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

A Walk In Fear And Dread… NIGHT OF THE DEMON Reviewed

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“Like one who, on a lonely road, Doth walk in fear and dread, And, having once turned round, walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread…” The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

BD. Indicator / Powerhouse. Region B. PG.

Among genre fans of a certain vintage, one of the principal rites of passage was having the holy shit scared out of you by Night Of The Demon, Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 screen adaptation of the classic M.R. James spine-chiller Casting The Runes (first published in 1911). As any seasoned Horror devotee will no doubt already be aware, in Tourneur’s film sceptical American psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews), while investigating the mysterious death of his colleague Professor Harrison (Maurice Denham) in England, pokes his nose a little too intrusively and imprudently into the affairs of malign magus Julian Karswell (a superbly nuanced performance by Niall MacGinnis) who slips him a parchment containing runic symbols, possession of which guarantee the bearer an unwanted meeting with a terrifying elemental being at an appointed hour. Neither the support of love interest Joanna (Holden’s niece, played by Peggy Cummins) nor his own cherished rationalist convictions can prevent the inexorable erosion of Holden’s sang froid in the face of the mounting evidence that this is no mere mumbo jumbo, that the existential peril facing him is all too awfully real…

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For some time now, my traumatic recollections of a youthful TV exposure to Night Of The Demon have been safely contained within the box of Mediumrare’s 2010 DVD edition (which observes me resentfully from the shelf as I sit typing these words), containing two versions of the film, the “full length UK cut” and the shorter “re-edited American version” (as Curse Of The Demon). What more could I possibly need in this regard? How much more should I be prepared to risk? The arrival of Indicator’s double BD limited edition, though, establishes that those appellations are misleadingly simplistic. As well as correctly identifying those variants, it presents us with another two, alongside a slew of extras that draw back the veil of obfuscation, question critical orthodoxies that have stood nearly as long as Stonehenge and finally reveal Night Of The Demon in all its troubling magnificence… curse them for cracking my comfortable complacency!

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Disc 1 contains the BFI’s 2013 2k restorations of both the 96 minute UK pre-release version and the US re-issue, which is the same length but went out under the American title Curse Of The Demon. Each of those is watchable in either 1.75:1 or 1.66:1 ratio options and you can also access an informative commentary track by noted NOTD obsessive (and author of the 2005 Tomahawk Press tome, Beating The Devil: The Making Of Night Of The Demon) Tony Earnshaw. Over on Disc 2 you get HD remasters of the original UK and US theatrical cuts, each running at 82 minutes, plus a sackful of bonus materials…

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Grab ’em while they’re hot…

The 2007 featurette Speak Of The Devil involves Earnshaw, fellow film historian Jonathan Rigby, star Peggy Cummins and production designer Ken Adam in an in-depth dissection of the film’s making. Cloven In Two is an all-new video essay which deploys split screen techniques to compare and contrast what goes on in different cuts. Further light is cast on cinematic darkness in several talking head pieces, each tackling NOTD from a different angle, each between 20 and 30 minutes long and delivered by such genre heavyweights as Christopher Frayling (talking up the influence of  Hitchcock alumnus Charles Bennett, who co-scripted and Tourneur’s former collaborator Val Lewton), Kim Newman (who compares and contrasts Tourneur’s film with such contemporaries as The Innocents, The Haunting and Sidney Hayers’ 1962 knock off, Night Of The Eagle) and Ramsey Campbell (delighting with tales of the Winter Gardens cinema in Waterloo, Merseyside, whose posters used to tantalise me with horrors I was way too young to even think about sneaking in to witness). Frayling challenges the received and lazily accepted wisdom that the explicit revelation of the monster (Ray Harryhausen was approached to execute these scenes but didn’t care to work for producer and former East Side Kid Hal E. Chester) goes against the Jamesian precept that there must always be room for the reader of his stories to interpret the ghastly goings on as “all in the mind” of the protagonist… in fact James (below) never entertained any such notion, the supernatural entities in his tales of terror invariably being presented as objectively real, however stubbornly their protagonists postpone this realisation.

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Something else that gets refined in the course of these featurettes is our understanding of who inserted the tangible demon, at what point in the proceedings and over the objections of whom. The assembled cognoscenti are unanimous, furthermore, that the much derided demon itself (once described as “King Kong in drag, riding a model train”) actually looks pretty good. Popular misconceptions about the different cuts and the part played by the BBFC in shaping NOTD are also addressed. Roger Clarke debunks the notion that James’ Karswell was based on Aleister Crowley, who had achieved nothing like his later notoriety when Casting The Runes was written, identifying as a more plausible model Oscar Browning, James’s rival for the post of Provost at King’s College, Cambridge. Of course it’s highly likely that Karswell as played in the film by Niall MacGinnis was informed by public perceptions of Crowley.

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Tourneur biographer Chris Fujiwara places NOTD in the context of the director’s wider career. David Huckvale and Scott MacQueen both talk about Clifton Parker’s music and MacQueen is afforded another featurette in which he talks about growing up as a genre fan in the US, discovering Night / Curse Of The Demon via Famous Monster Of Filmland magazine and speculating about the (then mythical) longer version in a piece he had published in Issue 26 of the American fanzine Photon. Having cherished audio recordings of the film’s TV broadcasts as a youth, MacQueen’s joy at being involved in such an impressive BD restoration is almost palpable.

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The British contributors here evince a similar voyage of fascinated discovery regarding NOTD for genre fans on this side of the Atlantic (including myself) and much is made of BBC 2’s out-of-the-blue broadcast of its full 96 minutes on 28/06/80, during one of their beloved and much missed Saturday night Horror double bill seasons. Happy (albeit scary) days…

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We’re further treated to a cut-down Super 8 presentation of the film (silent but with laughable subtitles bridging its many gaps)… so that’s actually five cuts of NOTD on this set! Also, an impromptu audio interview with Dana Andrews, taped by MacQueen doing his “stage door Johnny” bit… Michael Horden reading James’ original short story and a radio adaptation from 1947… optional isolated music & effects track on the US theatrical cut… a Curse of the Demon theatrical trailer in which an abandoned demon design is briefly glimpsed… and a gallery of behind-the-scenes and promotional photos, also rare production design sketches from the Deutsche Kinemathek’s Ken Adam Archive.

Enough there to put this Limited Edition in contention with recent Nucleus releases of Death Laid An Egg and Lady Frankenstein for THOF’s “Disc(s) Of The Year” Award. If you can’t wait for Indicator’s standard release, exclusive to this edition are an 80-page book containing a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a history of the film’s production through the words of its principle creators, a profile of witchcraft consultant Margaret Murray, the film’s history with the BBFC, (another) look at the film’s different versions, contemporary critical responses, a look at the original ending as envisaged by Charles Bennett and more… not to mention an exclusive double-sided poster. Although I often moan about such materials not being made available to the humble reviewer, for once I was glad…

… I mean, who knows what might have been slipped in between those pages?

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Coming right up… our review of Indicator’s similarly blockbusting William Castle At Columbia, Volume 1 set.

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Nightmare Cinema: The Field Guide To MAYHEM 2018, As It Happened…

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The 14th annual instalment of The World’s Greatest Horror Film Festival, Mayhem, got off to an all-singing, all-dancing, all-intestine munching start at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on the evening of Thursday, 11th October with John McPhail’s Anna And The Apocalypse (2017), in which schoolgirl Anna (Ella Hunt) and her school friends / adversaries deal with their commonplace hopes, dreams and fears, in song, against the back drop of an unfolding zombie apocalypse… well, zombie apocalypses are becoming pretty commonplace themselves these days (we’ll encounter one or two more before the end of this report). AATA doesn’t maintain its horror comic momentum quite as well as, e.g. last year’s opener, Double Date (why no proper release for that one yet?!?) and the musical numbers are as variable as some of the accents (Paul Kaye’s big show stopper has already been dropped after initial screenings) but this was an ambitious and rather jolly way to ease our way into the proceedings and Ms Hunt is one to keep your eye on, positively lighting up the screen every time she appears. Think “Michelle Keegan… with talent”.

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In his Q&A session director McPhail thanked the fans for turning out and expressed his concern that Netflix is killing Cinema. Our survey of the Horror Film’s current state of  health continued with Nightmare Cinema, an anthology picture that’s equal parts Amicus, Son Of Celluloid and Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell. Five protagonists find themselves in an unearthly grind house, watching themselves fight for their lives in a succession of hazardous scenarios. Alejandro Brugués’ The Thing In The Woods starts like an ’80s slasher movie, complete with unstoppable psycho, before gleefully flipping our expectations with an excursion into 1950s alien invasion tropes. Joe Dante’s Mirare predictably emerges as the most satirical of the vignettes, building up a palpable sense of dread as a suspicious plastic surgery patient prepares to unwrap the face that Richard Chamberlain has given her, only to blow it with a smart ass ending that only registers a massive “so what?” At the conclusion of this meditation on the follies of cosmetic surgery we are introduced with admirably, er, straight face, to Mickey Rourke’s The Projectionist, the crypto Crypt Keeper in this celluloid vault of horrors.

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Dr. Kildare, is that you?!?

Ryûhei Kitamura’s Mashit is an incomprehensible yarn about demonic possession in a Mexican orphanage, the climax of which plays out like Who Can Kill A Child? meets Shogun Assassin, as lopped off limbs and heads fly through the air in all directions. A spot of gratuitous priest-on-nun rumpo-pumpo confirms the impression that Kitamura’s prime objective here was to rubbish the Catholic Church, for which I can only commend him. David Slade’s This Way To Egress features a female character sinking into psychosis and / or an entropic Lovecraftian parallel dimension. Real laugh-a-minutes stuff… not! Finally, Mick Garris’s Dead turns out to be yet another tweak on the ol’ Occurrence At Owl Creak Bridge chestnut which maintains audience engagement marginally more consistently than Lucio Fulci’s comparable Doors To Silence (1991), though that’s virtually a dictionary definition of “damning with faint praise”.

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Friday afternoon’s session opened with a retrospective screening of The White Reindeer, Erik Blomberg’s 1952 screen adaptation of the Lapland myth that also informed John Landis’ 2005 contribution to the Masters Of Horrors TV series, Deer Woman. Amid scenic snowy splendour (beautifully rendered in b/w by Blomberg, doing his own cinematography), beautiful Pirita (Mirjamo Kuosmanen) worries about maintaining her grip on her husband’s affections during long his long days away, herding. She visits a shaman, whose spells turn her into some kind of were deer, a scenario that’s never going to end well… particularly as it’s taking place in a part of Finland apparently known as “Evil Valley”! With whom exactly did Pirita fear that hubby was going to be unfaithful? I’m reminded of an off colour joke about a Derby County fan and an Eskimo RAC employee… and speaking of sheep shaggers, it was, as ever, a pleasure  to run into Darrell Buxton (rocking an Anthrophagous T-shirt), who’d made the trip specifically to catch this film. Glad he wasn’t sticking around for the quiz, though… give somebody else a chance eh, DB?

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Of all the films scheduled by Mayhem honchoes Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil this year, I suspect Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing will occasion the most hand wringing and knicker wetting over at the Daily Heil. Wannabe serial killer Reed (Christopher Abbott) checks into a hotel room with the intention of hiring and murdering a prostitute. Apparently his libido was hopelessly warped in childhood by the spectacle of a little girl stabbing a rabbit. He has a girlfriend who supports his murderous ambitions (what childhood trauma was she subjected to?) They have a talking baby… yeah, whatever. When Jackie the call girl (Mia Wasikowska) turns up she forestalls Reed’s attempt on her life by going straight into a messy self-harming session. After he’s taken her to hospital to be bandaged up, she invites him back to her place, where she spikes his soup and starts torturing him… oh, there’s a completely pointless nipple piercing sequence too. This one’s your basic fusion of American Psycho, Matador, Basic Instinct and Audition… in fact like Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999), it’s adapted from a novel by Ryû Murakami, but while Miike took the time to make us care about that film’s protagonist before the psycho shit started hitting the fan, here you honestly couldn’t give an actual rat’s ass about what happens to Abbott’s character and the film’s makers prove that, ultimately, they couldn’t either by ringing down the curtain with a flip and fatuous gag. I’m increasingly irritated by hipster directors pinching giallo themes for their soundtracks, too. Profondo Rosso, Tenebrae and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, among others, suffer that particular ignominy here. Next, please.

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Marc Price introduced and later fielded questions on his Nightshooters, in which the long-suffering cast and crew of a low-budget zombie flick are locked by their tyrannical director into a tower block that’s due to be demolished at dawn, before which everybody’s hoping to get that last bit of footage in the can. This cut price Otto Preminger didn’t bother to get permission or notify anybody, everybody’s cell phones have been stashed (after a conspicuous bit of script contrivance) God-knows-where and just to put the tin hat on it, our rag-bag of protagonists find themselves witnessing a gangland rub out and must fight their way through a posse of mean ass gangstas to escape the block before everybody gets a real bang for their buck, relying mainly on the pyrotechnic skills of their FX girl Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) and the kung fu prowess of leading man Donnie (the amazing Jean-Paul Ly). Simple minded stuff, but Nightshooters successfully kicked Mayhem 2018 back on track after the pretensions of Piercing.

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Bearing in mind that Ken Livingstone recently got labelled an anti-semite for saying Hitler originally planned to deport European Jews to Palestine (i.e. for stating an easily verifiable historical fact), this is a particularly, er, interesting time for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich to hit the UK. Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund’s reboot of the endless Charles Band franchise proceeds from the not exactly PC premise that “fans” are visiting a convention “celebrating” the 30th anniversary of the Toulon murders and rapidly escalates to stratospheric levels of bad taste as Udo Kier (unrecognisable beneath heavy burns make up) unleashes his Nazi puppets on the minority groups he despises, in an orgy of clever but stomach churning make up effects… so a torso pisses on the head that’s just been severed from it… a puppet tunnels up a pregnant woman’s vagina and exits, dragging her unborn foetus and placenta behind it… I spotted Ollie Morris frantically recalibrating his Wrong-o-meter when a Jewish character pushed a “baby Hitler” puppet into an oven with the words: “See how you like it!” Fulci’s go-to OST man Fabio Frizzi scored this abomination and it was nice, as ever, to see Barbara Crampton in a small role.

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Nic Cage channels Marilyn Burns, circa 1974…

Anyone whose jaw hit the floor during PM:TLR was wasting their time in retrieving it, given that Friday night concluded with Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Everything you’ve heard about this much-touted, overblown oddity is true… and then some. When Steve Sheil suggested to me that I was about to see “a Prog Rock Horror Film” he was pushing at an open door and as the opening shots of rolling US timberland unfurled to the surround sound accompaniment of King Crimson’s monumental Starless (love King Crimson though, like Jeremiah Sand, I’m partial to a bit of Carpenters as well), my goosebumps and the erection of hairs on the back of my neck suggested that I could be about to watch The Greatest Film Of All Time… well, Mandy isn’t quite that but it is magnificently, recklessly unlike any film you’ve seen or are ever likely to see.

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Red (Nic Cage) is a lumberjack, but he’s not OK. He works all night then his home is invaded by the followers of Jeremiah (Linus Roache), a charismatic cult leader who’s pissed off about the world’s failure to recognise his musical talents and who refers to straight people as “pigs” (hmm, to whom could Cosmatos possibly be alluding?) When Red’s girl Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) proves singularly unimpressed by either Jeremiah’s music or his penis dimensions, he has his followers bag her up and burn her in front of Red’s horrified eyes. What follows is an odyssey of revenge… nay, a quest (Red even forges a sacred axe for it), during which our increasingly unhinged hero must overcome a band of outlaw bikers who subsist on acid so powerful that it has apparently transformed them into Cenobites (!) Chemical elevation is probably not the ideal consition under which to fight a chainsaw duel but there’s one of those, as well…

Mandy is, at heart,  a simplistic revenge drama but its rococo plot embellishments and the lysergic emulsion of Benjamin Loeb’s candy coated cinematography make it something that you really need to experience rather than read about.

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Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead (2017) kicked off the Saturday session in audacious high risk style, its first half playing out like a shonky “zombie movie location interrupted by actual zombie outbreak” zero-budgeter, shot in one take… kind of “nice gimmick, shame about everything else”. I’m surprised that the audience stayed with it but for doing so, they were rewarded with a second half introducing the participants, their various backgrounds and motivations for taking part in this live TV production, then “making of” footage via which a lot of shonky things start making sense, to gratifyingly comic effect. A bravely / kamikaze structured movie… it’ll be interesting to see how it does outside the rarified Festival milieu.

I’d like to be able to tell you about the UK Premiere of Chris Caldwell and Zeke Earl’s sci-fi effort Prospect, but at this point I was whisked away to the Broadway’s Green Room by Carl Daft and Dave Flint to be filmed waffling about gialli for a proposed featurette that will hopefully accompany Severin’s upcoming BD release of Sergio Martino’s All The Colours Of The Dark (1972). The Green Room is defiantly and flamboyantly not green, as you’ll certainly appreciate when / if  this featurette sees the light of day…

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Number 37 (another UK Premiere for the men and women of Mayhem) is a South African variation on Rear Window (1954), with wheelchair bound small time crook Randal Hendricks (Irshaad Ally) making rather more interventionist use of his omniscient viewing position in the Capetown Projects than Jimmy Stewart did in the Hitchcock flick. Desperately in need of money to pay off a loan shark, Randal jumps from frying pan to fire when he persuades a friend to pinch a sack of it from the rude boys he’s been keeping under observation. Director Nosipho Dumisa sure-handedly ramps up the plot complications and suspense en route to a satisfying, if not exactly happy, ending.

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This year’s Short Film Showcase, curated by Meli Gueneau and always introduced as “the Heart of Mayhem”, included paraphrases of Poe (Kevin Sluder’s Heartless, USA) and Homer (Jorge Malpica’s Ulisis, Mexico) also, just in case things were getting too highbrow, Chris McInroy’s amusing American effort We Summoned A Demon, in which two drooling stoners… well, I guess I don’t need me to draw you a diagram. There were also two clever and – in their different ways – distinctly macabre animations. From Switzerland came Lorenz Wunderle’s Coyote (psychedelic enough to turn you into a Cenobite) and from the UK, Dick And Stewart: I Spy With My Little Eye, a “Watch With Mother goes to Hell” affair directed by one Richard Littler (the 88 Films guy?)

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Much has been made, in the promotion of Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway, of the Magdalene Laundries scandal and the wider back story of her native Ireland’s emergence from the rancid grip of 2000 years of hypocritical superstition. Ostensibly culled from film shot by priests investigating supernatural goings on in a nun-run home for fallen women, TDD demonstrates Clarke’s familiarity and facility with the incessant “found footage” and “paranormal activities” traditions, effectively delivering its quota of genuine jump shocks. You don’t have to be Thomas Aquinas, though, to detect its doctrinal confusions, indulging as it does the very dogmas that justified those Irish gulags in the first place. Maybe Ms Clarke addressed such concerns in her Q&A session after the screening but I didn’t stick around for that, opting instead for a relatively early and cheap journey home, plus enough sleep to see me through Sunday. For this reason I also, regretfully, missed the late, late screening of Lamberto Bava’s Demons, 1985 (tailor-made for such a festival slot, I would have thought) and – I subsequently learned – a “mystery short”, too. That’s what you get for being a lightweight.

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I’ve been to enough Mayhems now to recognise the patented Cooke And Sheil play of waking up their Sunday morning audience and setting them up for the final day with a spot of manga madness. In Shinsuke Sato’s Inuyashiki (getting its UK Premiere) an alien visitation bestows super powers onto two random citizens of Tokyo, a hip albeit alienated young dude and an underachieving old geezer who gets no respect from his family or society in general… guess with which of those I most identified. Hip young dude turns his anger on his fellow citizens, bumping a bunch of them off through their beloved PC, phone and tablet screens, before his more philanthropically-inclined counter part engages him in an apocalyptic battle for the future of the city (half of which is demolished in the process) and indeed, the whole of Japan. The clash of personal and societal imperatives in this one recalls some of the themes from Anna And The Apocalypse, though something like ten times that film’s total budget must have spent on Inuyashiki’s CGI alone.

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Another multi-director portmanteau effort, The Field Guide To Evil (out of the same stable as ABCs Of Death) concerns itself with folklore horrors from around the globe, explored by the likes of Can “Baskin” Evrenol and Peter Strickland (whose erotic fairytale evidences a familiar foot fixation). (Just about) all of the vignettes are beautifully constructed and shot, if sometimes overly cryptic and open-ended. Neither charge, however, could reasonably be levelled at The Melon Heads, Calvin Reeder’s slice of American backwoods gothic being so on-the-nose that it reduced FAB Press main man Harvey Fenton to hysterical convulsions, from which he emerged to declare it “the worst film I’ve ever seen”. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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Andy Mitton’s The Witch In The Window is an effective haunted house effort that sees Simon (Alex Draper) and his son Finn (Charlie Tacker) renovating a lakeside des res which, local legend has it, was previously occupied by… well, just read that title again. I hope that if I’m ever confronted by malign supernatural presences, I manage to retain my philosophical cool as well as the principal characters in this one. Having said that, when the really witchy shit does kick in and everybody starts seriously panicking, it’s all the more effective for that. I think the moral we’re supposed to draw from this film’s unexpected conclusion is something to do with self-abnegation being a necessary part of the maturing process…

… jump cut to the annual Flinterrogation, where self-negation was in short demand as the alpha anal retentives battled it out in most gruelling genre cinema quiz on this or any other planet. Having been part of the winning team on the only occasion I’ve ever taken part and rather liking the idea of retiring as undefeated Quiz Champ, I heeded the promptings of my stomach at this point and set out in search of some cheap food. On my return I learned that the team based around Messrs Daft and Fenton had taken the laurels for 2018. Yep, Harvey Fenton knows what he’s talking about when it comes to genre cinema… sorry to rub it in, Calvin Reeder.

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Flint, Fenton and Daft, pictured at the Broadway bar…

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Dennison Ramalho’s The Nightshifter starts promisingly enough, with Sāo Paulo mortuary worker Stènio (Daniel De Oliveira, a dead ringer for David Warbeck in his scrubs) talking to and hearing back from the corpses on his slab. He’s always had this ability and thinks nothing of it. That changes when his workaday conversational diet progresses from the customary exchange of small-talk and homespun philosophies to the revelation of his wife’s infidelity with the local baker. Stènio vengefully implicates the latter, falsely, in the death of a criminal warlord’s brother, as a result of which both of the lovers are executed in the street. You might have thought that any half decent director couldn’t fail to build on such strong foundations but unfortunately Ramalho hereafter squanders his hand with a relentless succession of demonic possession clichés… ho-hum.

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Mayhem 2018 concluded with Colin Minihan’s Canucksploitation killfest What Keeps You Alive, in which lesbian lovers Jacky (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) get it together in another of those lakeside country getaways, until Jules rubs Jacky up the wrong way (by prying unwisely into her murky past) and unleashes her inner Count Zaroff. What follows is yet another a variation on Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, with a soupçon of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and the world’s most awkward dinner party (“awkward” as in “all the guests get killed”) thrown in for good measure. WKYA is another one that squanders its strong premise and early promise with a few too many plot improbabilities and “WTF did she do that for?!?” moments. Anderson’s psycho is also just a little too self-aware for my liking (c.f. Ksenia Solo’s character Carles Torrens’ Pet, from a couple of Mayhems back). Will Minihan cop heat, in the current PC climate, for being unable to depict lesbian lovers without revealing one of them as a ruthless killer?

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Buggered if I know… I’ve just sat through four straight days of horror films, I’ve got rectangular eyes and pressure sores on my bum. I need fresh air, some decent food and a lie-in. Thank you Chris Cooke, Steve Sheil and Meli Gueneau for reducing me to this state. Will I be back in 2019? Yeah, if they’ll have me…

All titles ©2018, unless otherwise stated.

Oh, just in case…

 

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(Throwing) Stars In His Eyes… Jim Van Bebber’s DEADBEAT AT DAWN Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

They say that there are only five or six stories in the world and thereafter, just different ways of telling them. During the composition of this review I was exposed to Mandy, in which Nicolas Cage goes on a rampage of revenge against the bad guys who killed his girl… a synopsis that hardly does justice to Panos Cosmatos’ astonishing vision but when you get right down to it, that’s what it’s all about. Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat At Dawn (1988) is nothing like as druggy a film as Mandy (though various comments in the supplementary materials suggest that a lot more drugs were consumed during its four-year production) and clearly made on a fraction of Mandy’s budget, but sure as goose shit, it follows (give or take a Cenobite biker or two) the same narrative arc.

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As well as writing, directing, editing, choreographing fights, performing stunts and applying make-up (he probably knocked up lunch every day, too) Van Bebber stars as Goose, a prominent member of the Ravens, battling for turf against rival gang the Spiders on the mean street of Dayton, Ohio… the only trick JVB missed, perhaps, was not composing a couple of  West Side Story-style numbers for the OST. When Goose’s girl Christy (Meghan Murphy) is offed by a Spider, he ransacks his arsenal of nunchakus, shurikens and manrikigurasis (you bet your ass James Ferman stamped all over this one when Dave Gregory and Carl Daft submitted it for home video release, back in the day) and we’re off, on a relentless gonzo adrenaline rush to a predictably bleak denouement.

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Arrow have done a creditable job here of making a thirty year old 16mm effort look as good as its ever going to and the assembled array of impressive extras serve as a primer for any unwary aspirant regarding the level of dedication required of the zero budget auteur (Nat Pennington’s short VHS documentary records the day’s effort that went into a couple of set ups, only for a jammed camera to render all footage unusable). Van Bebber famously signed up for film school and absconded the moment his student loan arrived, utilising it to start shooting DAD. Plenty more colourful anecdotes emerge during Victor Bonacore’s Deadbeat Forever! documentary and the various commentary tracks. The participants all seem to be collaborators / friends / boosters of Van Bebber and sometimes you find yourself hoping for a more balanced, neutral view, though I guess enthusiasm is of the essence in this particular cinematic demi-monde. The long running Charlie’s Family saga is glossed over in favour of talking up JVB’s proposed Day Of The Deadbeat sequel.

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Other extras include outtake footage that reveals one participant sporting an incongruous Moody Blues T-shirt, some rather jolly video promos that Jimbo shot for Pantera and others, a trailer for the so-far unrealised, Chas Balun scripted Chunkblower, chunks of another work-in-progress, Gator Green and restorations of Into The Black (1983), the Ed Gein “inspired” Roadkill (1994) and My Sweet Satan (1993), all with commentary tracks. The last-named title is probably Van Bebber’s best effort so far, a docudrama treatment of the real life Ricky Casso murder case that echoes Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge (1986) with its depiction of the nihilisitc milieu in which that crime unfolded.

Enjoy.

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The Gates Of Delirium… Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD on 4k.

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Ol’ Purple Eyes is back…

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

City Of The Living Dead (1980), initiating Lucio Fulci’s celebrated “Gates Of Hell trilogy”, was only his second Horror film and clearly evidences the crash course in H.P. Lovecraft recommended to him by co-writer Dardanno Sachetti after their collaboration on that unexpected international box office champ, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979).

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Evil New England clergyman Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself in a Dunwich cemetery, thereby opening the very Gates of Hell (the initial manifestation of which is a bunch of grungey zombies clawing their way out of their graves). All of this is witnessed by psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) during a drug crazed seance in New York City, resulting in convulsions and her apparent death. Presiding medium The Great Theresa (Adelaide Asti), an authority on The Book Of Enoch, warns the investigating cops that “at this very precise moment, in some other distant place, horrendously awful things are happening… things that would shatter your imagination!” 

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After Mary’s been rescued from living internment by bibulous hack reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George), they set off for Dunwich, intent on closing those Gates Of Hell before All Saints Day, when Hell’s dominion over the Earth will be irreversibly completed. Hooking up with Dunwich psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren), they learn that Theresa wasn’t bullshitting about those “horrendously awful” things, principle among which are the gruesome demises of genre icons Daniela Doria (who vomits up her entire gastro-intestinal tract), Michele Soavi (skull ripped off) and (as misunderstood vagrant sex-case Bob) John Morghen, who gets treated to an impromptu spot of amateur brain surgery by a red neck vigilante. Penetrating the bowels of Dunwich cemetery (and indeed of Father Thomas himself), the surviving protagonists Mary and Gerry save the day… or do they? Your guess is as good as mine, on the strength of COTLD’s proverbially baffling conclusion.

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This film has already appeared in so many editions (several from Arrow alone) that the above synopsis is probably superfluous, though one entertains the hope that it might galvanise some new viewer, in some other distant place, into connecting with the imaginationshattering milieu of Lucio Fulci, much as Alan Jones’ accounts of these films in Starburst magazine galvanised Your Truly, oh so many years ago. What’s important these days, I guess, with each successive reissue, is the quality of both the film transfer and any supplementary materials. Subjecting the negative of a 1980 film to 4k scanning, while shedding further, er, light on the subtleties of DP Sergio Salavati’s handiwork, is arguably an upgrade too far in terms of ramping up screen grain... you pays your twenty quid and you takes your choice. Sound wise, we’re offered the usual language alternatives and a 5.1 option… Arrow’s previous steel box edition offered 7.1 but I’m not certain that my home set up (nor those of most people) extracted any discernible benefit from that anyway… suffice to say Fabio Frizzi’s celebrated score fair throbs from the speakers this time out.

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The pizza girl’s here…

It’s the sheer breadth and depth of its extras that ultimately promote this City Of The Living Dead from a debatable purchase to an indispensable one. You’ll already be familiar with some of those… audio commentaries from Catriona MacColl and John Morghen (the latter moderated by Calum Waddell) and Waddell’s video interview with Carlo De Mejo… from previous editions. The disc is creaking with a veritable cemetery load of cracking new stuff, though… Stephen Thrower’s take on these films is always worth listening to and here he challenges the received wisdom that Fulci couldn’t get a gig after the success of Zombie Flesh Eaters (what’s indisputable is that producer Fabrizio De Angelis was slow to see the possibilities and continued to think small even after he did reconvene with Fulci). For once Thrower’s presentation, as diligently researched and passionately felt as ever, takes a back seat, given the wealth of primary sources testifying on this set. Among the most compelling is a lengthy new interview with Dardano Sacchetti, in which the irascible writer pursues his familiar theme of De Angelis’ short-sightedness while throwing out all manner of interesting insights re what was going on behind the scenes. Never one to hold back on his opinions, it would seem that Signor Sacchetti is not the biggest fan of Catriona MacColl. 

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“Oui, whatever…”

MacColl herself is duly interviewed, sounding a lot more French than I remember from my own encounter with her (then again that was nearly 25 years ago and she’s spent the intervening quarter Century living in Paris)… interesting  to hear that when she wasn’t being buried alive and showered with maggots, Catriona was required to dub and scream over multiple takes of the same shots, prior to the definitive editorial decisions being taken. 

Camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati talks, among other things, about the difficulties of making sunny Savannah, Georgia look like an autumnal New England location, neatly illustrated by his private “behind the scenes” 8mm footage, for which he also supplies an audio commentary. Production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng also talks about “the Savannah problem” and his own difficulties breaking the ice with Fulci, after having been parachuted in by producers Medusa over the director’s original pick, Massimo Lentini. Fulci’s misgivings were predictably assuaged by Geleng’s amazing work on this picture.

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Cinematographer Sergio Salvati clearly loved Fulci but acknowledges and regrets the director’s sadistic treatment of some of his actresses… also his overuse of the zoom lens. As an unexpected bonus, Salvati supplies some fascinating incidental revelations about how The Beyond’s stunning denouement was contrived, against all the odds, in the face of producer De Angelis’s constant budget cutting.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice / John Morghen (these days sporting a beard of Biblical proportions) reiterates that he never had any problems with Fulci but confesses that he’s never been able to watch Daniela Doria’death scene all the way throughGino “Bombardon” De Rossi talks us through that and several other of his gory FX tours de force for City Of The Living Dead et al. He also mentions the prank played on Fulci, referenced by several of the participants in these featurettes, by which maggots were placed in the ol’ goremeister’s pipe. De Rossi initially got the blame for this, but turns out the culprit was actually Christopher George, who obviously figured that one good maggotty turn deserved another.

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Father and son acting team Venantino and Luca (“Jon Jon”) Venantini recall their experiences on the picture, which have become somewhat sanitised in the telling, compared to the version they offered in Mike Baronas’ documentary Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered. Venantino, clearly still very much a character in his late ’80s, now resembles an over-baked spud. Luca’s obvious love and concern for his dad make for touching viewing. There’s also a previously unseen interview with Fulci’s go-to OST man Fabio Frizzi, who suggests that Fulci’s personal sufferings made him a person of substance.

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Fulci fan boy Andy (Ghost Stories) Nyman, though obviously not a member of the inner circle, recounts his encounters with Giannetto De Rossi and Richard Johnson in appropriately enthusiastic style and the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger contributes another of these here video essays, concerning Fulci and his seminal role in the busy Italian zombie cycle.

Among the more predictable extras are the alternative US “Gates of Hell” credits sequence and assorted trailers and radio spots. The extensive image gallery features over 150 stills, posters and other ephemera from the FAB Press and Mike Siegel archives. You also get reversible sleeve options (choose between Charles Hamm and pals in all their original glory and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter), a double-sided fold-out poster and 6 lobby card reproductions. As usual we HOF drones haven’t set eyes on that stuff yet, nor the limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford and Roberto Curti, an archival interview with Fulci and contemporary reviews.

Just make sure you grab your copy before All Saints Day, or there’ll be Hell to pay…

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How Does It Feel To Be One Of The Beautiful People? HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Prior to the advent of the internet (if you pampered millennials can actually imagine such a thing), Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Encyclopedia was the hard-pressed Horror hack’s bible. Before the dawn of VHS, in fact (“Dawn of what, now?” – A Pampered Millennial) we would drool over its reviews of films we thought we’d never live to see… The House That ScreamedThe House With Laughing Windows, Don’t Torture A Duckling, et al. A lot of those titles are now in general circulation, of course, but Hardy’s tome also alerted us to the existence of and tantalisingly synopsised a whole subset of forbiddingly entitled Japanese efforts such as Koji Wakamatsu’s Violated Angels (1967), Teruo Ishii’s The Joys Of Torture (1968) and Shiro Toyoda’s Portrait Of Hell (1969)

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Arrow have been making some impressive inroads into Japanese territory recently, notably (for our purposes) with their Bloodthirsty Trilogy box. Now here’s Ishii’s 1969 effort Horrors Of Malformed Men (“Kyofu Kikei Ningen”) which, startling as it is to Occidental eyes, is typical of the edgy sex / crime / horror fodder that the Toei studio were churning out during the ’60s and early ’70s.

Freely adapted from the popular weird tales of Edogawa Rampo (think about it), the film starts with amnesiac Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) finding himself in a mental institution, the general vibe of which is Marat / Sade-a-go-go, with wall-to-rubber-wall sex-crazed, semi-naked mad chicks. Security seems pretty lax in this joint and during one of his regular nocturnal rambles around its grounds, Hirosuke strikes up a friendship with pretty young circus performer Hatsuyo (Teruko Yumi)… gotta have a circus right next door to the nuthouse, right? After singing a lullaby that sparks a vague childhood memory in his head, she agrees to try to recall its origin but when he meets her next day (after donning a joke shop beard, for some reason) she’s bumped off and Hirosuke is framed for her murder. She says enough before dying to convince him that he can locate his home town “somewhere along the coast of the Sea of Japan”… narrowing things right down, there! Improbably, he does make it back home and even more improbably, passes himself off for his dead doppelganger Genzaburou (also played by Yoshida). It helps that they’ve both got a swastika tattooed on one of their feet… very PC. Most improbably of all, Hirosuke is accepted by the dead guy’s family, the difficulties attendant on carrying off this masquerade briefly slowing the loopy action for a bit…

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… no worries, things are back from flat to barking batshit crazy in a nano-second after our man has sailed over to Panorama island in search of his long-lost dad, Jôgorô Komoda. This guy’s played by one Tatsumi Hijikata, a kind of Japanese equivalent to the recently deceased Lindsay Kemp. No surprise then that when we’re introduced to him he’s doing a spot of, er, interesting interpretive dancing on a wave-lashed stony outcrop of the island.

When not busting radical moves at the seaside, Jôgorô likes to experiment on his kidnapped victims, transforming them into freaks… so we get goat girls, another chick with a hand sewn to her head, non-identical Siamese twins… other dudes seem to have some feathers stuck to them or to have simply been given a quick splash of silver paint.

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Despite professing indirect inspiration from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Horrors Of Malformed Men is clearly based largely upon H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island Of Dr Moreau, though Jôgorô gets things arse-ways about by reducing humans to the level of beasts rather than speeding up the evolution of animals, as was Moreau’s modus operandi. The resulting human oddities and horrors foreshadow those of the Emperor Tiberius’ own island getaway in Tinto Brass’s Caligula (1979) and I wonder if Tom Six had certain scenes from HOMM in mind when he dreamed up The Human Centipede (2009). Japan’s censors sensed other allusions when they banned Horrors Of Malformed Men… although no more sexy or graphic than other contemporary Toei releases it could, they figured, be construed as an allegory for certain unfortunate events that happened in Japan during 1945.

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Love Island’s new policy re recruiting contestants proved controversial with viewers…

What’s Jôgorô’s motivation for these crazy surgical antics? Well, he wants to flood the world with an army of mutants as revenge for the way he was rejected by polite society on account of his webbed fingers (sense of perspective needed here, Jôgorô!) His beautiful wife turned against him and took a lover. He’s just telling Hirosuke how he resolved this little marital spat (by chaining them up in a cave, feeding him to crabs then obliging her to eat the crabs… I couldn’t seem to find this one anywhere in the Relate training manual) when Edogawa Rampo’s regular Sherlock Holmes figure, Kogoro Akechi (Minoru Oki) turns up and proceeds, in know-it-all fashion, to explain everything that’s been going on (I must admit, I was still more than a tad baffled when he was finished).

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Edogawa Rampo, yesterday.

Kogoro persuades Jôgorô not to pull the lever that will blow up the whole island (an inadvisable design feature previously popular in Universal Frankenstein movies) but Hirosuke, having recently discovered that he’s been shagging his sister, opts to blow up with her during a firework display, a spectacle that just about tops all the other weird shit we’ve been sitting through for approximately the last two hours… it’s like the climax of Zabriskie Point, albeit even more dementedly druggy. As the star cross’d lovers heads fly through the air, you ask yourself why, if he was such a shit hot surgeon, Jôgorô didn’t just separate his webbed fingers. Well, that would have been a lot simpler but a lot less fun for us, the viewers.

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Apart from the stuff you’d expect (if, indeed, you’ll ever trust your expectations again after watching Horrors Of Malformed Men) the generous bonus materials include two audio commentaries, by Japanese cinema buffs Tom Mes and Mark Schilling (perhaps things will become a little clearer after I’ve heard those), Schilling’s rather touching video account of Ishii’s visit the Far East Film Festival in Udine (followed by a tourist trip to Venice… I don’t believe he was attending that city’s film festival), a new video interview with veteran Toei screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda and the featurette Malformed Memories, in which filmmakers Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo The Iron Man) and Minoru Kawasaki (The Calamari Wrestler) talk of their admiration for the Cinema of  Teruo Ishii. These interviews did manage to resolve one outstanding issue for me, that of cultural relativity … do these films just look (very) weird (indeed) to our round eyes while being consumed as commonplace by domestic Japanese audiences? No… turns out that they alternate between picking their jaws up off the floor and laughing their asses off, too!

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Ishii’s “Pink” classic Orgies Of Edo, another 1969 effort, is next up from Arrow so hang onto your hats.

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Little Sawdust Hearts, Torn At The Seams… WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? Reviewed

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BD. Network. Region B. 15.

Sal Mineo, whose finest hour-and-a-half came as Jimmy Dean’s sidekick in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) had a great future firmly behind him by the time he wound up in Joseph Cates’ Who Killed Teddy Bear?, ten years later. Here he plays Lawrence Sherman who, during adolescence, was supposed to be baby-sitting his kid sister Edie but snuck away for a bit of slap and tickle with the neighbourhood floozy. Happening upon and grossed out by their furtive fumblings, Edie fell down the stairs, still clutching her beloved teddy bear and sustained a head injury that left her mentally handicapped. Lawrence has been trying to make amends ever since, serving as carer for the adult Edie (Margot Bennett) and working as a busboy in a Times Square bar to support her. Upon developing an unrequited passion for aspiring actress / bar hostess Norah Dain (Juliet Prowse) though, he undoes years of good work by decapitating Edie’s teddy and leaving it in Norah’s apartment (and what better way to win the heart of any young lady?) He also spies on her from his adjacent apartment, follows her around and bombards her with obscene phone calls (it’s strongly suggested that he’s flobbing off while doing so).

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Though not actually confirmed till halfway through the picture that it’s Sherman pulling all these sick stunts, you’d have to be equipped with the IQ of Edie not to have worked it out long before this point. I mean, he’s angry and alienated and when not working out obsessively, this guy is trawling Times Square’s grind houses and dirty book shops. You can’t help wondering if Schrader, Scorsese and De Niro screened Who Killed Teddy Bear? before coming up with the character of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)…

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“You talkin’ to me?”

Norah seeks the support of bar boss Marian (Elaine Stritch, giving probably the best performance in the film… though Prowse is pretty good) and troubled cop Lt Dave Madden (Jan Murray). Marian tries to parlay her comforting routine into a lesbian encounter, for which transgression she is bumped off by the jealous Sherman. Madden is an even more complicated piece of work… his apartment is littered with textbooks on deviant sexual behaviour that are clearly intended to mirror Sherman’s collection of pornographic publications, some of which he shares. He rationalises his obsession as an attempt to understand the minds of sex criminals after the rape and murder of his own wife. The lingering suspicion that he’s a bit of a flake himself is reinforced when his attentions towards Norah become a little over affectionate (she needs to change her deodorant… or maybe stop using one) and are rebuffed, causing him to rant: “Every scrawny broad thinks she’s entrusted with the crown jewels and that she’ll die if she loses them!” I’m reminded of Lucio Fulci’s comment on his own slice of the big apple, The New York Ripper (1982): “Every excess in that movie is an excess of fantasy because every character is extreme… (it’s) a film without salvation”. Sure enough, things don’t work out too well for anyone by the end of Who Killed Teddy Bear?

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Mineo’s loyal gay fan base will enjoy the scenes of him working out, bare-chested and his tight-fitting outfits during some of the ludicrous funky dance sequences with which this film is freighted. Hill St Blues buffs will recognise the “Dan Travanty” who plays Carlo (the bar bouncer who gets stabbed by a drunken customer) as Daniel J. Travanti / Capt. Frank Furillo. Otherwise WKTB?, while no masterpiece, emerges as an engagingly torrid little pot-boiler and incidentally, an invaluable visual record of Times Square before Rudi Giuliani cleaned it up (looking all the more immediate for Joseph Brun’s gritty monochrome photography). Don’t start me on Leslie Uggams’ infuriating ear-worm of a theme song, which failed to even ruffle the Queen of Atlantic Records laurel on the late Aretha Franklin’s brow.

 

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When this film was shot, director Cates had already turned in his masterpiece anyway, in the shape of his daughter Phoebe, for which we are duly thankful (and no, I’ve never felt the temptation to send her a decapitated teddy bear…)

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You get a take-it-or-leave-it 1966 episode of Court Martial (“The House Where He Lived”)  starring the ill-fated Mineo (and the even worse-fated Frank Wolff) but the other principal extra here is as worthy of the admission price as the main feature… LSD: Insight Or Insanity?, an 18 minute high school educational reel narrated by Mineo, promises to dispel all the sensationalist myths about acid, then proceeds to trot out and elaborate on every last one of them (people staring at the sun, jumping off tall buildings, et al) and introducing a new one on me: “Other trippers attempt to merge their being with a large fast automobile”. “What do America’s leading doctors, scientists and psychiatrists have to say?” asks Sal the square.

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Well, the assembled worthies (a scary-looking bunch who would surely harsh even the mellowest of trips) are unanimous: “The LSD fad… is more than a fad. Because of it, people are disturbed and even dead”. The most telling indictment of all? “LSD doesn’t inspire one’s desire to perspire”. Hot diggety dog! As well as this threat to the Protestant work ethic, “there’s always the chance of a bad trip, a bummer, a freak-out… or even a flip out!”, dutifully re-enacted by an overacting kid in a strait-jacket. Yep, “a real kick has become a real kick in the head”. And if getting stuck in a psychological “never-never land of no return” isn’t enough to deter you, Insight Or Insanity? ends with a bunch of kids playing Russian roulette. Are they tripping or this merely a metaphor? Powerful stuff, either way… how odd then, that the film makers follow this harrowing spectacle with a pro-acid song playing over the credits. Like Sal says… “It’s up to you!”

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Vicious Sydney… Flavio Mogherini’s THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

During a career in which he was more active as an art director and production designer, Flavio Mogherini managed just this one certified giallo (his swan song, 1994’s Delitto Passionale, sounds like it might be a borderline case) among his directorial credits… but it’s a fascinating one and not only because it’s based on a notorious and perennially enigmatic true life murder mystery (a new cinematic treatment of which is pending as I write these words)… the Antipodean equivalent of the Black Dahlia case .

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The overwhelming majority of gialli are set in an urban Italian milieu and even the most jet-setting efforts of Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino tend to play out in recognisably European cosmopolitan locations. The action of Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (1977), in contrast, apparently unfolds beneath the rolling blue skies and between the wide open spaces of Australia, the land of opportunities and new starts… though its principal characters’ attempts to lay the ghosts of their pasts prove unsuccessful, with tragic consequences. For instance…

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The film kicks off like a commercial for the Sydney Tourist Board, with off-road bikers and a cute little girl enjoying a golden beach… until the latter discovers a dumped, burned out car with a dumped, burned up girl inside it. Sydney’s finest (who make The Sweeney’s Regan and Carter look like by-the-book softies) are happy to pin the murder on shanty-dwelling sex case Quint (Giacomo Assandri) but reluctantly retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland), who’s bored with tending his orchids and can’t be kept out of the station house, thinks that’s a little bit too convenient. Besides, who is the mysterious burned woman? This film is at least as much a “who’sbeendonein?” as a “whodunnit”.

In an attempt to answer that question, the cops arrange for the body, stripped of its yellow pyjamas and dunked in a tank of formaldehyde, to be put on public display in an improbable and gristly attempt to jog somebody’s memory or elicit a suspicious reaction from a viewer… a snarky comment on us, for watching this sort of thing?

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Meanwhile, we are introduced to the troubled love triangle of three struggling immigrants – Dutch former prostitute Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), her oversensitive Italian husband Antonio (Michele Placido) and Roy the German, played as a priapismic Iago by “Howard Ross” (Renato Rossini)… just to further complicate matters, Linda is still making it with long-standing sugar daddy Professor Douglas (Mel Ferrer). The culmination of this romantic tragedy is played out in parallel with the ongoing, ill-fated investigations of Inspector Thompson (a character that anticipates the one played by Max von Sydow in Dario Argento’s Sleepless, 2001) and at some point in this bifurcated narrative you’ll twig  (and I guess this constitutes a SPOILER ALERT!!!) that the time frames are not what you’d initially imagined them to be, the past and present having been crunched together as if to underline that message about the impossibility of escaping one’s own past. Mario Landi, of all people, attempted something very similar in his considerably less accomplished and altogether grubbier Giallo A Venezia (1979) and while TPGC contains nothing like the outré imagery of that film, I was surprised (in view of some rather gruesome moments and an icky gang bang scene) to find that our pals at the BBFC have knocked it down from an ’18’ to a ’15’ Certificate.

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Arrow have done ample justice to Carlo Carlin’s ravishing photography with this 2k scan from the original camera negative, piling on the bonus materials for good measure. Michael Mackenzie presents a featurette concerning the giallo’s globe-trotting tendencies and Troy Howarth supplies a commentary track which I’ll no doubt enjoy when I’ve had a chance to listen to it. Again, I haven’t seen the collector’s booklet (confined to this edition’s first pressing) which features new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Of course you get a trailer, image gallery and reversible sleeve options.

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Best of all are three cracking new interviews with Howard Ross, editor Alberto Tagliavia and assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo, plus a re-edited archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani, all of them competing to lavish the most praise on Mogherini as a collaborator and a man. Ortolani’s OST for Pyjama Girl Case is probably one of its weaker components (at times he seems to be aiming for Giorgio Moroder but falling short at Throbbing Gristle… the dirge-like croonings of Amanda Lear don’t exactly help much, either) but in his featurette Ortolani doesn’t dwell on this rare misfire, giving instead a potted auto-biography that takes in his ongoing chagrin over people misspelling his name, being ripped off by The Chemical Brothers and his impressions of the cinematic controversies he was dragged into via his famous collaborations with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Ruggero Deodato.

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Sly old silver fox Howard Ross gives fantastic VFM in a candid, gossipy confessional that could have gone on ten times longer and left me wanting more. He’s certainly got a lot to tell, about a career that started with a literal spear-carrying bit part in Raoul Walsh’s Esther And The King (1960), where he came to the attention of uncredited co-director Mario Bava by saving a girl from drowning. What he does manage to tell us about during the confines of this half-hour featurette includes his 12th place finish in the Mister Universe contest of 1970 (a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger took the laurel that year) and lessons on screen kissing with confidence from Walerian Borowczyk. Re The Pyjama Girl Case, Ross remembers that Di Lazzaro insisted on a double for her nude scenes, feeling that her bod wasn’t up to it… Jeez, we should all look so shabby! Howard’s not looking too bad himself these days, but complains “nobody ever calls me anymore”. For shame…

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Editor Alberto Tagliavia and assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo provide between them several valuable insights into the making of TPGC. We learn from Tagliavia that the film’s distinctive structure was arrived at after two previous edits failed to impart any oomph to the narrative. After all these years, Castronuovo reveals that apart from obvious establishing shots captured in Sydney, much of this Italo-Spanish production was actually shot in Spain (much of his AD duties involving such mundane tasks as covering Spanish number plates with Australian ones). As any Argento amateur sleuth could have told you, nothing is ever quite as it seems in a giallo…

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The Dollhouse By The Cemetery… MISS LESLIE’S DOLLS Reviewed.

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BD. Network. Region B. 15.

The concept of gender fluidity seems to have slipped, surprisingly easily (give or take the odd outbreak of tabloid hand-ringing and knicker-wetting) into general acceptance over the last few years. ‘Twas not always thus. Not so very long ago, the phenomenon’s existence was only acknowledged in the realm of horror and thriller films, where it was invariably treated without too much sympathy, generally going hand-in-skin-glove-with psychosis and murder. Of course the true-life trans-necrophile antics of Ed Gein didn’t exactly help and the spirit of “The Plainfield Ghoul” hangs over such biggies as Psycho (not to mention its countless imitators), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence Of The Lambs.

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Miss Leslie’s Dolls (1973) is nowhere near as well-polished a piece of Cinema as any of those (Tobe Hooper’s film, an almost exact contemporary, underlines just how far off the contemporary pace it was) nor anything like as compelling as, e.g. David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap (1979), a film with which it bears many affinities (ditto any amount of  “Wax Museum” variants).  What it is, is a ripe slice of indie American gothic which moves at a funereal pace for much of its length but contains enough incidental oddities to maintain your interest to the bitter, baffling end. Anyone who’s sat through all 72 “video nasties” will have suffered far worse… Unhinged, I’m looking at you!

SPOILER ALERT!!!

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“After murdering the girl students she is unmasked as a homosexual”? Now that’s really serious!

“Handled most capably”? Hm. In fact I’ve got several bones to pick with the compiler of this appraisal. The principal unmentioned elephant in the room is Miss Leslie’s plastinated tableau of dead young women (“My precious dolls!”) Other key elements which it glosses over  (possibly on the grounds that they wouldn’t be well received in big cities and small towns) include Miss L’s rambling monologues about the transmigration of souls (something [s]he appears to have achieved by the end of the picture) and his/her arguments with his/her dead mother (rendered by a skull, the budget obviously not stretching to a Mrs Bates maquette).

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That’s a weird bunch of shit to deal with right there and one of the girls’ observations that Miss Leslie’s house also “smells of death” reminded me of another grindhouse classic but none of this stops the college crowd from fornicating like bunnies as soon as Miss Leslie (having spiked their drinks) turns out the lights…

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Careful with that axe, Miss Leslie…

If pressed, I’d have to summarise MLD as a sexed-up Scooby-Doo episode (the one after the hungry hippy and that scabby dog were, at long last, taken out and shot), written by Thomas Harris (then re-written by a cretin) and directed by… well, directed by Joseph G. Prieto. This bare bones release doesn’t include any information on the elusive Mr Prieto. Certain scuzz film scholars have identified him with the Jospeh Mawra who directed Savages From Hell, Shanty Tramp and Fireball Jungle, but the usual sources (notably IMDB) are all over the place on this one…

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Miss Leslie’s Dolls might not have been Prieto’s first directorial credit, but it does seem to have been his last. Miss Leslie, similarly, turned out to be Salvador Ugarte’s only film role, which is a great pity. Lumbering around looking like Alice Cooper after a particularly epic night on the Brandy Alexanders, ineptly dubbed with a female voice… the kids’ surprise at the climactic unveiling of Miss L as a Mister defies credibility. Was it supposed to come as a shock to us, too?

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Thanks to Ian Caunce for this one…

Once again Network have raided the BFI’s archives to good effect (considering its age and lowly status in the cinematic scheme of things, the film looks surprisingly good in this transfer) and you should try to catch Miss Leslie’s Dolls, before it becomes the next Rocky Horror. Spiked bourbon might well enhance your enjoyment of it considerably.

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Murder Most Fowl… The Nucleus Gang Go To Work On Giulio Questi’s DEATH LAID AN EGG.

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BD. Nucleus. Region B. 18.

Like its companion piece in Nucleus’s “European Cult Cinema Collection”, Lady Frankenstein, Giulio Questi’s Death Laid An Egg (1968) concerns itself with the shenanigans of mad scientists. In the feudal set up of Mel Welles’ film the aristocratic protagonists own their serfs and servants, using them as experimental and sexual fodder under a Romantic patina of paternalism and progress. (*) Death Laid An Egg, in contrast, is set firmly in our own immiserated age, where rampaging technological advance connives at the neo-liberal free-for-all by which everybody’s free to, er, scramble for profit and frankly, fuck anyone who can’t keep up (well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!)

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Sunny side down…

Marco (Jean-Louis) Trintignant is the manager of a cutting-edge egg hatchery where automation has allowed most of the workforce to be laid off. The surplus help hang around outside, throwing insults and the occasional blunt object, much to the chagrin of Marco’s perfectly groomed, soulless wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). But are these luddites responsible for all of the sabotage that’s been going on at the plant? Marco is seemingly a model employee of The Association (a simultaneously menacing and ridiculous marketing board whose obsession with eggs surpasses even that of Edith Massie in Pink Flamingos) but secretly he harbours serious doubts about the way the job, society and his life are heading. When the plant’s resident GMF boffin manages to hatch a clutch of giant, headless, wingless birds, to the obvious delight of just about everyone else in the cast, Mario goes all eggs over uneasy and beats these avian atrocities to death with a wrench. His simmering discontent further manifests itself in the clandestine affair he’s conducting with Anna’s ditzy blonde cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin, the Baby Spice of her day, from Joe D’Amato’s Death Smiles On A Murderer)… oh yeah, he also seems to have a penchant for butchering prostitutes in cheap motels. Slimy-slick ad man Mondaini (Jean Sobieski) is keeping tabs on Marco’s murderous side-line while pursuing a parallel affair with Gabrielle and planning a grab for Anna’s money… what could possibly go wrong?

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What the pluck?

Compounding  the complexity of its plot twists (co-authored as ever by Questi’s trusty collaborator Franco Arcalli), the film is shot in oblique style with little regard for conventional cinematic grammar. Questi’s camera will focus on. e.g. Trintignant’s back while he’s delivering a line or float off to concentrate on some insignificant visual detail as the action unfolds. The avant-garde OST from Bruno Maderna and Arcalli’s radical editing further exacerbate the viewer’s disorientation… at one point Arcalli folds what looks like an episode from J.G. Ballard’s Crash (a novel that wouldn’t be published for another five years, BTW) into a routine drive taken by Marco and Gabrielle.

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The black gloves donned by Marco before his assignations with those hookers are also strangely prescient pre-echos of the turn that the giallo genre would take with Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). But is Death Laid An Egg (as often claimed) a giallo? It’s more properly understood as a deconstruction of that genre, akin to how Questi exploded the spaghetti western with his feature debut If You Live, Shoot! aka Django, Kill! the previous year, in the process clueing Alessandro Jodorowsky into the mystical potential of the genre (and there are moments in Santa Sangre which suggest that El Jodo wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with Death Laid An Egg, either).

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Corrado Farina, one suspects, was also taking notes (check out the subliminal advertising imagery)… and don’t start me on David (insert expletive) Lynch! Elsewhere Questi seems to be cocking a snook at Antonio (“This is how you make an anti-giallo, Michelangelo… stick it in your family albumen!”)

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How more Post-modern can you get on the giallo’s ass than by deploying the whole serial kill stabbing match itself as a red herring? If DLAE isn’t, after all, a giallo in the as-yet-nonexistent Argento mould (I suppose it would be fair to characterise it as the Mario Bava tendency… or one of the Mario Bava tendencies… in 1968) then it certainly has affinities with Romolo Guerrieri’s contemporary thriller The Sweet Body Of Deborah and its bonk-busting descendants directed by Umberto Lenzi (in one of which, 1969’s So Sweet… So Perverse, Trintignant would also star).

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Giulio Questi… the real “terrorist of the genres”?

However you generify Death Laid An Egg, it’s a mesmerising work of Art. Craig Ledbetter was sufficiently mesmerised to devote a special issue of his seminal European Trash Cinema fanzine to it, reproduced here among the bonus materials along with CL’s thanks to Nucleus for finally bringing Questi’s 104 minute director’s cut to light… looking as beautiful as we have come to expect from this label, scanned as it is in HD from the original negatives with the “new” footage inserted from an Italian archival print. You get the truncated (91 minute) cut as well, of course, plus another Jones / Newman commentary track, featurettes (the BFI’s James Blackford on Questi’s work and radical politics… soundtrack collector extraordinary / DJ / Alassandro Alessandroni collaborator Lovely Jon on Bruno Maderna), an archive interview with the director himself (who passed away in 2014) during which he observes that movie-making is now within everybody’s grasp, if not access to major distribution networks, still hung up on the chicken farming model), a short appraisal from Italian critic Antonio Bruschini and another interesting insight into the cuts demanded by the BBFC for the film’s UK theatrical release (as A Curious Way To Love), alongside all the other stuff you’d expect.

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Not quite the lubricious girl-on-girl fest its UK distributors would have had you believe…

The restored 14 minutes reveal a whole new character, Renato Romano’s Luigi, whose role in the overall scheme of things is wide open to interpretation. It also amplifies a suggestion that remains in the shorter cut, regarding the European Union (which was really taking off in its current incarnation round about the time this film was made) and its role as a principal driver of austerity, increasing income disparities, declining public services and terms & conditions for working people, war as a tool for prising open new markets… the full neo-liberal, er, yoke under which we’ve been labouring for the last half Century or so. As such, DLAE comes a useful corrective for the baffling rose-tinted nostalgia for the EU currently sweeping the nation. The film predicts GM food and anticipates the coming tsunami of technological advance that’s going to wash away so many more jobs… talk about chickens coming home to roost! In addition to all these valuable services, Questi proves that avant-garde dialectical materialism in the cinema doesn’t have to be as simultaneously pleased with itself and downright dull as Godard and his ilk.

Pending the arrival from left field of some unexpected and unexpectedly astonishing release from another label, this is going to be the undisputed Disc Of 2018… clucking brilliant!

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(*) An early draft of this posting contained a line that ended: “… progress and enlightened paternalism derailed by the Cotten character’s hubris and the overweening impertinence of Rosalba Neri’s overheated clitoris”. Having penned that, I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

You’re welcome.

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Do You Like Pina Colada? LADY FRANKENSTEIN Restored on Nucleus BD.

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BD. Nucleus. Region B. 15.

Legend has it that a woman once took out a Lonely Hearts ad, seeking “a man with the brain of Leonard Cohen and the body of Iggy Pop”. An assignation was duly arranged and when she arrived at the predetermined rendezvous, who should be there waiting for her, but… Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop! And no doubt a fun time was had by all. It’s an apocryphal story which I rather wish was true (Cohen himself attested to its veracity)… it certainly packs a better punch line than Rupert Hine’s Escape (The Pina Colada Song).

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“If you’re not into yoga / If you have half a brain…”

In Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein 1971, Rosalba Neri’s title character (who also answers to the name of Tania) has a similar vision of her dream man, radical ideas about how to  transform him into fleshy reality and the family know-how required to pull it off. She transplants the brilliant brain of her father’s homely looking, crippled assistant Charles (Paul Muller, from a million Jess Franco flicks) into the hunky body of the family’s retarded servant Tom (Marino Masé) to make “the kind of man (she) could really love!” Tom’s contribution to the plan is entirely involuntary (Charles smothers him with a pillow while Lady F is astride him… more on this later) but Charles himself is an all-too-willing participant (in my favourite line, he informs Tania, while she’s preparing to transplant his brain into Tom, that she “can’t change (her) mind”!) The operation proves a resounding success and scarcely hours after its completion, Charles-in-Tom is giving her Ladyship a vigorous seeing too.

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Unfortunately, they’re not left to enjoy their erotic idyll for long. Tanya’s illustrious father (Joseph Cotten, inaugurating an Italian run that would also see him starring in Mario Bava’s Baron Blood, 1972 and Umberto Lenzi’s Syndicate Sadists, 1975) has already been killed by one of his less successful creations and now that monster (Peter Whiteman in a crude Carlo Rambaldi make up job that makes his head look like a septic bell end) is on the rampage in the local countryside, offing the grave-diggers (including career Eurocreep Herbert Fux) who resurrected its various bodily parts, interrupting moments of al-fresco coitus and throwing random naked chicks into rivers… he’s kind to children, though. The ineffectual investigations of Police Chief Harris (Mickey Hargitay) leading nowhere, a crowd of firebrand and pitchfork-clutching yokels is soon besieging Castle Frankenstein, none of which stops Lady F and her toy-boy creation from fornicating away happily as the flames gather all around them, until our over sexed anti-heroine gets her just desserts in an unexpected and rather abrupt denouement.

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Ever since James Whale’s Bride Of Frankenstein (1935), various members of that cursed clan have been seeking to mate their monsters. Udo Kier’s Baron (who could also call on the services of Carlo Rambaldi) had something like this in mind for his “zarmbies” in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein (1973) but couldn’t resist molesting them himself (with hil-arious consequences!) Rosalba Neri’s Tania Frankenstein  beat Udo to it by two years and never, er, made any bones about the ultimate amorous aim of her surgical exploits. Billed, as she was in many of her Italian productions as Sara / Sarah Bay (on the grounds that this would allegedly put more bums on domestic cinema seats… but who in their right mind wouldn’t want to watch her, under any name?), Neri proves here, as she did in Joe D’Amato / Luigi’s Full Moon Of The Virgins (1973) that she could, when given a role to get her teeth into, be so much more than “the poor man’s Edwige Fenech”.

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“Behind every great man…”

Nucleus’ Marc Morris and Jake West are themselves Frankenstein figures, in their own kind of way… men on an obsessive mission to bring you beautiful uncut restorations of films that have, since VHS / “video nasty” / fanzine days, only been available in the UK as shortened theatrical prints and crummy looking, similarly incomplete, nth generation video dubs. I recall watching Lady Frankenstein in (I think) 16mm during a memorable Manchester Fantastic Films Society all-niter entitled Terror Among The Tombs in the late ’80s (actually I don’t remember very much at all about that night, throughout which inadvisable quantities of Wild Turkey were quaffed). But here we are in 2018. Sceptics said it couldn’t be done… moralists said it shouldn’t... now here it is, Lady Frankenstein as a gorgeous looking limited edition in Nucleus’ “European Cult Cinema Collection”…

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This lush-looking 2k scan from the original negative shows exactly how much bang Welles and his DP Riccardo Pallottini got for their buck from Castello Piccolomini, Balsorano. When confined to De Paolis studio… well, Masé will have recognised that staircase set when he encountered it again, suitably redressed, in Lugi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980). Sharp-eyed viewers might also remember it from films as diverse in quality as Argento’s Inferno (also 1980) and Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981).

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Amid the bonus materials on offer here you get the predictable selection of trailers, TV and radio spots, home video sleeves and image galleries… all well and good, but whereas some distributors would leave it at that, Nucleus pile on the goodies. New World’s theatrical cut, reduced to 84 minutes so that Roger Corman could slot it onto more double bills, has been as lovingly restored as the 99 minute Director’s Cut. There’s an audio commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman, a reproduction of the contemporary Photo Novel that appeared in Italy’s Bigfilm magazine and three excellent featurettes. The Truth About Lady Frankenstein is a 2007 German TV Special featuring interviews with director Welles, star Neri and Herbert Fux, who reacts to his first ever viewing of the film. We learn more about the astonishing life and career of Mel Welles from his posthumous contribution to Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein, an all new doc presented by Julian Grainger. The Lady and The Orgy is a short but revelatory investigation of Welles’ activities in Australia, where he (under the guise of “Satan’s Prime Minister”) presented Lady Frankenstein as the centre piece of a multi-media grand guignol “Spook Show” review.

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I particularly enjoyed the breakdown of the BBFC’s demands for cuts to the film’s 1972 theatrical run in the UK. The chopping off of Monster #1’s arm had to go and two scenes juxtaposing death with sexual desire were cut to the bone, namely the film’s frenzied, fiery finale and Tom’s fatal coupling with Lady F. The latter, which the BBFC have now sanctioned in all its gaudy glory, is one of the kinkiest set-ups in exploitation film history, with Tom’s death throes pushing Her Ladyship over the orgasmic edge while Charles, busy suffocating Tom, can scarcely conceal his jealous torment over the unfolding spectacle. (*) Amazing stuff in an astounding release that could have been a shoe-in for our “Top Disc Of 2018” accolade, were it not for the fact that its companion piece in that Cult Cinema Collection, Giulio Questi’s 1968 anti-giallo Death Laid An Egg (review coming to these pages imminently) is, improbably, even better!

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(*) The BBFC, often accused of applying double standards for the industry big boys and small-fry exploitation distributors, have played admirably fair in this regard. Twenty-four years after their exposure to Lady Frankenstein, The Board insisted on diluting Famke Janssen’s comparably mantis-like take on the mating game in the Bond flick Goldeneye.

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