Blu-ray / DVD Reviews

Bring Me The Head Of Cisco Delgardo! TEXAS, ADIOS Reviewed

t21.jpg

Django unradicalised?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 12.

Sharp shooting Texan Sheriff Burt Sullivan (Franco Nero) takes his kid brother Jim (Alberto Dell’Acqua) south of the border to on a mission to collar Cisco Delgado (José Suárez), the sadistic grandee who murdered his father. Along the way they encounter Mexican insurgents but are less concerned with Revolution than the revelation that Delgado fathered Jim after raping their mother…

image-w1280.jpg

Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios and Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time were the earliest Westerns to star Franco Nero in the immediate aftermath of Sergio Corbucci’s seminal Django (all three films hail from 1966). Consequently both of them were among the first of countless Italian Oaters to suffer retitlings as phoney entries (Baldi’s film became “Django The Avenger” for its German release) in a “Django series” that actually only ever included one official sequel, Nello Rossati’s Django Strikes Again (1987).

texas-addio-texas-adios-20368-movieposter.850.jpg

Nero himself states, in the bonus material on this release, that Texas Adios isn’t a “proper” Spaghetti Western, being more closely patterned on American avatars than the innovations of Corbucci and of course Sergio Leone. In another featurette, pundit Austin Fisher embellishes the point, observing that the film dips its toes into the Mexican Revolution without displaying any of the political consciousness that would subsequently emerge in the likes of Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet For The General (1967), Sergio Sollima’s Face To Face (also 1967), Giulio Petroni’s Tepepa (1969) or Corbucci’s Companeros! (1970).

 

 

Although its story is, at superficial glance, simple stuff (encapsulated in its trailer, above, as “the story of a Texan’s Fued”), a more considered viewing of Texas, Adios reveals that its SpagWest credentials can’t be dismissed quite so easily. Like the Leone films and Corbucci’s Django (channeling Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, 1961 and ultimately Goldoni’s 18th Century farce The Servant Of Two Masters) you get a protagonist who’s playing various factions off against each other and there is stuff here about the awakening revolutionary conscience, albeit not so artfully played as by Gian Maria Volontè, as El Cuncho, in A Bullet For The General (whose “Yankees go home” message was quite explicit, whereas in Baldi’s film the peons pine for an injection of American democracy / capitalism to help them throw off the shackles of Spanish feudalism). Baldi also deploys emotionally charged flashbacks in the Leone style, albeit nowhere near as effectively (then again, name me any director who uses flashbacks more incisively than Leone).

MV5BMzFhNzY4NzItNjQ1Yy00NDViLThhMTYtYjQxM2I5NjhlOTBhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_.jpg

The Gothic overtones of Django (pushed to their limits in Giuli Questi’s Django Kill! / If You Live, Shoot!, 1967) continue to reverberate in this film’s sickly Oedipal ambience and the many acts of casual sadism it contains. Or once contained… branding scenes have been clumsily excised from the print sourced here. It’s too long since I watched Aktiv’s VHS release of Texas, Adios for me to recall whether they were included in that, ditto the occasional print damage, variable colour and moments of wonky focus on this 2K BD restoration.

The redoubtable cinematography of Enzo Barboni (another Django holdover) allows the hills of Almeria to pass nicely for the Sierra Madre and an honourable mention must also go to the macabre mariachi music of Antón García Abril (working his way up to the  unforgettably atmospheric scores he conceived for Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead films) and his main title theme (available on Parade Records, apparently) is belted out in suitably melodramatic style by Don Powell (not the Slade drummer, surely?)

8b1273f390f69a97210a5d72e749a783.jpg

Apart from the already mentioned extras, there’s an informative and amusing interview with Alberto Dell’Acqua (billed as “Cole Kitisch”!) Yes, Dell’Acqua is one of the legendary stunt specialist family that also produced Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano. Spagwest buffs C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Park supply the audio commentary and co-writer Franco Rossetti is interviewed, in what looks like an off-cut from a session that’s already featured on some other release which I haven’t caught up with yet. The trailer and a gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegel Archive complete the bonus materials… the ones I’ve seen, anyway. You’ll also benefit from a booklet including contemporary reviews and new writing on the film by Howard Hughes, if you buy the first pressing… and why wouldn’t you? Texas, Adios is perhaps more evolutionary than revolutionary in its approach but does enough to earn itself a respectable place in the SpagWest firmament.

140610072304255462.jpg

As if anticipating the accusation that his Westerns were somehow too conservative, Baldi subsequently made such Oater oddities as 1971’s Blindman (starring Ringo Starr) and the 3-D effort Comin’ At Ya (1981) also the execrable Terror Express (1980), a late arriving entry in Italy’s interminable series of Last House On The Left clones and arguably the most reprehensible of the lot.

classic-3d-gore-western-comin-at-ya-comes-to-blu-ray.jpg

MV5BOGFkOWQyYWQtMjgzNC00NWM1LWIzY2ItMDQwMWUxZmUyMmMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE1MTU0Mzc@._V1_.jpg

A pistol for Ringo…

Advertisements
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

(Not) Mucho Denero… DE NIRO AND DE PALMA, THE EARLY FILMS Reviewed

hi-mom-2.jpg

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

For some time now, I’ve been promising / threatening “a major piece” on Brian De Palma (“major” in terms of the amount of time I’ve devoted to drafting and redrafting it, if nothing else) but every time I think I’ve got a handle on this subject, some new subtlety or bit of connectedness in something I watch or re-watch makes me despair of ever managing anything like a definitive take (or even my definitive take) on the complexities of his oeuvre. A review copy of Arrow’s Carrie BD previously obliged me to write something about that one in these pages and for the same reason, the necessity now arises to post something about that label’s “De Niro And De Palma, The Early Films” set, comprising the restored anti-establishment triptych The Wedding Party (1963/9), Greetings (1968) and Hi Mom! (1970).

Tim Lucas’s oft-quoted (frequently on this blog) axiom that “you can’t really say you’ve seen one Jesus Franco film till you’ve seen them all” is doubly applicable to the work of De Palma, whose schematic grasp of what he was going to do with his career is evident from his earliest days behind a camera, during which he lay down markers as bold and intentional as any classical historian embarking upon their magnum opus… indeed, the works of Thucydides, Sallust or Livy are probably more apt points of comparison for De Palma than the filmographies of such contemporaries as Spielberg or Lucas. That might seem like a bold and / or eccentric claim but stick with me and I’ll try to justify it as we go…

Wedding Party.jpg

The Wedding Party (co-directed with Wilford Leach and Cynthia Munroe) is a black and white comedy of manners in which young science fiction writer Charlie (Charles Pfluger), on the eve of his wedding to Josephine (Jill Clayburgh), gets cold feet about assimilating into her upper crust family. His misgivings are fuelled by his picaresque friends / ushers Alistair (Bill Finley) and Cecil (De Niro, billed as “Denero” though he didn’t make mucho on this movie… fifty bucks, legend has it). Charlie’s increasingly desperate attempts to escape are underlined by De Palma’s bag of silent movie tricks (always showing his directorial hand… always reminding you that you are watching a movie) but ultimately, the groom makes it down the aisle for an unexpectedly (in retrospect) conservative ending. The central characters are vaguely dissatisfied with what society has to offer them (TWP now reads like some kind of precursor to the likes of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, 1967) but no clear alternatives seem to be presenting themselves… yet.

On this outing neither Finley (who subsequently amassed a respectable CV, notably in De Palma and Tobe Hooper pictures) nor De Niro (no introduction required) particularly outshine Pfluger, who disappeared without a trace after The Wedding Party. The film itself, shot in 1963, remained on the shelf until interest in RDN started to take off, not least on account of Greetings, which predates by a year the more celebrated Easy Rider (1969) as the first alt.Hollywood film.

o0400060613877537072.jpg

Taking its title from the opening line of a draft induction letter, this one begins with a shot of a TV on which President Johnson is addressing supporters, explicitly linking victory in Vietnam to social progress at home (turns out, in hindsight, that neither was possible). One strongly suspects that De Palma is all-too hip to the parallels with (here it comes) Thucydides, whose History Of The Peloponnesian War (written circa 431 BC) struggles with the paradox of Athens’ Golden Age of Democracy being sustained by bully boy tactics abroad (“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must…”) Of course domestic life in America’s nascent Golden Age (proclaimed by LBJ in a winking paraphrase of Harold MacMillan), as lived by another trio of proto-slackers (De Niro as “Jon Rubin”, Gerrit Graham as “Lloyd Clay” and another one shot actor, Jonathan Warden as “Paul Shaw”) consists less of civic virtue than pursuing their ongoing obsessions with getting laid (Paul) or at least copping a look at unsuspecting women (Jon), figuring out who killed Kennedy (Lloyd) and dodging that draft (all of them!) while serving De Palma’s own insatiable obsession with the act of filming, itself.

greetings1.jpg

The cinematic techniques calling attention to themselves here are, appropriately, more Bertolt Brecht than Buster Keaton, with jump cuts (Godard, of course, looms large) and scant regard for the proverbial fourth wall. De Palma repeatedly identifies looking / filming as an aggressive act of intrusion to the point where Rubin, the only character who does end up in Vietnam, closes the picture by re-staging one of his voyeuristic phony screen tests with a captured Vietcong girl… the proverbial “masculine gaze” writ geopolitically large.

Indeed, when one of Paul’s computer dates shows disturbing signs of autonomous sexual spontaneity he calls in Lloyd, who inks bullet entry and exits points on her naked body to illustrate a point from his relentless mission to debunk the findings of the Warren Commission, a scene which anticipates Ballard (whose The Atrocity Exhibition was published in 1970) as much as it echoes Blow Up (referenced implicitly and explicitly throughout Greetings and far from the last word on Antonioni’s 1966 masterpiece in the filmography of BDP), in the process earning Greetings American cinema’s first ‘X’ Certificate (beating out Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy by a fortnight). The boys’ haphazardly related amatory exploits recall those of Encolpius, Ascyltos and Giton in the pages of Petronius, usefully reminding us of the original derivation of the term “satire”.

Greetings.jpg

The radicalisation of Robert 1) Reading case studies on voyeurism in Greetings (1968)

image.jpg

The radicalisation of Robert 2) Reading The Urban Guerilla in Hi, Mom! (1970)

By the end of Greetings Paul’s endless sexual quest seems to have consigned and confined him to a porno loop that Jon picks up from some guy in a dirty mac and Lloyd’s paranoia is vindicated when he’s shot down on account of whatever insight into the JFK conspiracy he might have gleaned. Jon, ironically the last man standing, returns home from ‘Nam to pursue his voyeuristic activities in Hi, Mom! (which co-writer / co-producer Chuck Hirsch insists should have been released as “Son Of Greetings”). When his pitch for a “Peep TV show” (which wouldn’t look out-of-place in the gallery of grotesqueries that is today’s “Reality TV”) gets turned down by a smut producer, Jon trades in his camera for a TV set and randomly tunes into a community arts channel covering an agitprop theatre troupe (including the blacked up Gerrit Graham) who are staging Be Black Baby, a “happening” designed to acquaint complacent whites with the realities of negro life in ’60s America. Rubin signs up to play “a Pig” and psyches himself up by having an argument with a mop in an astonishing dry run for De Niro’s celebrated “You talkin’ to me?” routine in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s a toss up as to which is the more fun, watching this or the various bull sessions on draft dodging in Greetings, wherein De Niro (of all people) method acts a method actor… I wonder what method acting tricks he fell back on to pull off that performance?

The white middle class punters are duly roughed up, robbed and sexually assaulted but leave thankful for having been granted a “real experience”. “The more you rape their senses…” as Ruggero Deodato would have it “… the more they like it”. Presumably nowdays these guys would be sufficiently confident in their right-on personnas to refer to fellow whites as “gammon” (admittedly an equal opportunities bit of nastiness that’s obnoxious to Caucasians, Jews and Muslims alike).

Hi-Mom-620x331.jpg

The continuing radicalisation of Robert: Hi, Mom! (1970)…

02bb19019723ce494ca25f7d74982467.jpg

… and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)

When the Be Black Baby players progress to armed insurrection with fatal consequences (chiefly for themselves), Rubin appears to settle for the straight life, becoming an insurance salesman and setting up home with Judy (Jennifer Salt), only to conclude the picture by dynamiting their apartment block into rubble. It’s here that De Palma explicitly sets out the mission statement (joining the mainstream and using his privileged position within it to propagate his own subversive messages) to which he has adhered so impressively throughout his magnificent career. Hm, maybe I’ll write something about that one of these days…

Supplementary materials include a new Greetings commentary by Glenn Kenny (the author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor), Howard S. Berger’s authoritative and engaging take on De Palma’s early films and interviews with Chuck Hirsch. The Hi, Mom! trailer and PDF of the Greetings press book were present and correct on the two (out of three) discs I received but the advertised interviews with actors Gerrit Graham and Peter Maloney were conspicuous by their absence so I can’t tell you anything about those, nor the limited collector’s edition booklet featuring new writing on the films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas and Christina Newland, alongside an archive interview with De Palma and Hirsch. Then again, any attempt to see and comprehend everything is always doomed to failure in the De Palmian universe and even after an incomplete viewing, I have no problem declaring this one of the essential releases of 2018.

2b4f8c3c50fcd4a685c402e2654f7d5d.jpg

Greetings: Howard Thompson’s perspicacious NY Times review included the line: “Of… Robert De Niro and Jonathan Warden, the latter at least gives some evidence of talent”.

Despite Mrs F’s urgings, I have steadfastly resisted the temptation to sneak another classical allusion into this piece about Italian-American film luminaries, namely that hoary old gag about Euripedes…

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ringing Down The Curtain On The Golden Age Of Giallo… THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS And OPERA Reviewed

Dario Argento's OPERA (1987) - CultFilms (2).jpg

The charnel house at Parma: Opera

BD/DVD Combi Edition. Cultfilms. Region B. 18.

The Case Of The Bloody Iris (1972) - Shameless (2).jpg

Edwige Fenech’s Garden Of Love: The Case Of The Bloody Iris

BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

Now I like mechanical, by the numbers spaghetti slashers… but I like barking mad, auteurist gothic cross-over gialli, too. So which is better? There’s only one way to find out…

A timely brace of releases from sister labels Shameless and CultFilms affords us the opportunity for a “compare and contrast” exercise that might shed some light on certain aspects of the giallo phenomenon. Failing that, at least we’ve got a pretext to run yet more alluring photos of Edwige Fenech…

42736186_1058095301036979_1012336323191213100_n.jpg

The Case Of The Bloody Iris (an unassuming little handle compared to the film’s original Italian title, which translates as “Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?”) was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo (masquerading as “Anthony Ascott”) during 1972, quite possibly the giallo’s annus mirabilis in purely quantitative terms, when every journey man who could work a camera seemed to be churning ’em out. Qualitatively, Argento took the genre to its zenith in 1975 with Deep Red and while others slackened off, his reputation / connections / family fortune enabled him to carry on obsessively reworking his favourite giallo themes with the likes of 1977’s Suspiria (you heard me!), Tenebrae (1982) and Phenomena (1985), before contributing one of the final two worthwhile entries (Opera… the other was his protegé Michele Soavi’s Stagefright) to the now moribund cycle in 1987.

Sergio Martino spent 1972 tweaking the giallo template, adding supernatural overtones with All The Colours Of Darkness and injecting a little Poe into his Les Diaboliques variant Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key (before kick-starting the stalk’n’slash wave with the following year’s Torso). All very well but in the meantime big brother / producer Luciano, craving another “Martinoesque” thriller to cash in on Sergio’s 1971 successes The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale, roped in reliable jobbing director Carnimeo to collaborate with scripting stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi, plus returning stars Fenech and George Hilton and ubiquitous OST composer Bruno Nicolai to knock out this very passable facsimile.

cbi7.jpg

TCOTBI packs a string of nubile psycho fodder (in all their funky ’70s finery) plus a veritable shoal of red herrings onto photo model Jennifer (Fenech)’s floor of a swish Genoan apartment building. Who’s cutting this collection of cuties off in their respective primes? Difficult to say, given the culprit’s standard issue black leather trench coat, broad-brimmed hat and stocking mask, but the cast of candidates comprises suspiciously smooth architect Hilton; a predatory lipstick lesbian (Lana Del Rey lookalike Annabella Incontrera) who’s predictably hot for Fenech’s bod; her disapproving, grumpy father; a nosey-parker old crone who’s keeping tabs on everybody else in the building; and her secret, scarred son, who is presented as obvious psycho-killer material because of his addiction to lurid horror comics (an imprudent tack to take in a lurid slasher film, one might have thought… ) Dodgiest of all is Jennifer’s ex Adam (Ben Carra), who’s stalking her, sending her irises and generally trying to lure her back into her former drug-crazed swinging lifestyle.  ”I’ll tear you as I tore the petals of the iris…” he rants: “You’re an object and you belong to me… since our celestial marriage you’ve belonged to me!” (shades of the overheated fruit loop played by Ivan Rassimov in Strange Vice).

1172818_10201g1352209529_o.jpg

All of this understandably reduces Fenech to a nervous wreck, though her fellow photo model Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) is keener to attribute her agitated state to sexual frustration. “You made a big mistake, going from group sex to chastity” she advises, urging Jennifer to let her hair down a little, not to mention her drawers. The mandatory clueless cops (an inspector who’s more interested in collecting stamps than cracking the case, and his long-suffering side-kick, who seems to have wandered in from a Sexy-Comedy) persuade the reluctant Jennifer and Marilyn to stay in their apartment in a high risk strategy designed to flush out the killer (leaving them with the helpful advice: “Don’t trust any of your neighbours!”) as the bodies and improbable plot convolutions proliferate all around them.

One memorably barmy scene involves the night-club act of athletic black chick Mizar (Carla Brait) which involves her challenging horny audience members to get her clothes off in three minutes, while she’s beating them up (no, really!) This character’s later bath-tub demise is modelled upon one in the mother of all “imperilled models” gialli, Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964). Elsewhere an attack on a girl while she’s pulling a garment over her head and a public stabbing in broad daylight anticipate sequences in Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), and an elevator slashing is every bit as clearly the inspiration for one in Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980) as the power-tool slaying in Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Orchids Stained In Red (1972) was for the one in De Palma’s Body Double (1984)… what is it about Italian slasher directors and bloody petals, anyway?

Bloody Iris.jpg

Carnimeo adroitly keeps the viewer’s suspicion alternating around his collection of ne’er do wells, with Hilton ostentatiously flagged as prime suspect, despite his professed haemophobia. Predictably, things are even more complicated than they appear, the true culprit’s puritanical motivation getting the customary curt airing before his / her equally obligatory dispatch by being chucked down a stair well. Gastaldi also manages to work a Spellbound-type cathartic liberation for one of the main characters into this boffo denouement. DP Stelvio Massi and sound track composer Bruno Nicolai perform their respective chores with the customary panache and although TCOTBI is nowhere near as adventurous, inventive or influential as Sergio Martino’s several stabs at giallo, suspend your disbelief to enjoy one of the genre’s most pleasantly time passing guilty pleasures.

CULT503_Opera_2DPackshop copy.png

The second release under consideration here is another balaclava-load of bubbling brains altogether, the final refinement of its director’s patented giallo mix before a precipitous slide into self-parody (if you’ve never seen Argento’s on-the-nose 1998 Phantom Of The Opera remake… well, do yourself a favour and keep it that way). So, there’s a primal (and decidedly sadistic) scene that’s left an indelible mark on one of the main characters, a leading lady struggling to make sense of something she’s witnessed (or possibly just dreamed), an ineffectual police investigation that obliges another character to turn amateur sleuth… pepper all this with state-of-the-art camera technology in the service of vaulting directorial ambition and fiendish Sergio Stivaletti splatter FX and what do you get? Dario Argento’s Opera, that’s what!

Dario Argento's OPERA (1987) - CultFilms (3).jpg

Thrown into the spotlight on the opening night of a controversial production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, young diva Betty (Cristina Marsillach) promptly feels the full force attendant on the proverbial “Curse of The Scottish Play”. Trussed up by a mysterious masked stalker who tapes needles under her eyelids, she is forced to witness her nearest and dearest being stabbed in the gizzard and butchered before her unblinking eyes (an ordeal exacerbated by outbreaks of terrible heavy metal music on the soundtrack!)

So who’s giving her the needle… her dictatorial director Marco? A disgruntled diva? Urbano Barberini’s drippy, star-struck investigating officer? If Marco was a controversial pick to direct opera then Dario Argento, in the light of such operatic horrors as Suspira, Inferno and Phenomena, was a natural to direct Opera… indeed, it’s unlikely that anybody but him could have dreamed up (in conjunction with Franco Ferrini) this extreme twist on Gaston Leroux’s source novel). To render his OTT vision, Argento roped in DP Ronnie Taylor (*), with whom he’d previously shot some cutting edge car commercials, to collaborate on such startling moments as Betty’s agent Myra (Daria Nicolodi) being shot in the face through a keyhole, or the climactic attack of pouncing, vengeful ravens, viewed from the birds’ aerial POVs. Things are ultimately wound up with an ending that’s so very left-field, even by Argento’s standards, that Marsillach’s space cadet soliloquy / lizard rescuing routine were cut from export prints for many years (you get to see it all here, though you won’t necessarily believe it).

mira.pngOperaKeyhole07.jpgOperaKeyhole09.jpg

Opera is baroque, beautiful and downright berserk enough (Nicolodi’s death scene holds it own in comparison with anything else in Argento’s extraordinary canon) to secure its place in the director’s matchless golden era (on which it rings down the curtain in appropriately flamboyant style) although it’s no Suspiria. Accordingly, it’s been given a mere 2k restoration (half the ‘k’s of CultFilms’ eye-searing Suspiria restoration) and looks mighty fine for it, with the revelation of pastel tendencies that recall the job Arrow recently did on Deep Red restoration. Argento supervised this one personally, with reference to his own favoured cinema print which, we learn in the lengthy bonus interview on this disc, he stole! Among the other extras we are given a split screen look at the restoration process plus extensive behind-the-scenes “making of” footage… I’ve seen various permutations of this stuff in previous featurettes and documentaries but what we have here appears to be the motherlode.

27_dario-argento-pictured-on-the-set-of-terror-at-the-opera.jpg

Shameless have managed a sharp BD transfer of Carnimeo’s film with little grain to distract you from your contemplation of the onscreen carnage, though some might find the colour palate of this particular Bloody Iris a tad dull and overly green compared to, e.g. (my handiest reference point) the DVD on Anchor Bay’s 2002 “Giallo Collection” box set. Bonus wise, you get Interviews with Paola Quattrini and George Hilton. Quattrini is mystified that people would still want to ask her about this film 45 after the event, but muses that this tale of misogynistic murder might have renewed relevance in the age of #metoo. George “I know I’m handsome” Hilton reminisces about his many love scenes with Edwige Fenech… well, it’s a tough job but some jammy bastard’s gotta do it!

MV5BNDFlNjg1NjQtODQ1NC00YmYyLWJkYzctYTVkZjg0MGMzODc4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODkxOTE5ODg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpg

(*) Mr Taylor took his wife to see Opera for the first time when it played at The Scala in 1991, as part of the launch event for Maitland McDonagh’s book Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds, with Argento in attendance. I was privy to her reaction. “Not impressed” would be a serious understatement…

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Joy Of Pinky Violence… ORGIES OF EDO Reviewed.

86e07b221fe38cffa027596d037daebd.jpg

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

By the late 1960s the Japanese were in the throes of a collective love affair with their TV sets and it was clearly going to take more than another cycle of yakuza epics to tempt them back into movie theatres. The ruthlessly commercial Toei Studio was ready for a change and so was director Teruo Ishii (who had directed no less than ten episodes of the Abashiri Prison series in two years!) So was born the “pinky violence” / “abnormal love” series, inaugurated with Ishii’s  The Joy Of Torture / Shogun’s Joy Of Torture in 1968. Prohibited from depicting explicit sex or even full frontal female nudity, these films doubled… nay, tripled down on BDSM imagery, to increasingly delirious effect.

cb281ee9data2fdata12fin.jpg

The überprolific Ishii’s fourth entry in the series, Orgies Of Edo (1969), like its predecessors, examines the Edo (Tokugawa) era of Japanese history (1603-1868), continuing to explore the proposition that a world of psychosexual malaise underlay that ostensibly serene and prosperous period. It’s not entirely inconceivable that criticisms of contemporary Japanese society were being implied and inferred… whatever, the film’s gleeful “News Of The Screws” style moralistic condemnation of “abnormal love” enabled its makers to have their cake and eat it, a framing device involving the idealistic doctor Gentatsu (Teruo Yoshida), who encounters the casualties of assorted carnal excesses, enhancing its credentials as some kind of cautionary “sexual hygiene” film.

The first segment of this infernal triptych involves Oito (Masumi Tachibana), a naive girl who is lured into a life of prostitution by smarmy conman Hanji (Toyozō Yamamoto). Her Hogarthian harlot’s progress terminates when, having become pregnant, she is beaten by a Madame in an attempt to induce a miscarriage. Her dying plea is that Hanji and her callous sister (with whom he was conducting an affair behind her back) be looked after. Gentatsu wishes he could have saved her life by removing the dead foetus via the Western method of Caesarian section … hold on there doc, you’ll get your chance.

1_0a072d1387ba470a644d6cc3818e44af.jpg

The second episode introduces us to Ochise (Mitsuko Aoi), a respectable merchant’s daughter who rides her devoted servant Chôkichi (Akira Ishihama) around like a horse and enlists his aid in recruiting deformed and disfigured men for her to enjoy rough sex with. Dwarves… the disabled… none of this is particularly PC but when Ochies’s Jonesing for “repulsive” men drives her into the arms of a black guy… well, they don’t make ’em like this any more and it’s probably just as well. When Dr G hypnotises Ochie, the root of all this perving is revealed… as a young woman she was kidnapped and abused by a man with burn marks on his face. Before she can derive any benefit from this insight, Chôkichi scars his own face in the hope of bedding his mistress but while attempting to monopolise her affections by scarring her, too, he inadvertently administers a fatal wound to her throat. Ochie forgives him as she dies… don’t you just love a happy ending?

Orgies-of-Edo-1969-2.jpg

Finally, a depraved lord (Asao Koike) who thinks nothing of dragging women behind his horse and setting charging bulls on them draws the line when he finds out that one of his concubines has been involved in a sexual liaison with her dog! He expresses his disapproval of this by having her painted gold so that she’ll expire, Shirley Eaton style, but before this can be completed she reveals to him that his favourite mistress Omitsu (Miki Obana), whose debauched enthusiasm for rope bondage and cutting matches his own and who’s pregnant with his child, is actually his own daughter. As his Lordship succumbs to madness and the place burns down, House Of Usher style, Doctor Gentatsu gets to do his C-section (a scene that’s both risible and rather icky) and bears the child away, advising it as they (literally) head off into the sunset: “You must live, despite your burden. Resist madness and put all your strength into this precious life”.

Despite its hypocritical moralistic veneer, Orgies of Edo is a truly Sadean film, extolling the joys of individual sexual satisfaction, whatever its consequences, over a life of stifling social conformity. Obviously a pointer towards such increasingly delirious and surreal Ishii offerings as Horrors Of Malformed Men (1969) and Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) it’s also a down-market predecessor of e.g. Oshima’s Ai No Corrida (1976).

38bf63a2e10b84e664f84e86ffe7f145.jpg

Patrick Macias contributes a video appreciation, as well as liner notes (I haven’t yet seen the booklet accompanying this release) and you also get an amazing trailer that never knowingly understates this film’s salacious selling points: “Surpassing the unique The Joy Of Torture… uproarious scenes of sado-masochism… in the chaos of this world, madness and derangement… a tale of cruelty and perversion… a must see for all adults… a perfect study in debauchery in this highly controversial piece of work… once seen, never forgotten… women’s bodies in sexual ecstasy… sweet perversion… one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look at theses numerous ancient forms of torture… new face of Playboy 1968 – Masumi Tachibana… with her 40 inch bust – Reiko Misaka… plus over 200 nude stars… only Toei could make this unusual yet stimulating film… more than 30 minutes is life-threatening… the agonising torture of being lacquered in gold… a magnificent spectacle!”

Hold the fucking phone… “one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look”? The version I just watched clocked in at barely more than an hour-and-a-half. Is there more of this in somebody’s vault somewhere? Saints preserve us!

image-w1280.jpg

Gold…

horrorsofmalformed3.jpg

… Minger.

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zest Of A Salesman… WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA Volume 1, Reviewed

15098330160_cce5ed28dc_b.jpg

BD. Indicator / Powerhouse. Region Free. 15.

18c-Castle-and-Hitch.jpg

Although he longed for recognition as a serious director of quality Cinema (and nearly attained it in 1968, before Roman Polanski replaced him as director of Rosemary’s Baby), William Castle knew in his heart of hearts that he was no Hitchcock. If he couldn’t outshine his idol on the silver screen however, he resolved to do outdo him as a showman… and boy, did he ever succeed! After about a decade-and-a-half as a hired B-movie director for hire, working on crime pictures and Westerns (including the 3-D Fort Ti in 1953) our man formed William Castle Productions to make Macabre in 1958 and The House On Haunted Hill the following year.

Macabread.jpg

The first named of those is a routine “race against time to rescue a girl who’s been buried alive” thriller, best remembered for the piece of promotional hokum by which Castle insured every ticket buyer with Lloyd’s of London, to the tune of $1,000, against the eventuality of them dying of fright while watching the movie. Nurses were posted in cinema lobbies and hearses parked outside.

All very jolly, but Castle’s Barnum-esque antics were ramped up exponentially for House On Haunted Hill (in which jaded patrician Vincent Price bets an ill-assorted cast of characters that they can’t survive a night in his doomed domicile) by the introduction of the “Emergo” process, which purported to surpass 3-D by having ghosts emerge from the screen… in fact it consisted of a joke shop skeleton advancing shakily over the viewers’ heads on a rail.

emero.jpg

Impressed by Castle’s sheer chutzpah and the commercial success generated by such shenanigans, Columbia signed the director for a series of pictures, the first four of which comprise Indicator’s marvellous William Castle At Columbia, Volume 1 box set. Price returned for The Tingler (1959) as Dr. Warren Chapin, who discovers that intense fear produces a lobster-like critter (which he dubs “The Tingler”) in the human spine, which is killed off when the terrified individual screams. Chapin demonstrates his scientific dedication by dropping acid (in what is widely believed to be the first LSD reference in Cinema) with the specific intention of suffering a bummer, all the better to tickle his Tingler (Price’s “bad trip” acting is a predictable hoot). When a deaf-mute character dies of fright without neutralising hers (under circumstances that suggest the all-pervasive contemporary influence of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, 1955) Chapin removes it surgically, only for the beasty to escape to the adjacent cinema (show me a cutting edge neurosurgeon who doesn’t ply his trade next door to a movie theatre!), setting up what is arguably the greatest fourth wall-shattering moment in Schlock Cinema History. The movie the theatre patrons are watching breaks down and the silhouette of the titular monster on-screen is followed by a plunge into darkness and Price urging the audience (and us) not to panic, but to “scream… scream for your lives!”

the-tingler-2.gifTHE+STORY+OF+SCHLOCKMEISTER+WILLIAM+CASTLE,+THE+LEGENDARY+KING+OF+THE+B-MOVIE+GIMMICK+7.jpeg

To compound viewer hysteria as The Tingler traversed the aisles, selected cinema seats were wired to vibrate and impart an appropriate tingling sensation to random lucky punters’ butts, a marketing coup dubbed “Percepto” by the tirelessly, dementedly inventive director.

13-ghosts-1960-poster.jpg

Castle continued to refine his search for the ultimate audience interactive experience with 13 Ghosts (1960) in which a down-on-their-luck family inherit a mansion from their eccentric uncle, only to find that it’s haunted by 12 ghosts with gristly back stories… with the ominous implication that one of the family is going to die and become the thirteenth ghost. By the miracle of bullshit gimmick “Illusion-O”, viewers were able to opt, via the stereoscopic viewing cards with which they were issued on the way in, to see or avoid the eponymous ghosts (like anybody was going to pay to get in and then not want to see the ghosts!)

Not content with accompanying his films on promotional tours, playing an active part in his own fan club and appearing in trailers, Castle was now boosting his brand by popping up in the main features themselves, introducing the stories and demonstrating to viewers how best to participate in each film’s interactive gimmick. Hitchcock himself was taking notice of Castle’s low-budget, high hype strategy (consider the celebrated trailer for Psycho, 1960… indeed, the very existence of Psycho) though Castle returned the favour in characteristically on-the-nose fashion with Homicidal (1961).

20597.jpg

Quick off the blocks, Homicidal opens with a bride stabbing the JP to death during her wedding ceremony and progresses to inheritance intrigue and conspicuous gender-bending before the proceedings are wrapped up with WC’s wildest gimmick yet. “Castle simply went nuts…” as John Waters has it in his book Crackpot: “He came up with Coward’s Corner, a yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theatre employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn’t take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward’s Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stencilled message ‘Cowards Keep Walking’. You passed a nurse… who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring: ‘Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward’s Corner!’ As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity… at Coward’s Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating: ‘I am a bona fide coward’.”

film-homicidal.jpg

Notoriously stingy, Castle always couched his refund offers in terms that audience members would be reluctant to take up and the same tight-fistedness would also be apparent when it came to filming the alleged alternative endings for Mr Sardonicus (1961). An uncharacteristic period picture with Gothic leanings, this one recounts the outrageous exploits of its libertine title character (Guy Rolfe)… digging up his father’s corpse, trussing attractive young women up and applying leeches to then (interestingly foreshadowing the onscreen exploits of Brazil’s Coffin Joe, who first came to the world’s astonished attention in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, three years later) and do on. On account of his desperate misdeeds, Mr S develops a grotesque rictus grin so fixed that ultimately it prevents him from eating or drinking (sure thing… whatever…) At this point the director appears onscreen to count the audience’s votes, as registered via the “thumbs up / down” cue cards that they were issued with on entry, this “Punishment Poll” deciding whether Sardonicus died or was cured of his affliction. Knowing full well that nobody was ever going to vote for the latter, Castle didn’t waste a cent on shooting more than one ending.

MV5BNWZlNTdkZjItNWEyNS00ZWVkLTgxOTItMTgwMWY0MzQ1YmU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_.jpg

Even if you’ve never had the good fortune to see these movies, the above descriptions have hopefully clued you in on exactly how much fun you ‘re going to have with them. Each is presented here with gimmicks intact (their on-screen components, anyway… you’ll have to rig your own sofa to vibrate and knock up your own Coward’s Corner somewhere in your living room), what’s more this set is appropriately equipped with a host of cherishable extras… audio commentaries, interviews, featurettes, archive promotional footage, trailers (with commentaries), isolated music and sound FX tracks and appreciations from the likes of Jonathan Rigby, Stephen Laws and Kim Newman (who points out that even in his autobiography, Castle had more to say about the wiring of cinema seats for The Tingler than about that film’s astonishing content).

1020297.jpg

Best of all, this set includes Jeffrey Schwarz’s 2007 feature-length bio documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, a visually inventive celebration of this showman nonpareil with contributions from his daughter Terry and the likes of Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Forrest J. Ackerman and John Waters, who was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. You also get a short featurette on the making of Spinechiller! and, just to prove that these Indicator people are nothing if not thorough, the latter comes with its own commentary track. Interesting (and a little troubling) to learn that in his pre-cinema days as a theatre impresario, Castle was not above faking up Nazi desecrations to put more bums on seats. Nor does the doc shy away from Castle’s darker final years, when the once-cynical purveyor of schlock horror came to believe that his production of Rosemary’s Baby had unleashed genuine bad karma on some of its participants.

polanski-castle-and-farrow-happy1.jpg

Limited to 6,000 numbered copies, this special edition of William Castle At Columbia comes with exclusive booklets (which I haven’t seen) boasting new essays and archival materials. Volume 2 will join it in December… assuming you’re brave enough to remain in your seats for that!

tingler3.jpgHouseHauntedHill6.gifFTwj.gif

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Leave a comment

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

Night-Of-The-Demon-photo-5.jpg

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

BD. Indicator / Powerhouse. Region Free. PG.

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

Casing the ruins.jpgnightofthedemon1957.png

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

Night-Of-The-Demon.jpg

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

tumblr_md8tnct32n1qmvy8zo1_500.gif

Grab ’em while they’re hot…

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

MR James.jpg

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

Beard.jpg

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

75a96fc1003d574414c5780524dd4f59.jpgPhoton, NOTD.jpg

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

Radio Times.jpg

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

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

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

night-of-the-demon000041.jpg

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

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Leave a comment

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

deadbeat.jpg

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

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

deadbeat_at_dawn.jpg

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

deadbeat3.jpg

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

21192966_1801936899820815_729980593228382517_n.jpg

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

Enjoy.

Unknown-2.jpeg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: | Leave a comment

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

cityofthelivingdead1_756_426_81_s.jpg

Ol’ Purple Eyes is back…

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

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

cof.jpg

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

9537.large.jpg

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

cotld1.gif

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

city-of-the-living-dead_body1.jpg

The pizza girl’s here…

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

85c05a50afb4e22a460a091e6d36b836.jpg

“Oui, whatever…”

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

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

ldSvax2pavqLsWIQJWPYPLI5P9x.jpg

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

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

citylivingdead2-e1273267257818.jpg

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

720full-city-of-the-living-dead-(the-gates-of-hell)-screenshot.jpg

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

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

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

859full-city-of-the-living-dead-(the-gates-of-hell)-poster.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

E68190E68096E5A587E5BDA2E4BABAE99693.jpg

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

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

91HTDtRCcNL.jpg

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

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

hmm phh.JPG

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

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

maxresdefault-4.jpg

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

mal-5.png

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

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

rampo.jpg

Edogawa Rampo, yesterday.

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

Kyofu_kikei_ningen_07.jpg

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

T.Ichii.jpgimage-w1280.jpg

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

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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

who-killed-teddy-bear-blu-ray-.jpg

BD. Network. Region B. 15.

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

whokilledteddybear-1600x900-c-default.jpg

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

Who-Killed-Teddy Bear-Sal-Mineo-1965.JPG

“You talkin’ to me?”

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

Who_Killed_Teddy_Bear-Sal_Mineo-Network-DVD-05544.jpgSal-Mineo-Juliet-Prowse-Who-Killed-Teddy-Bear-1965 (2).JPG

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

 

leslie-uggams-who-killed-teddy-bear-atlantic-2.jpg

 

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

11455.jpg

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

sCr8G2hhTINlR8MlxZ7ILd9de29.jpg

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

ask-teddy-bear-106452094-E.jpeg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: