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

“There were never any problems with Edwige”… The BARBARA BOUCHET Interview.

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I tend to be more awe-struck in the presence of my musical idols than around film folk. Perhaps I’ll bore you some other time with my theory about why this might be. I did feel rather star struck on the occasions I was introduced to Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, though the latter (after a wicked leg pull) took trouble to put me at my ease. The last time I encountered this pesky emotion was on the 21st September 2013 at Manchester’s ever-wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films, when I was knocking on the door of Barbara Bouchet’s hotel room to arrange an interview. Why this rare attack of bashfulness? Was I expecting to find her sunbathing naked, as in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972)? Maybe just hoping…

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… maybe it was because BB is so palpably a film star. Don’t get me wrong, during the hour or so that we talked Barbara didn’t for one moment act the star / act up. She just exudes that certain je ne sais quoi… and there’s a certain laser focused, business-like steel beneath the impeccably groomed exterior, which there probably needed to be for her to survive the upheavals of her early life.

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The interview from which the following passages are excerpted originally appeared in its entirety in Dark Side magazine #156 at the end of 2013, which you might well want to check out. At the point where these selection kick in, the former Barbel Goutscher had made a promising start in Hollywood (winning a Gidget lookalike competition and snogging Captain Kirk in the Star Trek episode By Any Other Name) before things stalled after a run in with notorious martinet Otto Preminger, for whom she’d signed a seven year contract. Sticking to her guns, she was released from that (“maybe he did me a favour because we were both East European emigrés”) and attempted to pick up some career momentum in Europe. First she tried for a part in Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966)…

I flew from Paris to London at very short notice because he was there looking for girls for Blow Up and wanted to see me but when I arrived he told me: “I’m much too tired to see you, come back tomorrow”. You can imagine how I reacted to that. At the same time Charley Feldman had been pursuing me so I contacted him in preference to Mr Antonioni and suddenly I was in a new seven year contract, beginning with Casino Royale.

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With Sharon Tate at The Playboy Club in London, 1966.

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Your first significant role in Italy was in Paolo Cavara’s 1971 giallo The Black Belly Of The Tarantula (above). Cavara was previously known as a maker of Mondo documentaries and I wondered if this was apparent from his handling of actors in a dramatic context…

There were no problems with Paolo and he got good performances out of everybody.

He certainly did… it’s your antics in the memorable massage parlour opening scene that set the maniac off on his kill-spree and you become his first victim… it’s been said that you get killed off early in so many of your giallo roles because you always had to run off and start another picture…

Is that what they say? (Laughs)

You do get a more substantial role in Silvio Amadio’s Alla Ricera Del Piacere, a film with a very decadent atmosphere in which you starred with Farley Granger and Rosalba Nera…

You mean Amuck?

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Yeah, it was released under the usual variety of titles. That one is remembered for your lesbian love scene with Rosalba Neri, which I gather was received with great controversy in its day…

Oh yes, to the Italians it was quite scandalous! Whereas I had grown up with a large family in a small house, everybody was very casual about nakedness so it was no big deal to me. The Italians did get very excited about it, though. (Can’t honestly claim that I didn’t – Bobby F)

Another scene that you did which caused a bit of a commotion was the one in which you’re naked and taunting an adolescent boy in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling…

Yes, Fulci was taken to court over that!

He was always being taken to court… and he always walked.

Yes, he did this time too because we were able to prove that when you saw the back of the child, who was looking at me, it wasn’t actually a child – it was a dwarf. And of course when you see the face of the child who’s talking to me, he’s not looking at me, he’s looking at a blank wall.

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It’s amazing that the prosecutors could have shown such an elementary lack of cinematic savvy… did your nude and sexy scenes ever cause any grief for you with your family?

Well, these films didn’t tend to play in The States, where they were living…

… maybe in the kind of grind houses that your parents wouldn’t have frequented.

They did cause some problems for my sons in Italy, they got into fights with their classmates who said that they’d seen me naked in sexy magazines, like some of the ones I signed for you earlier. I decided to move them out of the house so as not to upset my sons, but I left the suitcase outside my house for one minute and when I came back it had been stolen. So I think when the thief opened it, he would have been disappointed.

Quite the opposite, I would have thought…

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I told my sons that if anybody teased them about their mother being in sexy films and magazines, they should reply that I was in them because  I was beautiful, but their mothers couldn’t do that because they were fat, old hags! They liked that. As I said, acting these roles is no big deal for me. There are just two films that I turned down because I thought they were too much. One was Just Jaeckin’s The Story Of O and the other was one of Tinto Brass’s pictures…

Salon Kitty?

I don’t remember which one it was, but I didn’t want to do that kind of film.

I was wondering if a multi-lingual actor such as yourself found it frustrating to have to re-dub your dialogue in post production, as is the Italian way?

Well of course, the first time you’re told not to worry about your lines but just to count “one, two, three, four.”.. because it’s all going to be re-dubbed later… that does take a bit of getting used to. When I later made films outside of Italy it came as an equal shock that you were acting and you couldn’t hear traffic noises or the sound of technicians talking on the set.

Whenever fans talk about gialli and Italian sexy comedies, the names of two actresses always come up – yourself and Edwige Fenech. What are your memories of La Fenech?

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(Smiles) We only appeared together in one movie, you know? (Hm, I think there were a couple more than that – Bobby F). When they wanted a blonde they would call me, when they wanted a brunette it was Edwige and there were other girls who could fill these roles if we were not available for a movie. The press are always trying to get an angle, to make a story, you know, so they wanted us to be rivals but it was all stupid, there were never any problems with Edwige.

You never appeared in any of the excellent gialli directed by Sergio Martino…

… but I appeared in sexy comedies that he directed, which were produced by his brother Luciano, the lover of Edwige.

You also appeared in two movies by Antonio Margheriti… he was revered as a technical director and in Bed Of A Thousand Pleasures he had you making love to an invisible man and to another guy on a flying carpet… memorable stuff!

You say that but I can’t remember any of it!

Maybe you remember Death Rage, the other film you made with Margheriti, a little better… it’s rumoured that you didn’t get on too well with your co-star, Yul Brynner…

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I certainly remember that I hated how horribly rude he was to the make-up girls and other people who were there trying to look after him, so when I found out that he was superstitious about chrysanthemums I sent him a beautiful big bunch of them.

These movie tough guys are all big girls’ blouses… another one in which you die very early was Fernando Merighi’s Casa D’Appuntamento aka The Bogey Man And The French Murders… what was going on in that one with the pointless Humphrey Bogart lookalike and everything?

I don’t know what the point of that was. You know what? I don’t watch a lot of my films… was that one shot in Germany?

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times was shot in Germany. You keep seeing shots of the Eiffel Tower in Merighi’s film, but who knows? It looked a bit thrown together.

That’s how some of them were.

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In one of your earliest giallo roles, for Alberto De Martino’s The Man With Icy Eyes, your character is described by another as “the kind of broad who’ll do anything for money” and you did go onto perfect the role of the femme fatale who’s irresistible to men but has her own evil or at least ambiguous agenda.

Yeah, but it’s fun to do these roles because they’re the exact opposite of how I am in real life.

Your characters have taken some terrible beatings from the men they’ve wronged. You’re treated particularly violently by Henry Silva in Andrea Bianchi’s mafia epic The Ones Who Count aka Cry Of A Prostitute…

Ugh! (Shivers) That was unpleasant… I didn’t remember it being that unpleasant when we made it. In fact I prefer not to remember too much about that one. When Quentin Tarantino arranged a screening of some of my movies in LA he opened with that one and I wish he hadn’t…

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Henry Silva was one mean screen mo-fo but I gather he was a sweetheart in real life…

He was a lovely man but with that face he was always going to be cast as the bad guy… what a face! Cheek bones like razor blades…

In some of your films, including that one, you’re the bad girl who “gets her comeuppance” but I think Don’t Torture A Duckling features one of your best roles and performances because you start off as this snotty rich bitch but Fulci develops your character to the point where, by the end of the film, you’re really sympathetic.

Yes, it’s the actress’s craft to bring these things out…

… which you do so well in that film and your relationship with Tomas Milian’s character develops accordingly.

Tomas was alright but at that time he was very into his relationship with Irene Papas…

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Fulci had a bit of a reputation as a tyrant and a misogynist on set…

On Don’t Torture The Duckling (sic)? Yes, I have heard this but he never showed that side of himself to me. He was very focussed on getting the movie made, yes, but we got on just fine.

Your “manipulative bitch” character is brought to perfection in Fernando Di Leo’s definitive Italian noir, Milan Calibre 9. Di Leo also had a bit of a hard ass, misogynistic reputation… did you see anything of this?

Di Leo was absolutely fine with me. A misogynist? In fact I discovered after his death that he had been quite a lady’s man.

Sometimes the two go together. It’s often said that the deregulation of Italian TV killed the Italian film industry, but you kept working with your TV health and beauty show…

Yes… I saw what happened to Sylva Koscina, an East European actress like me (she came from Yugoslavia). She was of the generation just before me and when she reached a certain age, the roles dried up. She took it very badly and she died very young. So I said to myself, am I going to let that happen to me? Oh no! So I stopped doing films round about the time of Sergio Martino’s Spaghetti At Midnight in 1978 and devoted some time to bringing up my family.

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My mother took me to a psychic in Arizona who predicted that I would go to work in television and I said no way. I had no intention of doing that but as soon as I stepped off the plane back in Italy, Berlusconi’s people offered me a pilot, then a TV series. It was based in a health spa because I have always looked after myself, kept in shape, eaten the right food and taken vitamins and so on. I had my own health business and I told them it would have to be plugged in every episode of the TV series. I was resolved to make it work for my benefit.

Good for you. Speaking of plugging, why is everybody in your movies always furiously knocking back bottles of J&B? Sometimes the screen is almost filled with stacked-up cases of the stuff…

Well in those days, you know, you could partially finance the movie with these product placements, so there was Coca Cola all over the place and yes, J&B. But then the Italian government brought in a law that you couldn’t do this anymore.

Killjoys! Just for old time’s sake, why don’t we …

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Nature, Pink In Tooth And Claw? CANNIBAL FEROX On Shameless Blu-Ray

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Yes Johnny, he gets off on ecology,

BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

In the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who’s unfamiliar with the “plot” of Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981)… Lorraine De Selle, Zora Kerova and some bloke head into deepest Colombia in search of  evidence to support De Selle’s  academic thesis that Third World cannibalism is “bat shit”… i.e. fake news, disseminated to further the agenda of wicked western corporations and ideologically unsound imperialists. The following hour and a half establishes pretty conclusively just how wrong she was on this score, but the film ends – SPOILER ALERT! – with her safely back in the Groves of Academe, presenting her thesis as proven, having decided that the locals were driven to avenge themselves on “Naughty Mike” (as Giovanni Lombardo Radice refers to his character), who came to the Amazon basin on his own search for emeralds and cocaine and, having overindulged in the latter, tortured and killed the natives in an effort to find those elusive gems.

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The most notorious Gino De Rossi special effect in this former “video nasty” reminds me of a very non-PC joke about two hippy chicks… though I couldn’t possibly repeat it in polite company. Women being strung up by hooks through their breasts… a native having his eye prised out with a knife… sexualised violence… a woman being kicked in the head… disembowelment… cannibalism… the machete amputation of John Morghen’s penis (then hand) and the slicing open of his skull so that natives can feast on his coke-crazed brain… all of this was removed from Replay’s “soft” VHS version, to which the BBFC awarded an unofficial ’18’ certificate in September 1982 (which proved to be a pretty pointless exercise for all concerned, as both versions subsequently ended up on the dreaded “nasties” list). The BBFC take a relatively relaxed view of such simulated splatter shenanigans these days but there is, of course, another outstanding issue with Ferox and its cannibal kin…

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Animal wise, the “soft” version forfeited such Mondoesque moments as the dismemberment of a live turtle, snakes eating and attacking coatis and lizards, a monkey falling foul of a hungry jaguar, natives gutting and eating a crocodile and most of the scene in which Morghen’s character, a propos of nothing in particular, stabs a small pig to death. “Do you get off on ecology, huh, twat?” he asks Lorraine De Selle when she censures him for this gratuitous act of butchery. Well yes, she did… and as we have seen, the BBFC entertain serious reservations about such conduct, too. By 2001 the Board were certifying all manner of ex-“nasties” and other betes noirs of the departed James Ferman’s tenure, but before Vipco got the nod for a VHS / DVD release they were required to make an additional excision to the animal violence, i.e. “six seconds of a tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep”.

The BBFC are legally obliged to take account of The Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937 and the Animal Welfare Act (2006) but in the intervening years there’s been serious disquiet about the content of Italian cannibal films, even among hardened gore hounds and much dispute on social media forums about ethical vs authentic versions of them.

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Make them die within the provisions of the Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937…

And so, following in the wake of such recent Shameless releases as Ruggero Deodato’s “preferred” version of Cannibal Holocaust and what Sergio Martino describes as an “improved” Mountain (formerly Prisoner) Of The Cannibal God, here comes Cannibal Ferox redux. While Deodato and Martino seem to entertain genuine misgivings about some of the things they’d gotten up to half a lifetime previously in South East Asia and up The Amazon, you suspect Lenzi didn’t really give a monkey’s cranium for animal rights, happily agreeing to anything that would squeeze a few more dollars out of a film that, it’s common knowledge, he despised.

So, what’s in and what’s out? Natives chewing on butterflies and live larvae are here, because the relevant legislation only applies to vertebrates. Ditto the skewering and stamping on of spiders. Because “quick clean kills” are not legally prohibited, you get the decapitation of a turtle that the natives are preparing for supper and the BBFC have deemed the thrashing around of what’s left of the unfortunate critter to be “a post mortem nervous reaction, akin to a headless chicken running around a farmyard”… and equally revolting. There still seem to be shots of that “tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep” and although the subsequent scene of said Coati being attacked by a large snake has been re-cut to eliminate the actual kill (remaining footage runs in slo-mo to maintain the film’s 93 minute running time) you still see its desperate attempts to avoid capture, which is pretty distressing stuff. There are further abridgements to a jaguar killing and dragging a monkey off into the foliage, natives gutting a small crocodile and the notorious pig stabbing scene in which Signor Radice / Morghen refused to participate. A clumsily contrived and totally gratuitous snake / lizard fight-to-the-death has completely gone, the narrative proceeding at this point straight to Johnny’s big seduction scene (“I had you nailed down the minute I saw you…”, etc) with Zora Kerova.

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So there you have it. A Cannibal Ferox that’s sufficiently compliant with the law to piss off completists but is still unlikely to persuade Morrissey to trade in his A Taste Of Honey DVD to get a copy…. this might prove to be one of Shameless’s most divisive releases yet.

Extras-wise, Lenzi and a heavily bearded Lombardo Radice continue their war of words from beyond the grave… Lenzi’s, anyway (his interview here is possibly the last one he ever recorded). A comparison feature shows how much better the 2K scan of Ferox’s 16mm negative looked after colour correction. The results are pretty grainy but Shameless argue, with some justification, that this is better looking and more authentic than certain other releases, with their “blingy shimmer” of Digital Noise Reduction. Whatever, if you pre-order this one (and there’s still time to do so as I post this) you get a barf bag into the bargain, all the better to turn you lounge into a 42nd Street grind house for an hour-and-a-half… but no monkey spanking, OK?

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“What cannibalism?”

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The Mystery Of The Elusive Auteur… THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail (1971) plays out in familiar globe-trotting style, kicking off in a London that is still just about swinging (and in which Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin was shot, the same year) before relocating to Greece, where this film was released as “Dawn Of The Black Stilletos” (yeah, I remember her well…) George Hilton is insurance man Peter Lynch, detailed by his employers International Unlimited Insurance to investigate the million dollar payoff to Lisa Baumer (“Evelyn Stewart” / Ida Galli) after her old man was among the victims of a Lockerbie-style plane bombing; her druggy ex is prepared to testify that she was in on the conspiracy but gets silenced by an identikit black clad, knife-wielding assassin (Luis Barboo from a thousand trashy Jesus Franco movies); to complicate matters further, the latter’s girlfriend Lara (Janine Raynaud from Franco’s Succubus) was having a fling with Mr Baumer and is contesting his will. On the eve of her flight to Tokyo, still carrying that million around in a bag (!), Lisa is butchered in her hotel room in a scene that’s cribbed directly from a memorable murder moment in Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) and which also obviously alludes to the shockingly early demise of Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho. Enter Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza), local cop Stavros (?!?) played by Luigi Pistilli and Anita Strindberg as investigative reporter Cleo Dupont. Lynch wastes no time making out with her (good choice, considering the other two options) amid copious consumption of J&B. Lara also pops up again, only to figure in a BWTCP patented siege scene before she and Barboo’s character are both killed off. Still with me? It’s only after Cleo’s own siege scene that the clue of the Scorpion-shaped cuff-link emerges from a photographic blow up (!), soon revealed as a red herring when Lynch takes Cleo on a recuperative harpoon fishing trip and the final wave of twists and shock revelations rolls round. What a carry on for Cleo…

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For some time now I’ve been labouring over a piece (and for an even longer time, trailering it… way to guarantee an anticlimax there, Freudstein!) concerning the way the giallo genre shifted from the superficially “sexy” but ultimately money-motivated potboilers of Guerrieri and Lenzi to the deranged sex killer sagas pioneered by Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage. In the course of researching this piece I had cause to dig out, rewatch and reappraise Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970), a film which anticipates much of what happens in the four more widely celebrated gialli that Sergio Martino clocked up over 1971/2. With an impeccable sense of timing, Arrow are now debuting the second of those, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, on UK Blu-ray.

Martino’s earlier The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh mixed three parts cold, calculating killer(s) with one homicidal sex case (yep, the odds were very definitely stacked against Edwige Fenech) but the action was proceeding in a deccidedly post-Argento direction. The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail suggests that the director, his producer / big brother Luciano and prolific scripter Ernesto Gastaldi were still hedging their bets as to which kind of plot was going to trump the other at the box office. Again, both strains are mixed, though there’s a definite feeling (despite Strindber’gs character anticipating that of Daria Nicolodi in Deep Red… plus a brief and jarring irruption of Fulci-esque eye violence) that matters have regressed into something more resembling one of Lenzi’s torrid bonkbusters. In the absence of Fenech (who was pregnant) one half expects Carroll Baker to arrive centre screen. She doesn’t but there’s so much else going on in this rattling little giallo (I particularly

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appreciated the psycho’s Diabolikesque rubbber kill suit), which rolls along at a fair old lick and (if you can overlook such jarringly cheap moments as the airfix air disaster) in satisfying style. For Martino Jr, TCOTST might well have seemed, in retrospect, to play things a little too safe, which he would remedy in spades with his 1972 brace All The Colours Of The Dark (which incorporated occult elements into the basic formula) and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (a chamber giallo whose sexual decadence is peppered with more than a pinch of Poe). Ringing the changes from film to film was the essence of Martino’s directorial style…

… if, indeed, he had one. Le Dolce Morte author Mikel Koven argues in an engaging featurette here that Martino is some kind of anti-auteur, whose directorial identity dissolves into whatever filone he’s currently navigating, whose genre films are all about genre rather than any personal statement he’s making. Koven suggests that the true auteur of these Martino films could be producer Luciano, but is more probably screen writer Ernesto Gastaldi, obsessively re-refining his take on Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955)… well, Brian De Palma built an auteurist rep by Hitching his star to endless rehashes of you-know-who…

Gastaldi’s auteurist credentials are further examined in a video essay by Troy Howarth and who do we find providing the main feature’s commentary track (moderated by Federico Caddeo) but Gastaldi himself… damning George Hilton with faint praise, explaining his beef with Dario Argento (illogical plotting) and relating the corruption of Italian censorship bodies.

I’m hard pressed to think of a release whose bonus features cohere so cogently into an overarching argument, one which you might or might not care to accept. Should generate a few lively threads on social media, anyhows…

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Sergio Martino does get his own say, citing the notorious Fenaroli insurance murder case as an influence at least as important as that of Les Diaboliques… he also talks about phony credits that were manufactured to meet co-production quotas, his dismay at the overuse of zooms in his films and the ever-popular subject of J&B product placement.

George Hilton is interviewed too, revealing his affair with Anita Strindberg, which is perhaps a little ungentlemanly… even more so, his pronouncements on her botched boob job. More amusingly, he remembers his first encounter with the Argentinian actor Alberto De Mendoza, who ultimately became a friend but initially identified him as “that Uruguyan twat!” You’ll also get to marvel at a trailer that is, quite frankly, berserk.

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We hacks are never sent the limited edition booklets that come with these things so I’m not able to comment on the writings of Howard Hughes or Peter Jilmstead (the latter presumably extracted from Peter’s eagerly anticipated Strindberg biog, The Other Anita) but Rachael Nisbet, one of my favourite bloggers (at hypnoticcrescendos.blogspot.co.uk) has kindly sent me the text of her highly enjoyable essay. I particularly admire the heroic way she manages to stay with the labyrinthine plot twists of these things. I’m more down with Koven (who admits, in his featurette, that he just “goes with the flow”). The main thrust of RN’s piece concerns the way that TCOTST’s deployment of “whodunnit” themes make it a quintessential giallo…

… indeed, although somewhat less adventurous than subsequent Martino gialli (or its predecessor The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, for that matter) this Case belongs firmly in the giallo files on your shelf. Arrow’s new edition looks (bearing none of the dreaded grain often associated with such upgrades) and sounds just great, showcasing a Bruno Nicolai score that’s all prowling bass and snarling trumpets, ably echoing the work of Nicolai’s compadre Morricone in the first three Argento thrillers.

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Jeepers, Creepers… ALL EYES ON LENZI – THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE ITALIAN EXPLOITATION TITAN Reviewed

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All Eyes On Lenzi – The Life And Times Of The Italian Exploitation Titan (2018). Directed and produced by Calum Waddell. Produced and edited by Naomi Holwill.

Despite having one of Hollywood’s hottest hot shots (you know who I mean) as the unofficial President of his fan club, the recently deceased Umberto Lenzi remains an underrated director among aficianados of the various genres in which he worked. I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard… in one of my earliest published pieces I praised Lenzi’s cannibal movies (he wouldn’t have thanked me for that… indeed, he subsequently slammed the phone down on one attempt I made to talk to him about those films) while dismissing his gialli out of hand. Well, the statute of limitations must be up on this so I might as well confess that in those days I still hadn’t seen several of the latter…

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I subsequently caught up with and have recently been re-watching Lenzi’s thrillers starring Carroll Baker, in the service of a feature that I’m writing about the evolution of the giallo, so you’d think I wouldn’t make that mistake again. As recently as my review of Arrow’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key, though, I refer to a notional “big four” of giallo directors (Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino) which really should have been expanded to a “big five” to include Lenzi. Sure, his brand of steamy. scheming, bonkbusting gialli gave way to the Bird With The Crystal Plumage model and his later attempts to render films in the Argento style are not wholly convincing, but to deny Lenzi his proper place in the Hall Of Fame does a significant disservice both to him and to giallo history… over and above which, we must consider the impact of his cannibal epics on polite society and the enormity of his contributions to the poliziotteschi scene.

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Perhaps my brief contributions to Calum Waddell’s timely All Eyes On Lenzi feature-length documentary will go some way towards atoning for my previous critical lacunae. There are plenty of other pundits lining up in it to demand that Lenzi be paid his due respect, including Milanese fan publishing notable Manlio  Gomarasca, the University of Worcester’s own Mikel Koven (who enthuses about the thespian sparks ignited between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli, among other things), film-maker Scooter McCrae and one of my favourite up-and-coming writers, Rachael Nisbet (is that your disc collection behind you, Rachael? Jeez, I wish mine was as neatly displayed as that…)

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Principle among those boosting Lenzi’s credentials, of course, is Lenzi himself, in one of the last interviews he ever gave (and in which he gives particularly good value for money on the subject of setting up the action scenes in his crime-slime classics, also keeping an admirably straight face as he expands upon the serious ecological message behind Nightmare City). Giovanni Lombardo Radice offers a dissenting view while his Cannibal Ferox co-star Danilo Mattei (who can also be seen lurking inside a bear skin in Lenzi’s The Iron Master) contributes a more  phlegmatic take on the moody director’s foibles.

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The Iron Master… Nightmare City… Eyeball… all these slices of delirious cinematic trash are enthusiastically endorsed as evidence that Lenzi could still deliver entertaining fare, even when the budgets got a bit rubbish. AEOL doesn’t shy away from the fact that when the budgets got really rubbish, Lenzi was as capable of delivering a sack of shit as anyone (Black Demons… The Hell’s Gate… I’m looking at you) but hey, that never queered anyone’s admiration for Lucio Fulci, and rightly so. Nisbet offers the ironic observation that even Lenzi’s fag-end failures have a fan following of their own among millennials (bloody millennials… who can figure those guys out, huh?)

Another winner from our pals at High Rising Productions, All Eyes On Lenzi will apparently be included in an all-singing / dancing deluxe metal box edition of Eyeball from 88 Films… keep ’em peeled for that one, schlock-pickers!

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06/08/31 – 19/10/17. R.I.P.

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From Copenhagen With Love… FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION Reviewed And Reappraised

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Not Rated.

Minou (Dagmar Lassander) lives a privileged life of pampered ennui as the neglected wifey of workaholic industrialist Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi). Comfortably marooned in Jacqueline Susann territory, her most significant daily decisions include what colour to paint her toe-nails, which wig to wear (she and her snooty pals all boast extensive wig collections, all of which pale into insignificance in comparison with the legendary lacquered Capponi comb-over) when she hits Barcelona’s hot and happening nite spots (FPOALAS is clearly shot in Barcelona, though at several points in it characters can be seen waving wads of US dollars around) and how early in the day she can get away with downing a tumbler or two of J&B and popping a few prozacs. Yep, Minou is bored off her delectable arse and longs for a little excitement in her life, but as they say – be careful what you wish for!

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Attempting to see off the blahs with a moonlit walk on the beach, Minou is waylaid by a menacing dude (Simón Andreu) with a sword stick who cops a feel off her and demands that she “beg for me… plead for my kisses”. When he’s finished groping he disappears, but not before advising her that her husband is “a fraud and a murderer”.

You have to keep reminding yourself that all of this is taking place in pre #metoo days, otherwise the reactions of Minou’s nearest and dearest to the news of her ordeal at the hands of a sword stick wielding weirdo might seem a little… odd. “It was probably just a prank” suggests hubby, helpfully and the victim herself seems to take the incident in her stride, refusing to alert the police on the grounds that “they just make you fill in forms”. Later, at a hep party where ageing swingers bust their funky moves to another delirious dollop of Morricone Hammond heaven, Minou meets up with pal Dominique (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro) to discuss her run in with the kinky maniac. “It means you’re bursting with sex appeal”, gibbers Dominique (who’s at it with Peter behind Minou’s back, incidentally) : “I’d adore being violated!”. No big deal then, it’s unanimous… indeed, there seems to be suggestion that a bored, spoiled woman is getting carried away with her sexual fantasies.

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Stoking the fire, Dominique shows Minou some (rather tame) nuddy photos she’s had taken of herself and her pals (which had to be developed in Copenhagen!) Who should turn up in one of them, but Mr Menacing Dude from the beach?! He subsequently contacts Minou, claiming that the recent death of one of her husband’s creditors (from the bends, of all things) was no accident. Taped telephone conversations seem to lend credence to this version of events, and Minou is only too well aware that Peter has been suffering some serious cash flow problems, so she agrees to meet the blackmailer… but was it really wise to go in that mini skirt?

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Minou offers to buy Menacing Dude’s silence but he scorns her “paper dollars… you don’t know me, Minou… you must submit your mind and body… you must suffer and be my slave!” What this florid nonsense boils down to is the blackmailer bonking her while taking pictures. With the eponymous forbidden photes in his possession, Minou’s tormentor reveals that he has faked the incriminating evidence against her husband but now has a strong bargaining position from which to demand her ongoing sexual favours… which she seems to dispense, shall we say, not without enthusiasm.

Deduct several credibility points if you haven’t worked out there’s more to this debauched scenario than meets the eye and that there are several twists still to come…

On the evidence of his Death Walks On High Heels (1971) and Death Walks At Midnight (1972), each of which has its moments but both of which ultimately amount to less than the sum of their convoluted parts, I’ve always considered Luciano Ercoli a bit of a second stringer, an underachieving Sergio Martino wannabe. While researching a piece on how the “bonkbusting” strain of giallo (presiding goddess Carroll Baker) gave way to the “psycho slasher” variant (and the divine Edwige Fenech) after the success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage, however, I took Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion off the shelf (1970) for a long overdue rewatching and completely revised my long-standing, complacent opinion.

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Martino’s gialli are clearly key transitional works between the sexually overheated, money-motivated murder mysteries of Guerrieri and Lenzi and the post-Crystal Plumage sagas of deranged sex killers, mix-and-matching elements from both strains to keep their audiences guessing while simultaneously, director Sergio, producer Luciano and writer Ernesto Gastaldi  furiously attempted to figure out which side of the equation was going to put the most natiche on Italian cinema seats. No fewer than four aspiring assassins are interacting in their attempts to eliminate Edwige during The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). Just one of them is a full-blown nutzoid sex case, while the others coolly calculate the financial benefits potentially accruing from her demise. Subsequent Martino efforts essentially reshake the mix while refreshing the flavour with such incidental distractions as a black magic cult (in All The Colours Of The Dark, 1972) and the boho / Poe stylings of the same year’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key. (*)

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FPOALAS was released over the last two months of 1970 in Northern Italian cities and during early ’71 in the South,  in other words it was an earlier response to TBWTCP than any of the Martino pictures and anticipates several of their recurring narrative strategies. Like Fenech’s Mrs Wardh, Minou responds to marital neglect by drifting into an abusive S/M relationship with a cad (the prolific and still busy Simón Andreu, who would combine the neglectful and sadistic male roles in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride, two years later… his roles in both films are so archetypal that his characters in each remain unnamed!)… just like Ivan Rassimov, who would subsequently take the corresponding role in Martino’s thrillers, Andreu tends to lurk in the shadows or barely glimpsed through rain-streaked windows, turning up at pivotal plot moments to further turn the screws on the increasingly desperate heroine. The ease with which Dominique converts Minou to the joys of porn prefigures Edwige Fenech’s rapid recruitment to a Satanic cult when Marina Malfatti suggests it might remedy her conformist malaise in All The Colours Of The Dark… jeez, Lassander even does the “take a shower in your slip” thing before it ever occurred to Edwige Fenech to do so.

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What really clinches FPOALAS’s place as a seminal text in the discourse between the “cold calculating killers” and “irrational, passionate assassins” tendencies of giallo is the self-consciousness with which the conspiring characters discuss precisely this dichotomy.  “You want to defeat me with your money… you’re trying to make a fool of me!” chides Mr Menacing when Minou attempts to buy him off: “Both of you think that your money can buy anything. You’re like animals, yet you call me mad!” “He’s crazy…” Minou confides to Domenique ” he doesn’t think like other people, there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do next”. As it happens, he’s only playing a role but acts it out so enthusiastically that he ends up spoiling the scam that his puppet-master (guess who) had devised. “He enjoyed playing the maniac and forgot I was paying him to follow instructions” complains the actual culprit behind this whole tawdry affair, before the cops arrive and gun him down… but if Andreu’s anaemic antics during this film (which amount to handing out a few superficial scratches with that sword stick) constitute him going over the top as a sex killer, one can only wonder what a half-assed attempt by him would look like!

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Future pasta thriller killers would set about their gory handiwork with altogether more gusto, as the conflict between “60s scheming gialli and 70s stabby gialli” (as one of my social media pals so eloquently put it) was ultimately resolved in favour of the latter. Incidentally, the “rational” motive for all the unseemly shenanigans in Ercoli’s film, when ultimately revealed, makes no sense whatsoever… I mean, I know there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on in Italy during the ’70s, but has there ever been a time (anywhere?) when insurance companies paid out on suicides?

Luciano Ercoli (who also produced FPOALAS… Ernesto Gastaldi, still working through his obsession with Les Dialoboliques, wrote it) retired from the film biz after inheriting a fortune in the mid 70s, presumably to enjoy the J&B quaffing, leisured lifestyle with his muse Navarro (who carried on acting – in several Joe D’Amato titles, among others… till 1989). Hopefully they spent the time until Ercoli’s death in March 2015 more harmoniously than Peter and Minou.

Extras on this disc comprise a theatrical trailer and the featurette Forbidden Screenplays, in which Gastaldi reminisces about working with Ercoli.

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(*) Sergio Martino finally came down firmly in psycho killer territory with Torso (produced by Carlo Ponti in 1973), which stripped the narrative right down to “pretty girls vs drooling loony” basics (with the most sexually conservative girl surviving the kill spree), establishing in the process the template for the subsequent American slasher / splatter phenom.

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“I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Legal Team”… Enzo Castellari’s THE LAST SHARK Reviewed

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L’Ultomo Squalo (“The Last Shark”) aka The Last Jaws / Jaws Returns/ Great White (1981). Directed by Enzo G. Castellari. Produced by Maurizio Amati and Ugo Tucci. Written by Ramón Bravo, Vincenzo Mannino, Marc Princi and Ugo Tucci. Cinematography by Alberto Spagnoli. Edited by Gianfranco Amicucci. Special FX by Antonio Corridori. Art direction by Franco Vanorio. Music by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis. Starring: James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micaela Pignatelli, Joshua Sinclair, “Timothy Brent”  (Giancarlo Prete), Stefania Girolami.

Here at the HOF we continue to seek out new obscurities and re-familiarise ourselves with long neglected treasures during our increasingly elastic free month’s trial with Amazon Prime. This time out it’s an Italian copycat effort that scored big in American theatres (round about the time that its director was making a big impression in the early days of home video and winning the heart of Quentin Tarantino with the likes of Bronx Warriors)… scoring significant legal problems in the process.

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William Wells (Joshua Wells), the mayor of South Bay (why does the poster above locate the action in “Port Harbor”? Fucked if I know…) is running for State Governor so he doesn’t want anything to disrupt the centenary wind-surfing regatta he’s throwing (sound reasoning… anyone who lays on a centenary wind-surfing regatta gets my vote!) It follows that he doesn’t want smart alec marine biologist Peter Benton (James Franciscus) spreading scare stories about the potential for shark attacks. Credit where it’s due, the mayor does get miles of underwater metal cages installed to ring fence the bay from sharky intrusions (yep, this guy’s definitely getting my vote). Vic Morrow (in the Quint role) rants (in a preposterous Scottish accent) about how sharks, once they’ve acquired the taste for human flesh, won’t let any metal fence come between them and their next helping of it. Helping them on their relentless way, ambitious freelance news reporter Bob Martin (Giancarlo Prete) sabotages stretches of the fence to increase his chances of getting saleable footage of wind-surfing kids being attacked by sharks (way to get your Pulitzer prize shoved up your arse there, Bob!)

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“There’s something fishy here… I don’t like it” announces one of the competitors, shortly before he, his buddies and their bikini-clad bimbo girlfriends start getting bits munched off them by that Great White. Sensing his gubernatorial aspirations slipping from his grasp, the Mayor has himself helicoptered out over the bay in an attempt to shoot the giant shark, which rises from the brine to drag the chopper and its inhabitants into Davey Jones’s locker… another promising political career comes to an end! What pisses Peter off more than any of this, though, is when the shark bites off one of his daughter Jenny (Castellari’s real life daughter Stefania)’s legs, setting up the climactic confrontation between him, Quinty ol’ Ron Hamer (Morrow) and the titular beasty…

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Hm… did any of that remind you of another film? One directed by Steven Spielberg in 1975, perhaps? Just a little bit? Universal Pictures certainly thought so. As Castellari tells it… “In the sunny city of Los Angeles, in only its first weekend of release, we collected $2,200,000… a crazy amount for any Italian, indeed any European, film. I was fortunate enough to be in LA when it was opening. After 15 days The Last Shark, which was called The Great in the United States, had taken at least 20 million. It seemed impossible to be in competition with Spielberg and win, it was like one of our fantasy productions but it was true! The Americans were running scared of us, so Universal moved to interrupt our success, and a month later they did it, through legal means, inventing a lot of reasons and a lot of evidence which they presented to the judge. You can imagine these high-powered lawyers for Universal, they’re able to fight very well against a small Italian production…”

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As if this wasn’t enough of a commercial injury, Castellari feels that Universal subsequently added a cheeky dollop of insult: “In Jaws 3, which came out two years later, there are several scenes that are exactly the same as in my film, which they killed in this big market, then they had the cheek to copy me… especially the big scene on the pier, it’s exactly the same as in my picture, right down to identical shots!”

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Well, there’s probably an element of the pasta pot calling the US corporate kettle black here, though what’s undeniable is that with admirable economy and characteristic conviction (in the action sequences) / competence (during the scenes of exposition) Castellari has managed a shark picture that bears comparison with the legitimate successors to Spielberg’s original. Sure, there are plot holes (does Benton chin Bob Martin because he knew that the latter had sabotaged that anti-shark fencing? How did he know? And was a sock on the jaw sufficient payout for his daughter’s missing leg?) but the film’s biggest drawback is the way Castellari allows the camera to dwell too long on his giant plastic shark head (admittedly Spielberg made the same mistake) and some less than convincing model work, certain shots of which should have been dispensed with entirely. There’s one bit with a toy helicopter bobbing around in somebody’s sink, alongside what’s supposed to be a shark… but could well be something else…

… but what else could it possibly be?

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Well, consider Castellari’s own account of shooting The Shark Hunter with Franco Nero, two years earlier: “We did that in a Caribbean island, using 32 real sharks with a Mexican crew. For them it was so easy, but on one occasion I was underwater with the DP when a shark escaped from the hands of his trainer… I saw this shark coming straight at me, it was just like a train, and that was it… whoa! What do you say? ‘You shit your pants!’ I know now from experience, that’s not just a saying. You actually do it!”

Another mystery cleared up. All part of the service here at House Of Freudstein, dear readers.

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Make A Space On Your Shelf And Several Hours In Your Schedule, Amigo… Arrow’s COMPLETE SARTANA Box Set Is Here!

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

Since its grand opening at the beginning of 2016, The House Of Freudstein has effectively been a spaghetti western-free desert. I was just pondering how to remedy this regrettable state of affairs when Arrow beat me to the draw by sending screener discs for their monster “Complete Sartana” limited edition box set…

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There’s a widespread misconception that Django is the most prolific pistol-packin’ pasta cowboy character but in fact Sergio Corbucci’s Franco Nero-starring classic from 1966 didn’t garner an authorised sequel until Nello Rossati directed Nero in Django Strikes Again, 21 years later. All of the alleged Django vehicles between those two were bandwagon jumping rebrandings for foreign markets or domestic rereleases… so Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) is true to the opportunistic spirit of those, if not exactly to that of Corbucci’s original vision.

No, the spagwest anti-hero who racked up the most legit screen appearances, by my reckoning (and I’ll happily stand correction on this) is Sartana… and we’re not even counting the bogus outings spawned by the runaway success of Gianfranco Parolini’s Gianni Garko-starring If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death in 1968 (Alberto Cardone’s 1966 effort $1000 On The Black, in which Garko also appeared, re-emerged as simply “Sartana” and there would be countless more luridly titled cash-ins, including several team ups and showdowns with assorted bootleg Djangos).

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Garko, who had amassed a respectable resumé prior to the spagwest craze, suddenly found himself in great demand due to his passable resemblance to Clint Eastwood… stick a hat on his head and a cheroot between his teeth and he could squint menacingly with the best of them (though to be fair to him, Garko took all of his roles seriously and it’s clear from the films in this set how he tried to develop the Sartana character each time out).

IYMS… PFYD also introduces his ongoing facility with gadgets, booby taps and elaborate stings, in an evident attempt to keep up with the Bonds. Under the eccentric directorial hand of Gianfranco Parolini (“Frank Kramer”), the caped Sartana’s inaugural outing also becomes permeated with a gothic sensibility which predates that of Sergio Garrone’s Django The Bastard (aka The Stranger’s Gundown, 1969), often cited as the template for Clint Eastwood’s wraith-like High Plains Drifter (1973).

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In this one the seemingly indestructible Sartana and his trademark four-chambered pistol contend with kill-crazy William Berger, Sydney (son of Charlie) Chaplin, Fernando Sancho in one of his patented greaseball gargoyle roles and Klaus Kinski (his knife-throwing character is itself effectively thrown away), all feverishly striving to double and triple-cross each other (you’ll need a score card to keep up with the succession of twists) in pursuit of purloined gold. Throw in a few implausible sharp-shooting feats, a garrulous grave-digger and a gold-digging whore or two and you’ve basically got the formula. Piero Piccioni’s pleasing OST features bubbly Hammond organ to the fore and between them, Parolini and DP Sandro Mancori contrive some arresting visuals, including some memorable (pre?) De Palmian split focus set ups.

After Parolini’s opening effort he was kicked off the series (don’t feel too bad for him, though, he immediately initiated and continued with the even more eccentric and similarly successful Sabata saga) and the four subsequent, increasingly floridly titled episodes of Sartana’s adventures were handled by Giuliano Carnimeo.

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1969’s I Am Sartana, Your Angel Of Death (1969) underplays the goth aspects, doubling down instead on those improbable (highly so, given the unreliability of firearms in the Wild West) feats of marksmanship and Sartana’s card-sharping expertise (he puts his deck to more deadly uses than even Wink Martindale could ever have imagined). Here he’s falsely accused of robbing a bank and sets out to identify the actual robbers, not so much to clear his name but from the conviction that if everybody believes he stole the loot, he might as well have it anyway.

Contending with him for it we find Sal Borgese, Ettore Manni, Klaus Kinski (as the  effeminately dubbed bounty hunter Hot Dead… you heard me, Hot Dead… whose story line again peters out abruptly) and the ill-starred Frank Wolff. Even Peplum standby Gordon Mitchell pops up briefly, as if there weren’t already enough people shooting each other’s hats off. The film’s score, courtesy of Vasili Kojucharov and Elsio Mancuso, hinges on a musical motif that’s strangely reminiscent of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and just in case that’s not weird enough… did they really have fruit machines in the Old West? Just wondering.

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The first two Sartana movies did sufficiently well at domestic and overseas box offices to garner no less than three further efforts, all shoehorned into a particularly frenetic Italian release schedule during the second half of 1970. Garko, possibly due to his stints in Rafael Romero Marchent’s non-canonical cash-in Sartana Kills Them All and / or Sergei Bondarchuk’s blockbusting Waterloo,  was temporarily unavailable so George Hilton stepped into his increasingly dapper duds for Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin. With a penchant for munching boiled eggs equal to that of the cop in Mario Landi’s flesh-creeping Giallo A Venezia (1979), this Sartana’s prowess as a marksman are risibly overstated (he dispatches opponents with guns secreted in books and even sandwiches!), enabling him to make short work of the allegedly deadly Fossit brothers, the mean Joe (Federico Boido) and his slobbering retard of a kid brother, Flint (Luciano Rossi). Sartana has his more of his work cut out dealing with Erika Blanc (from Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill!, 1966, etc) as good time bar room girl Trixie (“Our main activity here is keeping out of the graveyard”) and Charles Southwood’s perfumed, sartorially poncified and – dare I say it? – ever so slightly camp Sabata. Go West, indeed, young Pet Shop Boys.

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Pink Sabbath.

“What’s the West coming to?” one bemused shit kicker asks another as they witness Sartana’s foppish foil riding into town under a pink parasol. Sabata, in Parolini’s parallel series, would be played by macho hombres Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner… it’s hard not to imagine that Carnimeo or somebody else was having a dig, good-natured or otherwise, at Parolini here but such arch touches were undoubtedly also attempts to stop the formula from getting… too formulaic.

Garko’s back (with blond locks and a fruity moustache) for Have A Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay, which makes further feeble concessions towards shaking up the mix. This time our man’s not contending for a pot of gold but the deeds to a patch of land, under which there are… deposits of gold! Writers Roberto Gianviti and Giovanni Simonelli must have stayed up all night devising that little plot wrinkle. Sartana faces down a gun man by throwing cards at him, gets two floozies for the price of one (Helga Liné and Daniela Giordano) and his main adversary is a seemingly indolent, Confucious-quoting Chinese saloon owner (George Wang) who reveals unexpected kung fu expertise at the climax. Like its predecessor, this one boasts the cinematography of Stelvio Massi. It’s scored by OST legend Bruno Nicolai, so whatever its shortcomings (it’s probably the least compelling of the five titles in this set) it looks and sounds marvellous.

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Nicolai hung around for scoring duties on Light The Fuse… Sartana Is Coming (1970). This, the most sadistic of the series, opens with a corrupt sheriff and his goons violating a girl then shooting her father. Sartana guns down the bad guys then, in expiation of this “crime”, turns himself into a desert penitentiary run by career slimeball Massimo Serrato. The strict regime in this joint involves pissing on the inmates and showering them with acid, but Sartana’s got a good reason to check in, i.e springing his former cohort Piero Lulli (as “Grand Full”!), who possibly knows the whereabouts of the inevitable purloined gold… turns out it’s stashed somewhere in Mansfield (?!?) In the course of his ensuing encounters with Luli, Serrato, dodgy dame”Susan Scott” (Nieves Navarro) and the mandatory chorus line of madly gurning Mexicans, Sartana must figure out exactly where by piecing together their various conflicting accounts of the original heist, before the official series closes in appropriately nutzoid style, our man mowing down his assembled enemies with a pipe organ that’s been pimped into a multi-purpose artillery piece.

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The aforementioned Rashomon pinch gives the whole film a “whodunnit aspect” that demonstrates just how smoothly the spagwest production line was retooling for Italy’s next box office craze, the giallo. Several Sartana stalwarts, of course, would secure profitable employment on the new yellow frontier… Carnimeo directed Why Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer? (1972), Garko appeared in Enzo Castellari’s Cold Eyes Of Fear  (1971), Gianfranco Piccioli’s The Flower With Petals Of Steel (1973) and Lucio Fulci’s marvellous Sette Note In Nero (1970), while Hilton became one half of the genre’s golden couple, canoodling with Edwige Fenech in any amount of spaghetti slashers. Eat Your Heart Out, Gringo… Sartana’s Bonking Edwige Fenech. Now that would have been a title to conjure with…

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The features have all been nicely restored in 2K from original elements and extras wise, this set packs quite a wallop, with commentary tracks from Mike Siegel, C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke plus scads of illuminating interviews with Angel Of Death and Light The Fuse co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who offers fascinating insights into the workings of the Martino dynasty), Carnimeo and actors Garko, Hilton, Erika Blanc, Sal Borgese, Robert Dell’Acqua and Tony Askin. There’s a new video essay running down the series’ most familiar thespian faces, plus all the packaging and collector’s booklet stuff that we never get to see here at THOF.

This set’s crowning glory though, worth the (not inconsiderable) price of admission on its own, is the lengthy interview with Gianfranco Parolini, from which you quickly glean why his movies were so batshit bonkers… seriously, this guy makes look Lucio Fulci look like an introverted stuffed shirt, free associating through subjects ranging from the highlights of his wild career to the challenge of dealing with his wife’s dementia. Filmed shortly before his death on April 26th this year, this agreeably crazed galoot was still hustling – at the tender age of 94 – to get the money together for a new peplum. Argento’s Sandman be damned… this is where you crowd funding bucks should have gone. Too late for that but the most appropriate tribute you could now make would be to shell out for this box set. You won’t regret it.

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“Black Magic From Deep Space”… XTRO Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Second Sight. 15. 

Not all Extra Terrestrials were as friendly as E.T. … nor were any of them remotely as financially successful. Back in 1982, Stephen Spielberg’s touchy-feely encounter of the mawkish kind wiped the box office floor with such superior downbeat contenders as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing, so what chance did a low-budget, Anglo-American Alien wannabe directed (and scored) by the obscure Harry Bromley Davenport (whose only previous feature was Whispers Of Fear from 1976) stand?

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Precious little, probably, when its own director dismisses “the dreaded Xtro” (his own words) as “an extraordinary mess”.  Cooked up between HBD, producer Mark Forstater and New Line honcho Bob Shaye as some kind of UK answer to the surreal non sequitur horrors of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm (1979), hyped on its eventual release as the dark mirror image of Spielberg’s box office champ (with heavy Alien overtones), Xtro is indeed a mess, albeit a very, very enjoyable one. Davenport has also described his little opus as “pointless… completely ludicrous… rubbish…. awful and reprehensible” but I’d characterise it rather as a Poundland restaging of The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)… and I mean that as a compliment! In fact if I may be so bold, Xtro’s queasy quasi-Oedipal undercurrents and sci-fi slant on dysfunctional family life ultimately place it considerably closer to Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) than Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

The film’s opening sequence  goes right back to the source of all that touchy-feely alien hugging nonsense, Kubrick’s 2001 (1968) and reinvents its famous “flying-bone-into-spacecraft” segue for the abduction of protagonist Sam (Phil Sayer), whose subsequent return to Earth kicks off a series of highly improbable and improbably grisly events (“The idea was to do the most disgusting things that we could possibly get away with… we just wanted to shock people” admits Harry somewhere during the supplementary materials). Having boned up on alien obstetrics according to Ridley Scott, HBD presents us with the rape of “woman in cottage” (the ever lovely Susie Silvey) by slithery, sub-Gigeresque genitalia after which, in a wince inducing scene, she gives birth to a full-grown Sam.

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His wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers) has very mixed feelings about Sam’s reappearance, as during his absence she has set up home with photographer Joe (Danny Brainin). Scrumptious au pair Analise (Maryam D’Abo) is also sceptical, but at least Sam’s son Tony (Simon Nash) is glad to have him back. Sam cements Tony’s loyalty by passing on some alien powers (in another icky scene that involves neck-sucking and Cronenbergesque bladder eruptions) and soon the lad is bringing his toy clown and action man to life, to kill the interfering old biddy from downstairs (Anna Wing, who must have been particularly grateful when East Enders came along) and conniving in the transformation of Analise into a mummified alien egg breeder. Apropos of nothing (aside from Shaye’s insistence), a black panther prowls the house at random moments…

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Finally, after various other folks have been messily dispatched, Sam reverts to a monstrous metallic insect man and whisks Tony off in his space ship for a new life, God knows where.

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Davenport, as he freely admits, was blessed with a fine cast who never so much as hint in their performances that they consider this outré material beneath them. Admittedly Maryam D’Abo, for whom Xtro represents her feature debut and who suffers from a bit of a wobbly accent, later wrote it out of her filmography. Indeed, on becoming a Bond girl (The Living Daylights, 1987) she declared to the press that she had never done and would never do full frontal nude scenes. Xtro provides conclusive and rather delicious evidence to the contrary.

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Phil Sayer (now the late Phil Sayer, sadly) generates genuine pathos in his role as the dislocated dad. Bernice Stegers, whose CV also boasts Fellini’s City Of Women and her husband’s Four Weddings And A Funeral, brings credence and therefore credibility to anything in which she appears, witness her compelling turn in Lamberto Bava’s magnificently overwrought 1980 effort Macabro (below) and here. Regrettably, on the night when Mrs F and I once found ourselves sitting at the next table to Stegers in the now defunct Old Orleans restaurant on the bridge in York, my better half dissuaded me from approaching her on the grounds that I’d spoil the poor woman’s dinner if I reminded her of “all the terrible films she’s been in”. Speaking of spoiled dinners, I later threw up my chowder… bit of a washout all round, that evening was. It’s especially galling to learn from Stegers’ appearances in the bonus materials on this set that she’s rather tickled when people engage her in conversation about Xtro…

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“… just don’t ask me about that bloody Macabro thing!”

Once liable for confiscation under Section 3 of The Obscene Publications Act back in those dark draconian days of the early ’80s, Xtro’s BD debut comes with a ’15’ certificate and laden with extras, mostly courtesy of them Nucleus boys, that are almost as entertaining as the feature itself. “There was this awful period of the ‘video nasties’…” reflects Davenport in the archive feature Xtro Exposed: “ … an awful British phrase, it has a lot English pettiness about it”. Too true, Harry… though the twitchy director can’t resist enthusing about the news report on a psycho killer which featured close-ups of Xtro prominently displayed in his voluminous  video collection (“You can’t do better than that, really… sales went through the roof!”)

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In the more up-to-date Xploring Xtro, Jake and Mark have assembled most of the surviving participants and various interested parties, including Tik & Tok, reminiscing about their robotic and alien contortions and Robert Pereno reprising his immortal “Stay in the car”! line. Maryam D’Abo continues to maintain her distance from the project and although I know Jake and Marc tried hard to identify the current whereabouts of Simon Nash, their efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful. In his absence, other participants comment cattily on his crap acting and how much weight he put on during the shoot (more on that later).

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In The World Of Xtro we are introduced to Mr Dennis “Xtro” Atherton (just for a second there I thought we were going to get Andrew “Xtro” Featherstone), an über-obsessive fan of the film who views it as a Bergmanesque family drama with added space aliens and has more cock-eyed theories about it than any of the Shining devotees showcased in Rodney Ascher’s Room 327 could ever muster regarding Kubrick’s film. My favourite among Dennis’s many obsessive observations is the one concerning the magical confluence of Xtro’s length (83 minutes) and year of release (1983)… actually it was released in 1982 and seems to last 84 minutes, but I can’t bring myself to hold this against the likeable Mr Xtro Atherton.

What’s at the root of this singular obsession? Our man reveals that D’Abo’s nude scenes made a big impression on him as a pubertal youth… I bet they did, in fact they remain in my all time top three of female nude scenes in mainstream movies (Elizabeth McGovern in Ragtime, 1981 and Annette O’Toole in Cat People, 1982… thanks for asking). Wonder how good Maryam, who must be nearly 60 now, looks nekkid these days… way better than I do (below), no doubt.

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Xtro’s two existing (semi) sequels are glossed over, but the really big news is that HBD and Mark Forstater are reuniting for Xtro – The Big One (I kid you not), wherein a fourth Xtro incursion will coincide with a massive LA earthquake. We get to see some CGI-heavy test footage from that. There’s also a video tribute to Phil Sayer (incorporating the song Brian May wrote about him)…

… and of course the disc contains four (count ’em) different versions of the original feature, including two distinct endings, the British video release and Harry’s 2018 re-polish which, he freely admits, might have made the film look worse rather than improved it in any way. In fact the high contrast look of Xtro redux gives it more of  a comic book look than anything else, which I guess is quite appropriate for its subject matter. Intriguingly, Harry has also digitally thinned out the face of the much maligned Simon Nash but regrettably, we never get to hear Dennis Atherton’s pronouncements on the profound significance of this particular tweaking.

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This Property Is Condemned. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Reviewed.

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BD/CD. Region B. Arrow. 18.

… and the road leads to Blu-ray.

You millennials make me laugh. You don’t know you’re bloody born! When I were a lad, we used to dream about 3 disc limited blu-ray editions of Last House On The Left, containing three cuts of Wes Craven’s ground-breaking, taboo-busting rape / revenge drama, each restored in 2K from the original film elements… plus a pigeon shed-load of extras… after a 15 hour shift at ‘mill, there was no bonus soundtrack CD waiting for us  when we got back to our hovel… no collector’s postcards, double-sided fold-out poster, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork… and certainly no hoity-toity limited edition, 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by Stephen bloody Thrower. We considered ourselves lucky if someone in ‘village had managed to get their hands on the Replay VHS release… failing that, we’d have to make do with some nth generation bootleg video dub… if we were lucky!

Hang on, if you are a millennial, you probably won’t get the Monty Python gag, either. So enough of that…

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My point, less nerdishly expressed, still holds good. For a long time, in recent memory, any uncut UK edition or cinema screening of Last House On The Left remained a pipe-dream. A particular bete noir for BBFC honcho James Ferman, the film’s defiantly difficult romp through the minefield of “sexualised violence” made it a hotter censorship potato than The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or (perhaps the most pertinent comparitor) Straw Dogs, permanent fixtures on Ferman’s (s)hit list that attained certification shortly after his demise. The film’s ongoing unavailability on these sceptered isles wasn’t for the want of trying on the part of HOF Hall of Famers David Gregory and Carl Daft, who doggedly pursued the BBFC through every available avenue of appeal during their time at Anchor Bay and Blue Underground. Ironically it was Second Sight who finally secured an uncut edition in 2008, rapidly followed by a Metrodome triple disc set that unearthed further forbidden footage from the archives, while Daft and Gregory  were otherwise occupied with their Severin label. By that time a glossy big(ger) budgeted remake was in the works and multiplex screens and retail shelves were awash with slick torture porn franchises…

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As confirmed by its debut on UK Blu-ray, Last House On The Left remains a more gruelling, challenging and emotionally sapping experience than all of those put together, on account of its moral complexity (scuzzball sex offenders who display remorse for their reprehensible actions and elicit a measure of pity from the viewer… middle class parents whose liberal stance collapses into ruthless retribution) and the sheer naivety of its sophomore film makers Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham (c.f. notable early efforts by e.g. Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi) and unknown cast, which translates into documentary-style raw intensity on the screen, focussing on one unspeakable episode and its aftermath in unflinching detail.

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If you think Last House On The Left has no relevance outside its original context of Vietnam protest era America, just tune in to any news bulletin or pick up any newspaper (check the internet, if you can tear yourself away from the latest exploits of the Kardashians), where you’ll find no shortage of stories about an increasingly feral underclass in conflict with the comfortable and complacent devisors of the neo-liberal system that created them. It will also be interesting to see how Craven’s film goes down with consumers of currently voguish Scandi Noir, which draws so much of its inspiration from the same source, Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960).

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The copious bonus material on this set includes featurettes culled from the Metrodome and MGM US releases, plus several new ones including interviews with Marc (“Junior” / “Junkie”) Scheffler (who looks like he got separated from his smurf sidekicks on the way to the shoot) and Anne Paul (who failed to bag a role but ended up applying make ups in LHOTL, initiating a career that eventually saw her making up Bill Clinton and four successive Secretary Generals of The United Nations!) Michael Gingold conducts one of those ever popular tours of the film’s locations and I was particularly pleased to see the reappearance of David Flint’s Krug Conquers England featurette, documenting the first uncut cinema screening of Last House (over the protests of local worthies) at Leicester’s fearless Phoenix Cinema in 2000, with star David Hess and Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen in attendance. It’s great to see Gregory and Daft’s heroic efforts on behalf of LHOTL acknowledged in this mini doc, some of the interviews for which were conducted by Yours Truly. Wonderful memories of a truly memorable night.

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Stillo crazy after all those years…

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I Ain’t Gonna Work On Mimsy’s Farm No More… THE VIOLENT FACE OF NEW YORK Reviewed

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La Faccia Violenta Di New York (1973). Directed by “George” (Jorge) Darnell. Produced by Toni Di Carlo. Written by Jorge Darnell, Giovanni Fago, Marino Onorati, Alberto Piferi and José Diaz Morales. Cinematography by Erico Menczer. Edited by Alberti Gialitti. Art direction by Gianni Polidori and José Rodriguez Granada. Music by Riz Ortolani. Starring: Sergio Jiménez, Fernando Ray, Mimsy Farmer, Luigi Pistilli, Renato Pinciroli, Yolanda Rigel, Adolfo Lastretti, Tere Velázquz, Léon Singer, Giuseppe D’Avanzo, Augustin Isunza.

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Beating up wet backs is made to look like so much fun in The Violent Face Of New York…

I’ve been bingeing on Amazon Prime recently and thought I might post a few quickie reviews of stuff I found on there, as time permits and the fancy takes me. The Violent Face Of New York (here under its alternative title One Way) is a bit of rarity in that it’s an Italo-Mexican co-production. The picture it paints of the lives (and deaths) of illegal Mexican immigrants to the USA suggests that Trump would be doing them a favour if he ever did build that fucking wall: repetitively setting up pins in a bowling alley and getting duffed up by its scumbag patrons, lugging heavy sacks around and getting beaten to death and stuffed into one of them if you complain about working conditions… it’s all in a day’s work, a model of industrial relations straight out of a Tory wet dream…

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Although fellow wet back wannabes are shot dead by US border guards, Sergio (Sergio Jiménez) makes it to the promised land with a package of dope and an introduction to gang master Mr David (Fernando Ray). Disgusted by the exploitive underworld he’s been sucked into and having become involved in an affair with the gang master’s mistress, Milena (Mimsy Farmer), Sergio resolves to bring down the organisation but in a downbeat drama such as this, there’s only ever going to be one conclusion…

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Jorge Darnell (whose thin resumé also includes the 1975 rip-off of you know what, Devil’s Exorcist and the following year’s horror comedy Hard Times For Dracula) directs with gritty efficiency and was able to call on a solid crew. A Riz Ortolani score never exactly hurts, either. Sergio Jimenez is believable and sympathetic as the doomed hero and Fernando Ray, as usual, never puts a foot wrong. As with so many of the films she’s appeared in, though, it’s Mimsy Farmer who continues to haunt the viewer’s memory…

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Her dark hair in this one makes for a refreshing change (though she’s often required to wear a Marilyn Monroe-style blonde wig for Mr David’s sexual gratification) but it’s the same old fragile Mimsy. Nobody has ever suffered in Italian (or any other) cinema quite like Ms Farmer. I’m not talking about the physical suffering routinely undergone by the likes of Daniela Doria, Zora Kerova and Mariangela Giordano, though (MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD!) one shouldn’t discount Mimsy’s spectacular decapitation at the climax of Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971) or the fact that the rest of the cast of Francesco Barilli’s Perfume Of The Lady In Black (1974) conclude that film by eating her. It’s the laceration of her very soul, so eloquently conveyed in those Argento and Barilli pictures, Barbet Schroeder’s More (1969) and Armando Crispino’s Autopsy (1975) that makes each cinematic date with Mimsy Farmer such a memorable one and the denouement of TVFONY, in which her character’s desperation and simultaneous resignation to her enslavement are so readable in those eyes, is yet another mesmerising moment.

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I was tickled by the scene in which Mr David, attempting to intimidate his moll back into line, tells her that Britain was once overrun with hamsters and that we limeys solved the problem by turning them all into fur coats. Americans believe the funniest things about life over here, don’t they? The one about Birmingham being a no go area for Muslims is particularly droll. But she takes his point… or rather, sadly for her and Sergio, she doesn’t.

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