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About progcroc

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

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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A Twist In Tinsel Town’s Space Time Continuum: Observations On ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD.

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (US, 2019). Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I know people who take real umbrage at “revisionist” accounts of the Tate / Labianca slayings. It’s difficult to imagine how things could get any more revisionist than in Quentin Tarantino’s much-hyped latest offering, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, which interweaves the stories of fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his stuntman sidekick / personal support system Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) with the build up to the Manson Family’s visit to 10050 Cielo Drive on 09/08/69. After her initial misgivings, the film arrives with the blessing of Debra Tate, the late Sharon’s sister and you can kind of see why. It’s been billed as “the film that people who hate Tarantino will enjoy” and indeed, I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to. This is clever stuff but neither as ostentatiously nor obnoxiously pleased with its cleverness as some of its predecessors have been…

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Predictably, the Quentster spurns no opportunity to rub women’s feet in your face. Is it true that his next film will be shot in 3-D, with scratch’n’sniff cards handed out at the box office? Maybe if he reads this it will be. If so, I expect a screen credit, OK Quentin?

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OUAT…IH’s 161 minute running time doesn’t weigh too heavily on it, or the viewer. Some of the TV Western stuff wears out its welcome a bit, though when Dalton starts fluffing his lines and we’re dragged abruptly back into the world of Hollywood, 1969, you can see what Tarantino is doing. There’s a l-o-n-g and sappingly suspenseful sequence where Booth is poking around at the spahn Movie Ranch, under the disapproving glares of The Family, which makes you kinda wish the director would try his hand at a full-on Horror Film.

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The way he intercuts fact and fiction, drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Film (and Pop Culture in general) to disrupt narrative conventions, owes more to European Arthouse Cinema than the exploitation mavens he is so fond of referencing (though the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure of Pulp Fiction demonstrated that Hollywood had finally caught up with Lucio Fulci, according to no less disinterested an authority than Fulci himself). There are loving tributes here to Sergio Corbucci and Tarantino’s talismanic Antonio Margheriti (he probably figures he’s bigged up Enzo Castellari quite enough for the time being).

The audacious historical rewrite which closes the picture is only the final of several pointed reminders that QT is an auteur and in the realm of his movies, he can do whatever he likes with culture and history, right? I can go along with this to a certain extent but the idea that there could exist, in any possible alternative universe, a stuntman (one who, moreover, seems to subsist on pot noodles) capable of licking Bruce Lee? Nah, you’re not having it. As for the idea that anybody could continue to ply their thespian trade in Tinsel Town while under ongoing suspicion of having murdered their wife on a boat? Actually, now you mention it…

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P.S. Ten great tracks from 1969 that didn’t make it onto OUAT…IH’s certifiably groovy soundtrack… just off the top of my noble bonce. You’re welcome.

01) We’re Going Wrong – Rotary Connection
02) Soul Sister Brown Sugar – Sam & Dave
03) Touch Me – The Doors
04) Savoy Truffle – Ella Fitzgerald
05) Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
06) Cymbaline – Pink Floyd
07) I Want To Take You Higher – Sly And The Family Stone
08) In A Silent Way – Miles Davis
09) Thank You – Led Zeppelin
10) Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa

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“Rod Munch, Eh Boys?” Marilyn Chambers Is Insatiable In David Cronenberg’s RABID…

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Never the Rose without the prick…

… but not for sperm… nor even a squirt of Ivory Snow. In her one “legit” feature credit, the hard core hussy (whose opportunistic “more bang for your buck” casting as  protagonist Rose pays off in a far stronger performance than anybody would probably have expected… her Porno pedigree, furthermore, adds retrospective resonance to any notion of Rabid as an AIDS jeremiad) is out for blood after a life-saving radical skin graft leaves her with a biomechanoidal syringe in her armpit… what were the odds on that? (*) Well, she is in a David Cronenberg film… and anybody who’s watched more than a couple of episodes of Dr Pimple Popper could have warned her about going under the knife at an institution rejoicing in the name of… The Keloid Clinic(!)

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Behind The Green Door

Those on the receiving end of lil’ Armpit Elmer’s attentions develop a rabies-like condition that converts them into drooling zombies and compels them to chow down on the nearest (even if that also happens to be their dearest) human being. Soon Montreal is under martial law, as the search for this epidemic’s “Typhoid Mary” / Patient Zero intensifies. “I’m still me…” she protests to appalled boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) when he finds her draining the life juices from best friend Mindy (Susan Roman): “I’m still Rose!” Well, she kind of is and kind of isn’t, in an ongoing tradition of Cronenberg antiheroes and heroines that probably reaches its zenith with Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle in The Fly (1986).

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Cronenberg is a director of rare intelligence who hasn’t always managed to parlay the musings of his superfine mind into coherent and compelling films… and I’m happy to concede that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be coherent to be compelling. Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977) adhere closely and usefully to the Romero formula of interweaving personal and societal apocalypse. Thereafter he spread his narrative wings, with mixed results. I’m as mesmerised as anybody by the magnificent metastasising mess of a movie that is Videodrome (1983) but was somewhat less than enthralled when Cronenberg attempted to push his preoccupations into the bleak hinterlands and interzones of Ballard and Burroughs. As for his attempt to write his own “Ballard type” novel Consumed… well,  it’s a sizeable literary misfire to which I won’t be returning any time soon. I will though definitely be watching 101’s restoration of Rabid again. Cronenberg’s sophomore feature looks (with minimal distracting grain) and sounds mighty fresh here and there are further rich pickings to be found among the extras on the second disc of this limited edition set (some of them collated from previous releases).

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Can’t comment on the limited edition booklet containing essays by Alex Morris and Greg Dunning because we hacks never get that stuff.  I did appreciate Xavier Mendik and Phillip Escott’s documentary about Cinepix And The Birth of the Canadian Horror Film (its actual title is much longer), in which most of the surviving significant players explain their part in the Tax Shelter Era, covering the likes of Cannibal Girls (1973) and Death Weekend (1976… goodness me, they had beautiful storyboards on that one!) along with the Cronenberg titles that provoked such outrage in the Canadian chambers of Parliament. Along the way, we non-Canucks  learn just how closely Cronenberg’s vision of martial law in Montreal mirrors a genuine and major political crisis that had recently played out. There are interviews with (obviously) Cronenberg (predictably thought provoking stuff), Susan (“Mindy”) Roman (an engaging lady, now mainly making her living as a voice over artist) and amusing ones with co-producers Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody. You get the obligatory trailer, of course and an hour long TV doc in which many of Cronenberg’s leading players have their say on the man and his vision. One of the more interesting asides concerns Cronenberg appearing on the first morning of shooting Rabid and announcing his intention to tear up the script and start making Dead Ringers instead!

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Struggling to get my review of this edition into print within touching distance of its release date, I haven’t yet had the chance to take in ant of its commentary tracks, of which there are no less than four(!), courtesy of Cronenberg himself, William Beard (author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg), Jill C. Nelson (author of Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women Of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985) and Chambers’ Personal Appearances Manager Ken Leicht and finally, the co-directors of the 2019 Rabid remake, Jen & Sylvia Soska. I’m not, generally speaking, a big fan of remakes and have heard mixed word on this one, but who knows, perhaps when I’ve heard their comments on the original I’ll be more inclined to give the Soska sisters’ revamp a look? If so, you’ll be the first to know…

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Behind the green fridge door…

(*) Antonio Margheriti and Dardano Sacchetti certainly found Rabid’s central plot premise appealing enough, as a cursory glance at Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) will testify.

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Venus Under The Viewing Lens… DIETRICH & VON STERNBERG AT PARAMOUNT (1930-1935).

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BD. Powerhouse / Indicator. Region B. 12.

Femme Fatales. Wannabe Femme Fatales. We’ve all encountered them at some point or other. Some of us still bear the scars. For which reason, such creatures are best confined to the Silver Screen. None more magnificently than Marlene Dietrich. That miraculous, unrepeatable face… those eighth and ninth wonders of the world, her legs… the “mocking smile” that “says it all”… the er, interesting vocalese (ah well, nobody’s perfect!)

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Powerhouse / Indicator’s splendid limited edition (6,000 copies) box set covers the six films in which Josef Von Sternberg sanctified his muse after Universum’s Der Blaue Engel  (1930) had brought both of them to the covetous attention of Hollywood.

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In Morocco (1930) MD is Mademoiselle Amy Jolly… the original Jolly good time, had by all? Whatever, she’s on the run from some hassle or heartache, wowing the locals and colonial types in Mogador with her top-hat-and-tuxedo cabaret drag routine. The French Foreign Legion march into town, a platoonful of kindred spirits each attempting to escape something or other in their own pasts. Légionnaire Tom Brown (Gary Cooper) immediately hits it off with Amy but is he prepared to reform his womanising ways? There’s an additional complication in the respectably bourgeois shape of Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou) who’s offering Amy a comfortable married life. Despite all the moths fluttering around her flame, Amy’s not a bad girl like Lola Lola, but there’s only so much of her to go around. Who will finally win her? Without wishing to give too much away, I’ll just say that even though she ultimately follows the dictates of her heart, Von Sternberg’s beautifully mounted denouement puts Amy in pretty much the same position as Lola had placed Emil Jannings’ character at the conclusion of The Blue Angel…

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Von Sternberg’s big anti-war statement Dishonored (1931) kicks off with Marie Kolverer (MD) plying her trade as a streetwalker in post WWI Vienna (if the gratuitous shot of her adjusting her stockings in the rain doesn’t get your attention, its difficult to imagine what might) until she’s offered the chance to serve her country as “Agent X27”. Marie takes to the espionage lark like a duck to water, deploying a bewildering array of fab outfits and alternative identities, alongside her irresistible physical charms, to flush out the agents of foreign powers and send them to their deaths… all from her sense of honour and patriotism rather than to feed any personal vanity. She meets her match with – and sacrifices her all for-  roguish Russian agent Colonel Kranau (Victor McLagen). Marie goes to the firing squad in stubborn pursuit of her heart’s desire but again, one wonders if this is a fitting outro for a femme fatale

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Back in the far flung corners of Empire, things are looking more promising in Shanghai Express (1932). “It took more than one man” to make Dietrich’s character Shanghai Lily, as she famously purrs, but the one who really counts is Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook). She snubs him for dastardly Henry Chang (former Fu Manchu, current Charlie Chan Warner Oland) but only to dissuade the latter from inflicting a fiendishly gruesome fate on Captain Don. When the latter cottons on to what’s happening,  things resolve themselves in an unalloyed happy ending… bah!

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As well as his genius for lighting (like Mario Bava, this is a director who often took over his films’ cinematography from the credited technician… though I’m not sure that Bava ever physically removed a DP from any of his sets), JVS here demonstrates his knack for packing the screen with layers of busy action, tantamount to a kind of quasi-3D.

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Marlene’s Helen Faraday is another good girl gone bad, but for the noblest of reasons, in 1932’s Blonde Venus. When her physicist husband Ned (Herbert Marshall) comes down with cancer as a result of his pioneering experiments with radium, Helen packs him off to Europe with monies ostensibly earned from her nightclub act (her emergence from a monkey suit topped only by opening scenes which anticipate Hedy Lamarr’s celebrated bathing scenes from Ecstasy, the following year) but actually stumped up by her admirer, smoothie politico Nick Townsend (Cary Grant). Ned returns with his cancer cured (just like that) to learn exactly how Helen earned the dough, withdrawing his affection and their son Johnny (Dickie Moore). Helen goes on the lam and into destitution with Johnny, before a further series of improbable plot twists see the story concluded on an awkward note of  tentative reconciliation.

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JVS complained that his original vision of Blonde Venus had been watered down on the insistence of producers but worse was to come. By 1934 the Hays Production Code (inaugurated in 1930) was implemented in full force and effect. No chance, then, of his Catherine The Great biopic The Scarlet Empress including any (but the most oblique) reference to CTG’s alleged dalliance with a stallion (if only Joe D’Amato had been around to direct this one…)

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We do witness MD’s transformation (and a neat, actorly job it is, too) from naive German Princess Sophie Frederica of Anhalt-Zerbst to the ruthless, man-eating “Messalina of the North”, contextualised by Von Sternberg and co-scripter Manuel Komroff (allegedly adapting Catherine’s own diaries) by her need to survive and eventually supplant her batshit crazy husband, the Grand Duke Peter (briefly Czar Peter III). Gore Vidal tried for something similar with his original screenplay for Tinto Brass’s Caligula (1979), before producer Bob Guccione wrung very drop of subtelty out of that project. Sam Jaffe’s magnificent, scenery-chewing portrayal of Peter nearly steals the show, but the real star here is Hans Dreier’s grotesque, gothic set design, around which Von Sternberg’s camera sinuously prowls. The film’s closing montage features a triumphant Catherine stroking her horse, presumably to elicit a laugh or two from those in the know.

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So far, Dietrich’s characters in these films have been a source of fascination and probably peril for men but all have been depicted with redeeming features or accompanying insights into what made them the way they are, as though JVS was struggling to justify to himself his own fixation on the actress. By the time we get to 1935 and the contract filler The Devil Is A Woman (co-written by John Dos Passos, no less), he’s had it with Paramount, with Dietrich and her relentless faithlessness. In the way she uses and abuses such dogged devotees as Lionel Atwill and Cesar Romero, her Concha Perez manages to outbitch even Lola Lola (Philipp Blom’s characterisation of the latter holds equally true for her: “Unashamedly sexy… a typical creature of interwar hardship who does not give a damn about titles and bourgeois rituals and is only interested in making a buck, having a little fun and living to see tomorrow” *) And don’t they just love it…

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JVS’s son Nicholas touches discretely on his father’s relationship with Dietrich in his useful filmed introductions to each of the films, together with insights into Von Sternberg the insatiable traveller, Art collector and Naive Artist in his own right. The beautiful 4k restorations and audio clean ups are further complimented by other extras in the kind of abundance we’ve come to expect from Indicator / Powerhouse. Documentary features and featurettes delve deeper into the romantic ups and downs of Dietrich and her Pygmalion. Audio commentators on the main features include such luminaries as Tony Rayns, David Thompson, Adrian Martin and the dynamic duo of Ellinger / Deighan. There’s a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Morocco (“The Legionnaire and the Lady”) from 1936, with Dietrich and Clark Gable as Tom Brown… Harry (Daughters Of Darkness) Kümel’s 1969 feature-length TV doc on von Sternberg, incorporating rare interview footage… Jasper Sharp’s examination of the life and career of Shanghai Express co-star Anna May Wong… The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935), a Paramount promotional short featuring MD’s preferred  costume designer Travis Banton (@rachael_nisbet. I was thinking about you while watching this one) … the inevitable Dietrich, a Queer Icon (2019)… and that’s barely the half of it.

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Most intriguingly, there’s The Twilight of an Angel, Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French television documentary from 2012, which concerns itself with Dietrich’s reclusive later life, during which she shielded her fading physicality from public view, allegedly spending her last 15 years in bed, a prisoner of her own iconic screen image.

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The girl can’t help it…

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(*) Fracture: Life And Culture In The West, 1918-1938

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“A World Unto Itself”: Al Pacino Is CRUISING For A Bruising In An Exemplary New Arrow Release…

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

In 1979, radiographer Paul Bateson was arraigned for one of several killings that had recently disfigured New York’s underground gay scene. Bateson’s previous claim to fame / notoriety was performing the cringe-inducing cerebral angiography in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). The director visited him on Riker’s Island and by his (disputed) account, was both alarmed and fascinated when Bateson told him that he’d been offered a reduced sentence if he copped for other murders, to make NYPD’s clear up ratio look better. This, plus a Gerald Walker novel based on the killings, became the inspiration for Friedkin’s Cruising (1980)…

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Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is an ambitious young cop looking for a short cut to his detective’s badge. Because he shares many physical characteristics with several gay men who’ve already fallen foul of a serial killer, Capt. Edelson (Paul Sorvino) asks if he’s willing to pose as psycho bait. Burns readily assents but is warned that the milieu he’ll be moving into is “a world unto itself… heavy metal… S/M”. Reborn as “John Forbes”, Burns goes deep undercover in the meat packing district (ooh er, Missus!), frequenting such legendary establishments as The Ramrod and The Mine Shaft (Friedkin filmed in the actual venues, populated – with the understandable exception of the principal actors – by regular patrons) to bone up on his hankie etiquette and get closer (increasingly dangerously so) to the killer and / or killers. Unable to talk about his secret posting, Burns / Forbes realises that his relationship with girlfriend Nancy (the always adorable Karen Allen) is suffering and Nancy soon notices how he’s changing. Is he developing a taste for the gay life? Or something much darker?

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Even before shooting began, Cruising divided opinion in and beyond the gay community. The aforementioned heavy leather S/M crowd got right behind it but there was a strain of more mainstream homosexual opinion which held that a decade after the Stonewall riots, the director of such sensationalist fare as The Exorcist might be about to unpick the tentative social progress that had been and was being made. As Friedkin himself concedes, water sports, fist-fucking and serial killing might well not constitute the community’s “best foot forward” in this regard. Attempts were made to disrupt the films shooting (much of the dialogue exchanges had to be subsequently re-looped) and there were civil disturbances at early screenings. Cruising was and remains controversial stuff, with each revival / re-release serving as a weather vane for where we are now, attitude wise…

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Having said that, I must confess that this is the first time I’ve watched Cruising since its theatrical release in the UK. I remember that in 1980 I was fairly impressed by its gritty edginess (though of course its orgiastic tableaux now look pretty tame compared to, e.g. the opening / closing scenes of Gaspar Noé’s 2002 effort Irreversible) and found myself irresistibly drawn into its mystery, only to be frustrated by the film’s increasingly wayward narrative en route to a “WTF?” denouement, leaving the theatre with the impression that Friedkin had… er, blown an intriguing premise. In addition, of course, there was the lurking suspicion that Cruising was, yes indeedy, homophobic.

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39 years later, viewed through the prism of the cinematic obsessions I’ve accreted in the past four decades, my initial impression was how much influence Cruising (itself a vaguely gialloesque proposition) has exerted over another, perhaps even more notorious offering, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982), way over and above that of the other obvious precedent, Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980). Of course Cruising wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind by the time I finally got to see Fulci’s much-banned giallo.

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Pacino’s attempts at dancing with amyl-fuelled gay abandon still look pretty risible (then again I think everybody – with the probable exception of Fred Astaire – looks pretty silly when they’re dancing)… and what exactly the fuck is it with the scenes in which a humungous black guy straight out of Tom Of Finland steps into interrogations, slaps suspects around then shimmies out the door?

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Friedkin makes fantastic use of Joe Spinell’s unforgettable physiognomy at various points and I’ve always cherished the entry that turns up in one suspect’s diary (“I feel my thoughts being born in my head. I can feel them taking shape. If only I could stop thinking. I can’t help but feel I’m on the verge of a discovery of some sort. Yesterday in the park, I saw an enormous dark shape. It seemed to hang suspended and dripping from the trees like a tar jelly. At its centre was a bright red glow”) because I love it when killers in these things have some kind of cracked mystical motivation. Still, not a patch on David Keith’s insane cosmological speculations in Donald Cammell’s White Of The Eye (1987, below).

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That demented diarist is only one of several candidates that Al’s got his eye on and I have to concede that I’m still as baffled as I was in 1980 regarding who exactly is killing whom… and why. Different suspects speak with the same creepy voice (and recite the same macabre nursery rhyme) as the hallucinated father of one of them. Is this a really lame attempt to forge some kind of link in the viewer’s mind between Cruising and Friedkin’s megahit The Exorcist (the director deploys subliminal footage to unsettling effect in both)? It doesn’t exactly help that a lot of the victims and possible killers look exactly like each other. Isn’t that what prejudiced people always say about minorities? Am I homophobic? Nah, just confused. I’ve spoken to gay friends and fellow pundits about Cruising and the general consensus seems to be that the film is problematic but probably not homophobic. But when Friedkin opines in one of the commentary tracks that “some of the cops were also degenerate”, you have to wonder.

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The impossibility of pinning down a single killer in Cruising leaves it open to the interpretation that even if you could put somebody away, there are always going to be more killings because “that’s what homsexuality is all about… deviance and premature death, innit?” Other possible interpretations emerge during the course of the supplementary materials on this disc. Apart from a trailer and two useful featurettes concentrating on the film’s genesis, production and controversial impact, you get a couple of commentary tracks. The archive one by Friedkin is a curiously unenlightening affair, for long stretches of which he merely describes what’s happening on screen. I really surprised myself by my positive response to the second, more recent track, in which BF’s comments are mediated by Mark Kermode…

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“Surprised myself” chiefly because I’ve never quite understood the esteem in which Kermode is rated as a critic. One of the biggest problems I have with him is his ongoing insistence that The Exorcist is, rather than some superior, turbo-charged variation on William Castle‘s formula of conveyor belt shocks, the best / most profound movie ever made. I mean… really, Mark? Come on…

DvW9_OMWwAAUoLa.jpg-large.jpegHere, however he relentlessly nags at Friedkin to explain himself and the unfolding explanation is one where the narrative dead ends down which this film cruises are more attributable to intent than ineptitude on the director’s part. By his contention, WF was loath to hand viewers an easy wrap-up (“like a hamburger in a paper bag”) for a complex situation. As he was articulating this position, it occurred to me that I’d been maintaining a double standard by kvetching about this aspect of Cruising while Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) remains a fixture on my all time Top 10 (quite possibly Top 5) films list. Friedkin even offers a plausible (albeit still a tad far fetched) explanation of the black guy in the cowboy hat and jockstrap.

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The main feature has never looked or sounded better than here, in a 4K restoration / 5.1 sound reworking. I still entertain nagging doubts about it but after consuming this edition I appreciate Cruising a lot more and understand it maybe a little better. Isn’t that precisely what these collector’s editions are supposed to do for us?

It was particularly helpful, while marshalling my thoughts (such as they are) on this film, to chat with @jonnylarkin from those Screaming Queenz. Here’s their SQ podcast on Cruising. Enjoy.

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