Blu-ray / DVD Reviews

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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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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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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Sonic Does Solipsism… Cronenberg’s eXistenZ Reviewed

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Ted Pikul in the throes of an eXistenZial epiphany. Yesterday.

BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. 101 Films. 15.

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Why do artists feel the need to revisit former glories? Perhaps because their glory days are so demonstrably behind them. Consider Opera (1987), the final fling in a string of baroque, bloody, beautiful and flat-out berserk horror and thriller classics that Dario Argento had sustained for nearly two decades. Then consider his abysmal Phantom Of The Opera (1998), a weak-as-piss rehashing of the same themes with the same cinematographer, Ronnie Taylor, merely underlining the point that Argento’s muse had deserted him, to be replaced by… well, by Asia.

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Just a year later, David Cronenberg brought us eXistenZ, which on superficial perusal (and that, I confess, is all I gave it at the time) came across as a pointless and decidedly less full-blooded and edgy reworking of his polymesmeric Videodrome (1983). Obliged to give it a second viewing (by the fact that those nice folks at 101 sent me a review copy of their new BD / DVD edition), I find that I’ve given eXistenZ shorter shrift than it merits (e.g. in my cursory dismissal of Cronenberg’s post-Fly output while reviewing his debut novel Consumed).

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In the near future, wimpy marketing trainee Ted Pikul (Jude Law) accompanies legendary games designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a test seminar for her latest advance in virtual reality technology but no sooner have she and a bunch of fans plugged pulsating, placenta like game consoles into their spines (all par for the Cronenbergian course) and started communing in cyber space, than a pro-reality terrorist (ditto) makes an attempt on Allegra’s life with a gun fashioned from bones which shoots teeth (a piece of mutant technology that has clearly evolved out of Videodrome) and Ted finds himself promoted to Allegra’s body-guard. Brow beaten by her into having a bioport inserted in his spine (by Willem Dafoe’s freelancing gas station attendant) Ted embarks on a white knuckle adventure in which it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish gameplay from reality…

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Just as Brian de Palma was justified in reviewing the ethical quagmire of Casualties Of War (1989) through the lens of subsequent media technology developments  for Redacted (2007, above), eXistenZ cannot simply be dismissed as “Videodrome light” (although I’ve been guilty of doing precisely that)… it’s a genuine auteurist reconsideration of that film’s thematic concerns in the light of technology-driven cultural change on the cusp of The Millennium (and goes about its business so much more smartly than it’s vastly bigger budgeted contemporary The Matrix).

eXistenZ is “Videodrome updated and upgraded”, a film addressing the concerns of those who used to worry if young people watching The Last House On The Left really got that it was “only a movie… only a movie” and now wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night wondering if players of Grand Theft Auto or Call Of Duty can correctly answer the question that provides the last line of eXistenZ”: “Are we still in the game?”

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Ordering Chinese food becomes a tricky business amid the fluid reality of eXistenZ.

Despite its shifting planes of reality, this one is narratively much tighter than its predecessor and boasts an ending that is simultaneously more predictable but more satisfying than that to Videodrome, which Cronenberg was notoriously still trying to work out on the last day of shooting.

Over and above its Videodrome connections, eXistenZ reflects Cronenberg’s musings (after conversations with William Burroughs and Salman Rushdie) on the independent existence an artistic creation takes on, with potentially malign consequences for its creator.

It’s also, regretfully, the closest we will ever get to Cronenberg’s once-mooted screen adaptation of Philp K. Dick’s darkly psychedelic 1965 novel The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch… observant Dick heads will appreciate the packaging of the fast food Ted and Allegra consume while on the lam.

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Get your skates on, 101’s release of this title, number 002 in their Black Label range, is limited to 3000 copies and comes with slipcase and a booklet including the essay Enemy of Reality by Alex Morris and an interview with Denise Cronenberg  by Phillip Escott. Can’t comment on either of those because I haven’t seen them.

The disc comes stacked with extras, including (alongside the mandatory trailer) Cronenberg’s audio commentary, “making of” and promo feaurettes plus one that focuses on the work of DC’s long-serving production designer, Carol Spier and interviews with the director himself, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, visual FX technician Jim Isaac and Jude Law.

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Brand new to this edition are two commentary tracks, one by Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie and another from Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, plus an interview with Christopher Ecclestone, who freely admits that his American accent in the film is crap but tries to explain this away on the grounds that nobody in eXistenZ is quite what they seem. Nice try Chris, but you can’t pin the blame for that preposterous accent on Allegra Gellar!

Ecclestone also suggests that in the light of ever-accelerating technological change, a remake might be in order. Cronenberg was way ahead of the curve, though… what’s the betting that if such a project were ever green lit, its protagonists would be schlepping around collecting Pokemons?

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Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow… MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD On Shameless Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Ever wondered how an old gargoyle like me managed to snag the alluring Mrs F? (Calm down at the back, I said “snag“, OK?) If so (and in the unlikely event that you haven’t got anything better to do), study the UK quad poster, reproduced above, for Sergio Martino’s Prisoner (alternatively Mountain / Slave) Of The Cannibal God intently. When I suggested that the menacing central figure in it resembled nothing so much as “a turd with teeth”, her funny bone was sufficiently tickled for me to be considered a reincarnation of Oscar Wilde and the rest, as they say, is history. But enough autobiographical snatches from me…

… no, hang on, here’s another one. While wooing Mrs F and indeed, for about a quarter of a century in total, I was a vegetarian. During that period, when people would express unease to me about the maltreatment of animals in Italian cannibal films, I would respond along the snooty lines of: “Do you eat meat? You don’t need to, so what’s the difference?” About a decade ago, on medical grounds, I regretfully reverted to an omnivorous diet, decided that there was, indeed, a difference and began to seriously question some of the content of these films. By the same token, friends who remain committed to vegetarianism have protested the recent trend of releasing them in versions cut to eradicate or reduce scenes of cruelty to animals. It’s complicated…

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Having already released a BD edition of Ruggero Deodato’s epochal Cannibal Holocaust (1980) in a marginally more animal friendly variant now endorsed by Deodato as his “preferred version”, Shameless now bring us a Mountain Of The Cannibal God which “softens” its animal cruelty and which director Sergio Martino (in his on-screen intro) declares an “improved version” for a new generation of viewers, although once again it’s not exactly going to find favour with card-carrying PETA supporters.

M/S/POTCG (set in Papua New Guinea but actually filmed in Sri Lanka and Malaysia during 1978) is a ripping yarn of derring do that kicked off an action adventure trilogy which Martino completed the following year with The Great Alligator (below, also filmed in Sri Lanka) and Island Of The Fishmen (filmed in some park in Sardinia).

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Ursula Andress and Antonio Marsina hire Stacey Keach to help them find Ursula’s old man, an explorer missing in action among the natives. Stacy’s got a personal stake in the adventure and a burning ambition to wipe out the Puka tribe, who forced him to eat human flesh when he was briefly incarcerated by them. The gang encounter all the expected jungle perils and hook up with Claudio Cassinelli en route to the eponymous mountain, where they find the suppurating corpse of Mr Andress (looking like a refugee from the opening shots of Texas Chainsaw Massacre) being worshipped by the locals en account of the bleeping Geiger counter stuck in his chest, which they take for his heart… yeah, whatever. Turns out Andress and Marsina were after the local uranium all along.

While fitting nicely into the Rider Haggard / Jukes Verne terrain of Alligator / Fishmen, M/S/POTCG also reels off the expected cannibal film tropes with alacrity… y’know, “Who are the real savages?”… white woman worshipped (Andress decked out in a fetching Albanese goddess outfit in which she still cuts an impressive figure, 13 years on from Hammer’s She) by impressionable (and, it is strongly implied, inferior) natives… cannibalism (duh!) and – most contentiously – violence against animals…

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The pre-cut film was only certificated ‘X’ by the BBFC for a theatrical release (under the “Prisoner” title) in 1978 after the excision of two episodes of crocodile-on-turtle violence, a bit of snake vs eagle unpleasantness and the infamous scene in which another snake suffocates and consumes a terrified monkey, comprising 126 seconds. This version was identical to the one released by Hokushin on home video three years later, which “enjoyed” a place on the DPP’s official list of “video nasties” from November 1983 to May ’85. After that unfortunate spasm of witch-hunting had run its course, M/S/POTCG  became one of a slew of “contentious” titles that were certificated for VHS (in its dying days) and DVD after further cuts, in this case 126 seconds from the Vipco release (“Cuts required to sight of animal cruelty, including animals being goaded to fight each other”). 2008 and 2013 releases, by Orbit and Cornerstone respectively, were identical in duration and contents.

Shameless have restored scenes of sex and violence never previously seen in an official UK release of this film, including a female Puka frigging herself off, a dude getting castrated and the ludicrous sight of another guy pretending to bum a pig, which seems blithely oblivious to his amorous efforts. Such footage would fall foul of “extreme porn” legislation if rendered “explicitly / realistically” but fortunately that particular statute doesn’t include “laughably”. Apparently the restoration materials were sourced from Martino’s personal archive. Although the BBFC were prepared to wear all this stuff, 121 seconds of compulsory cuts were “required to remove six sequences of animal cruelty in accordance with BBFC Guidelines and policy”.

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Even so, the film still contains the knife impalement of a tarantula, immediately  followed by the gutting of a lizard (its innards promptly scarfed down by natives)… a monitor lizard is seen honking up the messy remains of a snake it recently consumed… a live crab is roasted over the fire (to the obvious enjoyment of Marsina’s character)… and the memorably revolting underground snake-scoffing fest is present and (politically) incorrect. The working assumption would seem to be that the more mammalian (more sentient?) an animal is, the more likely the BBFC are to take exception to its mistreatment in this kind of film.

Shameless suggest that much of the animal abuse was inserted for Far Eastern markets where such stuff goes down well at the box office, though this hardly absolves Martino from responsibility… nor does the micro-featurette in which he addresses the issue here. Honestly, I love the guy’s movies but this apologia is all over the place, no more convincing than that which he gave on Blue Underground’s previous, totally uncut release. That one also contained a frame-by-frame analysis of the “snake eats monkey” scene that conclusively demonstrates the inadequacy of Martino’s account of it.

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But where do you stop? If non-PC depictions of women and indigenous people were removed from these films, there’d be very little of them left to screen… and what about the unpleasant dwarf who torments Cassinelli before having his midget brains bashed out? Is this an acceptable depiction of a vertically challenged person? Like I said, it’s complicated…

This BD transfer looks rather  marvellous, Giancarlo Ferrando’s shimmering cinematography effectively rendering the heat and humidity of which Martino complains in Riccardo Trombetta’s NoShame “making of” documentary, Cannibal Nightmare: Return To The Mountain Of The Cannibal God, which includes nifty “on location footage” and contributions from Martino and the dynamic duo of DP Ferrando and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. You also get a trailer and Italian title / credit sequences.

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Don’t look back on Andress…

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

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ORANGE ALERT…AMSTERDAMNED Reviewed

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DVD. Shameless. Region 2. 18. (We actually watched the earlier, out-of-print edition on the Cine-Excess imprint of Shameless sister label Nouveaux Pictures. Same specs and extras.)

Having considered one non-Italian giallo, Sidney Hayers’ Assault (1971) in our previous posting, I thought it might be in order to take a look at another one here.  This particular Italian genre has tended to travel as badly as Italian cheese but perhaps that distinct sub-strain of Venetian thrillers (the superior Who Saw Her Die and The Designated Victim, the execrable Giallo In Venice… even, if you stretch a point to breaking point, Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now) explains why the format translated so well to the canal-crammed capital city of Holland for Amsterdamned (1988)… not to mention the consummate skill of writer / director Maas and his collaborators.

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Much of the film plays like an unabashed advertisement on behalf of the Amsterdam tourist board, an impression underlined by the 35 minute “making of” featurette (“The City, The Film, The Makers”) included among the extras here… the action even adjourns to The Rijksmuseum at one point so we can check out Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (oh go, if you’re going to get all pedantic on me, that’s Rembrandt’s The Company Of Frans Banning Cocq And Willem Van Ruytenburch). Not sure though, how visitor numbers were ever going to be  boosted by this saga of a demented frog man emerging from the city’s canals to slaughter victims, seemingly selected at random, in sundry spectacular fashions before disappearing again in those waterways. The staging of and musical accompaniment to the kill scenes have more than a suggestion, albeit a heavily ironic one, of Jaws about them and, just like on Amity Beach, there are civic dignitaries with a vested interest in the crisis being handled in a manner likely to put off the fewest possible tourists (the suggestion is then, if anything, more of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, bringing the scenario Spielberg pinched for Jaws back to its North European roots).

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Over the mayor’s objections, the chief of police insists that the right man to crack the case is inspector Eric Visser (Maas’s favored male lead, Huub Stapel). It’s difficult to discern precisely what special qualities he brings to the investigation, beyond a facility for fairly amusing one-liners and looking cool in a scruffy kind of way. He seems to devote way more time to bringing up his similarly flip and anarchic daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet), putting up with her eccentric, nerdy boyfriend Willy (Edwin Bakker) and pursuing his own romance with sexy Rijksmuseum guide Laura (Monique Van De Ven from Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight… can’t say that I blame him) than applying himself to the small matter of all this canal carnage. Clues and leads just seem to drift his way as if by magic and it has to be said that when they do, he pursues them energetically via his participation in such beautifully executed (and edited) set pieces as a car / motorbike chase (complete with witty allusions to Bullitt and Starsky & Hutch) and, as if that weren’t enough, a rattling speedboat chase around the canals of Amsterdam (some of which was actually shot, somewhat contentiously, in the city of Utrecht) that’s every bit as good as its obvious inspiration, the equivalent scene in Geoffrey Reeve’s Puppet On A Chain (1971… the first AA film that the underage Freudstein ever snook into).

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Red herrings swim in and out of the plot and are dispensed with in their turn until Maas conclusively demonstrates his affinity with Amsterdamned’s Italian models by revealing the culprit to be a character to whom we haven’t even been properly introduced yet, and ludicrously motivated to boot (think of Sergio Pastore’s Crimes Of The Black Cat and you’re thinking along the right lines). While comfortably handling the genre conventions, Maas injects a pleasing vein of gentle humour that is generally absent from (or handled less successfully in) spaghetti thrillers and proudly flies the flag for his lowland homeland with plentiful visual and scripted allusions to iconic Dutch stuff… no Focus references, sadly, not even a glimmer of Golden Earring, but nederbeat outfit Lois Lane accompany the credit crawl with their insanely infectious title song…  even catchier than Simon Park’s signature tune for Van Der Wank. Allegedly on its original Dutch theatrical run, Amsterdamned finished with a jokey variant on the Carrie / Friday The 13th-type shock shot of a fist emerging from the canal, albeit clutching nothing more deadly than an ice cream cone. Just one gorenetto, eh Dick?

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Proof positive that it’s possible (albeit very rarely) to find a decent giallo that was made outside of the Italian milieu. No need to take my word for it… when I interviewed him, Lucio Fulci, no less, pronounced himself a fan of Amsterdamned and Maas’s work in general. If it’s good enough for Fulci…

… and indeed, Maas turned out to be a most amiable bloke while attending last year’s Mayhem in Nottingham, wowing festival-goers with his 2016 effort Prey, effectively an Amsterdamned remake with an escaped lion standing in for the skin-diving assassin.

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