Blu-ray / DVD Reviews

JD Sports… COSH BOY Reviewed.

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“Boys like you are bad, through and through…”

BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 12.

Starting Big School is a challenge at the best of times, but I remember my first few weeks of Secondary Education (circa 1970) being haunted by spectres considerably more troubling than such run-of-the-mill anxieties as making new friends and keeping on the right side of teachers given to doling out beatings as readily as snarky put downs. Playground gossip played up the constant threat we were under from… The Green Jackets! The desperadoes in question were a gang of disaffected black youths (though I imagine they were referred to by a more politically incorrect collective noun back in those days) who would swoop on random unsuspecting schools (especially those considered a bit posh) and form a double line outside the gates at kicking out time. One by one, hapless school kids were forced to run a gauntlet of blows and insults from green jacketed assailants until they reached the end of the line, where a leading proponent of verdant violence would ask them… if their Mum could sew. When a kid replied in the affirmative he’d be dismissed, his face carved with a Stanley knife, to ask her to “sew that up, then!” Those who denied any such needle and thread expertise on the part of their maternal relatives fared no better… they too got slashed up a treat and advised to “get her to practise on that, then!” History doesn’t record whether those who professed ignorance of their Mum’s tailoring skills escaped, or what fate befell anyone sassy enough to question The Green Jackets’ right to pry into their family’s domestic arrangements. Probably just as well…

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You’d better believe we were paralysed by fear of them Green Jackets, despite the complete absence of any corroborative reportage in local TV, radio or print news. Nor did we stop to ask ourselves why no staff members at any of these educational establishments had ever intervened or why the police were so tardy in arriving to break up the alleged gauntlets and subsequent Q&A sessions, allowing the culprits to repair back to whatever urban sink hole they hailed from and plot new outrages. Clearly The Green Jackets were a particularly colourful urban legend, an especially f*cked up figment of somebody’s fevered imagination and you’re probably thinking my peers and I were dopes to fall for it. C’mon, we were 11 years old! Furthermore successive, allegedly more savvy generations have continued to fall for this kind of baloney and social media, in supplanting playground chit-chat, has only made matters worse. It’s not so long, I seem to recall, since we endured a mass panic about killer clowns planning school yard massacres… The extent to which such grass roots memes influence or are influenced by mass media is an argument that will go on long after we’re all dead (slashed to ribbons by Green Jackets or massacred by Killer Clowns, only time will tell). Suffice to say, cinematic exploitation of juvenile delinquency (the JD genre) has never let any sense of perspective hamper the depiction of yoof running wild as box office bait.

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Groovy Juvies have regularly wrecked havoc in Hollywood, ever since the first zoot-suited reefer addict flipped out, daddyo. Marlin Brando rebelled against anything you got, James Dean tore himself apart and bikers rioted on Sunset Strip, anticipating more recent offenders such as the perpetrators of the Purge phenom.

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Here in Blighty, ill informed moral panic over youth cults has been reflected and indeed festered in, e.g. the bizarre depiction of Teddy Boys in Joe Losey’s (These Are) The Damned (1962) and Nicky Henson‘s plastic Angels, dabbling with the occult in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973, above). The depiction of edgy youth in Michael Reeves’ (otherwise excellent) The Sorcerers (1967) has to be seen to be believed. Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979) celebrated the spiritually uplifitng aspect of Mods and Rockers kicking the shit out of each other on Brighton beach. More recently, the prospect of machete mayhem at screenings of Andrew Onwubolu’s gang saga Blue Story have had tabloid editors drooling, while the intolerable TV twaddle of Peaky Blinders continues to exercise its mystifying grip on the nation’s imagination.

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Occasioning even more outrage and unease among the habitually concerned than John Clowes’ universally reviled No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948), Lewis Gilbert’s Cosh Boy (1953)  was one of the first British productions deemed worthy an ‘X’ Certificate, a device first introduced something like two years previously. Adapted from Bruce Walker’s orginal stage play Master Crook (which had enjoyed a successful run in the West End), Gilbert’s film reaped the bonus publicity / censorship hassles attendant on its release coinciding with the notorious real life Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley murder case. In response and underlining the film’s moralistic (and arguably cop out conclusion), producer Daniel M.Angel appended a rolling prologue caption deploring  “the post war tragedy of juvenile delinquency”, expressing the pious hope that Cosh Boy could do its little bit to help stamp out “this social evil”. Unimpressed, several local authorities ignored the BBFC’s ‘X’ and banned screenings of the film in their bailiwicks.

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“Roy Walsh” and “Alfie Collins” (played respectively by James Kenney and Ian Whittaker, the only cast holdovers from the story’s stage incarnation) do indeed present eerie parallels with (respectively) Craig and the doomed Bentley. The latter in each coupling is a mentally underdeveloped loser, easily manipulated by his sawn-off psychopathic “mate”. The film opens with Walshy slipping a cosh to Alfie and sending him to beat some money out of an unfortunate old biddy, staggering home, blind drunk from the pub.

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Anticipating the way Malcolm McDowell controls his “droogs” in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971), this guy likes to load the bullets for others to fire (literally, by the time his petty crime spree has escalated to armed robbery). It’s easy to see how he could control the half-witted Alfie, but what about the rest of his gang (at least one of whom seems conspicuously too old for this JD lark)? Walshy’s about as charismatic as a piece of plasticine, nevertheless he manages to lure the succulent Rene (Joan Collins, on loan from Rank) away from her goody two shoes boyfriend, knock her up and abandon her. Will she go for a risky back street abortion or is she doomed to continue the cycle of delinquent degeneracy with yet another latch key kid?

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Throughout the film, authority figures are presented as powerless to curb Roy’s amoral roving, relying on the improving effects of youth clubs and credulously swallowing his vows to mend his ways. The police struggle to pin anything on him and when he is nabbed, magistrates hand out laughable sanctions. HIs weak, well-meaning mother Elsie (Betty Ann Davies) buries her head in the sand and there’s no moderating paternal influence (perhaps Dad was lost in the War). When the rozzers finally finally arrive to collar Walsh for murder, his new stepfather Bob Stevens (Robert Ayres) pleads for time out to whip off his belt and give the kid a good leathering (a gag revived in Robert A. Endelson’s 1977 “video nasty”, Fight For Your Life)… and no matter how Woke you consider yourself, it’s hard to begrudge Roy this long postponed reckoning.

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“Beat him step-daddy, eight to the bar!”

The expected compliment of interesting extras on this BFI Flipside release includes Johnny On The Run, a 68 minute Children’s Film Foundation production that Gilbert directed in the same year as Cosh Boy. In this charming effort, orphaned Polish refugee Janek (Eugeniusz Chylek) gets up to all sorts of adventures in the Scottish Highlands after finding himself not welcome in Edinburgh. Speaking of which, I wonder if – in the absence of those ludicrous Brexit bongs – the Tories will dig up Gilbert’s Harmony Lane (also on this set) for their sad assed Festival Of Brexit. Originally filmed in 3D and screened at the Festival Of Britain in 1951, this 24 minutes (it seems longer) collision of variety acts includes the Beverley Sisters, assorted hoofers, trick skaters, fire-eaters and a performing dog, alongside the comedy stylings of Max Bygraves (don’t worry, Deck Of Cards is conspicuous by its absence). Anybody mourning the death of Variety should be forced to sit down and actually watch this thing. Gilbert’s illustrious career kicked off even earlier and more obscurely than this, with the likes of The Ten Year Plan (1945), a Public Information Film announcing postwar plans to end homelessness, which are even less convincing than ace reporter Charles Hawtrey’s asides about trying to get some lovin’ out of his girlfriend. Sure thing, Charlie! Stranger in the City (1961) is Robert Hartford-Davis’s 22 minute guided tour through the tawdry glamour of 1960s Soho… could that be a young Paul Gadd (= “Gary Glitter”) caught loitering at one point? Looks horribly like him… Teddy Boys is a short excerpt from a 1956 episode of ITV’s current affairs strand This Week (from a time when ITV involved itself with more elevated material than glorified talent shows and relentless ropey “reality” programming) that actually manages to elicits a little pathos from its gormless subject. Speaking of gormless, There’s a brief 2019 interview with Ian “Alfie” Whittaker, reflecting on his participation in the film (no mention of his subsequent success as a set-dresser on films as varied Alien and Under A Cherry Moon… four times Oscar-nominated, he actually won one for Howard’s End in 1992). You also get the US opening sequence (as “The Slasher”), with a more explicit rendering of the baboochka’s coshing and, in the first pressing only, a fully illustrated glossy booklet stuffed with new writing about the film, its troubled time at the BBFC, Teddy Boy fashion, the contemporary Soho jazz scene and full film credits.

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Dunno about you, but I’m bricking it…

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A Warning To The Pure Of Heart… AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON On Arrow BD.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Just a couple of weeks or so into 2020 and I’m happy as a pig in shit (Mrs F just suggested that I also look and smell rather like one… thanks, I love you too Darling!) Following hot on the heels of the beautiful new Shameless edition of Fulci’s The Beyond, Arrow’s 4K restoration of An American Werewolf In London (1981) revives further vivid memories of a time, something like 40 years ago, when life wasn’t running too smoothly for Yours Truly but, guided by Starburst magazine (the fantasy film fanatic’s bible in those days) I was able to take regular solace down at our local fleapit, catching the original theatrical runs of such classics as The Evil Dead, The Thing, Tenebrae, Phantasm, Blade Runner and Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake, not to mention any amount of seminal slasher flicks, an unstoppable flood of ferocious Fulci fare and… last but by no means least… the item under consideration here.

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John Landis was on a proper roll at this point (for a while there, my interest in his work rivalled my obsession with Dario Argento’s), AAWIL coming after Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). Having attained pre-eminence as a director of Comedies, Landis now leavened the mix by indulging his fondness for the Horror genre, with such impressive results that countless subsequent British films (American Werewolf is sort of a British film… the final beneficiary of the Eady Levy, no less) have mixed the two genres… to generally woeful effect (though every so often there’s a welcome exception to the rule). Despite Horror and Comedy being proverbially two sides of the same coin, spinning them into a coherent movie is no mean feat. Landis not only managed the right blend of scary and funny, he also balanced elements of eroticism and yep, romance plus high octane action set pieces to supremely satisfying effect. Brilliant stuff…

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… and yet, in the absence of a review copy, I’ve been studiously avoiding Arrow’s recent Blu-ray edition, following my adverse reactions to previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases of this film. For all the past promotional puff of Universal’s contemporary featurettes (included among the plentiful extras here), how could they possibly think they were doing justice to one of my cherished movie memories with those grainy travesties? And was there any realistic hope of the Arrow job looking any better? Doesn’t 4K just automatically exacerbate any such pixillated imperfections? (City Of The Living Dead, I’m looking at you!) Well, Santa having slipped a copy into my stocking while I wasn’t looking (what, you think I’ve got nothing better to do all day than sit around looking at stockings? Depends who’s wearing them…) its gratifying to be able to report that this new restoration from the original camera negative, supervised by Landis himself, finally looks and sounds (in blood-curdling 5.1) every bit as splendid as it always should have. To think I hesitated… (what a schmuck!)

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Here’s why Griffin Dunne didn’t get the red puffa jacket…

2fed2fa912e1355ab1ccf4b7be5802cc.jpgMuch of the cocky genius of Rick Baker’s masterful FX work (so good they invented an Oscar for him to win and never bettered… many have tried, but only Baker’s protege Rob Bottin came remotely close) was that it stood up to brightly lit scrutiny and now you can watch it unfold under optimal conditions in the comfort of your own lair… ditto the sublime spectacle of Jenny Agutter, at her career loveliest, as the nurse (Alex Price) for whom doomed protagonist David Kessler (David Naughton) takes an understandable turn.

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From a sexy nurse in American Werewolf to a nun in Call The Midwife… pah!

… and of course there’s a woodshedload of extras for you to wallow in, some of them familiar from previous editions. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne’s audio commentary is a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes and reminiscences while Paul Davis, who authored the comprehensive guide Beware The Moon takes an appropriately “soup to nuts” approach. Davis beats Naughton and Dunne hands down for Landis impersonations and also contributes the feature length doc version of his book. Further documentaries, cast and crew interviews and featurettes (several of them dating back to the film’s release) reinforce each other in a compelling narrative of AAWIL’s Universal antecedents, its genesis in Landis’s encounter of supernatural beliefs while working as a runner on Kelly’s Heroes (1970) in Yugoslavia, his struggle to get it green lit, the simultaneous, synergetic emergence of The Howling by Joe Dante (one of the many luminaries interviewed here), its brilliant realisation, cult kudos / critical mauling and subsequent rehabilitation.

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It would have been nice to see wider acknowledgment of cinematic lycanthropy outside of the mainstream tradition (e.g. the Iberian exploits of Mr Naschy, above) though of course the werewolf is the only member of  the classic Monster pantheon whose rulebook is copped neither from some literary source (like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy et al) nor, contrary to popular belief, from ethnic folklore, rather from an earlier (Universal) film, George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941), whose Jewish writer Curt Siodmak fled Nazi Germany and had harrowing personal experience of reasonable looking people transforming into wild beasts overnight.

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In the video essay I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, Jon Spira labours a point that even the dimmest viewer must surely have got after the “nightmare within a nightmare” home invasion sequence, if not long before, i.e. that this film is an allegory of precarious Jewish consciousness in the second half of the 20th Century. Indeed it is, but Spira lays it on a bit too thick when he interprets Anne-Marie Davies’s line “I think he’s a Jew” as signifying her character’s barely concealed anti-semitism. By Spiro’s contention, Agutter’s Alex should have responded: “Why does it matter?”, but in the context of the nurses’ attempts to establish the origins of the mysterious patient, it’s by no means an inadmissible observation. And if Nurse Gallagher does have an ulterior motivation, is it really beyond the realms of possibility, in a film directed by the man previously responsible for Animal House, that it was the lascivious one to sneak a peek at a fit young guy’s dick? I would also suggest that if somebody as obviously smart as Landis wanted to personify privileged WASP bigotry, he’d have chosen a more appropriate avatar for it than a red haired nurse named Gallagher! Familiar with the expression “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”, Jon?

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There’s  much discussion of the pre-CGI miracles wrought by Baker, of course (with fascinating “making of” and unused footage, plus SFX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store drooling over precious props and costumes from the film. Out takes include the amusing (unfortunately soundless) encounter between Landis and the See You Next Wednesday cast (Linzi Drew and co). You get the original (and now somewhat cack handed looking) theatrical trailer plus teaser and TV spots, also a gallery of over 200 images and the option to display this one on your shelf sporting either original or new Graham Humphreys art work.

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It was great to see our old mucker Pete Atkins waxing eloquent about werewolf lore in one of the docs (I quoted one of his best lines earlier, for those of you paying attention), whereas David Naughton seems to have undergone an even scarier transformation that the one suffered by his character in the film, now bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to David Cameron! In a sadly ironic sidebar, during one of the contemporary promotional featurettes, while talking about running the three ring Piccadilly Circus climax to the film, Landis comments that “no movie is worth hurting somebody for”. Now there’s a line that came back to haunt him.

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Into The Spiderverse…… lucio fulci’s THE BEYOND In A Spanking New Shameless Edition.

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BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

It’s highly likely that if you’re reading a Blog entitled “House Of Freudstein”, you won’t need me to regale you with the plot of lucio fulci‘s The Beyond (1981). Just in case, though… a woman inherits a New Orleans hotel that’s apparently been built over one of The Seven Gates of Hell (d’oh, what were the odds on that?) and everyone around her starts dying. Very messily indeed. Lots of other mysterious shit happens and eventually she and her potential love interest find themselves in Hell. Literally. That’s all, folks…

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Not much of a plot, is it? The enduring appeal of Fulci’s Horror masterpiece resides elsewhere than its highly disjointed narrative… in its regular, relentless outbreaks of mortifying violence and the sheer eldritch atmosphere with which it drips, thanks largely to the spellbinding score of Fabio Frizzi and exquisite, delicate / doomy photography of Sergio Salvati. Salvati buffs will have much to ponder in this handsome new 2k scan from Shameless, during the preparation of which the original colour elements of the film’s unforgettable prologue (in which an occult-inspired artist is chain-whipped, burned with quicklime and crucified by a posse of outraged rednecks) were discovered and for the first time ever, remastered.

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Usually screened in a sepia-tinted variation (that must have cost them a few squid… see what I did there?), this sequence has also been released in various territories in full colour and black and white variations. In this edition you’ve got  the choice of kicking the film off in any of those, plus the wholly new option of a golden “sepia on colour” (or the digital equivalent thereof) rendering. You can even, should you wish to, view all four versions simultaneously though I wouldn’t advise imbibing psychotropic drugs before doing so, unless you’re planning on spending the next few months in a rubber room.

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These new perspectives on the prologue are at the forefront of Shameless’s attempt to convince you to cough up for yet another edition of The Beyond, but as an added inducement there’s a supporting compliment of tasty bonus materials, some of which you might or might not have already encountered in earlier releases. The audio commentary from stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck is a bittersweet affair in which a desperately feeble-sounding Warbeck maintains his customary wit and charm in the face of his own impending death. In an alternative commentary track, DP Salvati discusses many aspects of the film, over and above his lighting of it in collaboration with a trusty crew of fellow Fulci regulars (particularly interesting to hear from him that Al Cliver’s role was originally intended for Ivan Rassimov). Interviewees Giorgio Mariuzzo (who co-wrote the film with Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti), Fulci’s close personal friend Michele Mirabella (“He fed me to the tarantulas but it helped to pay the mortgage”) and beautiful Cinzia Monreale are not, of course, short on stories of Fulci’s legendary eccentricities and contrariness, indeed a clip of him taking time out from the shooting of Demonia (1990), which has been floating around since bootleg VHS days, captures the great man in particularly florid form.

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Apparently Mariuzzo’s wife, the widow of Elio Petri, told him how highly Petri regarded lucio fulci as a technician. Taste makers, particularly in his own country, never afforded Fulci the same level of acclaim as Petri and co, but fuck ’em… nearly 40 years after the event, The Beyond (and many of his other films) are still being avidly consumed, analysed and cherished.

The soul that pines for eternity shall, indeed, outspan death.

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Directing By Numbers… QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT, Reviewed.

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BD. Signature Entertainment. Region B. Certificate TBC.

“Why are boys so obsessed with numbers?”, Clare Grogan asks the smitten John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl (1980). “Why all this overkill about Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood being Quentin Tarantino’s Ninth Film?” I found myself wondering while watching it (and enjoying it rather more than I thought I would). Well, Quentin Tarantino is (kind of) a boy, isn’t he? “Boys” might, one imagines, feature prominently among his marketing people… then again, Tara Wood, the writer / producer / director of QT8: The First Eight is clearly a girl (or she’ll “be a woman… soon”) and numbers have already featured prominently in her C.V. In 2015 she executive produced Julian Beltran’s 3 Days and the year before that, she shared the writing, production and direction of the documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater.

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So why the big deal about 8 Tarantino pictures? I mean, Fellini made 8 1/2 (above)… and then some. It was only by watching this documentary, which collates the enthusiastic reminiscences and observations of some of QT’s key collaborators, plus selected sympathetic pundits, that I learned about Tarantino’s declaration that he will only make 10 feature films. Tim Roth seems particularly devastated by this pronouncement but I think you’d be wiser to take it with a sackful of salt, Tim. Why would he stop at 10? Maybe because that’s the amount of toes with which women are generally equipped, though the whole foot thing is, er, soft-pedalled, during this romp through many of Tarantino’s other signature obsessions. Another theme that doesn’t get much of a look in is his ongoing love affair with Eurotrash Cinema, though I’ve always wondered why he never uses any actors from that milieu, especially in view of Robert Foster’s comment herein that Tarantino boasts of being able to cast whoever he wants.

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While we’re crunching numbers, there’s always been something about Tarantino’s international status that hasn’t quite added up for me. Why, in 1991 (when QT had directed precisely one feature) was it seen as some kind of career boost for the likes of John Woo (who’d already made over 20 films, including A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Bullet In The Head in Hong Kong) to be endorsed by him? Ditto Ringo Lam, whose City On Fire (1987, above) was relentlessly pillaged for Reservoir Dogs. Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx absolve the director from the charges of racism that are sometimes levelled at him but cultural imperialism remains a worry… there’s a point in Wood’s doc, during its discussion of Kill Bill, where Hong Kong and Japan are casually conflated. Not a good look.

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Speaking of which, throughout this film there’s a lumbering, grumbling presence trying to make itself heard on the sidelines, finally making its unpalatable entrance with all the subtlety of Eli Roth’s character in Inglorious Basterds… Tarantino is credited with making a clean break with Harvey Weinstein after all the #metoo stuff broke (is that another reason for drawing a line under “the first eight”?) but Wood also reminds us of his admission that he always knew but never said anything. Viewers will have to make their own minds up but the intercutting of Weinstein reportage with Kurt Russell’s cartoony murderous exploits in Death Proof (2007) is heavy handed stuff and I don’t know what to make of the apparent attempt to shift responsibility for Uma Thurman’s car crash injuries to Weinstein.

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Such are the grouches of a QT sceptic. Devotees will enjoy and possibly (depending on how buffed up on Tarantino’s self-referential universe they already are) learn something from Wood’s hyperactive treatment of her subject, leaning heavily on hip animated recreations of many of the anecdotes delivered herein and charting Tarantino’s meteoric rise from hopeful fan boy sleeping on Scott Spiegel’s sofa and picking up a few dollars from Elvis impersonating on The Golden Girls to the toast of Cannes and (in the words of one contributor) “our Nouvelle Vague”.

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We await #10 … and whatever follows… with bated breath.

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A Squirt Of Grease From The Nether Regions… Paul Verhoeven’s Scandalous SPETTERS Reviewed.

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BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 18. 

Like many of our antisocial media pals, I imagine, we at The House Of Freudstein held the obligatory November 2019 rewatch of Blade Runner and played the definitive game of “spotting all the onscreen stuff that didn’t actually make it to November 2019″… a list which now includes Rutger Hauer. That was a sad one… I well remember (how could I possibly forget?) the current Mrs Freudstein and I enjoying our very first snog to distract ourselves from a particularly rancid Rutger vehicle, David Peoples’ Salute Of The Jugger (1989). A much better film (albeit one in which Hauer plays a secondary, if not exactly minor, role) is Spetters, directed in 1980  by Paul Verhoeven.

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Verhoeven is a director whose career has paralleled that of Brian De Palma, both in the way that it has oscillated between auteurhood and the budgetary luxury / artistic compromises of big studio properties and the controversy it has often generated on account of its unabashedly sexual, violent and generally non-PC content (though, as with De Palma, history has tended to vindicate Verhoeven). PV’s previous hit, the Dutch resistance epic Soldier Of Orange (1977) had premiered in the presence of Holland’s Royal family but God only knows what Queen Juliana and co made of Spetters, a film which seemed to unite gays, women, the disabled, the religiously inclined and just about everybody else in a chorus of condemnation on its domestic release (one contemporary review even suggested that you could contract an eye disease from watching it), making the subsequent hoohah over Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) look like a comparative storm in a D cup. Maybe Her Majesty was sufficiently steeped in Dutch culture to recognise the parallels between Spetters’ vulgar vitality and the  more picaresque canvases of Pieter Bruegel the elder. Did this cautionary tale of ambition (never mind hubris) punished by nemesis remind her of Breugel’s masterpiece The Fall Of Icarus (below)? Perhaps she reacted favourably to the film’s update of the “three questing princes” theme? Perhaps not…

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… especially as the behaviour of Rien (Hans van Tongeren), Eef (Toon Agterberg) and (Hans (Maarten Spanjer) is anything but princely in the traditionally accepted meaning of that term (though I gather the concept has been subject to a major recent recalibration). “There are also heroes in blue collars” insists Verhoeven and the (anti)heroic attempts of these guys to escape grinding routine (and in one case, stifling religious fundamentalism) centre on motocross and the desire to emulate their dirt bike hero Gerrit Witkamp (Hauer), with plenty of partying thrown in. It would be fair to say that their sexual antics in this Satyricon by the Zuidersee are, er, frankly presented.

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They literally measure their dicks to establish who gets first crack at greasy spoon Aphrodite / Venus on the taco shell Fientje (Renée Soutendijk) but she has her own ideas. Like it says on the American poster, “Three men with dreams… one woman with a plan”. In other words, behind every great man there’s a great woman (because that’s the best poisition from which to stab him in the back, right?) Fientje works her way through Rien (until his dreams of sports stardom are shattered, along with his spine in a traffic accident) then Eef (until he discovers – under rather extreme circumstances – his true sexual orientation) and finally settles for the plodding but devoted Hans, with whom she calculates she can build a life a few degrees more comfortable than the one to which she has been accustomed. Perhaps her expectations have undergone adjustment (albeit along significantly less drastic lines than those of the male principals)… perhaps, like the true Sadean woman she is, she’ll abandon Hans as soon as somebody more promising comes along.

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Director Verhoeven ends his commentary track reflecting on the final shots of Fientje’s brother Jaap (Peter Tuinman), “the only character who has not changed in any way and disappears in the anonymity of the freeway… and the cars… and the landscape… and nature… life goes on”. Is that the sound of Icarus hitting the water… or somebody discarding a glob of deep fried dog food?

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In terms of Life imitating Art, Renée Soutendijk made a big impression in Spetters (and was also great in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man, 1983) but never fulfilled her international potential in quite the same way as Hauer, co-star Jeroen Krabbé (who plays unscrupulous sporting mister fixit Franz Henkhof) or indeed Verhoeven himself. Soutendijk was most recently seen in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, which says it all, really. Hans van Tongeren was similarly tipped for great things but soon after finishing Spetters emulated his character Rien by taking his own life.

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The main feature has been scanned in 4k for this handsome Hi-def UK debut, on which it’s accompanied by a string of supplementary materials spanning Blu-ray and bonus DVD discs. In his interview Verhoeven talks about his own brief period of religiosity and how it influenced some of the imagery in Robocop (1987). Writer Gerard Soeteman discusses the “slice of life” philosophy under which Spetters was conceived, wondering why people need to fabricate stories when everyday existence is so compelling. He recounts as an example the exploits of his family members in the Dutch resistance (“That’s not a small cup of tea!”) A Dutch TV documentary from 2002 includes interviews with many of the principals and also those who originally opposed the film (one guy still detests it but the lady who fronted up one of the “anti-Spetters” action committees now finds the film “touching”) before concluding with the observation that its mercenary, self interested characters were a timely anticipation of the marketised society to come. There’s also a lengthy interview with DP Jost Vocano. Nederbeat fans already thrilled by Kayak’s main theme will be doubly delighted to glimpse former Focus bassist Bert Ruiter (then a member of Earth And Fire) turning up at Spetters’ Rotterdam premiere.

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Amy Simmons presents a sympathetic audio visual essay but perpetuates the notion that  Eef’s gang rape and his reaction to it are somehow “problematic”, seemingly unable to grasp that without these scenes, the film would degenerate from a critique of the gay-bashing mentality into an endorsement of it. She does point out that among the newer crop of directors, few can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s habitual use of sex and violence to make important social points rather than as an end in itself. Indeed, Gaspar Noé would probably give his right arm to be Verhoeven… not to attain the same level of regard (because in this fucked-up world he’s probably at least as well regarded as the Dutchman in trendier circles) but to have a fraction of his integrity, talent and brains.

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“What A Time To Be Alive!” ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE Reviewed…

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BD. Second Sight. Region Free. 15

We’re not renowned for our Christmas spirit here at The House Of Freudstein. As a matter of fact, we’re irredeemable hard core Grinches. It would take more than some soppy Xmas flick to put a smile on our faces since that messy business with the Petersons… and as for the Boyles? Don’t even go there (“No Bob… not inside!”) Rom-coms? Musicals? All things uplifting? Fuck ’em… and we reserve a special place in our bloody basement for Johnny come lately zombie movies! Yeah, you can make money out of any old tat now by bunging a few living deadsters into it… but where were you people in 1981?

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The auspices were not remotely favourable, then, but bugger me backwards with a candy cane if John McPhail’s gory zombie rom-com musical Anna And The Apocalypse (2017) didn’t win our hearts when opening Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival in October 2018. Mr McPhail even attended to introduce it, slag off Netflix and tell us what stand up people we were for still turning out to watch films on the big screen. Flattery will get you everywhere, mate…

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Plot is pretty much wot it says on the tin: schoolgirl Anna (the incandescent Ella Hunt, above) and her school friends / adversaries / would be lovers make a song and dance about their relationship issues and express their commonplace hopes, dreams and fears against the back drop of an unfolding zombie virus meltdown. It’s a saga of human persistence against the odds or a statement of futility, depending on whether you’re the kind of person who considers your glass of egg nog half empty or half full. In fact, while you weren’t looking, somebody slipped something bitter sweet into your  Advocaat… consider that a public health Warnink.

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McPhail does a stand up job taking on a project that was intended for its wrtier, the late Ryan McHenry (to whom AATA is lovingly dedicated), being as it is an expansion of his original 2011 short Zombie Musical. It helped that McPhail got (no disrespect intended to the original participants) a much better OST (some real ear worms here from Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly) and cast. Special mention for Sarah Swire who plays Steph (the mislocated nerd who ultimately saves the day… or part of it, anyhows) and also choreographed the whole shebang. Paul Kaye essays one of those teachers most of us have suffered (if you never did, lucky you), the kind of guy who takes out the sour frustrations of his own miserable life on the kids he’s supposed to be nurturing and here finds an appropriate canvas on which to fully reveal his true hateful colours.

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The axing of Kaye’s duet with Mark Benton, plus the transformation of an an animated title sequence into an animated credits sequence largely account for the two different cuts of AATA, both of which are present and correct on this double disc set. You also get that original short. McPhail, co-writer Alan McDonald and composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly chip in with an audio commentary and there’s assorted “making of” / “behind the scenes” / “at the Edinburgh festival” (lummy, was Ms Hunt aware of just how wispy her outfit was before stepping out in this bit?) which is so “feel good” that it nearly tips over into the sort of wholesome tweeness that the film itself lampoons. Nearly, but not quite.

What a time, indeed, to be alive. Or what passes for it…

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Un-American Activities… Joe Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY And SECRET CEREMONY Reviewed

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Secret Ceremony. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Indicator have been fair rattling out Joseph Losey titles recently, including The Damned aka These Are The Damned (1962) as part of their fourth Hammer BD box. Losey’s filmography is a notoriously uneven one, inevitably compromised by his Hollywood exile (for standing up to McCarthyite witch hunters) and subsequent search for a more convivial environment in which to make movies, scarcely less by his continuing adherence to Brechtian notions of alienation after he did settle in the UK.

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Like any Lefty worth his salt, Losey was fascinated by the power relations within social groups. In These Are / The Damned his scrutiny ranged from Clockwork Orange before their time biker gangs to deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. Time Without Pity (1957) concerns itself with the plight of the individual in conflict with The State / Society (a pretty extreme / capital case thereof), which is inextricably connected to the state of that individual’s relationship with his father. Secret Ceremony (1968) zones straight in on the treacherous terrain of power and corruption within one family.

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In TWP David Graham (Michael Redgrave) is a failed writer and an even worse excuse for a father. The only field in which he excels is alcoholism. He ends up attempting to dry out in Canada, in a joint so strict that he’s not allowed any mail whatsoever, even mail informing him that his son Alec (Alec McCowen) has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend Jennie (Christina Lubicz) and condemned to hang. Discharged from Rehab (but still drinking like a fish), Graham arrives back in Blighty on the eve of the execution and embarks on a frantic mission to stay the hangman’s hand, with the aid of his solicitor Jeremy Clayton (Peter Cushing). Alec seems resigned to his fate and is contemptuous of his deadbeat Dad’s sudden concern for his welfare but convinced of junior’s innocence, Graham begins to focus his suspicions on brash industrialist Robert Stanford (Leo McKern), at whose property the murder took place

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Watching TWP, I was reminded of Jorge Grau’s lesser known 1974 effort Pena De Muerte (= “The Death Penalty” but ludicrously retitled “Violent Bloodbath” in Anglo territories), a film which debates the rationale of capital punishment in any country whose judicial system is seriously skewed along class lines. In Losey’s picture Leo McKern gives a driving (in every sense of the term) portrayal of precisely the kind of swashbuckling, feckless entrepreneurial psychopath we are encouraged to worship these days, yay, even unto bailing them out for their fuck ups and financial car crashes.

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I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog that some of the awkward characterisations and conspicuous miscasting in other Losey films might be intentionally connected with his fixation on Brechtian alienation but there’s no need for any such get out clauses here, with a great cast doing their stuff impeccably. Jeremy Clayton was Cushing’s last role before Trence Fisher’s The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) transformed his career and the face of cinematic Horror forever. Redgrave’s Graham finally redeems himself in a barnstorming final twist which has a touch of the Sydney Cartons about it. Tis a far, far better thing he does…

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This cracking British noir was the first film that Losey made in exile which was released back in The States with his real name on it. From one Joe to another… up yours!

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Secret Ceremony, on the other hand, does have more than a smidgeon of Bertolt B. polemics about it. Mia Farrow (fresh off of Rosemary’s Baby) is Cenci, a childlike and plainly disturbed young woman who lives alone in an improbably opulent mansion in Holland Park. She encounters Leonora (Liz Taylor) on the top deck of a bus and becomes fixated on her on account of her resemblance to her late mother. As chance (and screenwriter George Tabori, adapting Marco Denevi’s short story) would have it, Taylor is also mourning a dead daughter whom Cenci resembles. Accepting her offer to move in (which sure beats living as a homeless prostitute), Leonora finds herself in a scathing battle of wits with the deranged girl.

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Suggesting that Losey had been boning up on his R.D. Laing (both men were former philosophy students), Secret Ceremony locates the source of Cenci’s malaise squarely in the family matrix. Leonora soon encounters and has to contend with her covetous Aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown) then along rolls Albert (Robert Mitchum), the sleazy step father who’s been molesting Cenci since childhood (not too difficult a bombshell to have anticipated, given the naming of Farrow’s character). Rough justice, of a sort, is finally served, though the final scene is open to a variety of interpretations.

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Taylor takes a lot of stick for many of her performances and this one is often singled out for particular derision, unjustly so in my opinion. Mitchum slides into the role of the cynical nonce with his accustomed louche alacrity and Farrow could have been born to play Cenci (though in fact she only got the part when Julie Christie turned it down). It says a lot for the quality of the cast that actresses of Ashcroft and Brown’s calibre are restricted to such minor roles. Much more fuss is made of Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) but this neglected oddity is every bit as compelling.

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If only all films of this vintage looked this good on Blu-ray. Indicator have managed a beautiful rendering of Gerry Fisher’s cinematography. Thankfully this is the unadulterated Secret Ceremony, minus the extra (non-Losey) scenes that Universal tacked on in an act of vandalism that they hoped would make the film more agreeable to American TV networks. You want to know about the special features on these discs? Of course you do and here, by the miracle of cut and paste, they are…

Time Without Pity, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • The John Player Lecture with Joseph Losey (1973, 80 mins): the celebrated filmmaker in conversation with film critic Dilys Powell at London’s National Film Theatre
  • New and exclusive audio commentary with Neil Sinyard, co-author of British Cinema in the 1950s: A Celebration
  • The Sins of the Father (2019, 16 mins): filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey, discusses Time Without Pity
  • Horlicks: Steven Turner (1960, 1 min): vintage commercial for the malted milk drink, directed by Joseph Losey
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, Joseph Losey on Time Without Pity, Jeff Billington on the MacMahonists and Time Without Pity, an overview of critical responses, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Secret Ceremony, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
  • Archival Interview with Joseph Losey(1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique, featuring the celebrated director promoting the release of Secret Ceremony and an appreciation by critic Michel Mourlet
  • The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey
  • TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): unique epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings, with Robert Douglas and Michael Strong
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey onSecret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies
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It’s Hammer (Horror) Time! Indicator’s HAMMER VOLUME FOUR: FACES OF FEAR Box Reviewed

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BD. Indicator. Region Free. 15.

Indicators limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition Hammer Volume Four: Faces Of Fear box set trawls through that legendary studio’s repertoire in similarly promiscuous style to its three predecessors, yielding four UK Blu-ray premieres. First up is possibly the most undervalued jewel in Hammer’s Gothic crown, Terence Fisher’s The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958). Although it’s generally acknowledged that, in the previous Universal cycle, James Whale outdid even the splendours of his Frankenstein (1931) when he made The Bride Of Frankenstein in 1935, Fisher’s second Frankenstein flick tends to get undeservedly short shrift relative to the big break through picture he helmed for Hammer, The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

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TROF takes up exactly where the original left off in 1860, as the Baron (Peter Cushing) is led out to his assignation with the guillotine. His deformed assistant Carl having greased the executioner’s palm, the attending priest affords the Baron more solace than he could possibly have imagined by going under the blade in his place. Three years later, Dr Stein has relocated to Carlsbrück, where he’s maintaining a very successful medical practice. His lucrative work on the town’s neurotic young ladies and their matchmaking mothers underwrites his free clinic for this burg’s unwashed social marginals who in, their turn keep the Baron in body parts for his sophomore crack at creating a new creature. Carl will be repaid by having his superfine mind relocated to a more salubrious body (that of Michael Gwynne) and everybody will be happy ever after. That’s the idea, anyway…

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Ambitious young doctor Hans Kleve (Francis “future voice of Captain Scarlet” Mathews) is Klever enough to figure out the doc’s true identity and volunteers to assist him. As the alternative is to be turned in to the police, “Doctor Stein” graciously accepts this kind offer. The big operation turns out successfully but the intervention of well-off do gooder Margaret (Eunice Gayson) sparks off an unfortunate sequence of events resulting in the handsome young creature degenerating physically and turning cannibal (!) The hoity-toity local medical board aren’t best pleased with these developments, but their response pales into insignificance compared to the reaction of the unwashed paupers / unwitting organ donors, leading to a twist ending which sets up the Baron nicely for the rest of the series as a proper self made man.

 

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Did I mention the fab cameos from Michael Ripper and Lionel Jeffries?

Among the expected plethora of extras attending this 4K restoration there’s that cracking trailer with Cushing’s baron ‘fessing up to his escape from Madame Guillotine and his plans for new outrages. In the featurette Back from the Dead Jonathan Rigby, Alan Barnes and Kevin Lyons devote their collective attention to the film. The consensus emerges that Eunice Gayson’s character was a bit of a waste of screen space. Pamela Hutchinson makes the pro-Eunice case in her featurette then Kat Ellinger gets the casting vote in a visual essay directed by Dima Ballin. I don’t know if Kat’s the first critic to discern a connection between Cushing’s Frankenstein and Dennis Price’s character in Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), but the comparison is very well drawn.

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There are two audio commentaries from duos of genre pundits, Marcus Hearn / Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman / Stephen Jones. David Huckvale (author of Hammer Film Scores And The Musical Avant Garde) dissects Salzedo’s score and you get 12 soundless minutes of on-set outtakes plus the 8 minute long Super 8 presentation and image gallery. As with all the other films on this set, there’s a trailer with optional audio commentary (in this case by Joe Dante). There’ll also be a limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet including a new Marcus Hearn essay and Kieran Foster on Hammer’s unrealised Tales of Frankenstein TV series, Jimmy Sangster on The Revenge of Frankenstein, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and comprehensive film credits.

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At the point in my life where it was beginning to dawn on me that Horror Films might actually be worth writing about rather than just casually consuming, Mario Bava, Roger Corman and Terence Fisher were generally regarded as the holy trinity of auteurs among Horror directors in the critical texts I started reading. Producer Val Lewton was afforded similar status. Subsequent waves of pro and fanzine publications have only boosted Bava’s credentials but these days Corman is more highly regarded for the talent he brought along rather than his own directorial efforts and Lewton has just about disappeared off the radar which Fisher vacated long ago.

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Wolf Mankowitz seemed to have precious little respect for Fisher even in 1960, when he was called upon to impart an air of “respectability” to the director’s The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll. His screenplay, freighted with throwaway Freud and Nietzsche, displays similarly scant regard for Robert Louis Stevenson (and to make it unanimous, Hammer deny Stevenson a writing credit for a classic  story that had slipped into the public domain), introducing a new character, Paul Allen (Christoper Lee) who turns an infernal triangle (also involving Dawn Addams as the doc’s flighty wife) into a right raunchy rectangle.

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Paul Massie takes on the title role(s), tweedy and dull in a joke shop beard (Hammer make up maestro Roy Ashton sparing every expense) as Dr J, clean shaven, wild eyed and overacting furiously as Paul Allen gives Mr H. a guided tour of the most vanilla debauchery London has to offer. Composer Monty Norman (yes, the Bond guy) and DP Jack Asher impart the requisitely lush sound and visuals (beautifully rendered in this HD remaster) to keep a golden era Hammer romp rattling along. By the close of proceedings Dr J is confronted with the real life fall out from his abstract philosophical theories about “authentic” manhood. This one would make an interesting double bill with Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne (1981), which wrestles with similar ethical concerns and takes similar liberties with the narrative of RLS’s venerable yarn.

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Bonus wise you get an audio commentary with film historians Josephine Botting and Jonathan Rigby, the latter also popping up alongside his usual cohorts in the overview featurette Identity Crisis. Academic Laura Mayne profiles Dawn Addams and we get the additional benefit of a fan’s audio interview with Paul Massie (who reassures his interlocutor that the sex films in his films were actually staged) and an archive interview with Wolf Mankowitz. In Mauve Decadence, David Huckvale supplements his discussion of Monty Norman’s score with observations on the film’s colour schemes. Plus all the expected stuff and the booklet will feature a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and full film credits.

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Not wanting to be typecast as… well, tall, dark and gruesome, Christopher Lee declined the lead role(s) in TTFODJ in favour of one that prefigures several he subsequently took in certain of Jess Franco’s better budgeted De Sade adaptations a decade or so later… and of course in 1971 he took the “Jekyll / Hyde” (actually Marlowe / Blake) roles in Stephen Weeks’ even looser Amicus adaptation I, Monster. So go figure.

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Lee wasn’t the only one worried about flogging the goose that laid the golden egg to death, either. Michael Carreras and the other Hammer bigwigs were more worried about that than I clearly am about mixing metaphors and for Taste Of Fear (1961), Jimmy Sangster was tasked with writing an hommage to a French film that was released in 1955 and whose influence, though apparently rapidly eclipsed by Hammer’s more overtly explosive efforts, subsequently pervaded some of Hitchcock’s finest screen achievements (notably Vertigo and Psycho) and later the gialli with which it has, on numerous occasions, been associated in this blog. I’m talking, of course, about Henri George Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (below). Underlining this attempted shift in style Taste Of Fear, directed in 1961 by Seth Holt (heading up only his second feature film) was shot in moody monochrome (rather than Fisher’s favoured gaudy colour schemes) by Douglas Slocombe.

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Wheelchair bound Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) visits her estranged father’s cliff top mansion in the South of France, only to be told that he’s away. So why does what appears to be his corpse (below) keep turning up in the conservatory, swimming pool and elsewhere? Looks like her step mother Jane (Ann Todd) and the family doctor Pierre Gerrard Lee again) are attempting to gaslight Penny out of her inheritance. Luckily Ann’s hunky chauffeur Robert (Ronald Lewis) seems to be rooting for our girl… but there are plenty of twists to come.

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Nearly 60 years after its initial release, Taste Of Fear remains an effective shocker, from its gloomy opening to the satisfying poetic irony of its conclusion, with twists piling upon twists along the way. You’ve got to give Holt, Sangster and co credit for something fresh because the template of Les Diaboliques had not, at this point, been thrashed into the ground by so many late ’60s and subsequent gialli (most of them written by Ernesto Gastaldi). Don’t get me wrong, I love those pictures but Clouzot’s original remains superior to them and indeed Taste Of Fear, because… well, I think it’s something to do with the fact that its protagonists are struggling to survive in a drab, unforgiving environment, as opposed to the louche playboys and girls who came later. Does that make me sound “classist”? I’m not sure that’s even a real word…

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Together with two presentations of the main feature (including the US version Scream Of Fear) we’re treated to a particularly bumper slate of supplementary materials on this disc including a commentary track from Kevin Lyons, who joins Jonathan Rigby and Alan Barnes in the featurette Body Horror. Expect lots of anecdotes about director Holt having to contend with Strasberg’s formidable mother on set. Melanie Williams profiles Ann Todd and there are not one but two (one video, one audio) interviews with Jimmy Sangster. Joining Jimmy in the British Entertainment History Project archive, Douglas Slocombe talks about working for Hammer and Steven Spielberg and camera operator Desmond Davis and assistant sound editor John Crome chip in with their reminiscenses.  You get the Super 8 version of Scream of Fear and the booklet will contain an essay by Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster on the film, an archival on-set report, selection of promotional materials and an overview of contemporary reviews.

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The Damned (1962… “These Are The Damned” in the US) would fit just as comfortably (or uncomfortably) on any other Hammer box. This eclectic effort could have been (and at various points was) hyped as both juvenile delinquency and sci-fi saga, the latter slant enhanced no end by its more than passing resemblance to Wolf Rilla’s Village Of The Damned (1960 and pictured below, mainly because it’s such a groovy graphic!)

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Middle-aged yank Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) sails into Weymouth and begins his holiday by falling foul of a honey trap involving attractive young Joan (Shirley Anne Field) and run by her brother (Oliver Reed, who appears briefly in Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll and was last seen ripping off seaside tourists on this blog in Michael Winner’s The System). Beaten up by King’s “Teddy Boys” (clearly a gang of actual Rockers, drilled by King in a foreshadowing of Alex’s handling of his droogs in A Clockwork Orange), Wells continues his pursuit of Joan and by various clumsy script contrivances the dramatis personae find themselves in a secret base on an island where irradiated children are being prepared for a post-Apocalyptic future…

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A likely story, with awkward characterisations exacerbated by some conspicuous miscasting, The Damned is nevertheless well worth watching due to the profusion of challenging ideas throws out by Joseph Losey (several of whose films have been recently released by Indicator). On the lam from McCarythyite witch hunting (and originally pencilled in to direct Hammer’s X – The Unknown, 1956, until its Commie-phobic star Dean Jagger objected and Leslie Norman replaced him), Losey was always fascinated by the power dynamics between social groupings, be they biker gangs or deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. He’d studied with  Bertolt Brecht so maybe we can give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that if the characterisations and miscastings in this film have an alienating effect, they were supposed to. Maybe.

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This one will also be accompanied by an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Richard Combs, Losey’s reminiscences, the US pressbook, contemporary reviews and all the rest of it. The 2K restoration is presented in two 96-minute versions, as either The Damned or These Are the Damned. Rigby, Barnes, Lyons and in this case Nick Riddle present an overview of the film and there’s a commentary track courtesy of Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. You get alternative appraisals from Neil Sinyard and I Q HunterFilm plus an interview with filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of the director and always an acute analyst of his father’s work. Film historian Lindsay Hallam profiles Viveca Lindfors. There are interviews with first time screen writer Evan Jones, brought in by Losey to  improve the screenplay (so God knows what kind of shape it was originally in) and camera operator Anthony Heller. Possibly the most engaging interviews of all are with grown up radioactive munchkins David Palmer, Kit Williams and Christopher Witty, who all seem to have developed juvenile crushes on Shirley Anne Field (and why on Earth wouldn’t they?), who is also interviewed. Here at THOF we’ve never knowingly spurned an opportunity to run a picture of SAF looking lurvely and why should this posting be any different?

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Lift To The Scaffold… HITCH HIKE TO HELL Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Once again, Arrow take us on a thumb-tripping detour down the dangerous backroads of indie American scuzz Cinema with a cautionary tale torn from contemporary (*) headlines which moralises mealey-mouthedly while wasting no opportunity to cash in on the dishonourable ’70s tradition of serial killing.
(* Nobody seems too confident about pinning a date on this one).

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Howard (Robert Gribbin) is a total schmendrick who lives with his Mom and works as a dry cleaning delivery man. The edgiest thing he ever seems to do is drinking root beer (have any of our readers ever actually tried that stuff? Yeuch!) while working on his hobby, putting together model cars. Nobody knows about his other hobby, though… raping and strangling hitch hiking runaways. It’s strongly suggested in John Buckley’s screenplay that Howie himself is not too aware of this regrettable sideline, going into some kind of spazzed-out fugue state as soon as his victims start expressing dissatisfaction with their home life or dissing their own Moms (contented homebodies just get a free ride to wherever they’re going). Apparently Howie’s domineering mother was upset when his sister Judy hitch hiked out of their lives. “I’m going to do Mama a favour, you tramp” he rails as he rapes the hapless hikers and throttles them with wire coat hangers: “You ran away from Mama… I’m going to do something to you, Judy… punish you for all you did to Mama” he continues, over their limp protests that they’re not bloody Judy! One victim was even amenable (to the sex, if not the strangling) on the time honoured principle of “a ride for a ride” (despite observing, harshly but fairly, that Howie’s “no Burt Reynolds”). The little trollop had it coming, just like Mom says.

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Whaddya mean, I put too much starch in it?!?

Bit careless though, to use the coat hangers with which his delivery van is littered…. that’s the bright red “Baldwin Cleaners” van, which must be so inconspicuous when picking up the girls. Careless also of Howie to leave his milk bottle glasses at one of the crime scenes. Then again, he doesn’t even know he’s doing this, does he? And anyway, the investigating officer Captain Shaw (Russell Johnson… yes, “The Professor” from Gilligan’s Island) is completely clueless, so Howie’s reign of terror continues. He extends his murderous attentions to a young guy who’s left home due to his parents’ disapproval of his sexual preferences and a cute little girl (though it’s not made clear whether either of those are sexually assaulted) before finally winding up confined to a booby hatch (looks like the good folks of Crescent City will to find somebody else to clean their baldwins). “Spazzed-out fugue state”, my ass… somebody strap this guy into the nearest electric chair!

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The final shots of Howie wearing a strait jacket in a rubber room, babbling about his Mom, are obviously intended to underscore the purported Norman Bates parallels, as is so often the case in these things, though Robert Gribbin’s Howard reminded me of nobody so much as Dan Grimaldi’s disco-dancing pyromaniac  in Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go In The House (1979). While we’re admonishing people not to do stuff, Gribbin’s other notable credit (under the highly apposite nom de screen “Crackers Phinn”) was Gar aka Mark, the time travelling cannibal caveman in Lawrence D. Foldes’ truly jaw dropping “video nasty” Don’t Go Near The Park (1979). No doubt if HHTH had been released on VHS back in the day, it would have joined that one on the DPP’s proscribed list. Whatever, it was picked up for US distribution by Harry Novak, so you should know pretty much  what to expect…

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The main feature and its trailer are presented in two optional screen ratios (1.33 and 1.78). Extras wise, Stephen Thrower does a characteristically engaging job profiling the prolific, promiscuous career of director Irvin Berwick, whose stint with Sci-fi legend Jack Arnold inspired one of the most memorable Creature From The Black Lagoon knock-offs, his The Monster Of Piedras Blancas in 1959. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas narrates a new visual essay on the darker aspects of hitch-hiking culture on the screen and in real life.

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This never happened to Jack Kerouac…

Country singer Nancy Adams talks about recording the title song for a film which is clearly not her cup of tea (“I don’t want that sort of thing in our house”) and we are treated to an incongruous mash-up of the picture’s opening visuals and the original version of that number, then entitled “Lovin’ On My Mind”. Adams gives one of the name droppiest interviews ever but, to be fair, she has had a long and interesting career.

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If you’ve got a BD capable PC or Mac you’ll be able to access the original press book and the reversible sleeve will feature original and newly commissioned artwork by those Twins of Evil guys. The first pressing only will contain a collector’s booklet featuring Heather Drain’s appraisal of this torrid trash effort. Enjoy.

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When Italian FX Aces Turn Director… WAX MASK / KILLER CROCODILE 1 & 2 Reviewed.

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Wax Mask. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
Killer Crocodile / Killer Crocodile 2. BD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

By the early 1980s Italy ruled the ‘B’ movie waves, churning out over three hundred titles per year to fuel an insatiable international appetite for horror, action and exploitation all’Italiana… a Roman empire the extent of which Trajan himself could scarcely have dreamed. By the end of that decade, however, the Italian film landscape was as bleak as any depicted in the post-Apocalyptic epics that constituted its final filone

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It doesn’t take an Edward Gibbon to trace the causes of this spectacular fall from grace. Tightening censorship in key European markets meant that enevelope-pushing outrages like Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) were now out of the question. Along with the consequent blanding out of Italian genre efforts, there was increased leisure buck competition from the deregulation of domestic TV under Silvio Berlusconi and increasing incursions into exploitive subject matter by the US Majors whose budgets Spaghetti exploitation mavens could never hope to match.  Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote more films than anybody else during the industry’s most lucrative years, identifies the short-term thinking and profit-taking priorities of Italian producers as a crucially detrimental factor. If they’d invested instead of constantly cutting budgets, by this account, pasta paura could have become as big a deal as the spaghetti western… and Sacchetti didn’t shy away from identifying the poster boy for this myopic modus operandi as Fabrizio De Angelis, for whom he and Lucio Fulci collaborated on several low budget classics in the late ’70s, early ’80s. “De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks”, Sacchetti told me. “He’s a cheap-skate…” chipped in Fred Williamson, alluding to FDA’s later tactic of ditching seasoned pro directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari to direct his own pictures (as “Larry Ludman”):  “…. it has nothing to do with creativity. He doesn’t want to pay people to do something he thinks he can do, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well“. When I interviewed De Angelis, he defended himself from such charges as follows: “I’ve always given other directors bigger budgets than I give myself. I pay as much as anybody else and many of the people who complained came back to work for me again, so I can’t be that bad”.

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Sure enough, Sacchetti was back on board (as “David Parker Jr”) to co-write Killer Crocodile (1989)… not that it took much writing, emerging as a transposition of a certain Stephen Spielberg film (and ultimately Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, if you want to get pedantic about it) from Amity Island to the swamps of the Dominican Republic. Just in case anybody missed the Jaws allusions (or the fact that this whole film is one big Jaws allusion), Riz Ortolani’s score reverberates with all the obvious John Williams pinches.

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Environmentalist Kevin (Anthony… son of Richard… Crenna) and his crew discover that the Dominican waterways are clogged with something way worse than plastic bags and bottles. Irresponsible radioactive dumping, facilitated by a corrupt local Judge (Hollywood heavyweight Van Johnson in one of his final screen credits) has produced the eponymous super-sized saurian, impressively rendered (when you consider the likely budget) by Italy’s FX supremo Giannetto De Rossi, despite his words to the contrary (“It’s a laughing stock!”) in one of the bonus featurettes on this set. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi completes a quartet of holdovers from the gory, glory days of Lucio Fulci.

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With all that talent on hand and everything De Angelis had osmosed from his proximity to the likes of Fulci and Castellari (whose brother Enio Girolami steals the show as Captain Ahab-like crocodile hunter Joe), it’s no surprise that Killer Crocodile emerges as an efficient, satisfying piece of throwaway entertainment, smoothly shot by Federico Del Zoppo in the American TV movie style that was becoming increasingly prevalent at this time. If all that sounds a bit too blandly slick for your tastes, rest assured (and here comes the SPOILER ALERT!) that De Angelis winds things up (things notably including the title creature’s leathery ol’ head) with a revival of the classic “outboard motor” gag from Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), another picture he produced back in the golden age… but what kind of egg is that hatching on the banks of the bayou?

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Laser focussed on the bottom line, FDA arranged the simultaneous shooting of Killer Crocodile 2 (1990) and detailed its direction to Giannetto De Rossi. History doesn’t record whether he was instructed to “make it snappy” but presumably De Rossi got the job on the grounds that he could be paid even less than the producer would pay “Larry Ludman”! Otherwise the crew’s pretty much the same (Giovanni Bergamini replaces Del Zoppo as DP) and so is the story. Corrupt corporate types are still dumping radioactive waste in that river, still with the connivance of scumbag politicians, one of whom is planning to open a leisure complex on a particularly hideously polluted stretch. Investigative journalist Liza (“Debra Karr”, would you believe?) is on the case but it’s not a particularly compelling one. Looks like they didn’t shoot enough footage of the crocodile to fall back on before it was definitively destroyed at the end of Part 1. There’s a great bit where it crashes through the side of a hut to snack on some low level bad dudes but such moments are few and far between. De Rossi is obliged to pad things out with a bunch of flashbacks to the original’s “greatest hits” and mucho over-baked exposition, though admittedly Ms Karr does look distractingly good, wandering around the jungle in a wet sports bra after her guide tried to rape her and was promptly eaten by the croc. Kevin and Joe arrive halfway through the picture to try and rescue her but blink and you’ll miss Joe. Having delivered the brazen line: “We’ve got to get a bigger boat”, Kevin is left to contrive the coup de gras, in the absence of any handy outboard motors, via a fistful of dynamite.

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Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t really live up to its predecessor (how many sequels do?) but I was glad to be reacquainted with this brace, my VHS copies of which (sourced from German satellite channels) disappeared many moons ago down the ravenous collecting maw of leathery old Darrell Buxton. Severin present the films with their customary panache and  a slew of of tasty extras, notably Naomi Holwill’s fine feature length De Rossi doc The Prince Of Plasma, featuring contributions from the man himself, plus collaborators Luigi Cozzi, Massimo Vanni and Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, also pundits Allan Bryce, Calum Waddell, Rachael Nisbet and Russ Hunter. In his standalone interview featurette, De Rossi is engagingly self deprecating regarding his work on these films. DP Federico Del Zoppo also has his say. The recollections of Anthony Crenna (now identifying as Richard Anthony Crenna) chime with those of many a non-Italian actor regarding his bemusement at being required to act sans direct sound and the virtually non-existent Health & Safety culture. Pietro Genuardi develops this theme further, claiming that a local drowned when operating the croc maquette underwater before detailing his own colourful experiences on location and attempting to return to Rome from it. You also get trailers and a few deleted sequences from the sequel. Nice.

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Wax Mask (1997), although it evolved into another (and rather more effective) FX-man-turned-director effort, was originally conceived as an attempt to revive the flagging Italian Horror tradition via another means, i.e. by assembling the dream team of Dario Argento (producing), Lucio Fulci (directing) and that man Sacchetti, writing (the latter has some very interesting things to say about the genesis of this project and the motivations behind it in our interview elsewhere on this blog). Of course Sacchetti was subsequently sacked (and replaced by Daniele Stroppa) when his proposed Mummy vehicle failed to find favour with Argento, whose enthusiasm for all things Gaston Leroux (below, left) at this point (which would attain its abysmal fruition in DA’s Phantom Of The Opera, 1997) re-routed the project in the direction of Leroux’s Waxwork Museum Mystery and its various cinematic offshoots. Tragically, after putting much work into that, Fulci died shortly before shooting was due to commence. Having been turned down by Fulci’s preferred successor, Claudio Fragasso (who collaborated with Lucio on the certifiably insane Zombi 3, 1988), Argento promoted long time FX man Sergio Stivaletti to make his directorial debut, resulting in the artefact under consideration here.

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Reflecting its convoluted origins, Wax Mask incorporates various strands of the Italian Horror / Thriller tradition, notably Gothic and Giallo, emerging as an attempt (no doubt Argento’s) to propel the two geriatric genres over the line into the 21st Century. Its action commences in Paris at the beginning of the 20th (“31st. December 1900” says the caption, but surely that’s a mistake?) where a little girl witnesses her parents being butchered by a masked figure with a robotic hand. Years later, two bravos partying in a Roman brothel strike a bet about whether one of them is brave enough to spend a night in a spooky wax museum (shades of Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabra). The designated dude duly dies of fright when confronted with a Medusa tableau. Was he the world’s biggest girl’s blouse or did something altogether more sinister occur? While we’re pondering that one, Sonia Lafont (Romina Mondello) turns up at the wax museum looking for a job and becomes obsessed with the contents of proprietor Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein)’s gloves. Turns out she was the little girl who survived the film’s brutal prologue… how sensitive of Volkoff, after taking her on, to open a new display which recreates that crime in suspiciously accurate detail. And why do the new wax figures always look so much like people who’ve recently disappeared from the streets?

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Wax Mask looks quite ravishing due in no small part, one imagines, to the participation of Fulci stalwarts Sergio Salvati (DP) and Massimo Antonello Geleng (production design). Maurizio Abeni’s lush music vindicates the decision to go with an orchestral score rather than Simonetti-style synth rock and the surround sound option on this disc will give your home cinema setup quite a workout. As you’d expect from a Stivaletti film (and with the sterling support of the ill-fated Benoit Lestang) the FX are pretty impressive and the director continues to explore the possibilities of CGI, which he’d first tackled in Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), not least with the startling eruption of a Terminator-like animated death’s head figure during the film’s denouement.

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The question inevitably arises (as it previously did with the likes of Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi) as to how much of the film Stivaletti actually directed, considering that Argento spent so much time on set (and apparently Hossein, a director in his own right, wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forward with advice). It’s a question that’s thoroughly addressed in this edition’s plentiful bonus materials, interviews with several of the creative principals throwing much light on Wax Mask’s protean progress from the drawing board to the screen and providing fascinating insights into the proverbial “personal and professional differences” with which the Italian film scene is freighted. Argento talks of how his attitude towards Fulci developed from mistrust into “love” and opines that if he had lived, Wax Mask secondo Fulci would have been “wild”.  Anyone who was puzzled by Alan Jones’s critical volte face on Fulci after the early ’80s will find Jones’s comments here interesting. We also get some clues as to what a Fulci-directed Wax Mask might have looked like and Stivaletti rues the stick he got from the ol’ Goremeister’s fans (and allegedly his daughter Antonella) for coming up with something different. Not, perhaps, the most reasonable of criticisms. There’s also a trio of “behind the scenes” featurettes that you might have seen on previous DVD editions. If not, all the better.

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Two interesting facts about Robert Hossein (above) emerge from the supplementary materials assembled here. Firstly, that he actually appeared in productions of Pigalle’s legendary Theatre Du Grand Guignol and also that he is (at least by Argento’s reckoning) a total fanny magnet! David Gregory moderates a commentary track from Stivaletti and his son Michelangelo, who’s there to help Dad out with his English and point out his own, intra-uterine film debut.

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I’d dispute Severin’s billing of Wax Mask as “the last great Italian gore film of the 20th Century” but it’s a consistently watchable and entertaining one and the compelling extras on this disc, constituting a revelatory delight for the cognoscenti of pasta paura, turn it into an indispensible purchase. My copy came with a bonus CD of Abeni’s OST.

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The two FX men-turned-directors are pictured below during their triumphant recent appearances at Manchester’s ever wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films.

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