Blu-ray / DVD Reviews

Drill Dos And Drill Dont’s… Umberto Lenzi’s SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS Reviewed

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DVD. Shriek Show / Media Blasters. Region 1. Unrated. Out Of Print.

Fashion designer Mario Gerosa (Antonio  Sabato) and his new bride Giulia (Uschi Glas) find their honeymoon bliss interrupted by an inconsiderate serial killer who, clad in the regulation black gloves and clothes, is working his way through all of the women that stayed at a holiday resort on a certain date… a list which includes Giulia. The other women on it are dispatched in various ways (strangled, bludgeoned, drowned, drilled, etc) but all of the victims have one more thing in common. Each of them is found clutching a piece of jewellery in the shape of a silver half-moon. When an attempt is made on Giulia’s life, Mario takes up the mantle of amateur sleuth…

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Released as Das Rätsel Des Silbernen Halbmonds (“The Riddle Of The Silver Half Moons”) in West Germany, this 1972 thriller from Umberto Lenzi is a fascinating film for anybody who’s interested in the way that country’s “krimi” cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations shaded off into the Italian giallo. Towards the end of the ’60s, Rialto tried to revive their long-running but fast-flagging Wallace series with Italian co-productions but the first fruit of this arrangement, Riccardo Freda’s Double Face (1969), flopped. No further entries were attempted for a couple of years and by the time this film and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange (also 1972) completed Rialto’s run, Dario Argento had scored an international crossover hit with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970… itself spuriously passed off in Germany as an adaptation of a novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace, Edgar’s son and literary executor) and the pasta men were very much in the ascendancy. Owing more to the sadism of Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964) and Argento’s aforementioned debut, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (the alternative title deriving from something Sabato finds on the grave of somebody he’d previously regarded as chief suspect) is a million miles removed from the Sunday afternoon gentility of the krimi, Lenzi throwing in oodles of gratuitous nudity and fearlessly tackling the contemporary drugs scene… fearlessly and rather recklessly (at one point a hippy dude beseeches Sabato to stop interrogating his friend, who is undergoing “a bad trip” on account of some heroin he’s just injected)… what would Eddi Arent have said?

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Torn between two traditions (one of them, admittedly, only recently established) and officially adapted by Lenzi and frequent Fulci collaborator Roberto Gianviti from an obscure Wallace yarn, SBO / TROTSHM owes at least as much to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous In Black and veteran spaghetti exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti also had an uncredited hand in its concoction. One could be forgiven for expecting a bit of a dog’s dinner but Lenzi, who already had something like thirty directorial credits under his belt at this point, keeps the story rattling along in involving fashion and mounts the brutal kill scenes with characteristically gleeful gusto (he would subsequently prove perfectly capable of phoning ’em in… witness the extraordinary mess that is Eyeball, 1975).

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Although his male cast ranges from workmanlike (Pier Paolo Capponi as Inspector Vismara) to (just about) acceptable (Sabato), Lenzi is superbly served by a very strong female cast, though he’s happy to kill off giallo icon Marina Malfatti (The Fourth Victim, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, All The Colours Of The Dark) within minutes of introducing her character. Perhaps he saw her as the film’s “Marion Crane” character?

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Marisa Mell also gets bumped off in pretty short order (with a handy-dandy power drill, during a scene to which Brian De Palma pays the sincerest form of flattery in Body Double, 1984) but plays twins in this one so at least we get to see more of the gorgeous Ms Mell. Uschi Glas (who, like Mell, had previous krimi form) is an appealing and perky heroine with a pleasing penchant for sexy / ludicrous early ’70s outfits

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On the minus side, Riz Ortolani’s “original soundtrack” lazily recycles themes already familiar from Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse and Lucio Fulci’s One On Top Of Another aka Perversion Story (both 1969). Bonus materials include a brief interview with Lenzi, in which he angrily dismisses accusations of Argento copying, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it chat with Gabriella Giorgelli (which, to be fair, probably lasts as long as her appearance in the film), liner notes, a gallery and trailers, not only for the main feature but also Lenzi’s Eaten Alive (1980) and a particularly chuckle-inducing one for his Spasmo (1974).

Riding the crest of an anti-clerical wave that peaked in 1972 (Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling and Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die?, to name but two, were released in the same year), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a solid effort that any self-respecting giallo fan will want to catch. Time for a remastered Blu-ray release, methinks…

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Dildos and Dildon’ts… Enzo Milione’s THE SISTER OF URSULA reviewed

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DVD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

“Who is the sister of Ursula? A nymphomaniac? A girl without scruples?” – trailer.

Yep, it’s giallo time again… these violent Italian whodunnits are frequently praised for their sexy stylishness but there exists within the genre a grotty ghetto of grubby ghastliness. Prime specimens within this sweaty sub-genre include Andrea Bianchi’s Strip Nude For Your Killer / Nude Per L’Assassino (1975… who could forget the spectacle of that obese dude in his Bridget Jones pants? Christ knows how hard I’ve tried!), Mario Landi’s 1979 effort Thrilling In Venice / Giallo A Venezia (whose unwholesome ingredients include a porn-obsessed dope fiend pimping his girlfriend out to random deviants, an obsessive stalker armed with power tools and a boiled eggs-addicted cop) and Mario Gariazzo’s Play Motel (also 1979 and packing any amount of risible “kinkiness”). All of these hail from the fag-end of the cycle and pack ever-increasing dollops of sleazy sexploitation in lieu of any trace of that all important giallo style.

To this roll of dishonour we must also add Enzo Milioni’s The Sister Of Ursula / La Sorella Di Ursula (1978), in which two fit Austrian sisters, the demure Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) and slutty Dagmar (Stefania D’Amario from Zombie Flesh Eaters) take a well deserved holiday on the Amalfi coast (depicted here as the Italian equivalent of Skeggy!) to ponder the division of their inheritance and rack up as many gratuitous nude scenes as possible.

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Ursula, a clairvoyant given to doomy predictions, has some kind of psychic connection with her dead father. She despairs of Dagmar’s libertine lifestyle and when the latter unpacks an eye watering wooden dildo from her suitcase, Big Sis makes her  disapproval quite clear: “You just came here to get shagged, you bitch!” So, it seems, have a lot of other girls who are currently stopping at the hotel (told you it was just like Skeggy) but a bunch of them start turning up dead, apparently killed (or so the shadows on their hotel room walls would have us believe) by some guy with a monstrously proportioned member.

You won’t have too much trouble working out the identity of the killer (and none at all guessing the murder weapon) but there’s plenty of other crazy shit to divert you in this reprehensible, dildotastic slice of enticing Eurotrash, e.g. nightclub chanteuse Stella Shining (below) whose risible showstopper “Eyes” keeps popping up at inappropriate points in what we’ll generously call this film’s narrative. Who, while we’re at it, ever thought that the equally overworked freeze fame of disembodied eyes was ever going to look anything but laughable?

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Magnolfi is best remembered by Horror fans as Jessica Harper’s bitchy room-mate Olga in Dario Argento’s pasta paura tour de force Suspiria (1977) but other notable credits include Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975), Ruggero Deodato’s Cut And Run (1985), Luigi Pastore’s Violent Shit: The Movie (2015) and Luigi Cozzi’s Blood On Méliès Moon (2016). Her eponymous sister, Stefania D’Amario, arguably boasts an even more impressive CV,  including as it does Rino Di Silvestro’s Deported Women Of The SS Special Section (1976), Borowoczyk’s Inside Convent Walls (1978), Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979, below), Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980), Antonioni’s Identification Of A Woman (1982) and Lorenzo Onorati’s Caligula’s Slaves (1984).

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Mark Porel – from Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972 ) and Sette Note In Nero (1977), also Deodato’s Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (1976) – was married to Magnolfi at the time, which is perhaps how he got sucked into TSOU’s pointless sub-plot about an illicit dope network… ironic, considering the circumstances of his sadly premature demise in 1983.

Porel’s history of substance abuse is frankly discussed in an interview with the film’s director, which appears on both discs. Milioni also talks about the Italian industry’s long tradition of subsidising “worthy” Arthouse efforts with the proceeds from tacky exploiters (try to guess in which category he locates The Sister Of Ursula). He reveals that he got to film for free at the cliff top hotel as its proprietors figured they’d get some free publicity for their enterprise. In fact, the hotel remains unopened to this day… the curse of Ursula’s sister continues!

Stripped of the sleazy trappings in which The Sister Of Ursula wallows, Milione’s subsequent efforts were nothing like as watchable. 1989’s Bloody Moon (not to be confused with the identically titled Jesus Franco effort) is a dull, over-talky, soap operatic effort whose fleeting moments of gore were edited, along with so much else, into Fulci’s astonishing A Cat In The Brain / Nightmare Concert (1990).

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When You Get To The Door, Tell Them JESUS Sent You… Two FRANCO Monster Mash-Ups On Nucleus Blu-Ray

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THE DEMONS

THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN

BD. Region B. Nucleus. 18.

Just as you were bracing yourself for their long-trailered restorations of Giulio Questi’s surrealistic giallo Death Laid An Egg (1968) and Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein (1971), the boffins from Nucleus outflank you with a couple of unexpected corkers from Jesus Franco. The Demons and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (shot virtually simultaneously in 1973) were branded “Category 3 Nasties” back in the days of home video witch-hunting, i.e recommended for confiscation rather than prosecution (which had more than a little to do with some of their Go Video label mates and the backfiring publicity stunts of Go honcho Des Dolan). Even if you did manage to cop an eyeful of those releases before they were whisked off and incinerated, you’d have been watching versions that were significantly cut down in terms of both running time and original screen ratio. Now here they both are, on Marc and Jake’s exciting new European Cult Cinema Collection imprint, in beautiful Blu-ray editions, with the BBFC’s stamp of approval… nicely priced, too. Honestly, the times we live in… (“Taxi!” – L. Fulci.)

For the first of these titles, producer Robert De Nesle detailed Franco to come up with a rip-off of Ken Russell’s recent success de scandale The Devils (1971) but instead of duplicating the contrived hysteria of that wearying effort, JF grabbed the nearest camera (without taking too long, I suspect, labouring over a script) and quickly knocked out a genuinely delirious and characteristically wilful concoction of De Sade, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, also roping (see what I did there?) Hanging Judge Jeffries (whom Christopher Lee had already portrayed in  Franco’s The Bloody Judge, 1970) into a rapidly overheating narrative stew.

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Although The Demons bears superficial comparison to Russell’s flick and (probably more so) Michael Armstong’s Mark Of The Devil (1970), in both of those witch-hunting is presented in its proper historical perspective as an oppressive manifestation of patriarchal power politics, whereas Freda steers closer to Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan, 1960 (in philosophical if not so much in cinematographical terms) by presenting a for-real maleficent witch (outrageously warty face and all) who’s burned at the stake and decrees that her daughters will extract vengeance upon her tormentors and executioners Justice Jeffries (intense Iranian Cihangir Gaffari / “John Foster”) and Lady De Winter (Karin Field), plus their henchman Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbės).

Of those two daughters, Kathleen (Anne Libert, the producer’s real life squeeze) continues in her mother’s witchy ways whereas Margaret (“Britt Nichols” = Carmen Yazalde) tries the path of virtue but finds it (in true Sadean fashion) so thankless that she eventually decides “what the hey?” and gets down with the black arts, but not before she’s been visited by the ghost of her mum and shagged by Satan (depicted in disappointingly human form). Before you can say “lights out by 10 o’clock… candles out by 11”, masturbating nuns are vying for space on your screen with racked and flogged wretches, as Margaret exposes the hypocrisy of the lustful inquisitors and ultimately reduces them to skeletal remains with her patented “kiss of death”… all of this to a mind-blowing acid rock soundtrack. You get both the extended, 118 minute French cut (with optional English subs) and the 88 minute English “export” edit on this disc.

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Although Franco slips a character named De Quincey into The Demons, he’s on the record as protesting that he couldn’t understand artists and creators who took drugs to enhancing their imaginations, claiming that he would benefit from a drug that actually quietened his down. If he ever discovered such a thing, he obviously skipped several doses during the conception and making of The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein, which suggests nothing so much as an animated fumetto (the kind of gloriously lurid, sexy and violent comic book that flourished in Italy during the ’70s).

This one kicks off with Melisa The Fabulous Bird Woman (Libert) and her side-kick Caronte (Franco regular Luis Barboo) raiding the lab of Dr Frankenstein (Dennis Price… yes, Dennis Price from all those classic Ealing comedies). Melissa is blind, talks in bird screetches and has bits of a ratty old green feather boa stuck haphazardly onto her impressive anatomy but “nobody is better…”  by her own reckoning “… at discerning the order of human flesh”. Well, whatever that means, she proves a dab hand at monster-jacking and once she’s savaged the Doc’s body to shreds (several characters refer to this, though there’s no visual evidence of it having occurred during several subsequent scenes in which his corpse is briefly reanimated) and Caronte has stabbed his assistant Morpho (a JF cameo), they lug the silver-painted Karloffalike (played by body builder Fernando Bilbao) back to Cagliostro’s picturesque seaside castle, where said charismatic mesmerist plans to mate it with a perfect female he’s constructing from the best bits of various unfortunate ladies, to produce a new master race (an ambition shared by Udo Kier in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein and the dates are so close together that it’s a moot point as to who, if anybody, copied whom). “The new race will be called Pantos” (yeah, whatever…)

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As Cagliostro, Howard Vernon makes up for the disappointingly short screen time allocated to him in The Demons. He doesn’t exactly chew the scenery, just stands there in his kaftan looking (extremely) intense while Franco zooms in and out of his blood-shot eyes. He orders the silver monster to kidnap the comely Madame Orloff (Britt Nichols again) then orders her head to be lopped off for the amusement of the zombies and mutants (and at least one Vulcan) who appear to inhabit his basement. Do these guys know how to party or what? When Frankenstein’s daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) infiltrates Caglistro’s castle in search of vengeance she ends up tied to Caronte and lashed by the monster until one of them (Caronte) falls onto poisoned spikes. Vera, brainwashed by Cagliostro, assists him in the reanimation of his female zarmby and the gruesome twosome are about to get it on when an intervention by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr Seward (Alberto Dalbės) and Inspector Tanner (“Daniel White”) puts a spanner in Cagliostro’s evil masterplan. He’s last seen driving a coach and horses into the sea, confident that he will be reincarnated to continue his evil work. Whether there’s any way back for Dr Frankenstein after his gob-smacking dissolution by sulphuric acid is another question entirely …

Alongside the 74 minute French cut (with the option of English audio) on this disc, you also get the 85 minute Spanish release version (optional English subs) which omits some of the saucier stuff, clothes characters who were seen naked a la France and “boasts” filler footage of a gypsy named Esmerelda(!) wandering around in the woods looking mystically inspired, this character played by Franco’s most recent discovery, a certain Lina Romay.

Franco’s extensive and wildly variable oeuvre makes him a director whose films (not to mention his life) I sometimes find it more agreeable to read about than to watch. Ian Caunce regularly wrote engagingly and entertainingly about the director (as, indeed, about everything else he ever turned his pen to) in my all time favourite fanzine, Absurd.

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More recently Tim Lucas has laboured unflinchingly at the Franco coal face and of course Stephen Thrower has performed the same critical miracles for JF as he has rendered unto Lucio Fulci. Thrower supplies supplementary analyses on both of these discs that are every bit as compelling and informative as you would expect… for example, anybody labouring under the misapprehension that the dirtiest trick ever played on the world by an Argentinian footballer was Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal will be disabused of any such notion when they learn that Hėctor Yazalde was responsible, after marrying “Britt Nichols”, for this stunning actress’s subsequent disappearance from the exploitation movie scene… what a miserable old Hector!

Thrower suggests, with some justification, that this brace of pacey and exploitive titles constitute an ideal introduction to Franco for the uninitiated who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Your journey through a thousand Franco films might usefully starts with this couple of steps but beware… there’s plenty in the old boy’s filmography that will tax your attention span a lot more rigorously than this. As a rough indicator of the sheer volume of material that awaits you (with predictable consequences for quality control), in the same year that Franco authored these two little gems he was also responsible for A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Lovers Of Devil’s Island, The Secret Diary Of A Nymphomaniac, Eugénie, Inside A Dark Mirror, The Mystery Of The Dead Castle, Tender And Perverse Emanuelle, The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff  and the unfinished Relax Baby.

My favourite moment from these hugely enjoyable discs occurs during the bonus interview with Franco on The Demons where the director disavows any interest in sado-masochism and claims that there’s a negligible amount of such imagery in his films. His interviewer, David Gregory, is audibly, understandably and almost tangibly nonplussed.

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That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles… XYY-Rated Suspense From Dario Argento in THE CAT O’NINE TAILS

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

Due to his enhanced sense of hearing, blind crossword compiler Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) finds himself eaves-dropping on attempted blackmail while walking past a car with his niece / ward Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) outside the Terzi genetic institute in Turin. Later the same night there’s a break-in at the institute and shortly after that one of its leading scientific lights is crushed under a train at the city’s rail terminus. An Argento-patented obsessive amateur sleuth, Arno recruits newspaperman Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) to his ongoing investigation into what the hell is going on at the institute, as the killings rapidly multiply and skeletons start to slide from the closets of its eminently respectable staff, including the director’s glamorous daughter Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak), though Giordani’s suspicions don’t deter him from his amorous pursuit of her. When his and Arno’s investigation gets too close to the killer for comfort, Lori is kidnapped, setting up a spectacular denouement on the institute’s roof top…

The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) was, for a considerable time, Dario Argento’s second hardest-to-see feature-length thriller, behind only the disappeared-for-decades Four Flies On Grey Velvet (made, coincidentally, in the same year). It got a Saturday late-night screening on BBC1 during the early ’80s and tapes of that were all we had to go on for another ten years or so until Warner released it on VHS, followed by various DVD editions. Now its time has come for the 4K restoration treatment on Arrow BD, an ideal opportunity for us to re-evaluate the film hyped on its original US theatrical release as “nine times more suspenseful than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage”…

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In fact CO9T is a rather less suspenseful affair than Argento’s debut, not on account of any deficiencies in its conception or execution, rather due to its director’s impatience with the limitations of the “Italian Hitchcock” tag he’d been landed with and keenness to establish his own auteurist identity. There are suspenseful scenes here, for sure (Giordano trapped alone in a tomb after Arno has wandered off into the cemetery… poisoned milk that Giordano and Anna might or might not drink… that climactic roof top drama) but Argento signals his flagging enthusiasm for the “whodunnit” format via this film’s title (clumsily conceived to tie it in with its predecessor), by the anticlimactic, lazy unmasking of a minor character as the culprit (“We used to do that all the time”, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti admitted to me) and in the resolution of Lori’s fate (if, indeed, that is ever satisfactorily resolved) by means of an overdubbed afterthought.

Throughout, Argento is more interested in staging set piece spectacles (a body mangled under a train after head-on close up impact, the killer’s hands smoking as they attempt in vain to arrest their descent down a lift shaft by clutching cables…) and composing mannered visuals (is that our first sighting of the mythical “green puke” as Giordano’s photographer friend gets garroted in his dark room?) …

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… that are consistently complimented by an Ennio Morricone score – all staccato bass, chiming percussion and snarling trumpet – which suggests that il Maestro had been spending time checking out Miles Davis’s recent fusion explorations.

One thing that always strikes me about CO9T is its all-pervasive sense of (hetero)sexual unease bordering on disgust. The nuclear family seems to have broken down… Lori comes without parents and the marriage contract is reduced to a financial transaction for the elite, prefaced by a mandatory act of masturbation (“bim, bam!”) in the sterile confines of the Terzi institute. Has there ever been a colder “love scene” than the one between Giordano and Anna? (Things would warm up considerably, scant months later, between Michael Brandon and Francine Racette during a genuinely tender tryst in Four Flies). Argento explores an alternative gay lifestyle and examines it sympathetically, aided and abetted by the tolerant albeit slightly embarrassed way Franciscus plays his scene at the Saint Peter’s club. That scene unfolds very differently in Paul J. Gillette’s American novelisation of the film, wherein Giordano evinces a brand of petit bourgeois  homophobia that Gillette presumably believed would chime with his readers. He also novelised Play Misty For Me though I strongly suspect this is not the same Paul J. Gillette who translated the complete works of De Sade.

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Is it any wonder that Giordani and Anna go about making the beast with two backs so gingerly, given the film’s endorsement of the (once popular, now discredited) thesis that a predisposition to violent criminality can be chromosomally conveyed via the putative XYY triad? Argento plays this plot point with considerable, multi-faceted irony, presenting us with a character who champions the XYY hypothesis (indeed, their career has been based on work in this field) but feels “unfairly” treated on discovering that they conform to the suspect genetic profile. Once the gene genie is out of the sample bottle, they take the “rational” decision to dispose of those in a position to discover this damning secret, the killer merely confirming the psychopathic destiny written into their biology (and of course losing it completely during the denouement). Argento would revisit “rational” killers (or are they? Clue – check the pile of bodies at the end of Tenebrae) and Sergio Martino would subsequently make great use of this device (at one point in his kinky classic The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, there are no less than four, variously motivated killers in operation) but the giallo which shares the most interesting affinities with CO9T in this regard, at least to these jaundiced eyes, is another 1971 effort, Fernando Di Leo’s characteristically brutal La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (known under several AKAs but the literal translation “The Beast Kills In Cold Blood” is surely most apposite here). In this one a “rational” killer stages a messy kill spree in order to distract police attention from his commonplace motivation for bumping off the one victim that really matters to him, though in the film’s truly delirious closing minutes it’s revealed that the culprit’s accelerating disinhibition in matters of murder has actually reduced him to a sweating, drooling, bloodthirsty maniac.

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My screener copy arrived minus the booklet (featuring new writing by Barry Forshaw Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes, illustrated by Matt Griffin), double-sided fold out poster and four lobby card reproductions which will accompany street copies. Prominent among the significant bonus materials I did get to see were new interviews with Argento, production manager Angelo Iacono and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, who spills the beans on his late ’60s student activism. Sounds like this stood him in good stead for his later dealings with the Argento family, whom Sacchetti suggests he had to threaten with physical violence to secure his screen writing credit for CO9T. Entertaining as it is, I could have done without Sacchetti’s interview being repeated on my screener copy at the expense of the promised conversation with Cinzia De Carolis. It would be interesting to see what she looks like these days and hear her memories of appearing in this film and some of the roles she undertook in adulthood, e.g. in Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and such oddities as Raniero di Giovanbattista’s Libidine (1979). No doubt this oversight will be rectified by the time this limited edition hits the shelves.

Argento buffs will be particularly fascinated by a bonus reconstruction of the film’s original – and rather corny – ending, the only existing image from which is on the German lobby card below (and a slight variation on which is mentioned in the inevitable Jones / Newman commentary track).

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Roberto Rossellini & Ruggero Deodato, Keeping It Real In The Risorgimento… VIVA L’ITALIA Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow Academy. 12.

Brought up in a Giuseppe Garibaldi worshipping household, Roberto Rossellini considered his Garibaldi biopic Viva L’Italia (1961) as the greatest achievement in his illustrious filmography, although this expensive vanity project, financed by the Italian government to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the General’s clinching contribution to the unification and liberation of Italy, did nada at box offices. The film focuses on the final six months of Garibaldi’s campaigning, culminating in his historic meeting at Teano with King Victor Emmanuele II, who accepted Garibaldi’s gift of a viable Italian state and promptly demoted him to the sidelines so that he (His Highness) could hog the limelight. No good deed goes unpunished, you might say. Alternatively, you might consider the modesty and sense of selfless mission with which Garibaldi swallowed all this as emblematic of the greatness of the man.

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The General models Garibaldi red… the exact shade used on Nottingham Forest shirts. Fact.

A.J.P. Taylor considered Garibaldi to be “the only wholly admirable figure in modern history”. While my own understanding of Il Risorgimento is pretty much confined to my History “A” Level studies, I generally find Taylor to be a reliable judge in these (or just about any other) matters. Rossellini certainly presents Garibaldi (played by Renzo Ricci) in a heroic light, magnanimous towards his vanquished foes and refusing to countenance tactics that would rack up significant civilian casualties (“Better to lose the battle!”) Of course such gentlemanly codes of conflict where more commonplace before the Franco-Prussian contretemps ushered in the miserable age of “total warfare”, barely a decade after the events depicted here. As one of the high priests of neo-realism, Rossellini justifies his noble portrayal of the general with reference to the memoirs of Giuseppe Bandi, who accompanied Garibaldi on his campaigns, serving as his Boswell (or, perhaps more appropriately, his Bernal Diaz). Bandi (incarnated by Franco Interlenghi… yes, Antonella’s dad) pops up, observing and ear-wigging at several significant points in the narrative, underscoring Rossellini’s “you are there” approach to his subject matter. Regardless of how accurate Bandi’s reportage might or might not be, it also has to be said that Rossellini leaned equally heavily on the romanticised literary accounts by Alexander Dumas for his source material… so just how reliable is Realism? Just as the 18th Century French school of literary Naturalism, presided over by Zola, ultimately brought forth such strange, decadent fruit as J.K. Husyman’s Against Nature, Rossellini’s insistence on “telling it like it is” would, with accreted sensationalism and cynicism, eventually lead (via the Mondo school of documentary / shockumentary) to the Italian cannibal film cycle, whose own high priest – Ruggero Deodato – served as Rossellini’s assistant on Viva L’Italia…

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… and reminisces about doing so in an engaging bonus featurette here. As you might expect, Deodato has plenty of interesting and amusing anecdotes to relate and some pertinent observations on the symbiotic relationship between Italian “Art House” and “B-Movie” offerings. When he turns his attention to Realism, Deodato is on much shakier ground. After his Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was hyped with the line: “The men you will see eaten alive are the same who filmed these incredible sequences” Deodato had to back-track frantically when summoned to court to account for his collaborators’ whereabouts. For him to claim now that his apprenticeship with Rossellini  entitles him to describe his anthropophagic efforts as “realistic films” rather than “cannibal films” just about takes the Garibaldi biscuit.

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Is this guy for “real”?

The other supplementary materials on my screener copy comprise a shortened English language export cut of the film entitled, simply, Garibaldi and a useful visual essay by Tag Gallagher (author of The Adventures Of Roberto Rossellini: His Life And Films) which intelligently critiques the film while placing its events in their proper historical perspective.

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Home Alone With Two Fat Ladies… Fulci, Martino, Di Leo, Lenzi & Bava Jr On 88 Films Blu-Ray.

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Picture yourself at the fag-end of 2017 / phony dawn of 2018. Christmas Day petered out shortly after Christmas dinner had been consumed, you’re too old and world-weary to give a rat’s ass about New Year’s Eve… your nearest and dearest have peeled off to do whatever it is they do, leaving you home alone with a greasy turkey leg, a tub of Quality Street now containing more cellophane than chocolate and hundreds of satellite TV channels… all screening shit, 24/7. Just to make things more interesting, the Aussie Flu is already beginning to gnaw at yer vitals. What’s a boy to do? Luckily, I’ve been salting away some 88 Films Blu-ray releases, as and when I’ve spotted them on the bargain shelves (it’s a long time since any review copies from this company troubled the mat under the letter box here at THOF) and now, almost exactly a year since our first round-up of elusive (to me, anyway) 88 releases and under very similar circumstances… here’s another one!

Cold Blooded Killer (18)

Body Puzzle (18 )

2019: After The Fall Of New York (18)

Hands Of Steel (15)

The Iron Master (15)… BD / DVD combi edition

Aenigma (15)

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Our current trip down route 88 commences in bracing style with Fernando Di Leo’s brilliantly barking 1971 giallo La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (“The Beast Kills In Cold Blood”), abbreviated here to Cold Blooded Beast (and also released as Slaughter Hotel or Asylum Erotica). Talk about a promising set up… take a bunch of affluent, luridly  outfitted female basket cases with a range of exotic personal problems (Rosalba Neri’s a nymphomaniac obliged to take regular cold showers to ward off incestuous desires for her brother) and confine them to a “rest home” established within a medieval castle that comes complete with medieval weaponry and torture implements (what’s that you were saying about “set and setting”, Dr Leary?) When not lounging around, smoking like chimneys and reading those yellow-jacketed Mondadori novels, the inmates are dodging (or in some cases indulging) the sapphic attentions of nurse Monica Strebel, a mental health professional so well-trained that she has to have the word “agoraphobia” explained to her. Just to put the cherry on this crazy cake, the sanatorium’s deputy director is played by Klaus Kinski… I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Hang on… did anybody just hear a squishing noise from inside the iron maiden?

Cold Blooded Killer flirts with the sleazier strand of giallo (Play Motel, The Sister Of Ursula, Giallo A Venezia…) but ultimately has more in common with such gothic gialli as Emilio Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave from the same year or Antonio Margheriti’s 7 Deaths In The Cat’s Eye (1973). Di Leo’s more accustomed generic stomping ground was Crime Slime, where he proved himself no wilting violet when it came to the depiction of brutal violence. Here he bides his time as the kitschy kill-by-numbers plot shifts through its florid gear changes, only for everything to explode in spectacularly ugly style during the final few minutes, the frenzied ferocity of which suggests Ted Bundy’s sorority raid (in fact this film was shamelessly marketed on the US grindhouse circuit to tie it in with Richard Speck’s kill spree!)

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The killer has been doing away with a series of apparently unrelated victims, posing as a blood thirsty lunatic to obscure his all-too coldly calculated motive for wanting to see the back of one of them. Once exposed, he runs amok through what remains of the sanatorium’s clientele, revealing that his “rational” dabbling in butchery has tipped him over the edge into hopeless psychosis. Dario Argento and Sergio Martino would expand on this plot conceit to more sophisticated and stylish effect in subsequent gialli, but Di Leo’s deployment of it here really packs a wallop.

88’s BD of Cold Blooded Beast renders previous DVD releases (e.g. Shriek Show’s Slaughter Hotel disc, with its sound-synching problems) obsolete, clocking in as the longest version yet available. Some of Neri’s sex scenes have been sourced from inferior elements and she complains in a bonus interview that much of this stuff features a body double and was inserted later without her knowledge. Indeed, it’s noticeable during one enthusiastic scene of, er, self-love that Neri’s appendicitis scar disappears during the close-up shots. So that’s not Rosalba’s hand handling her bits, there. Nor, unfortunately, is it mine.

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Neri also reflects engagingly on various of her collaborators (“Kinski was strange and devoted to alcohol, or even something stronger that gave him strange reactions”) and confesses her one regret, i.e. “That I never made a good film!” Further extras include an audio commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and an interview (again, courtesy of 441 Films) with Sylvia Petroni (daughter of Death Rides A Horse director Giulio Petroni) concerning the crucial but oft-neglected role of script supervisor / “continuity girl”, a role she also filled on Flesh For Frankenstein, among several other notable credits.

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If 1971 was (give or take) the high water mark of giallo production, Italian directors were still knocking out the occasional yellow slasher a couple of decades later. It seems entirely appropriate that one of the last entries in the cycle, 1992’s Body Puzzle, should be directed by a member of the Bava clan, though Lamberto’s invariably competent handling of his material inevitably disappoints the high expectations invested in that illustrious surname. Here he seems to be taking his cue from Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987 and arguably the last of the great gialli) by revealing the killer’s identity in a very early scene… or does he? Francois Montagut (vaguely resembling Rutger Hauer in his prime) enters William Müller’s upmarket pastry shop, draws the blinds and casually stabs Herr Müller before departing the scene of the crime with various bagged-up innards. The unfortunate pâtissier’s ear is left in Joanna Pacula’s fridge. “Could be you’ve got yourself a real psycho” the coroner helpfully advises investigating officer Tomas Arana.

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Arana’s a lot quicker seducing Pacula than he is in working out that all the victims of the unfolding kill spree received organ transplants from her dead husband. Apparently he’d been leading a secret gay life and the suggestion is that one of his former lovers entertains the deranged ambition of resurrecting him by reassembling his constituent parts (while listening to Mussorgsky’s Night On A Bare Mountain, for some reason)… so a teacher of blind children has her eye hacked out in front of her blissfully oblivious students (quite an effective sequence, this), a life guard is sliced up in his swimming pool and Susanna Javicoli (whose face was bisected by falling masonry during Suspiria’s most celebrated set-piece sequence) has her hand lopped off in glorious bog-seat-o-vision. Bava evokes further pasta paura splendours by casting Erika Blanc, Gianni Garko and John Morghen (who confounds all expectations by avoiding dismemberment) in small roles, though I could have done without the cemetery superintendent named “Mario Fulci”.

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“Camp”? Moi?

Things are proceeding engagingly enough towards what you think will be a predictable denouement when Bava drops his big plot twist. The killer isn’t who you think he is. He isn’t even who he thinks he is. This seems like clever stuff until, after a nanosecond’s reflection, you realise that it doesn’t make a lick of goddam sense. Now, Bava Jr’s handling of depth psychology has never been his strongest suit (witness A Blade In The Dark)… pay close attention to the throwaway conversation here between Arana and a sanatorium director. You still won’t buy it. The killer, however, once Pacula has explained to him the misconception under which he’s been labouring, gains immediate self-awareness, repents his misdeeds and speeds off into the night on his motorbike. Before you can say “Vertigo”, his motivating misapprehension has mutated into self-fulfilling prophecy. He could just as easily have ridden his bike through the holes in Bava, Teodoro Corrà and Bruce Martin’s screenplay (the scene where Montagut hides in a freezer on the off-chance that somebody will open it and he can jump out  at them is a particularly bemusing one), but when have we ever let such considerations hamper our enjoyment of a good giallo? And Body Puzzle is a pretty good giallo…

Extras include two print interviews, with Arana (conducted by Phillip Escott) and Lamberto Bava (Calum Waddell).

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The last big generic spasm undergone by the Italian B-movie scene was, appropriately enough, the early-80s post-Apocalyptic filone inspired by Escape From New York and Mad Max II, as crystallised in Enzo Castellari’s Bronx Warriors brace and The New Barbarians (1982-3). Able genre jumper Sergio Martino had no problems adapting to the formula and his 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) emerges as one of the better entries in a sometimes blockheaded cycle (Rats – Night Of Terror, anyone?), matching Castellari’s patented action scenes and peppering them with philosophical allusions and humorous asides.

Flavour-of-that-month action man Michael Sopkiw is Parsifal, your basic Snake Plissken wannabe, who scratches a living racing futuristic hot rods around the irradiated Arizona desert. Those who survived the nuclear war are sterile but rumour has it that there’s one fertile woman, in a coma, somewhere in NYC. Parsifal is hired by Edmund Purdom, President of The Pan-American Confederacy, to locate her and deliver her to the rocket base where she’ll be blasted off, in the company of the surviving global elite, to reboot the human race in some distant galaxy. “Somebody baked The Big Apple” (though they thoughtfully left the Peter Gabriel graffiti on the wall) and needless to say, when they gets there, Parsifal and sidekicks Ratchet (Romano Puppo) and Bronx (Paolo Maria Scalondro) find themselves thrown into the thick of incessant conflict between Confederacy stormtroopers and rival criminal and / or mutant gangs.

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Luigi Montefiori / George Eastman as “Big Ape” (Martino saved a few bob on make-up, there), manages a particularly impressive (even by his standards) entry, erupting on-screen to disembowel some bad dude with his cutlass. Futuristic glamour is supplied by Anna Kanakis (a former Miss Italy and erstwhile Mrs Claudio Simonetti) and Valentine Monnier. After just about everybody else has been bumped off, Parsifal makes it back to the rocket with his female cargo, the projected mother of a new, genetically pure human race… except of course, unbeknownst to everybody but Parsifal, Big George has parked a parcel in the prime real estate of her womb. Ooh, the cosmic irony… ooh, the echoes of the conclusion to Bob Fuests’s The Final Programme (1973), as Big George’s mutated monkey spunk departs (if I may paraphrase Neil Young) for its new home in the sun. This film’s director laughed off my reference to “Wagnerian overtones” in 2019 when I interviewed him but if you’re gonna send somebody named Parsifal on a mission to secure the genetic purity of his race… well, pull the other one, Sergio!

Phillip Escott interviews Martino and long serving production designer / art director Massimo Antonello Geleng (who provides fascinating insights into his miniature and effects shots for 2019) on the disc and the accompanying booklet includes another interview with Martino, courtesy of Callum Waddell.

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Sergio was back in Arizona three years later, still surfing whatever generic waves the international box office was throwing up, to ever decreasing returns. Hands Of Stone started as a First Blood copycat but when The Terminator hit, it rapidly mutated into Hands Of Steel (1986). Daniel Greene (who actually managed to parlay his beefcake persona into a respectable acting career outside of the Italian “B’ milieu) is Paco Queruak, a cyborg created by John Saxon’s sinister industrial corporation to assassinate their eco-conscious political critics. When Paco’s human conscience gets the better of him, he drops out of the assassination racket to pursue competitive arm-wrestling (sure, what else would he do?), not to mention feisty bar owner Janet Agren. Jilted local tough guy Raul (George Eastman) and Saxon’s hit-men (including, unfortunately, Claudio Cassinelli in his final screen appearance) ensure that Paco’s retirement is anything but quiet. In the best sequence in the picture, he fights off a brassy blonde Hot Gossip refugee decked out in a polythene mini-skirt who tells him: “I’m the perfect cyborg and have been sent to kill the traitor!” Fine words, but it’s a pity she can’t back them up. Paco pulls her head off, but neglects to shove it up her android arse… which must go down as a missed opportunity, in my book.

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Have you seen Polythene Pam? You could say that she’s attractively deconstructed… (with apologies to The Beatles)

In another bonus interview from the boys at 441, Martino identifies this film as one of the last in which (with the aid of Sergio Stivaletti’s make up FX and characteristic Italian resourcefulness) his countrymen could vaguely compete with their American models and sometimes make it onto American screens. While Hands Of Stone (he contends… and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) was a respectable Terminator copycat there was no way, he concedes, that by 1991 the Italians were going to be able to attempt the likes of Terminator 2. Inevitably, the director reflects ruefully on the death of Claudio Cassinelli in a helicopter stunt shot during the making of this movie. 

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One generic playing field on which the Italians probably figured they were well qualified to compete was that of the mythological Peplum, having invented it in Maciste epics going as far back as Giovanni Pastoni’s Cabiria (1914). When Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) and John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian (1982) hit paydirt, Italian exploiters weren’t slow to respond, none quicker (nor barmier) than Lucio Fulci with 1983’s Conquest (geddit?) which lived up to that opportunistic titling with a mind-boggling mix of mystical mumbo-jumbo, cocaine-snorting werewolves, jelly baby zombies and tribal tattoos straight out of The Book Of Eibon. Two other films made in ’83, Antonio Margheriti’s Yor – Hunter From The Future and Umberto Lenzi’s The Iron Master, were only marginally less mental.

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Lenzi’s stone age spagwest concerns the Oedipal sibling rivalry between Ela (Sam Pasco in his only non-gay porn outing) and Vood (George Eastman again) over the succession to Raa The Wise (Jacques Herlin). Vood is exiled after trying to advance his claim by bumping off poor old Raa but, while wandering around in an amateurishly executed volcanic eruption, he initiates the iron age (just like that) by discovering some of the stuff in a stream of lava. Forging weaponry from it (pretty bright caveman, this), he returns (now wearing the head of a lion he killed) to supplant Ela. The latter does his own wandering around in exile, during which he fights off monkey men and zombie-like lepers, picks up Stevie Nix lookalike Isa (Elvire Audray) and invents archery. Dismissing the pacifist arguments of hippy philosopher Mogo (William Berger), Ela returns to vanquish Vood and his henchmen for good… and human history has continued to unfold in peace and harmony up right to the present day, yeah?

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Everything about The Iron Master, from its model mammoths and mastodons to its hysterical mumbling cavemen / psychedelic sitar score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (who also scored 2019 under their trusty “Oliver Onions” alias) is a certified hoot. I’m reliably informed that this version has been cut by eight seconds (animal abuse?) but I’m not sure that my heaving ribs would have been able to take another second, anyway. Once seen, this film’s male lead can never forgotten and certainly wasn’t by Fred Andersson, who supplies the diverting booklet essay “Who Is Sam Pasco And Why Is Nobody Talking About Him?”, detailing his search for the facts concerning this body-building pin-up icon / gay porn star / hustler. The disc also contains 441’s joint interview with DP Giancarlo Ferrando and the aforementioned Massimo Antonello Geleng, which is a particularly jolly affair in which the two old troupers, clearly great pals, reminisce about the good old days. Ferrando remembers the irascible Lenzi “foaming at the mouth” during one shooting mishap on The Iron Master and jokingly blames him for the near-extinction of the American buffalo.

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88 seem to have got the hang of this Blu-ray mastering bit. All of the films under consideration here look fine, some of them probably better than they deserve to look. Even their crowd-funded restoration of Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma (1987) looks… as good as it’s ever going to look, given Luigi Ciccarese’s unrelentingly harsh blue-rinse cinematography.

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It’s a look clumsily copped from Argento’s Phenomena (1985), from which Fulci also cheerily pinches much of Aenigma’s setting and plot. Bereft of his prime-time dream team (Sacchetti, Salvati, Frizzi, Tomassi, Lentini, De Rossi), Fulci struggles desperately (with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, a script collaborator on The Beyond and House By The Cemetery) to figure out what makes a horror hit in 1987 and also ends up roping in significant elements of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) and Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978). It’s reasonable to surmise that the latter did decent box office in Italy, given the appearance of Mario Landi’s hysterical Patrick’s Still Alive in 1980. Unfortunately, that one’s a lot more entertaining than the item under consideration here…

In a snotty girl’s boarding school in Boston (actually Belgrade), a spiteful prank dreamed up by the bitchier pupils and their loathsome PE teacher Fred (Riccardo Acerbi) misfires, leaving its victim Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic) in a coma. New student Eva (Lara Lamberti) arrives to fill the Jennifer Connelly role, though unfortunately she has no telepathic connection with insects. There’s no chimp in this film either, unless you count Fred. What does happen is that comatose Kathy exerts psychic control over Eva, taking advantage of her slutty inclinations (“Let’s get one thing straight! A successful semester to me means making out with as many cute boys as possible. Let’s put it this way: anything in pants!”) to take violent, albeit far-fetched revenge on Fred and his co-conspirators. So people are strangled by statues or their own reflections, or eaten by snails (this ludicrous scene an obvious indicator of how far Fulci’s talents had slipped since The Beyond and its spider attack, just six years previously). None of this is as interesting as it sounds and re-reading what I just wrote, it didn’t sound particularly interesting in the first place. The “action” grinds to an arbitrary stop when Kathy’s mum, the school’s Mrs Mopp who had previously assisted in her vengeful kill-spree, decides enough is enough and pulls the plug on her daughter’s life support system.

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Fulci (who cameos as a cop, above) is credited for direction and also “special camera effects”, though it’s difficult to discern any particular “camera effects”, special or otherwise. Maybe that’s a reference to the glowing red eyes various characters develop when in the throes of a psychokinetic mong attack. Or maybe they’re reacting adversely to Douglas Meakin warbling Carlo Maria Cordio’s appalling theme song Head Over Meels (sic).

There’s a boring romantic subplot involving the romance between penitent prankster Jennifer (!), played by Ulli Reinthaler and Dr Robert Anderson (Jared Martin). The recently deceased Martin seemed to be Fulci’s go-to David Warbeck substitute, though he managed a pretty decent TV career (Dallas, L.A. Law) in America. Well versed in the ways of Fulci (he essayed the role of “Drake” in the director’s Fighter Centurions, 1984), Martin’s most resonant line of dialogue here is: “Don’t call me Bob!” He’s obviously aware of the unhappy precedents…

This disc’s significant bonus material constitutes Eugenio Ercolani and Giuliano Emanuele’s Aenigma: Fulci And The ’80s, a feature-length look at LF’s declining years featuring contributions from Claudio Fragasso, Antonio Bido, Michele de Angelis, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Antonio Tentori, among others. Good stuff.

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Strange Brew… THE WITCHES Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow Academy. 12 (TBC).

“What’s inside a girl? Ain’t no hotter question in the so-called civilised world…” The Cramps.

Men are from The Temple of Mars, women from The Temple of Venus…

Portmanteau movies flourished in Italy during the ’60s and even Mario Bava got in on the act with I Tre Volti Della Paura (“The Three Faces Of Fear”) aka Black Sabbath in 1963. Regrettably, the Italian tendency to showcase the work of several different directors fianco a fianco yielded no Bava / Freda / Margheriti / whoever screen summit (what a tantalising “might have been”), these caroselli generally focussing instead on satirical social comment, trying to make sense of the changes wrought by Italy’s post-War “economic miracle”. In such a deeply conservative (indeed, recently fascistic) Catholic society, no such upheaval was more pertinent, in the minds of many, than that involving the social role of women…

In Le Streghe (“The Witches”, 1967) heavyweight producer Dino Di Laurentiis assembled five heavyweight directors to give their take on women. It goes without saying that those directors (Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi and Vittorio De Sica) were all men, nor can it go un-noted that the actress portraying the various facets of womanhood detected by all these make film makers was Dino’s trophy wife Silvana Mangano (below), whose claims as Italian screen Goddess in excelsis DDL was keen to promote over those of his former partner, now rival Carlo Ponti’s paramour Sophia Loren.

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Why “The Witches”? Other interpretations are possible, available and perfectly plausible but my own take on the title is that it reflects a male a male acknowledgement of the power that women exert over men and the suppression that must, consequently, be applied to them. In Visconti’s opening chapter (the longest in the film), La Strega Bruciata Viva (“The Witch, Burned Alive”), Mangano is a beautiful screen icon (not much of a stretch there, then) deconstructed figuratively (somebody likens her, to her face, to a can of corned beef) and to some extent (via the removal of her wig, make up, etc) physically by her catty, vacuous entourage (which includes Clara Calamai, who subsequently dealt with being a washed-up actress in murderous style in Argento’s Deep Red). She rings her producer husband to tell him the glad tidings of her pregnancy, only to be coldly informed that her career commitments dictate an abortion. La Dolce Vita has turned seriously sour. In Bolognini’s Senso Civico (“Civic Sense”, aka Lady In A Hurry), Mangano volunteers to take RTA survivor Alberto Sordi to hospital but once he’s served his purpose of easing her passage through Roman traffic, he is unceremoniously dumped on a patch of waste ground. Beware duplicitous women bearing gifts, eh?

The third and easily most wacked-out section is Pasolini’s “broadly” comic La Terra Vista Dalla Luna (“The Earth Viewed From The Moon”) in which the director continues his teaming of Neaploitan comic legend Totò and Ninetto Davoli from the previous year’s Uccellacci E Uccellini (“Hawks And Sparrows”). Pasolini’s first (luridly) colour effort lampoons the way in which Italian men canonise their wives and mothers while simultaneously reducing them to death-like drudgery. Pasolini also finds time to decry the creeping, banal Americanisation (personified in Davoli’s startling, tangerine-quiffed Elvis wannabe) which he perceived as one of the main threats to authentic Italian culture. This instalment is scored by Ennio Morricone, while Piero Piccioni handles the others.

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After that overly didactic dose of sprawling slapstick symbolism, Franco Rossi’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it La Siciliana (“The Sicilian Belle”) comes as a welcome exercise in economical film making. Mangano’s Nunzia is a piece of property but she can use this status to wreck havoc in the patriarchal world she inhabits.

In De Sica’s closer Una Sera Come Le Altre (“A Night Like Any Other”), Mangano is a bourgeois housewife, frustrated with her handsome but passionless American husband Charlie (a hopelessly miscast Clint Eastwood). She escapes into fantasies which pit him against a cavalcade of fumetti heroes competing for her attention (“Are you feeling lucky, Diabolik?”) and of course this briefly involves Eastwood decked out as a Spagwest gunslinger…

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… all of which probably reinforces Pasolini’s point about cultural imperialism. As for “the role of women”… as Tim Lucas points out in his characteristically well-researched commentary track (*), The Witch, Burned Alive is just crying out to close this movie but Mangano, in an alleged vehicle for her talents, was required to play second fiddle to a male American box office draw. The power of witchcraft has its limits, apparently. Lucas further draws our attention to the parallels between Visconti’s contribution and the personal life of Mangano, whose desire to curtail her film career in favour of devoting more time to her children was repeatedly thwarted by Di Laurentiis. Her divorce from him was still unfinalised when she succumbed to complications from an operation for lung cancer in 1989. Her final screen role was as an uncredited restaurant diner in Juan Piquer Simón’s adaptation of the Shaun Hutson novel Slugs, the previous year.

My screener came minus the Ninetto Davoli interview and English language version of An Evening Like Any Other that will apparently grace street copies of this release, ditto the booklet boasting new writing on the film from Pasquale Iannone and the indefatigable Kat Ellinger.

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(*) The venerable Mr Lucas seems to have taken to heart the common fallacy that Pasolini named his Christ biopic “The Gospel According To Saint Mathew” and identifies the snatch of music that  Davoli plays on his harmonica at one point as Oh Mein Papa… in fact it’s Verdi’s Va Pensiero chorus. Just saying, Tim…

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Pasolini directs Totò…

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That’s The Sound Of The Men Working On The Chain Gang… DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING on Arrow Blu-ray

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 18.

As previously mentioned, review copies receive priority attention (reasonably enough) here at The House Of Freudstein. I’ve been enjoying Arrow’s BD edition of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) for a few months now, but the fact that I had to shell out for it put it to the back of the review queue. Having panned a few misfiring 11th hour Lucio Fulci duds on this Blog in 2017, it’s a relief to finally be able to devote some time to one of my favourite director’s unalloyed masterpieces. Fulci’s third giallo is undoubtedly his finest hour-and-a-halfish in that genre (bearing favourable comparison with anything Dario Argento chalked up in the thriller stakes) and arguably Fulci’s finest achievement, period (he often argued that it was, though he alternated between DTAD and the similarly under-distributed Beatrice Cenci, 1969).

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DTAD’s plot concerns a series of murders in a rural back water of southern Italy, in which all of the victims are pubertal boys. Suspicions fluctuate between (and varying degrees of retribution are meted out to) those whom the locals regard as “outsiders”… derelict peeping Tom / inept shake-down artist Giuseppe (Vito Passeri)… Florinda Bolkan’s disturbed, delusional would-be witch Martiara… and such city slicker intruders as the sexually provocative (as ever) Barbara Bouchet (whose character Patrizia has been banished to the boondocks by her rich dad in an attempt to get her off drugs) and Tomas Milian (a Milanese newspaper reporter covering the sensational murder spree).

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The true identity of the killer is ultimately revealed (to the total non-surprise of anyone who’s seen Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Fulci’s tour de force giallo from the previous year) not as some social pariah but a pillar of the local establishment, whose grisly misdeeds proceed from impeccable Catholic casuistry…

The gob smacking impact of Don’t Torture A Duckling is based upon firm foundations. Fulci’s obviously impressive cast (which also includes Mark Porel as the village priest Don Alberto, Irene Papas as his mother and Georges Wilson as a reclusive folk mystic) had a strong script (courtesy of Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Gianfranco Clerici) to work from and enjoyed, it would seem, cordial relations with the director… which wasn’t always exactly a given on a Fulci picture. Bouchet’s delineation of her character’s development, in particular, is another undoubted career peak and speaking of peaks, her nude indoor sunbathing turn herein reminds me why my heart was in my mouth when I found myself knocking on her hotel room door in Manchester in September 2013… I mean, was I going to find her topping up her tan?

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DP Sergio D’Offizi (whom, we gather, didn’t enjoy such cordial relations with Fulci and didn’t work with him again) renders the endless Italian countryside in suitably epic fashion and OST composer Riz Ortolani contributes an exceptional score, even by the standards of a career as exceptional as his was (not forgetting the angel-voiced input of Ornella Vavoni).

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Ornella Micheli (and brother Bruno) had been editing Fulci flicks for some time and would continue to do so until the relationship subsequently soured. Make up FX men Maurizio Trani (debuting for Fulci here) and Franco Di Girolamo (on board since Lizard In A Woman’s Skin) would stick with the director into his gory glory years of the late ’70s / early ’80s (sometimes working in tandem with the De Rossi clan), by which time Fulci had assembled a second dream team for his zombie-fuelled career Indian summer.

With all these talents aligned under his assured direction, Fulci was able to produce such marvels as the six and a half minutes between Bolkan’s arrival at the town cemetery and her death by the side of the autostrada, minutes which plumb the depths of human brutality (obviously) but also scale the cinematic heights of suspense, pathos and yes, tenderness.

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Fulci directs Florinda Bolkan in Don’t Torture A Duckling

DTAD also stands as a peak Fulci moment by dint of how closely it aligns the director with the central concerns of his mirror image Pier Paolo Pasolini. Both were troubled renegade Catholics. Both had tortured private lives. Pasolini was an Art house intellectual who yearned for the “authenticity” of the working classes. Fulci was a working class terza visione artisan with auteurist pretensions. As well as its obvious pessimism and anti-clericism, Don’t Torture A Duckling reiterates Pasolini’s uneasiness… and anger… about the degrading effects of globalisation and consumerism (specifically the Italian “economic miracle”) on “authentic” regional identity, the collapse of “popular culture” into “mass culture” and the widening gulf between those who benefit from alleged progress and those whom it leaves behind… issues whose relevance hardly abated in the four-and-a-half decades since Fulci shot Duckling and which have been thrust to the top of the news agenda during the current reaction against the neo-liberal experiment which had kicked off around the time he was shooting it.

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Pasolini eventually connected with his ideal authentic working youth on the beach at Ostia in November 1975, which is to say that (at least according to the official account of his death) this youth, one Pino Pelosi, connected the director’s head with a spiked plank. Fulci, in contrast, lived on through the depredations of personal decline and the precipitous collapse of the Italian film industry. As late as 1988’s The Ghosts Of Sodom, he was striving to maintain some affinity with Pasolini, though the mediocre resources at his disposal condemned that one to risible failure, economic circumstances determining all others (… now who was it that promulgated this formula?)

Back in 1972 though, Fulci’s righteous ire was a force to be reckoned with. It’s with almost palpable joy that he paints the killer’s washing powder commercial fantasy of clean-limbed, asexual soccer innocence, a vision so ludicrous that it ultimately has to be bashed out of the culprit’s head in slow-motion. What’s the last thing that goes through a fly’s mind before it’s squashed on a windshield? Or that of a killer cleric tumbling off a cliff? Or, for that matter, Pasolini’s during his final moments at the beach in Ostia?

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Don’t Torture A Duckling was shot, incidentally, in pretty much the same neck of the woods where Pasolini had filmed The Gospel According To Mathew, misidentified in Troy Howarth’s commentary track as “The Gospel According To Saint Michael”. Although I’ve picked the prolific Troy up on a few things recently, I bear him no grudge. We all drop clangers and the busier you are, the more likely you are to drop a few (not that anybody ever seems inclined to cut me any slack for mine…)

Fulci was often in variance – and in error – with producers regarding the ingredients that made some of his films so great. I’m a lot fonder of Manhattan Baby (1982) than many pundits, but it would have been seriously compromised by the omission of its Egyptian prologue, which producer Fabrizio De Angelis had to strong arm the reluctant director into undertaking. Nor did Fulci want to include any zombies in The Beyond (1981) and his original intention for Don’t Torture A Duckling (scuppered by producer Edmondo Amati) was to set it in Turin, among the Southern emigres whose labour fuelled that “economic miracle”.

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Arrow seem to have made considerably more fuss about their recent Argento boxes than about this crucial release but any doubts that they possibly didn’t “get” Don’t Torture A Duckling are soon dispelled when you see the restoration job that’s been undertaken here (fascinatingly detailed by Torsten Kaiser – who also helmed TLE’s epic conservation job on Suspiria – in the accompanying booklet). From the opening scene you’re struck as never before by the Earth tones with which D’Offizi renders both the Basilicata soil and the complexions of the wretches who scratch a living from it (ashes to ashes, dust to dust)… the inhospitably rough terrain which ultimately rips the killer’s hypocritical false face from his skull.

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The bonus materials with which Arrow have adorned this edition are equally impressive. Elsewhere in its accompanying booklet Barry Forshaw writes about the film, Howard Hughes about its soundtrack composer, Riz Ortolani. On the disc itself, Dr Mikel Koven expands engagingly on one of the main themes from his indispensable 2006 book La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, concerning how genre films would typically be consumed in Italian “terza visione” cinemas, whose socially interactive and often just plain rowdy patrons might completely  lose interest in a film if it didn’t serve up some violent set-piece spectacle every 15 minutes or so. It would be difficult to conceive of a director more equal to this task than Lucio Fulci and I’m reminded of a hysterical anecdote, related from the grooves of Graveside Records’ House By The Cemetery / Manhattan Baby soundtrack CD by the late Sage Stallone, concerning his and Fulci’s visit to precisely such a venue and the near riot that subsequently broke out. The authentic Italian cinema flavour of Arrow’s print is enhanced by the presence of the “fine primo tempo” caption, a device of which I’ve always been very fond although its appearance in the middle of e.g. Lamberto Bava’s Demons clearly winds up some viewers. In Hell Is Already In Us, Kat Ellinger argues cogently that to address misogyny (an issue without which no discussion of Fulci seems complete) is not to endorse it, deftly employing quotes from various interviews with the director to help make her point. Apparently some people have taken this impressive video essay as “an indictment of Fulci’s misogyny”… ah well Kat, we do what we can. Nice to see that Ms Ellinger’s obsession with The Monk shows no sign of abating, either.

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We’re also treated to a 1988 audio interview with Fulci and filmed ones with a batch of his collaborators on this film. Bruno Micheli talks about editing Fulci flicks with his sister and how they were both arbitrarily dismissed, a memory that’s clearly so emotional for him that he asks for the shooting to stop. Maurizio Trani (who assisted Franco Di Girolamo on the special effects of DTAD) chips in with a few of his own “barmy Lucio” anecdotes and confirms that the director was very active in conceptualising and realising FX shots, contrary to the depiction of him in the Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia (anybody remember that?) as a passive figure faithfully capturing whatever his talented collaborators placed in front of the camera. Trani also gets to comment on Florinda Bolkan’s, er, mortifying death scene in a split screen presentation (“It’s not all bad, though we did make a lot of mistakes”).

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The star herself, during a compelling interview, gets to watch this celebrated sequence (apparently for the first time) as we experience her reactions in the same split screen format. Her memories of it seem very hazy, considering it allegedly took three weeks to shoot and the fact that she now lives just down the road from its location. Bolkan’s recollections of her director recall the ambivalence I’ve previously heard from Catriona MacColl. He was a sadist on set but she loved him anyway. On balance, “Fulci was something else”… wasn’t he just?

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What do you mean… “gratuitous”?

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Dirty Pillows & Devil’s Dumplings … CARRIE Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 18.

There was a time (and such a fine time it was) when Brian De Palma and Dario Argento  were bracketed together as whizz-kid master thriller technicians, heirs apparent to the Hitchcock crown, et al, but both careers have declined since then… hardly surprising for directors who have been plying and polishing their trade since the 1960s. Their respective declines, though, have been relative… for De Palma it means that a higher proportion of his regular output has become more Hollywood formulaic / less auteurial and no doubt he cries all the way to the bank, clutching his big pay check, on account of this… for Argento it means trading on past glories with Mother Of Tears, cranking out such banalities as Giallo and Dracula 3-D and struggling to crowd fund a film starring Iggy Pop. Having just had the memory of Dario’s recent screen misadventures knocked right out of our heads by the restored Suspiria, here’s a timely reminder for all of us that De Palma was once a bit special, too.

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I’m assuming that the viewer is already familiar with the plot of Carrie… ugly duckling turns beautiful swan and is doused with pig blood… which really sets the telekinetic cat among the pigeons… topped off with the mother of all shock endings. The film also marked De Palma’s own transformation from vaguely lefty underground film maker to Hollywood player, ready to flex the dazzling technical chops he’d built up on the innovative but obscure likes of Dionysus In ’69 (1970) before a mainstream audience… and didn’t he do well? Dazzlingly deploying every tool in his armoury – virtuoso tracking, crane and “figure of eight” shots, slow motion, multi-focus lenses, split screen, you name it – De Palma, for my money, out-Hitches Hitchcock here, with sequences of sensuously strung-out suspense that will still perch you, agonised, on the edge of your set, no matter how many times you’ve seen them before. Coincidentally of course, the success of De Palma’s movie put a rocket under the career of the guy who wrote its source novel, a certain Stephen King.

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Piper at the Gates of Hell…

To add to the strength of his material and his own cinematic virtuosity, BDP could call upon the contributions of a team of stalwart collaborators, just about all of whom are acknowledged and celebrated and get to have their say somewhere in the mind-bogglingly generous supplementary material with which Arrow have stuffed this set. Here, I’ll just mention his cast. De Palma held a joint casting session for the film with George Lucas, who was looking to fill the roles for Star Wars. Seems like Brian got George’s cast-offs but can you imagine anybody topping the ensemble playing that he got in Carrie? The Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek in the title role and Piper Laurie as her religiously fanatical mother were almost unprecedented for a “mere” horror film. Amazingly, the director considered swapping Spacek and Amy Irving in their respective roles (has Irving spent a single second in her life looking dowdy?) and took a lot of convincing to have Nancy Allen in the film at all (thereby nearly depriving us of the most mouth-watering Bad Girl in screen history… never mind Carrie White burning in Hell, I wanna know what mischief Chris Hargensen is getting up to down there!) De Palma did insist on Betty Buckley slapping Allen (his soon-to-be wife) repeatedly and for real during the PE detention scene. Armchair psychologists may make of this what they will… and no doubt they will.

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The 4K restoration looks a tad grainy to these eyes but they’ve been a bit spoiled recently… it was probably a bad idea to watch Carrie (or anything, for that matter) right after CultFilms’ staggering release of Suspiria. The good news is that the film sounds great in 5.1 surround sound and as previously mentioned, Arrow have really gone to town on the extras, here… De Palma, writer Lawrence D. Cohen, DP Mario Tosi, composer Pino Donaggio (for whom Carrie was also the Hollywood breakthrough… he talks about George Lucas jumping out of his seat at the end of his first exposure to the finished film), editor Paul Hirsch (who had his work cut out for him, assembling the split screen footage), casting director Harriet B. Helberg and art director Jack Fisk (Spacek’s real life husband) talk at length about their participation in putting Carrie together (much is said, for instance, about the aborted “raining stones” prologue). All of the major thespian participants (with the exception of John Travolta, whom everyone agrees was a sweetheart) speak about the film in documentaries made at various times over the years… it’s interesting to see how they’ve aged.

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Homecoming Queen… the return of The Repressed

As well as the expected galleries, trailers, TV and radio spots, you get a brand-new visual essay, courtesy of Jonathan Bygraves, comparing the various screen adaptations of Carrie over the years. There’s an “alternate” (should be “alternative”, right?) title sequence created for network television screenings to obliterate any sightings of lady bits or direct references to menstruation (to put this in perspective, it’s only in recent months that UK TV has allowed commercials for sanitary products to feature red rather than blue blood!) Betty Buckley, who plays Miss Collins in the film, talks about her stint as Carrie’s mom in the riotously received theatrical flop Carrie – The Musical and in an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, some refugee from Green Day takes us on a present day tour of the movie’s iconic locations. He’s kind of irritating but I occasionally cracked a smile on account of his gonzoid presentational style.

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I haven’t had time to check the commentary track by Lee Gambin and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, nor the opportunity to peruse the 60-page booklet, which features a new appraisal by Neil Mitchell, who wrote the Devil’s Advocates entry on Carrie, a reprint of a 40th anniversary fanzine, and an archive interview with De Palma. I’m unlikely to see that now, given that last time I checked this limited edition set was selling out all over the place.

If you do manage to get your hands on a copy… well, we can burn it together and pray for forgiveness!

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Sorry, couldn’t resist another shot of Satan’s favourite cheer leader…

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Stop Making Sense… TLE’s 4K Restoration Of SUSPIRIA on CultFilms Blu-ray, Reviewed (No “Green Puke”… Guaranteed)

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Cultfilms. 18.

Synapse have been trailering their Suspiria restoration for something like four years but TLE’s rendition kind of crept up on the rails to emerge in a dead heat with it. Before most people have enjoyed the opportunity to watch even one of these efforts (let alone both) there has already been a lot of online argy-bargy, involving screen grab comparisons, about the relative merits of each, not all of which has been politely conducted. Indeed, more heat has been generated than light, along with a certain amount of alleged “green puke”. I’ve already blogged about TLE’s version on the big screen. Suffice to say, I detected no green puke whatsoever and I’m speaking as one who’s intimately acquainted with the sight, smell and yes, the taste of verdant vomit, given that we’re still cleaning up the Doc’s basement here after last year’s House Of Freudstein office party. Now’s our chance to evaluate how well TLE’s big screen triumph has translated to little silver discs, courtesy of CultFilms…

… but first, a warning from the director himself: “I am Dario Argento. Welcome! You are about to see Suspiria, a film in full Dario Argento style. It’s full of emotions, fright and fear. I hope you are ready to receive all of this”. Bring it on, my sinister-looking, half-Brazilian pal…

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… and a hundred or so minutes later, to nobody’s great surprise, we’ve watched the release of the year, beating off such strong competition as Arrow’s own Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Phenomena and Don’t Torture A Duckling sets, a series of Sergio Martino gialli on BD from Shameless and any amount of tawdry Severin treasures. Suspiria will light up your TV to truly gob-smacking effect and sounds even better than it did at the Mayhem Festival back in October… if you’ve invested in a 5.1 set up you’ll be able to join Suzy (Jessica Harper) and Sarah (Stefania Casini) in following the footsteps of Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and co as they clunk around the hidden recesses of the Tanz Akademie, doing God knows what.

A few random thoughts that occurred while my senses were being battered “in full Argento style”. Doesn’t Pat Hingle (Eva Axén) have an… er, unusual walking / running style? Why does everyone make such a big deal out of her being so spectacularly murdered during the film’s most celebrated set piece without ever mentioning her friend, who was simultaneously bisected by falling glass and masonry? And does Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) really believe that such grotesque carnage can be attributed to “questionable friendships”?

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“Nothing to see here, move along…”

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Joan Bennett in her Holywwod pomp.

Although people often moan about the alleged plotting implausibilities of Argento’s subsequent Phenomena, does the plot of Suspiria actually sustain serious scrutiny? The notion that a coven of witches could operate under God-fearing society’s radar by operating a dance school where they kill and possibly also (it is strongly suggested) eat the students makes about as much sense as Anton Diffring’s fugitive plastic surgeon opening a circus then shagging and killing all of his glamorous female performers in Circus Of Horrors (1960). Fortunately, the oneiric impact of Horror cinema has never turned on the dictates of logic or the banalities of “common sense”. Stop trying to make sense of it and just celebrate the arrival of Argento’s masterpiece in a format that befits its status as arguably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. At the same time, we are served a saddening reminder of how very far the director’s stock has slipped in the meantime. One very much doubts that, forty years after their original releases, fans are going to be buzzing over the prospect of e.g. Phantom Of The Opera, Giallo, Dracula in 3-D or, more pointedly, Mother Of Tears being revived and restored.

One question continues to nag at me, though… if it ever came to a knock-down, drag-out scrap, who would emerge victorious from a playground showdown between Suspiria’s knickerbockered Little Albert and Bob Boyle from House by The Cemetery? Readers views are welcomed…

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You calling my pint a puff, like?

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Is one talking to me or chewing a brick?

Extras wise, we get a couple of Cine-Excess featurettes that you’ll already be familiar with if you bought Nouveaux’s previous UK Blu-ray release of Suspiria, ditto the Jones / Newman commentary track. The original bonus materials comprise a 27 minute interview with the director and a fascinating hour(ish) long featurette on the actual restoration process.

In the interview, Argento sticks steadfastly to one of the taller tales he’s ever spun, the one about the uncredited actress playing Helena Markos requiring no make-up because she actually looked like that in the first place (sure thing, Dario!) While we can dismiss this as a mischievous bit of whimsy, it’s harder to forgive the way that Daria Nicolodi has, once again, been written out of history vis-a-vis the writing of Suspiria, reversing the trend in previous editions (notably Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary 3 disc DVD set) to increasingly acknowledge her input.

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“… she even came with that skewer through her neck!”

In the riveting restoration featurette, TLE’s Torsten Kaiser talks us through “before”, “during” and “after” samples from key (in the technical rather than narrative sense) scenes from the movie, giving us the merest glimpse of what a Herculean labour it was to render such cinematic beauty from what was a pretty ropey bunch of elements. Throughout Herr Kaiser talks about what was done without giving too much away about how it was actually done. Maybe’s he overestimating the degree of technical savvy  at which the average viewer (certainly I) is (am) operating. Perhaps he calculates (correctly, in my case) that the average viewer is incapable of getting his head around such technical stuff. There could also be an understandable desire to keep the more sophisticated tricks of his trade to himself…

… whatever, for further invaluable insights from Torsten, check out the upcoming interview with him in Dark Side magazine. One of the things we discuss there, of which there is no mention in this featurette, is the magic moment at about 1:17:24 of Suspiria (in this presentation) where Professor Milius (Rudolf Schündler) tells Suzy that you can destroy a coven by severing its head, cue the spectacle of Dario Argento’s face, popping up in a window reflection as he directs the scene. Very noticeable in the previous Nouveaux Blu-ray, its been significantly “dialled down” this time around… and I kinda miss it!

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