Calum Waddell with the assistance of Nick Frame. Again he talks up his war films (and gialli) and restates his low regard for cannibal films, insisting that he slams the phone down on any journalist who has the temerity to mention Cannibal Ferox (no mere rhetorical flourish, this… he once actually did precisely that to Yours Truly!) but gets the biggest laugh of the session when he announces that all the money Ferox has subsequently made for him has belatedly convinced him of its status as a cinema classic. He won’t talk about his differences with John Morghen but rehashes, when invited, the feud between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli which necessitated each of them to film their participation in the climax to The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) on alternate days. Poignantly, Lenzi talks about subsisting on a slice of pizza every three days when he embarked upon film-making. The fact that just before this Q&A he had been brunching with Barbara Bouchet testifies most eloquently to the satisfactory career arc that ensued. I was actually enjoying a private audience with Bouchet when this session took place, so I’m glad of the opportunity to catch up with its contents here.

We also get an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and a mash-up of archive interviews with Rassimov and Kerman. The latter tries to sort out his different personas and recalls that the famously wiggy Lenzi was more courteous to him on set than Deodato, whom he describes as “sadistic”.

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Most welcome of all is the inclusion among the supplementary materials of Naomi Holwill’s nifty documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen, previously thumbed up on this blog in a review which has emerged as one of our most heavily visited postings since it debuted in March 2016.

My copy of Eaten Alive! came in a slipcover and boasted a bonus disc of Roberto Donati’s discotastic OST. Grab ’em while you can…

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… better or worse than being trapped in a jungle of rational flesh eaters? You must be the judge!

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