Features

Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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A Duodenum In Your Lap… Who really Directed FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA?

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It really should be a question in trivial pursuit: “Who directed the notorious ‘video nasty’ Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and its companion piece Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1973)?” It sure as hell wasn’t Andy Warhol… after being shot by Valerie Solanas, one of his own more deranged acolytes in the ’60s, the late socialite and soup tin painter turned over filmmaking duties at his Factory to Paul Morrissey, whose subsequent lowlife epics Trash (1970) Bad (1971) and (Heat) 1973 prove that there’s nothing new under the sun (or in Trainspotting…)

Actually Morrissey takes great exception when Warhol’s name is appended to the titles of this splattery, blackly comic brace shot in the same year as Hammer’s gory Frankenstein swan song Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, a year before Mel Brooks’ riotous Young Frankenstein and pitched somewhere in tone between those two. In Italy, where the films were produced back-to-back by Carlo Ponti, they were dubbed Il Mostro E In Tavola… Barone Frankenstein (“The Monster Is On The Table… Baron Frankenstein”) and – nicely encapsulating the second film’s rudimentary plot – Dracula Cerca Sangue Di Vergine E Mori Di Sete (“Dracula, In Need Of Virgins’ Blood, Dies Of Thirst.”)

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Morrissey prefers the titles Fresh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula, with the former’s obvious echo of his earlier underground efforts

Warhol’s “executive producer” credit was merely designed to gain the films some additional attention and notoriety, as if they needed any, bearing in mind their outrageous content. “Bryanston thought it would help bringing in an audience, which is ludicrous since his name was on plenty of movies that nobody went to see.” Morrissey later bitched to Tom Rainone in the pages of Fangoria: “He had no connection with the films until he saw them at the premiere” (Warhol has admitted elsewhere that the extent of his participation in these films was “to go to the parties.”)

“Not only did Andy Warhol not make (them), he couldn’t have made (them)” continued Morrissey: “he had trouble finding his way home without somebody helping him!” The incensed director cited “moron journalists who don’t bother to read the credits” to Rainone as the culprits for perpetuating the myth of Warhol’s “hands-on” role in these films but what really pisses him off is the way that he believes these “moron journalists” have misattributed “his” films to veteran Italian exploitation nabob Antonio Margheriti.

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The prints of both films that were originally released in English-speaking territories (and later emerged on video in them) credited Morrissey as director. On Italian prints, though, Margheriti received the credit. Nobody actually seemed to notice this disparity until Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Film Encyclopaedia came out in 1986. Hardy’s reflection on this rum turn-up suggested that the presence of a native director at the helm was more likely to put bums on seats in each market (though in Italy it hasn’t worked this way since Ricardo Freda initiated the practice of spaghetti directors awarding themselves evermore outlandish “American sounding” names)… which still begs the question, who actually directed these movies?

Credence is lent to the Margheriti theory by the simplistic brand of Marxism peddled in Blood For Dracula, which makes a meal of the obvious parallels that can be drawn between vampirism and capitalism and sits uncomfortably with the bellicose right-wing utterances we are more used to hearing from Morrissey. There’s also a pre-echo of Margheriti’s subsequence participation (with the likes of Cannibal Apocalypse and The Last Hunter) in the explosion of graphically gory efforts in Italy during the late ’70s and early ’80s, which suggests that he would have been quiet at home among the severed limbs and unfurling intestines of the “Warhol” films…

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Admittedly Morrissey could’ve been merely lampooning gore films (as in the spoof “Exorcist” sequence in his next picture, the uproarious Pete’n’Dud vehicle Hound Of The Baskervilles, 1978) and using Marxist rhetoric ironically, although irony isn’t a trait you immediately attribute to the man who allegedly once ranted: “Trash is called Trash because the people in it are trash!” Then again, anyone who could leave so crude an actor as Joe D’Alessandro to improvise his own dialogue must have some sense of humour!

Hardy answers the big question by coming right out and identifying Margheriti as the director of these films, crediting Morrissey with “a vague ‘supervisory’ function” and adding, somewhat condescendingly, that “there is little to choose between a declining Margheriti and a Morrissey graduating into crass commercialism.”

The view that has more generally prevailed, which stands that account on its head, is summed up during Luca Palmerini’s interview with Margheriti in his excellent Spaghetti Nightmares tome: “I supervised both and on Flesh For Frankenstein I had to shoot various supplementary scenes in order to bring the film up to the standard length.”

Morrissey however has always vigorously refused to acknowledge anything but the most menial contribution by Margheriti to “his” films. He told Canadian journalist Eric Sulev that: “Producer Carlo Ponti required an entire Italian crew to be eligible for tax write-offs. Margheriti, whose sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper in Flesh For Frankenstein, was given the director’s credit by Ponti.  The Italian tax-men were not so easily fooled and these modifications led to Ponti and his wife Sophia Loren being charged with tax evasion. Ponti has not been able to live in Italy since” (and Loren served a brief stretch at The Big House in 1982- BF.)

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“Morrissey himself doesn’t hold a grudge against Margheriti…” stated Sulev “… since he was only a pawn in the matter.” Why, indeed should Morrissey hold a grudge against Margheriti when presumably he had been equally happy to go along with the whole scam?

Margheriti himself, talking to me in March 1995, recalled the arrangements for FFF in equally affable term: “It was all done on a friendly basis – I got my money, for sure, but it was an informal thing, not to be creative. Carlo needed the picture to have an Italian nationality, which was impossible with that picture… there was Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey from America, Udio Kier are from Yugoslavia (Germany, actually – BF) “… not one Italian, with the exception of me… ‘Anthony Dawson!’… but Carlo says: ‘No, I want it to be an Italian picture so I signed it for Italy and some parts of the world and Morrissey asked me if I wanted the credit as a director everywhere else too, but and I said no, that they should open the film with his name in America.”

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Unfortunately the mercurial Morrissey’s once equally benign attitude towards Margheriti didn’t last. As he told Rainone in Fangoria: “I was good-natured about it then but now all these dopey magazines are coming out and saying he directed it, after he worked one or two days on the picture. It’s criminal that this man is receiving credit for this. This loser directed hundreds of films in Italy, none of which are of any merit…” (untrue… even Margheriti’s lamest flicks are infinitely more entertaining than a dozen Trash, Bad or Heats…)

In the second Video Watchdog special, Udo Kier, who took the title roles in both movies, told David Del Valle that “the director was Paul Morrissey. Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end. Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors. Never!” In Fango he reaffirmed to Rainone that “Morrissey directed the pictures… certainly all the scenes with myself and that’s all I know.”

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There, in the last four words, lies the rub. Kier only knew that he had been directed by Morrissey but another of the Flesh For Frankenstein thesps, Nicoletta Elmi, told ace Italian genre journo Loris Curci in Fangoria # 150 that: “Antonio Margheriti was the director, although he really stepped in when the film was in the middle of production. He was the one appointed to instruct the actors and the one responsible for all of the special effects. I don’t recall ever meeting Paul Morrissey and if I did, then I just don’t remember anything about him.” Elmi has been awarded the epithets “ruby maned brat” by Travis Crawford in Giallo Pages and “Italian horror cinema’s original enigmatic kill baby” (by me, just now) but surely, Mr Morrissey, she can’t be dismissed as just another “moron journalist” from “a dopey magazine”?

Morrissey might think it “criminal” that “this man” should receive credit for directing “his” films, but in fact the rather more gentlemanly Margheriti (who invariably speaks respectfully of his American counterpart) has never claimed a sole directing credit for either of them, merely insisting – as seems eminently reasonable – that he and Morrissey each handled parts of them (as seems to be borne out by the recollections of Kier and Elmi, concerning their respective participations in these pictures.)

There’s hard, all too palpable physical evidence of Margheriti’s collaboration on Flesh For Frankenstein in the shape of Carlo Rambaldi’s pulsating heart-and-lungs prop, previously seen in Margheriti’s I Criminale Delle Galassia / The Wild, Wild Planet (1964.)

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As he told Peter Blumenstock in Video Watchdog # 28: “Those weird images, which gave the film its bizarre flavour, such as the breathing, disembodied lungs, came from me. I shot a lot of the special effects scenes with the blood and intestines bursting in the direction of the audience”, before revealing literal evidence of his, er, hand in the proceedings: “You can actually see me in Frankenstein, when the male zombie destroys himself at the end and rips his intestines out… those are my hands! I have a stiff finger which I broke when I was young, which is kind of like a signature. I prepared and staged that effect.”

Morrissey’s explanation of this (“The animal guts smelled so bad, I didn’t want to shoot them… so I left that to him”) smacks of an ill-tempered attempt to put a self-serving twist on the plain fact of Morrissey’s superiority as a technical director and FX expert.

Indeed, as Morrissey admitted to Paul Talbot in Video Watchdog # 28, presumably in an unguarded moment: “Roman Polanski told Carlo Ponti that I, for some reason, would be a natural person to make a 3-D film about Frankenstein… I thought it was the most absurd offer I could ever imagine!”

Elsewhere in that issue Margheriti explained to Peter Blumenstock that “when Paul Morrissey came to Rome to start with Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein they arrived with four pages of script and they wanted to shoot 3-D picture the way they had done with movies like Flesh with the camera standing in one corner, running for 10 minutes without a cut and that’s it… not the best idea when using a technique such as 3-D.”

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At yet another point in this issue of VW, Margheriti revealed that the 3-D process Spacevision, used in Frankenstein “caused some problems with the Technicolor” that he was required to fix. “Carlo Ponti is a real producer and he wasn’t interested in backing an underground film.” Margheriti also suggested that, bearing in mind Morrissey’s avant-garde background, “Carlo was afraid the films would be far too short to be commercial.”

All of this squares with what Margheriti told me personally, i.e. “Carlo was worried about all of these considerations so he worked a kind of blackmail me, he said: ‘Tony you make that picture in Australia we talked about? If so, you have to be with the Morrissey shoot first’.”

“The picture in Australia” to which Margheriti refers was the insufferable Hercules Against Kung Fu which Margheriti made later in 1973, rounding out a typically busy year which also saw, in his in addition to his work on the Warhol brace, the entertaining gothique giallo Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eye.

“At the beginning I was kind of a supervisor but as it went on I was doing more and more because we had to shoot a lot of sequences with special effects and I handled all those then, when he was watching the first cut of Flesh for Frankenstein, Carlo said: “… but what’s happening with the kids? You have to take care of that, Tony.”

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So I wrote a new story about the kids and later I shot all the stuff at the beginning of the picture with the spider and them playing with the hand and so on (thus Kier remembers Morrissey as director while the Elmi kid recalls Margheriti) “… we put more story in and with the two kids I had a chance to bring everything together and do more special effects.”

Contrast Margheriti’s consistent, coherent accounts of what he did with Morrissey’s varying accounts. He told Video Watchdog that “Margheriti did two second units, one day for each film”, Killbaby magazine that “his sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper” and Fango that “Margheriti worked a second unit director on Frankenstein, shooting the title sequence, the bat attack and close-ups of animal guts.”

Margheriti freely concedes that he played a minimal part in the shooting of Blood For Dracula because the measurements of its sets ruled out use of the technically difficult 3-D process and in his words to Peter Blumenstock: “That was much more organised because after Frankenstein Carlo Ponti convinced Morrissey to write a real screenplay and not just treatment. That was fun. I did some scenes with Vittorio De Sica and the ex-wife of Ruggero Deodato, Silvia Dionisio…”

I’m also loath to believe that the genial, self-deprecating moderating Margheriti (when I told him that Quentin Tarantino collected his work on video, Margheriti expressed himself mystified that anybody would want to collect “all those rubbishy movies!”) would refute the widespread notion that he had worked on a prestige production like 2001: A Space Odyssey, only to claim credits he didn’t deserve on these relatively obscure movies… in fact they are so obscure that Roman Polanski felt confident enough to recreate a parlour trick he pulls during his Blood For Dracula cameo in his own Bitter Moon.

In conclusion it would seem that Antonio Margheriti deserves a significant amount of credit for the direction of portions of Flesh For Frankenstein and somewhat less for Blood For Dracula. Stick that in your gallbladder and.. well, you know what to do with it, Mr Morrissey!

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Happy Birthday, Sweet Freudstein (With Big Thanks To Irene…)… THE 1st HOUSE OF FREUDSTEIN ANNUAL REPORT

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It’s turned into the purtiest Blog you’ve ever seen… and just a year old, today!

In the latter part of 2015 I was already doing a music blog, the now defunct Boot Room Of Ozymandias. Only available to a small circle of fellow Prog Rock enthusiasts, it was, frankly, a bit crap. It did, however, afford me the opportunity to learn the tricks of the blogger’s trade while dropping most of my clangers away from the public gaze.

The yen to do a film blog was kindled in me by none other than Irene Miracle. The lovely and talented star of Inferno, Night Train Murders et al was well chuffed with the interview we’d done (which appeared in issue #167 of Dark Side magazine) and wondered if there was any chance of getting it on-line. Her admirers around the world (particularly her fanatical Japanese following) would just lap it up, she assured me. I asked DS editor Allan Bryce if he would consider running this piece on the web site of his august organ but at the time he was experiencing some problems in that department and about to change web master. When I mentioned this to Irene, she asked me why I didn’t consider setting up my own film blog. Why not indeed…

At the end of 2015 I closed The Boot Room (though that re-emerged, mutated and upgraded, as http://www.theozymandiasprogject.wordpress.com in May 2016… I wish I could devote enough time to making that as it good as it should be but hey, I’ve only got one pair of hands and 24 hours in a day) and on 01.01.16 officially launched http://www.houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com upon an unsuspecting world, leading off with the aforementioned Irene Miracle interview. She wasn’t bullshitting about how well it would go, either. A year on, she’s still fighting it out with David Warbeck for the laurel of most-visited posting and yes, many of the days on which she’s scored particularly strongly seem to coincide with days when we’ve had a lot of Japanese visitors. A woman of indisputable discernment, here’s wishing Irene every success with the various projects she has in development, notably Bangkok Hardtime.

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(http://www.dawnland-movie.com/ChangelingTheMovie/IreneMiracle)

Me Me Lay (or Lai, depending on what source you consult) grabs the bronze, unexpectedly (to me, anyway) relegating Lucio Fulci to fourth place and our look at Soledad Miranda on Severin BDs registered as the fifth biggest draw for most of our first year. Any Severin coverage tends to generate a strong response, actually and their Barbara Steele triple bill BD leap frogged Ms Miranda on the day of La Steele’s birthday, 29.12.16. Soledad certainly did her ratings no harm at all by the imperious manner in which she shrugged her kit off in the gif we used to advertise that posting on social media. Oh go on then, here it is again…

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Our Top 10 postings for 2016 are rounded out by Torso (anything Martino and / or Fenech related seems to be well received), our survey of Italian Exorcist knock-offs and two more Severin releases. Gregory and Daft’s brain-boggling Zombi Holocaust / Doctor Butcher set narrowly edged out their Burial Ground for both the number 9 spot and our pick as HOF Release Of The Year.

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This just in from our medical correspondent… Butcher stuffs Strange!

You’ll be seeing a lot more of that kind of stuff in 2017… I can take a hint, you know! In the meantime it would be nice if some of our less favoured postings started to pick up a few viewings in the New Year… I was particularly pleased with my breezy account of the Freudstein family cinema outing to check out Doctor Strange (this at the behest of my rabidly Cumberbitch daughter)… currently residing at the very bottom of our chart!

Despite the odd minor disappointment it’s been a good year,  in which we’ve made a lot of new cyber friends (and even met some of them) and had rather a jolly time e.g. celebrating the month of Scalarama, reporting from Nottingham’s spiffing Mayhem Film Festival and mounting well received Weekenders devoted to Paul Naschy, David Warbeck and Sergio Martino (with preparations for new ones in 2017 already underway.) We’ve scoured every corner of the globe for cinematic treats ranging from the Art House (The Quay Brothers) to the outhouse (Jesus Franco), from gothique Italian horrors of the ’60s to contemporary releases like Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies and leavened the mix with such occasional mainstream / big budget efforts as the aforementioned underperforming Doctor Strange. We try to cater for all tastes here at The House Of Freudstein…

… which means that in 2017, among more weekenders, major interviews, reports and reviews we’ll be hoping to cover a lot of stuff we haven’t really touched on in our first year… a few Spaghetti Westerns wouldn’t hurt… and  Poliziotteschi… yeah, you can expect a tidal wave of Crime Slime any time soon.

In the meantime, thanks for your support and Happy New Year from we Freudsteins…

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Thanks, Pal!

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SCALARAMA 2016… It’s A Wrap!

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So that was Scalarama 2016 at The House Of Freudstein… and what have we learned? That “a fruity surprise screening” isn’t the most cryptic of clues… oh, and that it was probably unwise of me to announce, in advance, certain postings that were subsequently bumped by the emergence of other contenders for blogroom. Don’t worry, the promised reviews of Salo and Caligula will be posted soon… or possibly do worry.

I was discussing the nature and value of nostalgia recently with somebody who said that he wouldn’t want to go back to the days of scuzzy VHS dubs but I think he was missing the point. Nostalgia isn’t about trying to go back, its bitter-sweetness derives largely from an acceptance that there is no going back. I don’t want to exchange my beautiful Blu-ray editions for scuzzy VHS any more than I want to spend hours on trains and sitting up all night in a dingy cinema to catch something (up to and including A Clockwork Orange) of which I can now pull an HD copy off my shelf and watch in the comfort of my own lounge (where cats are banned, all the rats are in cages and the carpets get hoovered once a year whether they need it or not!)

With such a brave new world of home entertainment just around the corner, it’s doubtful that The Scala could have gone on much longer even if it had won its case (as if!) or not been reckless enought to provoke it in the first place. Our beloved cinema club might have staggered on for another year or two longer but was, in hindsight, always going to give way to a hot-and-happening night club (I’m reliably informed that they, in their turn, are all closing now… and regular readers can readily imagine how inconsolable I am about that!)

Nevertheless, in the last words of Louis XVI (as interpreted by Mel Brooks) on the scaffold… “It was great while it lasted!”

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The House Of Freudstein does SCALARAMA… The Prologue

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Welcome to Scalarama month here at The House Of Freudstein. Everybody (old enough) has their own fondest memories of The Scala. Mine include taking the train down from Liverpool because they were playing Dario Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet (or some other incredible rarity, as 4FOGV then was) at 4 o’clock in the morning during the course of an allnight horrorthon (and yes, Ms Giles, I was one of those young guys clutching a bunch of Forbidden Planet carrier bags) then boarding the red eye back to Lime Street, totally knackered… taking the reels of Mariano Baino’s Caruncula over there on the tube for its screening (as support to Demons, I seem to recall), where my ugly mug briefly (during my cameo as “Cinema Undesirable”) joined the pantheon of legends that had graced the Scala screen … special events like the launch of Maitland McDonagh’s Argento book, where I met and interviewed The Great Man… and of course the Splatterfest in 1990 where I met and interviewed a whole bunch of other horror luminaries, while squiring the current Mrs Freudstein on what was effectively our first date… “The memory of all that? No no, they can’t take that away from me!”

Although I announced earlier on antisocial media that all of this month’s postings will be directly Scala related, there’s just too much good stuff coming my way at the moment to adhere too strictly to that self-imposed restriction. Rest assured, nothing we do cover would look out of place playing that late, lamented pleasure palce in King’s Cross. The spirit of The Scala lives on.

Scalarama forever!

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… and goddam the fools and bloody philistines who are pulling down The Futurist!

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“Canterbury Rides Again”… PASOLINI & HIS “DECAMEROTIC” IMITATORS

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During the quarter Century that Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (1975) was banned, raided and prosecuted in the UK, it became one of the most hotly traded items on the bootleg video underground, alongside those familiar Fulci, Lenzi and Deodato titles. No doubt many of those trading it were more interested in seeing people eating shit, raping, torturing and murdering each other than with weighing the political and philosophical arguments with which Pasolini underpinned his dark masterpiece. .. blissfully unaware of the ambivalent relationship between Italian “Art” Cinema and the “B” movies whose profits sustain it.

I’ve always been suspicious of false dichotomies such as the one between Art and exploitation… the long running Continental Film Review (redubbed Continental Film And Video Review a couple of years before it went out of business) remains one of my all-time favourite film magazines precisely because of the completely guileless way with which it juxtaposed the sacred texts of Robbe-Grillet and Godard with the latest crime thriller from Fernando Di Leo or new Joe D’Amato sexploiter, genuflecting as reverently before the iconic screen presence of Laura Gemser as that of Anita Ekberg and proving perfectly capable of following up an earnest discussion of the latest Ingmar Bergman effort with a splash of cheeky FOH stills and verbatim press office synopses for the likes of Danish Dentist On The Job. The hoary old Art vs exploitation distinction cut no dice in the editorial office of CFR, where the only thing that mattered was the exponentially increased likelihood in a European film (of whatever stripe), as opposed to any British or American production, of encountering some tit, a bit of bum or possibly even a stray wisp or two of pubic hair.

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During the samizdat flowering of a thousand fanzines that thrived in response to the introduction of draconian video censorship in early ’80s Britain, my own writing and editorial efforts were intended as a contribution towards extending and enriching this democratic and eclectic tendency. In the best of the zines, the new wave of pundits were as comfortable enthusing about the latest beguiling enigma from Borowczyk or Zulawski as they were in singing the praises of some rediscovered giallo or slice of crime-slime and the flip side of this was the rash of learned papers emanating from the groves of academe, whose scholars were apparently poring over the collected works of Russ Meyer, Dario Argento, et al. I’m sure that the ever-iconoclastic Pasolini would have welcomed this sacking of the academic ivory towers though in characteristically contrary fashion I’m not so sure the grumpy old bugger, mindful of the Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance”, would have appreciated the degree to which his own incendiary efforts had become “respectable”, clutched to the bosom of the bourgeois cultural mainstream. No doubt he took a few turns in his tomb after the BBFC’s decision to finally pass the much persecuted Salo on 16/11/00…

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You can only fully comprehend the disorienting howl of rage, recrimination and despair that is Salo if you are familiar with the fierce joy of the films that Pasolini made immediately prior to it, the “Trilogy Of Life” he initiated with The Decameron (“Il Decameron”, 1971), continued in Canterbury Tales (“I Racconti Di Canterbury”, 1972) and concluded in Arabian Nights (“Il Fiore Delle Mille E Una Notte”, 1974). Pasolini’s loving, albeit free ranging adaptations of these stately story cycles (self mockingly replaced by pernicious pornography employed to tickle the jaded palates of old fascists by the time of Salo) were expressions of his faith in the common people (or his picaresque vision of same) in all their lustful, acquisitive and roguish “authenticity” (a quality which Pasolini, on account of his homosexuality and genteel antecedents, felt that he lacked), the great unwashed whose ribaldry and very zest for life could recapture the pre-capitalist, essentially pagan idyll for which Pasolini pined. Well, whatever… readers are urged to check out the BFI’s spanky , extras-packed BD /DVD combi editions of the “Trilogy” Films, unalloyed gems of joyous European cinema which are guaranteed to significantly lift your spirits even if they don’t propel you to the nearest barricade, movies which happily occupy the middle ground between Art house and outhouse… in the Canterbury Tales alone you can gawp at the spectacle of Satan blowing sinful friars out of his crimson arse at the film’s astonishing conclusion… giggle uncontrollably at the sight of a badly dubbed Tom Baker’s knob…

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… most pertinently to the purposes of this piece, check out this disc’s 35 minute bonus featurette “Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film”, lovingly put together by the ubiquitous Severin crew to celebrate the brief but intense flood (some have estimated nearly fifty films!) of “decamerotic”  cheapo knock-offs, illuminating in the process the symbiotic relationship of Arty and more popular films in Italy which stands in stark and refreshing contrast to the snotty, hidebound attitudes of the British cinema establishment. In the words of the BFI’s genial James Blackford: “Genre fans will be pleased to know that the documentary features interviews with such Italian exploitation veterans as Luciano Martino and Gabriele Crisanti, who speak eloquently and candidly about their relationship to Pasolini’s work and the Italian commercial cinema at that time… for the British Film Institute to have commissioned an extra feature that includes the producer of Giallo A Venezia, Burial Ground and Patrick Still Lives (below) is certainly something of a landmark moment and should really capture the imagination of genre enthusiasts”. Too true, matey…

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The now moribund tradition of Italian popular cinema was, in its pre-’90s pomp, often subjected to the simple minded criticism that it did nothing more than regurgitate bargain basement copies of commercially successful American models. Kim Newman refuted this simplistic charge beautifully in a series of articles he wrote for the Monthly Film Bulletin, although I’ve mislaid the original quote and must here rely on my imperfect translation of an Italian translation (itself possibly imperfect) of a previous piece in which I quoted his indispensable aphorism… seems kind of appropriate, somehow. Anyway, in the wise words (approximately) of Mr Newman, “the best examples of Italian ‘imitations’ are actually an incredibly sophisticated mix of revision, pastiche, parody, deconstruction, reinterpretation and operatic conflation”. I couldn’t have put it better myself… in any language. Leaving aside any consideration that some of the American hits that inspired Italian cinematic trends sometimes owed their own debt to Italian originals (anybody who doubts that the cinema’s enduring genres were forged in the white heat of the nascent Italian film industry is advised to check out Tim Lucas’s miraculous Mario Bava biography All The Colors Of The Dark, published by Video Watchdog in 2007), the erotic medieval portmanteau movie provided an unarguably Italian form on which the spaghetti exploitation and imitation mills lost no time going to work. “The secret was being quick, not letting the audience’s interest die down after Pasolini had opened it” according to incorrigible scum producer Crisanti, who relates in the Severin doc how he braved a snooty dressing down from Pasolini himself, then a plagiarism lawsuit from the production company Pea and finally a threatened obscenity rap before establishing his right to bring Il Decameron No. 2 to the screen. “And that’s where it all started…” according to Signor Crisanti: “the circus of real and fake Decamerons”…

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… ah yes, “the circus of real  and fake Decamerons”: Roll up, roll up roll up, for Mino Guerrini’s Il Decameron No. 2 – Le Altre Novelle Di Boccaccio (“Boccaccio’s Other Stories”, this being the one that Crisanti weathered so many storms to bring to the screen and whose cast includes Camille “I Spit On Your Grave” Keaton, Buster’s niece) and Gli Altri Racconti Di Canterbury (“The Other Canterbury Tales”); Italo Alfaro’s Il Decameron No. 3 – Le Piu Belle Donne Del Boccaccio (“Boccaccio’s Most Beautiful Women”, optimistically and inaccurately retitled The Last Decameron for overseas release, with the enticing subtitle Adultery In 7 Easy Lessons) and Canterbury Proibito “”Forbidden Canterbury”, with Femi Benussi); Giuseppe Vari’s Beffe, Licenze Et Amori Del Decamerone Segreto (“Pranks. License And Love From The Secret Decameron”); Gian Paolo Callegari’s Le Calde Notti Del Decameron (“Hot Nights From The Decameron”); Renato Savino’s Decameron ‘300; Decameron Proibitissimo – Boccaccio Mio Statte Zitt from Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad); Lucio Dandolo’s I Racconti Di Canterbury No. 2 (“Canterbury Tales 2”, released in Anglo territories as “The Lusty Wives Of Canterbury”); Brunello Rondi’s Racconti Proibiti… Di Niente Vestiti; Bruno Corbucci’s starkly titled Boccaccio; Pino Tosini’s Racconti Romani Di Una Ex Novizi; Vittorio De Sisti’s Fiorina La Vacca; Silvio Amadio’s … E Si Salvo L’Arentino Pietro Con Una Mano Avanti E L’Altra Dietro; Aldo Grimaldi’s Quando Le Donne Si Chiamavano Madonne; Pier Giorgio Ferretti’s Decameroticus; Manlio Scarpelli’s Le Notti Peccaminose Di Pietro L’Aretino; Enrico Bomba’s Le Mille E Una Notte… E Un Altra Ancora; Antonio Margheriti’s Novelle Galeotte D’Amore; Franco Rossetti’s Una Cavala Tutta Nuda; Paolo (Beast In Heat) Solvay’s Confessione Segreti Di Un Convento Di Clausura; Mariano Laurenti’s La Bella Antonia Prima Monica E Poi Dimonia and Adalberto Albertini’s Metti Lo Diavolo Tuo Ne Lo Mio Inferno.

Incredibly, all of those and more were cranked out in 1972 alone, as were a brace of pictures by the dynamic directing duo Carlo Infascelli and Antonio Racioppi, namely Decamerone Proibito – Le Altre Novelle Del Boccaccio (aka Forbidden Decameron) and Le Mille E Una Notte All’Italiana (“One Thousand And One Nights, Italian Style”), which was also known in the domestic market as Decameronissimo and released in France as Canterbury Interdit, illustrating the extent to which the different story cycles were getting confused with each other in the popular imagination (with the active encouragement of film makers as opportunistic as any medieval rogue) and also how the quick fire knock off merchants were actually anticipating the release of announced instalments in Pasolini’s trilogy… the inexhaustible Margheriti’s cheekily titled Finalmente… Le Mille E Una Notte (1972) seduced the gullible Italian punter into believing he was coughing up his lire to see Pasolini’s projected adaptation, a full two years before the latter actually hit the screens.

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Oblivious to such niceties of priority, Anglo distributors renamed Margheriti’s picture (which starred both Femi Benussi and the even more gorgeous Barbara Bouchet) as 1001 Nights of Pleasure or House / Bed Of A Thousand Pleasures. No prizes for guessing that it took Aristide Massaccesi aka Joe D’Amato to take the numbers game to its logical, smutty and quite possibly chronologically accurate conclusion with 1973’s Sollazzevoli Storie Di Mogli Gaudenti E Mariti Penitenti – Decameron No 69 (or plain old More Sexy Canterbury Tales over here). Ever busy and diligent in his studies of classic literature (if uncharacteristically slow off the blocks to exploit a cinematic trend), D’Amato knocked off Canterbury No. 2 – Nuove Storie D’Amore Del ‘300 (imaginatively aka Tales Of Canterbury) in the same year,  which he rounded off with Novelle Licenziose Di Vergini Vogliose (“Lusty Stories Of Willing Virgins”), whose working title (Le Mille E Una Notte Di Boccaccio A Canterbury) took the proverbial soggy biscuit for mythos mix-and-matching. If D’Amato was surprisingly slow in jumping this Medieval muck cart, the likes of Paolo Bianchini’s Decameron No. 4 – Le Belle Novelle Di Boccaccio (“The Most Beautiful Stories of Boccaccio”); Adalberto Albertini’s … E Continuavano A Mettere Lo Diavolo Ne Lo Inferno; Edoardo Re’s I Racconti Di Viterbury – Le Piu Allegre Storie Del-300; Amasi Damiani’s Quando I Califfi Avevano Le Corna and Roberto Bianchi Montero’s Donna E Magia Con Satanasso In Compagnia (all released in 1973) represents the tail end of all these titillating tales  (the wooden spoon though, must go to Lucio Dandolo’s 1975 effort, Quant’E’ Bella La Bernarda Tutta Nera, Tutta Calda) which were about to be supplanted from their brief period dominating terza visione screens by the altogether longer running vogue for Sexy Comedies All’Italiana. In that Severin documentary, Exploitation film scholar Antonio Tentori identifies the transitional film, probably correctly, as Mariano Laurenti’s Quel Gran Pezzo Dell’Ubalda Tutta Nuda E Tutta Calda (“Ubalda, All Naked And Warm”), produced in 1972 by Luciano Martino as a vehicle for the pneumatic charms of his main squeeze and soon-to-be undisputed queen of the Sexy Comedies (not to mention gialli) Edwige Fenech.

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Martino, Crisante and Bianchini are among those contributing their ten penn’orth to the Severin doc, as does producer Alfredo Bini who, having produced several of Pasolini’s earliest films, would later (i.e. in 1972) discharge the same function for a Decameron / 1001 Nights mish-mash directed by Piero Vivarelli (who also appears in this featurette), namely Il Decamerone Nero (“Black Decameron” aka Africa Erotica). Bini happily concedes that this move was partially designed to pay Pasolini out for jumping production ship on Il Decameron but, as if to underline the point that the high and low brow are not nearly as clearly demarcated in Italy as an Anglo-American observer might presuppose, Pasolini’s new producer Alberto Grimaldi (who continued to punctuate his collaborations with Pasolini, Fellini, Bertolucci, et al, with stints on spaghetti westerns, mondo movies and at least one Zorro adventure) also contributing to the rush of cash ins with Storie Scellerate (aka Bawdy Tales” / Roguish Stories), directed by Pasolini’s frequent collaborator Sergio Citti in 1973.

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When I interviewed Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati, who has himself successfully juggled alternate careers in Art-house and genre productions, just one of his uncredited gigs that we discussed was his contribution to the script of Salo and he insisted that “Pasolini had never even read De Sade… we wrote the film with Sergio Citti, who was going to direct it. Then the company that was supposed to produce the film went bankrupt. One evening I met with Pasolini and proposed to him that he should direct the picture himself. He accepted my suggestion, and that’s what happened” Serafino Murri, author of a critical study of PPP and a prime candidate for “Italy’s thinking woman’s crumpet critic”, argues in Severin’s documentary that Pasolini was furious to see his vision of a lost erotic paradise vulgarised into a popular franchise of disposable cheap thrills (though he was surely tempting fate by speeding up scenes for comic relief in The Decameron and casting Robin Askwith, he of the “Confessions Of..” series, in Canterbury Tales) and specifically that it was his outrage at the spectacle of the masses lapping up these low brow mutations of his poetic purpose that inspired the notorious shit banquet in Salo.

Alienated from the Left by The Historic Compromise (by which the Italian Communist Party entered into mainstream Parliamentary politics) and disgusted by his idealised youths’ acquiescence to their own enslavement in a consumerist cage, Pasolini disowned his Trilogy of Life as an over optimistic aberration… Boccaccio, Chaucer and the storytellers of the 1001 Nights were out, enter De Sade and his four killer libertines. Ironically, it was Pasolini’s continuing desire to get down with the kids in a very literal fashion that proved his undoing. On November 2, 1975, a month before the premiere of his grim magnum opus Salo, Pasolini’s ideological rejection of Italian youth was reciprocated in all too solid fashion, when one of the common people he wanted to sleep with took up a spiked club and beat his brilliant brain to a, er, pulp.

Do yourself a favour, skip the latest block headed remake of some American slasher movie that wasn’t that great in the first place and engage with Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, if only as  a prelude to immersing yourself once again, with a cleared palate and enhanced understanding, in the vituperative vileness of Salo.

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FULCI MENTAL JUNKET… “My Lunch With Lucio”

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It was twenty years ago, today (yep, this very day)… that Lucio Fulci passed away. I had intended to mark the occasion by finally publishing here the complete text of my interview with him, which has only previously appeared in excerpts (e.g. in Dark Side when the news of his death came through.) It now appears though that the interview will make its unexpurgated world debut in another and very exciting context, which I will announce on this blog if / when confirmed. In lieu of that, I’ve taken the opportunity to wallow in nostalgia with the following updated account of the weekend (09-11th December, 1994) that I spent with Il Maestro in London during his triumphant appearance at EuroFest 2 in Hampstead. Like Mark Twain, rumours of Fulci’s death had been greatly exaggerated, and although he joked that in ten years or so he would be experiencing The Beyond personally (sadly, it didn’t take anything like that long) the legions of fans who travelled from all over Britain, and indeed Europe, had come to praise Fulci, not to bury him …

Friday evening

Having completed the filming of interviews with the BBC (I’ve enquired with the Corporation as to what happened to this footage but nobody knows or seems to give a toss) and a London cable channel, the grand old man of Italian horror is holding court to a couple of Dutch fanzine proprietors / festival organisers amid the opulence of Beyond star David Warbeck’s palatial Hampstead spread as I am ushered into his presence, at the end of a torturous car-crawl through London’s grid-locked traffic. Resplendent in the red and black hunting hat he sported while top-lining his own A Cat In The Brain, Fulci firmly grasps my hand and fixes me with an Old Testament glower as he growls “Maaartin… I ‘ate journalists!” (uh-oh!) Looks like my long and fervently held ambition to meet and interview him is going tits up already. “But…” he continues with a chuckle “… to me you are not so much a journalist as a friend of Lucio Fulci”. As you can imagine, dear reader, this comes as quite a considerable relief.

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Fulci smooches up to Mario Bava back in the ’50s…

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… and with our very own Bob Freudstein in 1994

I’m also introduced to Fulci’s charming daughter Antonella, a very sweet and helpful lady who, as well as assisting her father, follows an independent career of her own as a rock and film journalist (she’s currently preparing a piece on Amando de Ossorio.) Due to the interpretative skills of Antonella and the inestimable Loris Curci, the first interview session goes splendidly, with some fascinating insights and hilariously scabrous anecdotes (“Mama mia!” Fulci tends to exclaim when the names of certain people are mentioned: “He has the intelligence of an idiot!”)

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Later, at the dinner table, the assembled company enjoys David Warbeck’s fabled hospitality in full force and effect, while Fulci rhapsodises over A.C. Roma’s recent 4-0 stuffing of Lazio before launching into an unprintable roll-call of your favourite Italian exploitation stars and their scandalous sexual liaisons, which keeps us all in stitches. Other anecdotes, which I can recount here, revolve around Al Cliver / Pier Luigi Conti’s allegedly meagre I.Q., Auretta Gay’s feat of shitting through the string of her tanga (“After that we called her ‘Ca-ca-ca’ Gay’!”), and Tisa Farrow’s similarly cavalier attitude towards defecation, plus how her stint as an inept New York taxi driver ended in her losing an eye (what better qualification for a Fulci heroine?) Fulci’s having a ball, playing the role of Pasta Paura’s elder statesman to the hilt (why not, he’s certainly earned that laurel) and thankfully at no point does he appear to be hallucinating scenes of cannibalism while tucking into his meal, a la A Cat In The Brain …

Fulci's dinner

Saturday

Having spent the night kipping on a sofa at Mariano Baino’s flat (where the hospitality is perhaps less lavish than at David Warbeck’s place, but every bit as graciously bestowed and gratefully received) I arrive at the Hampstead Everyman just too late to catch my cameo in Mariano’s Caruncula, obviously one of the Festival’s stand-out moments. News filters through on the grape-vine that the Manchester Film Fair has just been raided by Trading Standards Officers. Bad timing, officers – all the gore-pups are in Hampstead today, and right now they’re checking out the new multi-director anthology movie De Generazione, which starts in promising style with two Peter Jackson-flavoured episodes (Piergiorgio Bellocchio’s Our guys Are Coming , then Marco and Antonio Manetti’s Home Delivery) before, er, degenerating into under-achieving artiness. Alberto Taraglio’s creepy Is TV Bad For Children? marks him down as one to watch, but Asia Argento’s pretentious Outlook is more typical of the collection’s general tone (although I’m able to forgive Dario’s daughter on account of her feisty performance as a hippy hit-girl in Alessandro Valori’s Squeak!, which at least closes the proceedings in agreeably manic style.) Apparently we’ve been “treated” to a couple of episodes that were cut from the Italian release print, but most of the punters seem to feel that they’ve seen more than enough …

Attack, Dicky...

“Degeneration”, of course, could also serve as a convenient summary of what’s been happening to Italian horror and indeed, a much better reception is afforded to a film which predates De Generazione by virtually 15 years, i.e. Fulci’s classic The Beyond, soon to be the subject of a major Fangoria retrospective by Mr Curci and introduced here by its star David Warbeck. As usual, David and his entourage laugh like drains every time he appears on the screen, and there are reverential murmurs of approval for Fulci’s customary cameo. We cheer on the pipe-cleaner spiders, chuckle at the spectacle of David reloading his revolver through its snout, encourage Cinzia Monreale’s dog to “attack, Dicky… attack!” … and that frigid vision of Hell still raises the hairs on the back of your neck. In fact, seeing a slice of classic Fulci on the big screen again after all these years reminds you of the impact these films originally had on you, the sense that you were watching something quite unlike anything else you’d ever seen before, an impression perhaps diluted by subsequent years of video over-familiarity. Indeed, the heartfelt howls of audience anguish that accompany this ‘X’ print’s several censorship cuts brings it home to me that a lot of people here today have only ever seen this movie on uncut bootleg video: David Alton’s worst nightmare, an upcoming generation of video nasty brats … ample testimony to the continuing pulling power of Lucio Fulci.

Speaking of pulling power … what a ladies’ man! To rapturous applause, Fulci takes the stage (with Warbeck and Loris) to compliment the female fans on their pulchritude and announce that he’s looking for his next wife (the lady producer of The Doors To Silence pursued him but was apparently rejected on the grounds of halitosis.) Fulci also announces his mission to marry Antonella off to card-carrying Fulci fan Quentin Tarantino… “Then, at last, I will be rich!” Fulci acclaims Tarantino as “a genius”, but those who’ve incurred Fulci’s wrath are not spared his waspish wit: “Wes Craven is a very successful guy” he opines: “ … so why does he have to rip off A Cat In The Brain and call it his New Nightmare?” The audience are equally amused by Fulci’s description of John Savage as “a once-handsome actor, now weighed down by drink and his social problems”, by way of introduction to the British premiere of The Doors To Silence.

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From The Land of the Big Boot…

Most importantly though, Fulci announces the news over which I’ve been sworn to silence for these last couple of months: his next film is to be a remake of the classic Mystery In The Wax Museum, produced and presented by… Dario Argento. I think you could safely say that audience response is enthusiastic! The punters are still getting their heads around this bombshell as The Doors To Silence commences. I’m delighted to finally catch up with this picture, complete with its original jazzy score (subsequently changed by producer Joe D’Amato, whose infectious penchant for pseudonyms resulted in the picture being credited to “H. Simon Kittay”, much to Fulci’s chagrin.) For an hour or so Fulci skilfully keeps this virtual one-man show on the road, but by the end of Door’s feature-length running time the slimness of its premise (essentially a low-fi reworking of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) and the paucity of resources afforded by producer D’Amato have taken their toll. I discover that while watching it I’ve been sitting next to Cathal Tohil and Pete Tombs, authors of Immoral Tales, a wide-ranging, lavishly-illustrated door-stop of a guide to European erotic and horror cinema. It’s a wee (not so wee, actually) cracker, so scour your local quality bookshop (or indeed, t’interweb) for a copy now.

As Messrs Tohil, Tombs and I soak up the atmosphere (and alcohol) in one corner of the bar, Signor Fulci is being besieged by fans on the other. Although he’s just told the audience that “like a father with many children, I love all my films … even the illegitimate ones”, this obviously doesn’t extend to Zombi 3 (finished and ruined by Bruno Mattei), across stills from which he scrawls “I do not like this film!” If Fulci is entertaining any doubts at all as to his cult status, the frantically haggling German nut-case who’s just got to buy that hat off him will surely dispel them … meanwhile I’m handing out flyers for the latest Giallo Pages (am I setting a new record for most plugs in one piece or what?) and meeting many readers. I even get to sign a few copies of Seduction Of The Gullible. Thanks to everybody who came up to say hello. Skipping Zombie Flesh Eaters and Dark Waters, Mariano, Loris, Mark Ashworth and I adjourn for a pizza.

Sunday

Best Apple

The apple never falls far from the tree…

Granted a morning audience in il maestro’ s hotel room to conclude my interview, I am urged to inform the fans that Fulci didn’t receive a penny for signing memorabilia. Speaking of which, our hero lets himself in for a terminal bout of writers cramp by agreeing to autograph mountains of stuff for me (he’s particularly taken with the Japanese Zombie Flesh Eaters cinema programme and its pop-up zombie!) as he grills me on my impression of Quentin Tarantino and his eligibility; Antonella proudly shows me the runic symbol from The Beyond tattooed on her arm and I quiz her father about the upcoming Argento collaboration: “It’s going to be a ferocious film, I hope some courageous British distributor will bring it over here for a theatrical run. It has a good script, which I just finished … Dario made some suggestions, which I took on board”. Is he daunted by the prospect of working with such a powerful personality as Argento in the producer’s chair, bearing in mind the stories we hear of Argento “taking over” Michele Soavi’s films? “No, no , no …” protests Fulci: “You have to remember that I’m an older man than Soavi, and indeed Argento, so he will show me the proper respect. He’s a very intelligent, cultured man. Don’t forget also …”, he chuckles: “Lucio Fulci is a strong personality, too!” Right – so couldn’t there be a clash? “Argento will be in America in March, anyway, shooting Stendhal Syndrome while I’m shooting Mystery In The Wax Museum in Turin …” responds Fulci: “ … then he’ll return to work on the post-production. Who knows what will happen in the future, but so far we’ve had no problems at all”.

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The collaboration of these two titans of Tiber Terror is a tantalising prospect for Spaghetti horror buffs, a consummation devoutly to be wished, but for Fulci it amounts to even more than that – the Italian horror film’s last stand, no less! “If Argento and I together aren’t enough to turn things around, then who is there that can do it?” (Who indeed?) Fulci’s apocalyptical pronouncements, still pounding in my head, combine with the intoxicating effect of hanging out with one of my heroes, not to mention the impenetrable architecture of this bloody hotel, and I find myself circling its infernal corridors for half an hour, seeking a way out to the street and keeping a wary eye out for pipe-cleaner spiders.

Back in Hampstead, Sunday dinner is a slice of garlic and mozzarella ciabatta from the deli over the road, then it’s once more into the fray, dear fiends. Today’s audience are a rather listless bunch compared to yesterday’s, possibly on account of the fact that it contains a much higher proportion of journos, complimentary ticket holders and general liggers (I even manage a rare meeting with Mr Bryce)… and who’s this black-garbed figure, with the face of a debauched cherub, making his way over to say hello? Why, it’s none other than Eyeball editor Stephen Thrower, a man about whom I’ve had the odd printed spat, back in the day when I felt the need to defend Samhain against every slighting comment made about it by the London horror mafia. As is almost invariably the case in these instances, we get along (reasonably) famously and I’m delighted to learn that he’s penning a tome on Fulci for Nigel Wingrove’s new Redemption Books imprint (interesting bit of trivia there for those of you reading this in 2016.) I also run into the ever-genial Norman J. Warren, who is apparently about to clinch the financing for that Fiend Without A Face remake / sequel he seems to have been banging on about for years. Always nice to see Norman.

Fulci arrives, scales the stage and puts on another barn-storming performance. “Censorship is a hypocritical exercise of power …”, insists this frequent victim of it: “Instead of censoring my films, they should censor the news!” He reprises most of his best lines from yesterday (e.g. “It’s the censors who should be shot in the brain… but it’s a very small target?”) and adds a few new ones, most of which are wasted on this comatose crowd. Even in this subdued atmosphere though, he brings the house down by answering a fan’s enquiry about the advantages of Cinemascope by informing us that it’s the best format in which to watch Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs!

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Also wandering around the bar we find Doug Bradley, fretting over how Liverpool F.C. are getting on against Crystal Palace (a lack-lustre O-O draw, it transpires) and also about how to make a link between the Hellraiser series (which he takes the stage to answer questions on, teasing is with the prospect of – would you believe it? – “Pinhead In Space”?) and Zombie Flesh Eaters, which he’ll be introducing. I assure him that the film is a big favourite of Clive Barker’s. Problem solved, I settle down to watch an un-cut Italian print (“Zombi 2”, doncha know …) with semiotician / lad-about-town / future Giallo Pages contributor Xavier Mendik, who runs this country’s only academic course on Italian horror cinema at Southampton University … carve his name with pride! It’s difficult to view Tisa Farrow, Al Cliver and Auretta Gay in the same light, given some of the stories I’ve heard about them this weekend (and it never was easy to take Ian McCulloch’s hair-do in this film seriously), but for me and many others in the audience our first exposure to the uncut squashing of Olga Karlatos’s eyeball in its full Cinemascopic majesty is an experience we’ll always cherish (… whaddya mean, “sad bastards”?) I hook up with Darrell Buxton and Chris “I kissed Chow Yun Fat and I liked it” Barfield (rest in peace, dude) for the return to Saint Pancras, stopping for a moment of meaningful reflection outside the barred doors of what used to be The Scala. On the red eye special back to the The Great East Midlands we run into none other than Phil Hedgehog of Nottingham’s Forbidden Planet notoriety, who’s keen to hear our tales of les folies de Fulci… Phil, you shoulda been there!

Thanks to Lucio Fulci, of course, to Antonella, David Warbeck, Lois and Dave, to Mariano and Marilyn, to translator Loris Curci, Paul Brown and anybody else I’ve forgotten to mention.

Fulci shoots from the hip

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The Devil Wears Primani… ITALIAN EXORCIST KNOCK-OFFS

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“The Devil truly exists, and we are all in his power” 

Pope Paul VI, November 15th, 1972. 

The above quote kicks off Michael Walter’s energetic, entertainingly schlocky German effort Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil (aka The Devil’s Woman) released in 1974, the year when that Pontiff’s point was conclusively proven for him… at least in cinematic terms. For in the wake of the runaway international box office success enjoyed by William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Old Nick found plenty of work for film-makers with idle imaginations to do. No sooner had the pea-soup hit the priest, Linda Blair’s piss splashed on the floor and that crucifix caressed her crotch than horror hacks the world over began invoking Beelzebub, brushing up on their blasphemy and setting more wobbly furniture in motion than at an MFI clearance sale. In 1974 alone, America offered William Girdler’s Abby (starring Blacula himself, William Marshall, as a black bishop casting demons out of his possessed daughter-in-law, Carol Speed; Brazil begat Black Exoricsm (from nutty ol’ Coffin Joe, aka Jose Mojica Marins); and Spain spawned a tripe-whammy of succubus sagas with Juan Bosch’s Exorcism (starring and co-written by Paul Naschy) and Amando De Ossorio’s Demon Witch Child (those two released within a week of each other), not to mention (no really, please don’t mention it!) Jesus Franco’s The Devil’s Possessed.

Yep, Exorcist imitations were being churned out thick and fast, but nowhere thicker and faster than in J. P. VI’s homeland. Barely had the pea-soup dried on Max Von Sydow’s face than a posse of pesto-spewing poppets and maniacal moppets seemed to be taking over every film studio in Italy, where there was understandably a big market for this kind of stuff. In fact the first Italian Exorcist clone off the block, 1974’s Chi Sei? (“Who’s There?”) proved to be a hit not just with domestic audiences, but also (inexplicably) did significant business (as “Behind / Beyond The Door”) in the U.S., which only encouraged the flow of further Italian imitators. Released on the Videospace label in Britain as The Devil Inside Her (not to be confused with Peter Sasdy’s 1975 effort, also known as I Don’t Want To Be Born) this one had earlier played theatrically with the gimmick of sensurround (a la Earthquake), and opens with an irritating voice-over monologue supposedly delivered by ol’ Scratch himself, backing up His Holiness and assuring us that he (The Devil) does indeed exist: “That stranger sitting in the seat next to you could be me”. Alternatively, the person in the next seat could very well have been be dozing off or scratching their head trying to work out what the Hell was going on. This picture’s total incoherence (catatonic pacing, impenetrable narrative, mannered directorial tricks such as the eccentric, erratic use of freeze fame) could possibly be partially attributed to its dual direction, by Ovidio G. Assonitis (under his never-more-apt “Oliver Hellman” pseud) and his favoured cinematographer, Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli (masquerading as “R. Barrett”)… maybe one of them got on with the Exorcist imitating while the other handled the Rosemary’s Baby stuff?

3X Mills

Respected Shakespearean thesp and Zombie Flesh Eaters alumnus Richard Johnson is typecast as oldest-swinger-in-town Dimitri, a Satanist apparently brought back from the verge of death to claim for Satan the baby Jessica (Juliet Mills) is expecting. However badly the new sprog turns out, it can’t be any worse than the two she’s already spawned with record producer husband Gabriele Lavia. Assonitis and / or Piazzoli handle the obligatory “rebellious children” sub-text clumsily, and although the kids’ foul-mouthed, jive-talking antics are obviously intended to be cute and endearing, these are arguably the two most nauseating brats in cinema history. When some malefic influence or other causes the boy to convulse in his bed, suffering night terrors, his sister babbles. “Ken, you gotta stop that – it’s gonna blow my mind! If you don’t stop, you’re gonna have a real bad trip – y’hear?” Elsewhere Ken refers to Lavia as an “asshole”, prompting daddy dearest to ask mom if he “needs to see a shrink” (probably not, but a good slap would undoubtedly work wonders.)

Mills soon develops the mandatory leprous complexion and lapses into the expected cussing, bile-honking, head-twisting,  levitating and talking in tongues. “Jessica – what’s gotten into you?” asks her doctor, ironically. As punishment for this corny line, the incubus demands of him: “Come on you filthy pig – lick this vile whore’s vomit!” When he shows understandable reticence to comply, she scoffs a handful of it herself and chucks the rest at him. After much writhing around, she eventually gives birth to a baby with no mouth. While the viewer’s still trying to get his head around this enigmatic development, the film slips into a ludicrous epilogue featuring the kid Ken (David Collin Jr) in that freeze-frame standby of “how the fuck do we finish this one?” cinema , his eyes glowing red via a cheese optical effect.

House Of Ex

“I love what you’ve done with that wall…”

“That picture made $15 million in America and $25M in the rest of the world… it was then the most successful European film ever in America” remembers Assonitis: “It was so successful, Warner Bros tried to sue us!” Chi Sei’s international success also led to Mario Bava’s masterly 1977 psychological thriller Shock being released States-side as Beyond The Door 2 (though admittedly, Bava had probably made a rod for his own back by casting David Colin Jr as a brat with telekinetic powers and an invisible playmate who just might be real, exactly as in Chi Sei?) This wasn’t even the greatest indignity inflicted on poor old Mario due to exorcism mania: producer Alfredo Leone, who had been keeping Bava’s totally baffling Lisa And The Devil unreleased in a vault since 1972, detected an opportunity to salvage some kind of commercial return on his investment by cutting back on the original footage, splicing in inept restagings of key moments from The Exorcist (“Here’s your fucking daily bread, priest!”, snarls Elke Sommer while slinging vomit at Fr Robert Alda, elsewhere answering his questions about the identity of the demon inhabiting her with a few enquiries of her own, e.g. “Have you any idea how a virgin yearns for a man’s cock?”) and releasing the resultant mess as House Of Exorcism, attributed to one “Mickey Lion”. With a certain devilish irony, exactly the same mutilation was meted out to William Peter Blatty’s over-rated second official sequel, The Exorcist 3 in 1990. Another 1972 picture, Lucio Fulci’s giallo masterpiece Don’t Torture A Duckling, was re-released as Long Night Of Exorcism, and in one of the last blasts of exorcism mania, even Fulci’s 1970 satirical sexy comedy AllL’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne was put out on the VPD video label as “The Eroticist” during the 1980s.

Getting back to that annus mirabilis of spaghetti exorcism, 1974, veteran journeyman director Alberto De Martino (who would in 1977 clone Richard Donner’s The Omen with Holocaust 2000) clocked in with The Tempter aka The Antichrist (on which a certain Joe D’Amato, no less, served as cinematographer.) Continuing Chi Sei’s trick of picking up on Friedkin’s Freudian sub-text and then battering the viewer over the head with it, The Tempter stars Carla Gravina as Hippolyta, hysterically paralysed as a result of living in a dysfunctional family. While still a child she witnessed her mother dying as a result of her Father(Mel Ferrer)’s reckless driving. Now she resents icy Anita Strindberg’s affair with her dad, whom she’s perhaps a little too close to for comfort (it’s also hinted that she’s having it off with her brother.)

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Meanwhile Bishop Arthur Kennedy is celebrating mass when he discovers a severed toad’s head in his tabernacle. This he puts down to a decline in moral values, but it turns out that the Satanic shenanigans surrounding Hippolyta are rooted rather farther back than in those sinful swinging ‘60s: our heroine is hypnotically regressed to the burning of an ancestor (Gravina with a rather less severe hair-do) for witchcraft. “It was scientifically proven that previous psychic facts could be transferred from generation to generation”, opines a psychiatrist, who obviously uses a different text-book from the one favoured by most following his profession: “These phenomena happen very often, and once the trauma suffered by her ancestor has been cleaned up, I’m sure we can cure her.” Guess again, Frood dude…

Hippolyta hallucinates herself floating on her bed through the clouds to attend a witch’s Sabbath in a steamy glade. The Devil himself turns up to shag her, Rosemary’s Baby-style (a moment further recreated in Michele Soavi’s The Church, 1989). While being knobbed by Old Nick, she’s also obliged to chew on another of those toad’s heads and lick a goat’s rectum (do these guys know how to party, or what?) One quick poke by the Prince of Darkness later, her legs appear to be working again, so she nips out to the local catacombs to seduce a young lad and leave him lying with his head twisted round, back to front. At a celebratory banquet thrown by her family, she gorges food and starts spitting it out, along with curses aimed at Anita Strindberg, together with the usual non-sequitur obscenities (“Bishops… holy men of the Inquisition… I’ve fucked them all!”) Lights flicker, furniture flies through the air… you’ve seen it all before. Nurse Alida Valli calls in a cowboy freelance exorcist, but after his miserable failure (Hippolyta forces him to scarf down the now obligatory fistful of vomit) the Bishop himself is called in, resists Hippolyta’s dubious sexual charms  and – after all the usual manifestations – blithely announces that ”The Anti-Christ will not be born”.

Up to this point The Tempter had been a lot  more coherent than Chi Sei, Martino effectively building a sense of menace with wide-angled compositions. But it’s conclusion is every bit as confusing edited as the “climax’ of Hammer’s To The Devil A Daughter. The Godlike Ennio Morricone contributed the score of this picture, but it’s not one of his finest moments by a long chalk, proving conclusively that The Devil really doesn’t have all the best tunes.

Sexorcist

The condemnation of “swinging” lifestyles in Mario Gariazzo’s L’Ossessa (also 1974, and “a true story” to boot… sure thing, you guys) is the baldest statement of this sub-genre’s reactionary rationale. This kinky twist on the Pygmalion story, released on video in the UK  on a series of increasingly cheesy labels (and in varying degrees of completeness ) as The Exorcist, The Obsessed, Devil Obsession, Enter The Devil and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (phew… talk about “my name is legion, for we are many”!) stars Stella Carnacina as Danilla, a sensitive student of art history who’s suffering emotional turmoil on account of her parents’ hell-hole of a marriage. She eavesdrops on her mutton-dressed-as-lamb mother Lucrezia Love being whipped with a rosebush by gigolo Gabriele Tinti. When her cuckolded husband witnesses the wheals on her flesh, he chides: “You bitch, you’ve acted in the most vile and disgusting way possible… subjecting your body to whips and belts and other masochistic tomfoolery.” Should Danilla stay in this heart-wrenching environment or strike out as an independent young woman and go live with her boyfriend? (You get the idea that many of these possession cases could be just as effectively cleared up by sharing a nice cup of tea with some counsellors from Relate as by the usual cross-and-holy-water routine).

Naturally, Danilla’s dilemma causes the evil spirit of a crucified carving (Ivan Rassimov, in what is literally one of his most wooden roles ever) to step down from the cross then rape, crucify and torture her (most of this stuff is naturally cut from the film’s various British video releases.) Predictably, Danilla responds by projectile vomiting, wrecking the furniture, hallucinating a black mass apparently presided over by Dr and The Medics, and masturbating enthusiastically in front of her folks. ”There’s no such thing as incest, daddy – it’s only an invention of priests!” she taunts him, receiving a wack around the head for her trouble. Enough’s enough, so mom and dad patch up their troubles, mom renounces masochistic tomfoolery for good, and they dispatch Danilla to a convent in the country where she’s softened up by nuns singing hymns before master exorcist Father Zeno (Luigi Pistilli) turns up, looking more like a gunslinger than a demon-wrangler. Morricone-esque musical flourishes enhance the impression, together with Leone-esque camera-shots (unfortunately including ultra close-ups of Pistilli’s black teeth.) After an unsuccessful run-in with Danilla’s demon, Zeno triumphs in round 2, at the cost of his life.

Responding to Danilla’s sexual temptation after round 1 (“Penetrate me… take me any way you like!”), Zeno spits:“Abomination!”, and heads off to his monastic cell to stiffen his resolve with a spot of self-flagellation. A more ambitious director would have pursued the parallels between this form of spiritual discipline and Danilla’s momma’s sexual predilections, but Gariazzo is happy to just throw all these balls up in the air and let them fall wherever they may. The end product is, predictably… a load of balls!

Nicoletti Night Child

Naked For Satan (also 1974) was directed by the ever reliable (i.e. you can rely on him to serve up a tawdry slice of drivel every time out) Luigi Batzella (alias Ivan Katansky, Paolo Solvay, et al), and resolves itself as one of those deceitful “so, it was all a dream!” efforts. The following year’s The Cursed (aka Bloody) Medallion / Night Child / Perche?! (directed by capable journeyman Massimo Dallamano) features Richard Johnson, again (as Art historian and documentary maker Professor Williams) and perpetual ‘70s Italian splatter-brat Nicoletta Elmi (above) falling under the evil influence of the titular trinket.

Needless to say, when Johnson’s Professor Williams decamps with his family to Spoleto to study a spooky old canvas depicting witch hunting, a shedload of domestic problems go with him. His delinquent daughter Emily (Elmi) is traumatised by having seen her mother falling, in flames, from a high window to her death (it’s ultimately revealed that Emily started the fire herself in a fit of pique!) “Evelyne Stewart” (Ida Galli) essays the uncharacteristically frumpy role of Emily’s nanny and suffers the pangs of unrequited love for Williams, before Emily puts her out of her misery by pushing her off a cliff. The kid’s homicidal jealousy is intensified with the arrival of Joanna Morgan (the super luscious Joanna Cassidy) to assist in the making of his latest documentary.

Once again, one begins to suspect that a therapist would be more use to this family than an exorcist before the plot line concerning that cursed medallion and Emily’s visions of herself being lynched by medieval peasants is firmly(ish) resolved on the occult side of the equation. The film’s narrative is, quite frankly, a mess ( “Perche?!” is about right) but I’ll happily watch anything with Joanna Cassidy in it (the Blade Runner scene in which she beats the crap out of Harrison Ford never fails to bring me out in palpitations) and the florid cinematography of Dallamano’s regular collaborator Franco Delli Colli is most impressive. Calum Waddell has made persuasive claims for Night Child, likening it to Mario Bava’s pet project Lisa And The Devil (1974) and arguing that “it is not too much of a stretch to say that these early templates aptly anticipate such widescreen wonders of later years as Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) – both of which showcase nightmarish scenarios with an ominously baroque beauty.” Suffice to say that Fulci’s Manhattan Baby (aka Possessed / Eye Of The Evil Dead, 1982) certainly flatters Night Child in the sincerest way it can.

%22Eye Of The Evil Dead%22

Although spaghetti exorcism continued to recur in spasms throughout subsequent years (right up to the likes of Marco Bellocchio’s Visions of Sabba, 1987), the sub-genre had really shot its vomitous wad barely a year after the release of William Friedkin’s original. Even so, there were still some pasta puke-a-thons in the pipeline. For instance, former Hollywood heavy Richard Conte, fallen on hard times, found himself rubbing shoulders with Bruno Mattei’s favoured leading man – charisma bypass victim Franco Garofalo – in “Frank C. Lucas” (Elio Pannaccio)’s Naked Exorcism. Made in 1976, this one was released the following year (to cash in on John Boorman’s frankly ludicrous official sequel Exorcist II – The Heretic) as The Exorcist III – Cries And Shadows, which is the guise under which it appeared for its British video release on the obscure HBL label. After repeated perusal of this picture, I’m still unable to make head or tale of it, so let’s see what the liner notes have to say: “Peter, an archaeological research participant shivers finding out a strange medallion in a mysterious cave. It forms into a beautiful girl but an Evil Haggia. He gets hold of Sherry’s body and in a wild and animalistic way starts lovegame with her in a rough manner. Sherry realises it was wonderful as he had never made love to her like that. He starts killing, resulting with the involvement of the police. The Bishop’s help was sought after to perform the right of Exorcism. Haggia, naked on self-shaking bed, laughing horribly, shouting insults and curses, tries to kill the Monk who at last manages to tie up the damned soul. He takes the crucifix, presses and pours into the mouth of the being resulting in the vomiting of a filthy and horrible liquid.” Well there you go – I couldn’t have put it better myself…

Nobody has yet managed to concoct even that good an account of what’s going on in Pier Carpi’s Rings Of Darkness (1978), which stars the recently deceased Frank Finlay and Ian Bannen alongside such spaghetti exploitation stalwarts as Anne Heywood, Marisa Mell, Irene Papas, John Phillip Law and Paola Tedesco. This one focuses on the apparently Satanic exploits of the appallingly smug Lara Wendel, who’s given to repeating “What good is a doll… if it can be bought?”, in enigmatic fashion. She may well have a point there, though frankly I felt that the axe attack this “actress” suffered in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, five years later, was no more than she deserved.

L'Esorciccio

Ciccio Ingrassia had a solo stab at doing what he had made a career of with erstwhile partner Franco Franchi – i.e. lampooning successful genres – in L’Esorciccio (1975), where poor Old Nick is expected to carry the can for the usual “Carry On”-type sexual buffoonery. Believe me, the title of this one is easily its strongest point, though it’s still preferable to 1990’s Leslie Nielsen piss-take Repossessed (in which Linda Blair perpetrated the biggest blasphemy of them all, sending up the only worthwhile role in her less-than-sparkling career.)

Andrea Bianchi’s Malabimba (1979) stars the unpleasantly androgynous Katell Laennec as Bimba, a troubled young lady who’s possessed by a permanently randy revenant and drives her fellow guests in a Medieval castle to furious sexual indulgence, though most of them seem to need little encouragement on this score. Highlights include Bimba pleasuring herself with a smurf and fellating an old cripple to death before long-suffering Mariangela Giordano – here  playing heroic nun Sister Sofia – invites the demon into herself and then – in the time-honoured Father Karras manoeuvre – hurls herself to her death from the battlements. Hard-core inserts were added to later versions of Malabimba, which made it ironic that when its producer, Gabriele Crisanti, decided to remake the picture as a hard-core effort entitled Satan’s Baby Doll (1980), the wretched thing (directed by “Alan W. Cools” alias Mario Bianchi) was only released in 1982 after all the porno footage had been take out.

Satan's Baby Doll

Damiano Damiani, one of the originators of the political spaghetti western, dumbed himself down for the opportunity of making an American crossover with Amityville 2: The Possession (1982). Old Exorcist-imitating ways dying hard, he threw out the lame-ass “haunted house” formula of the first Amityville Horror and laid on a feast of state-of-the-art bladder-induced shape-shifting effects (below) to compliment his kinky tale of patricide and incest, to highly entertaining if totally brainless effect…

… which was effectively the last gasp of Italo-exorcism as we know it. In no time at all, the influence of Old Nick – though occasionally felt in the likes of  Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) and The Sect (1991) – would be virtually banished from Italian screens, not by the ministrations of any priest, but by the influx of zombies and cannibals advancing to claim the devil’s monstrous mantel for themselves… shortly before the complete and seemingly irreversible collapse of the entire Italian film industry. R.I.P. …

Amityville II

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ARRIVEDERCI, ROMA… Italians After The Bomb

A Fighter Centurion

A Fighter Centurion in Rome, pictured tomorrow.

“Films such as The Bronx Warriors were the last gasp of our industry trying to survive.”

(Venerable Italian exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti… quoted above in a recent interview with Calum Waddell).

Bertrand Russell once made the ominous observation that “if the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the Fourth will be fought with bows and arrows”. If he’d lived long enough to witness the early ‘80s cycle of Italian post-apocalypse movies, he would no doubt have extended his estimate of WWIV’s armoury to include dune buggies with drill attachments (as in The New Barbarians), talking motorbikes (Warrior Of The Lost World), and pterodactyl hang-gliders (Yor). Yep, those ever-resourceful spaghetti exploitation mavens figured that once they’d adopted the patently nonsensical basic premise of anyone actually surviving global thermo-nuclear war (admittedly, their movies would be somewhat lacking in “human interest” if nobody had!), they might as well be nuked for sheep as lambs and throw logic completely out of the window. Thus their post-apocalyptic landscapes are peopled by roving bands of gay, book-burning nihilists (The New Barbarians)… Hari-Krishna survivalists battling hordes of rampaging rodents (Rats – Night Of Terror)… self-propagating Popeye clones (She)… and any amount of other, equally wacky nonsense that not even Nostradamus could have predicted!

Prior to the 80’s, Hollywood had produced plenty of atom-angst movies: firstly, scores of cash-in SF monster-mash quickies such as Them! (1954), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and in the same year, at the other end of the mutation scale, Jack Arnold’s superior The Incredible Shrinking Man; later, more sophisticated dramas like On The Beach (1959), Fail Safe (1964) and of course Kubrick’s scorchingly satirical Dr Strangelove (also 1964). Unusually for an Italian film-cycle though, the Italian post-nukes series was not rooted directly in any American cinematic antecedents, rather in real geopolitical events that were taking place on the ground in Europe. Viewed from the perspective of today’s post-Cold War “New World Order” it all seems like a bad dream now, but back then NATO’s doctrine of “flexible response” against the supposed Warsaw Pact threat allowed for the fighting of “a limited nuclear war” in our continent and when the cruise missiles were installed at Greenham Common and elsewhere, many Europeans genuinely feared that Armageddon was just around the corner.

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Under such pressures, a recently launched Italian sub-genre of societal breakdown mutated into the post-apocalypse genre proper. That fledgling subgenre, best represented by Enzo G. Castellari (aka Enzo Girolami)’s Bronx Warriors (1982), did have definite, easily discernible roots in Hollywood antecedents. Written by Castellari with prolific husband and wife scripting duo Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Livia Briganti, Bronx Warriors is an inventive, hyperactive fusion of elements from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), with a dash of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971) and a touch of Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975) thrown in for good measure. Castellari’s film also adopts Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters, with Trash (“Mark Gregory” / Marco De Gregorio), The Ogre (Fred Williamson), Golem (“George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori) and Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly) and their respective gangs battling for turf in a Bronx that has previously been abandoned by civil society, whose representatives (in the person of Vic Morrow’s “Hammer”) have now chosen to claim it back via a programme of gentrificational genocide.

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Bronx Warriors was such a hit in the U.S. market that a sequel (Escape From The Bronx aka Bronx Bronx Warriors 2: The Battle For Manhattan, 1983)  was duly made, running on similar lines but with Henry Silva understandably substituting for Vic Morrow (decapitated in the Twilight Zone debacle) as Trash’s megalomaniacal opponent. The intruiging cast for this one featured, as well as Castellari’s omnipresent brother Enio Girolami (“Thomas Moore”) and one of Castellari’s own cameos, an appearance by Italian hard-core queen Moana Pozzi, who died of cancer shortly afterwards.

If his Bronx Warriors films primed the detonator, then it was Castellari’s The New Barbarians (also 1982) which ignited the mushroom cloud and shaped the fall-out of subsequent “post-nukes” efforts. Ironically so, because as Castellari himself readily admits: “It’s a joke…  those silly futuristic cars… it’s a bad movie, very bad… a really poor effort!” His verdict is vindicated as early as the title sequence, where the impact of a nuclear explosion (once memorably – not to mention pants-shittingly – described as being like “a huge furnace door slamming shut in the bowels of Hell”) is rendered by what looks suspiciously like a child’s sparkler being waved over a leggo model of New York City. The balance of the picture comprises a succession of luke-warm retreads of moments from George Miller’s 1981 milestone Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (whose influence over subsequent films has continued, e.g. in Kevin Costner’s bloated Waterworld, 1995) and an increasingly spaghetti western-esque ambience. “Timothy Brent” (Giancarlo Prete, a stalwart of Castellari’s own spagwests) is the hero with no name (or probably wishes he was, his character having been dubbed “Scorpio”), sore-assed and out to settle a score with Luigi Montefiori’s Templars, an avowedly and aggressively homosexual cult who like to, er, widen the circle of their friends (and indeed enemies) when they’re not torturing holocaust survivors and burning books (on the grounds that: “It was damn books that caused the Apocalypse!”) Unless you’re in the right frame of mind to watch total crap (I must confess, I frequently am), the sole saving grace of this movie is Claudio Simonetti’s driving, percussive score.

Having successfully ripped off Escape From New York, Mad Max 2 and so on, Castellari proceeded to churn out countless other characteristically energetic, imitative (and generally lucrative) cash-ins on Hollywood hits, leaving the post-nukes wasteland open to his pasta exploitation peers. Sure enough, the likes of Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino and Antonio Margheriti would all now throw their hats into the radioactive ring.

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Margheriti’s entry, Yor (a 1984, Italo-Turkish co-production boiled down from a TV series) is an ultra-trashy reworking of the central premise to Roger Corman’s 1958 effort Teenage Caveman (in which adolescent Australopithecus Robert Vaughan ultimately discovers that the Flintstone-like world he inhabits is the result of an earlier generation’s nuclear war), as is rather given away by the sub-title sometimes appended to it: Hunter From The Future. But how did nukes revive the pterodactyl which muscle-brained Reb Brown (to the accompaniment of his truly brain-frying hard-rock theme song) uses as a hang-glider… Margheriti must have recently screened a Rodan movie! It’s little short of astonishing that this jumbled Jurassic lark is just about the most commercially successful item on Margheriti’s lengthy, variable but oft-prestigious CV, and I remember him having a hearty belly-laugh on this score when I raised the subject with him during the mid-90s.

Underlining the continuity between Italian apocalypsoes and the Peplum genre, Yor’s cast features an alumnus of the sword and sandal school, ever-scowling Gordon Mitchell, who’s also in Tonino Ricci’s Rush, Joe D’Amato’s Endgame and Avi Nesher’s She. The latter (begun in 1983 as a [relatively] straight H. Rider-Haggard adaptation, stalled and only appearing in 1985, having been rejigged to include radioactive mutants in the interim) is every bit as bizarre but nowhere near as entertaining as the Margheriti flick. The above-mentioned regenerating Popeye clones are the only thing that stick in my memory from this fiasco (whose soundtrack contributors include Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Motorhead, and a band rejoicing in the name of “Bastard”!), but if you think I’m in any hurry to watch it again, you’ve got another think coming, buster!

Warrior Of The Lost World, an 1983 Italian-American co-production written and directed by David Worth (=?) is a similarly gimmicky vehicle, which tosses a talking motor-bike into its derivative mix of plot-points. No David Hasselhoff, thank fuck, but the film’s surprisingly starry cast of exploitation mainstays does include Donald Pleasance, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Robert Ginty and Persis Khambatta.

2019

Sergio Martino (as “Martin Dolman) filled his 2019: After The Fall Of New York with knowing Wagnerian references (e.g. the mandatory silly character names include “Parsifal”) for those members of his audience who were culturally astute enough to pick them up. Those who weren’t could content themselves with enjoying the schlocky action, as hunky Michael Sopkiw searches for the world’s last fertile woman, whom the good guys want to whisk off to another, unspoiled planet, which they plan to populate with a new human race. Although Martino is inarguably an intelligent director, such arch touches can’t really disguise the basic formulaic nature of the proceedings here, though there is one amusing final gag (similar to the conclusion of Bob Fuest’s The Final Programme), as it’s revealed that Sleeping Beauty has been impregnated by “The Big Ape” a love-struck simian mutant played by “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori (just think of the make-up costs they saved by casting him in this role!)

Atlantis Interceptors

The new team of Top Gear presenters were considerably better behaved than Jeremy Cuntson.

Another veteran spaghetti exploiter, Ruggero Deodato (posing as “Roger Franklin”) made a tangential entry into the post-Apocalypse stakes with Atlantis Interceptors (1983), in which various unspecified eco-unfriendly activities by the human race predictably lead to the lost continent of Atlantis popping up on the Florida coast-line, and its rampaging inhabitants (led by Ivan Rassimov) driving around the state in a souped-up battle-truck, terrorising terrans. Christopher Connelly, spagwest veteran George Hilton, superspade Tony King, gorgeous Gioia Maria Scola (whose subsequent off screen antics proved most colourful) and one “Michael Soavi” become urban guerrillas to dispatch the invaders’ asses back to Davey Jones’s locker in this amusing effort.

Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2033: Fighter Centurions (1983, aka Ben Hur Vs Spartacus in The States, as if to emphasise once again those Peplum connections) is another marginal effort, a portrayal of a dystopian future with no actual mention of there having been a nuclear holocaust. In this one the corrupt ruling classes keep the masses happy with bread and circuses, the latter comprising gladiatorial motorbike competitions in which Jared Martin (a poor man’s David Warbeck, who later starred in Dallas) excels. The film is an investigation of the ethics of presenting violence as mass entertainment, a theme Fulci would expand on, to quite astonishing effect, in his later Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain (1990). Admittedly Fighter Centurions owes a certain amount to Rollerball, but it was itself extensively ripped off by Paul Michael Glaser’s nominal Stephen King adaptation, The Running Man (1987), as was Joe D’Amato’s Endgame (1983).

EndgameJOED

It wouldn’t be a D’Amato film without a few tits somewhere…

Incredible as it may seem, given his track-record (and D’Amato had during the previous year turned in a mediocre “post-nukes” outing, 2020: Freedom Fighters aka  2020: Texas Gladiators, after his protégé Luigi Montefiori abdicated the reins on what was supposed to be his directorial debut), D’Amato’s Endgame is one of the best pictures to emerge from this cycle, adding surprisingly subtle touches (such as Laura Gemser – giving one of the best performances in her career – as one of a mutant race of telepaths who must refrain from violence because they would participate psychically in the pain of their victims) to the bare bones of its “Luigi Monefiori vs Al Cliver (aka Pier Luigi Conti) in televised grudge match” storyline.

Less impressive efforts include Exterminators Of The Year 3000 (1983), an Italo-Spanish production directed by “Jules Harrison” (Giuliano Carnimeo) and a brace by  “Anthony Richmond” (Tonino Ricci), Rush The Assassin (1983) and its semi-sequel Rage (1984, aka Rush 2). The first picture stars “Conrad Nichols” (Luigi Mezzabotte) as Rush, resistance leader of a bunch of post-nuke proles forced to labour in sterile plastic greenhouses because all the vegetation outside has supposedly been destroyed by radiation. Less astute critics complained that “the entire last third of the film takes place in an Italian forest”, but they’ve missed the whole goddamn point (one pinched from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth), namely that the whole dying eco-system story was a scam, perpetrated to keep the toiling masses – quite literally – in their place. Rage contains one of Allan Bryce’s all-time favourite lines of dialogue, i.e. “It won’t be easy, building up a new world… but there’s no harm in trying!”

Nice to close on an unintentionally hilarious one-liner, but if you want the end of your world served up with some giggles instead of a bang, you’ll find the motherlode in Bruno Mattei’s totally ludicrous Rats – Night Of Terror (1984). Mattei, who would give the world a pedantically eco-conscious undead D.J. in Zombi 3 (1988), and had already turned his Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981) into a doomsday scenario featuring the first (and hopefully last) zombie rat in screen history, here depicts mankind’s last stand against hordes of radioactively mutated (and totally unscary) rodents. Although you can see it coming a country mile away, this picture’s hilarious “twist” ending is (like the rest of the film) so ineptly rendered as to be worth its weight in fool’s gold.

alesFromTheRB

The 2016 Reboot of Tales From The Riverbank was a conspicuous failure…

The genre Enzo Castellari had inaugurated with The New Barbarians petered out in the likes of Urban Warriors (1987, directed by “Joseph Warren” / Giuseppe Vari and scripted by superannuated spaghetti hack Pietro Regnoli) and The Final Executioner (1984) and Bronx Executioners (1989), a brace directed (appropriately enough) by Enzo’s uncle Romolo Girolami, under the guises “Romolo Guerrieri” and “Bob Collins” respectively. The former is actually rather good, and certainly the clearest statement yet of the affinities between this sub-genre and the spaghetti western: William Mang restores order to a town where survivalist yuppies have been preying on the dregs of radiation-scarred humanity, with spagwest icon Woody Strode along for the ride. Strode also stars in Bronx Executioners (alongside Zombie Creeping Flesh victim Margit Evelyn Newton).

These efforts were nothing more than stragglers, a belated coda to a genre whose commercial half-life had long expired in the trend-conscious Italian industry. Indeed, internationally post-apocalypse offerings tailed off dramatically in the run up to the fall of Communism, Steve De Jarnatt’s splendid Miracle Mile (1988) effectively burying the sub-genre. You can’t keep a good bomb down though, and a slew of subsequent offerings such as True Lies (1994),  the Under Siege movies (1992-95) and The Sum Of All Fears (2002) have had audiences reaching for their brown trousers again as they contemplate the dreadful prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue regimes, terrorists or millennial religious loonies… which wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but could still mean several hundred thousand people suffering a real crimp in their day!

That's your lot...

“They think it’s all over… it is now!”

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Socket To Me, Baby… Looking Back On THE BLIND DEAD

“The Templars in De Ossorio’s films are the perfect embodiment of fascism, because they are both soldiers and priests.”

– Lucio Fulci in conversation with the author.

Allo Darlin'...

“Allo, darlin’…”

The Order Of The Poor Knights Of Christ And The Temple Of Solomon (The Templars to thee and me) was founded by one Hugues de Payens in 1118, with the mission statement of protecting pilgrims in The First Crusade, and they quickly evolved into a kind of medieval SAS (“‘the Militia of Christ”). Although each Templar Knight took a Benedictine vow of personal poverty, the organisation itself grew massively rich on donations from various religiously inclined groups and individuals. Meanwhile in The Holy Land, the Knights were being exposed to various strands of Jewish, Muslim and Gnostic mysticism… reputedly they even had links with the legendary Hashishim or Order Of Assassins. Whatever, they were said to have absorbed all manner of esoteric knowledge and, on a more secular level, used their increasing riches to become involved in what was essentially  the birth of international banking. Due to their connections with the Cathar heretics of Languedoc, it was even suspected that these knights were intent on setting up their own theocratic state in that region of France. Certainly, King Philip IV thought they were getting too big for their military boots, a decision presumably influenced by the fact that he owed them a fistful of francs. In 1307 Philip arrested, tortured and executed all the Templars he could lay his hands on and put pressure on The Pope to disown the Order, which was official disbanded by Clement V in 1312. History is written by the victors and the devil worshipping atrocities claimed by Philip to justify his actions are best taken with a pinch of salt. The Templars have remained active, if nowhere else, in the annals of conspiracy theory, which detects their dark hand at work everywhere, shaping the course of human destiny on behalf of a secretive, sinister elite. A lively literary and now cinematic sub-genre flourishes, enriching (if not The Order) the likes of Dan Brown and Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, 2006).

Of more interest to Freudstein followers is the cycle of Spanish movies detailing the darker side of the Templar story, spearheaded by a quartet of classic horror flicks from Amando De Ossorio (and collected in a spanky Blue Underground DVD box set which you might still be able to pick up if you hunt around a bit.) De Ossorio was born in Galicia anytime between 1918 and 1925 (accounts vary… strangely, he was also reported as deceased several times before actually breathing his last in Madrid on 13.01.01) and earned his living from shorts, documentaries and industrial films before making his feature debut with the paella western Tomb Of The Pistolero in 1964. Jack Taylor once told me that horror films, with their attendant hordes of damsels in distress, were one of the few ways of expressing anything vaguely sexual in the buttoned-down, uptight milieu of Franco’s Spain. De Ossorio’s first credit in this genre was the sexy (Anita Ekberg starring) vampire effort Malenka in 1969. Night Of The Sorcerers (1974) is a ludicrously schlocky leopard cult / zombie epic whose purported African setting (actually a park in Madrid) provided the perfect pretext for plentiful sub-National Geographic female nudity and The Loreley’s Grasp (1974, a particularly busy year for our man) was based on an old Germanic myth about a beautiful siren luring sailors to their deaths on The Rhine. Most profitably though, De Ossorio returned to certain Galician local legends that had haunted his childhood, those of the terrifying Templars. Whether he personally added the element of blindness to these scary stories is a moot point.

FOH 4

Ossorio’s La Noche Del Terror Ciego / Tombs of the Blind Dead  (1971) reveals that instead of Templars rescuing maidens, the maidens need rescuing from them when, having been initiated into sinister occult practices during their stint crusading around The Holy Land, they return to 13th Century Spain with a drastically revised take on knightly chivalry. The Templars ride into town, select the juiciest local nubiles, throw them over their saddles and ride back to their clubhouse, where the girls are crucified and slashed by the swords of jousting knights, whose colleagues stand around looking on sternly, with their arms folded, looking for all the world as though they about to break into a rendition of “Templar rap”. Instead, they dive in on the unfortunate victims’ punctured boobs, gulp down their blood and hack out their hearts before messily gobbling them down. These shenanigans are supposed to secure eternal life for the Templars, but party-pooping villagers break up their revels to string the naughty knights up so that crows can peck out their eyes. A know-it-all historian in “the present day” (i.e. early ‘70s Spain) tells  protagonists Roger (César Burner) and Betty (Lone Fleming) all about it and predicts the vengeful return of the Templars. To nobody’s great surprise – and the delight of gore-hounds everywhere – this is precisely what happens.

Sexually confused Virginia (María Elena Arpón / “Helen Harp”) jumps off a train after her girlfriend Betty (Fleming) starts flirting with hunky Roger  and camps down in a derelict Templar monastery, where her crop top and hot pants are enough to raise the dead (did the trick for me too, actually!) Centuries of decomposition have reduced the Templars to skeletons, but they’re still pretty sprightly  and – despite the tufty little beards growing out of their jawbones  and their dusty duffel-coats, which make them look like trad jazz-loving CND activists – they’re certainly not pacifists! Scrambling out of those tombs in the banks of fog that always roll down during this sort of thing, they ride around on their skeletal horses in slow motion (to the accompaniment of Anton Garcia Abril’s spell-binding score, which mixes mumbling monks, tolling bells and the echoing of horses’ hoof beats and would become one of of the most memorable features of the ongoing Templar series), using their supersensitive hearing to locate fresh victims. After snuffing a couple of cuties who were reckless enough to wander into their cemetery territory, the Templars hijack a train and put its passengers to the sword – cue the oft-censored shot of a babe in arms being soaked in its mother’s blood.

FOH 1...

That’s about it as far as plot is concerned and there are some passages that do drag a bit, but these are mitigated by the chuckles to be had at the the early ‘70s fashions on display and, a propos of nothing in particular, De Ossorio tosses in a soft focus flashback to sixth-form sapphic shenanigans. There’s an equally gratuitous rape scene, though the perpetrator immediately meets a well deserved messy fate at the boney hands of the censorious Templars. The suspicion lingers that De Ossorio didn’t get all the footage he wanted, on account of budgetary or scheduling problems, or whatever… certain plot threads remain undeveloped, for instance the suggestion that Templar victims can return from the dead to transmit their contagion to others. This Romeroesque touch is never embroidered in the film nor indeed anywhere else in the subsequent Templar series. It also has to be said that the film’s final shots are oddly chosen and anti-climactic…

Return Of Evil D

… though they did leave the door open for  the Templars’ sophomore outing, El Ataque De Los Muertos Sin Ojos / Return of the Evil Dead (1973). The revisionist opening of this one displays a cavalier attitude towards the Templars rulebook, as vengeful villagers with flaming torches, rather than ravenous ravens, put out the eyeballs of Spain’s coolest ghouls. “Do you think you will find your way back without eyes?” they are taunted. No problem, actually and their mummified remains are soon gatecrashing an ill-advised “modern day” festive re-enactment of their dastardly deeds, with predictably drastic results. After the Templars have taken time out to punish an adulterous coupling (the girl’s escape attempt climaxes in the shocking revelation of a zombie horse to a disbelieving switchboard operator) and massacre the festival revellers, not to mention some incongruous “comic” sequences involving the lazy governor and his improper relationship with his housemaid, the balance of the picture unfolds with the rescued girl from the initial attack cooped up among a squabbling bunch of characters (including Lone Fleming from Tombs) besieged in a church (making De Ossorio’s constant denials that he was influenced by George Romero sound a bit feeble). In a direct lift from Night Of The Living Dead, one guy makes a run for his car and ends up as the centre-piece of Templar barbecue. Corrupt mayor Fernando Sancho trues to ensure his own escape by decoying the Blind Dead with a defenceless tiny tot (boo! hiss!) and there’s a well-sustained, suspenseful sequence in which Murdo (the mandatory gibbering village loon) loses his head over a girl, quite literally, leading her through an underground series of passage-ways, only to be greeted by sword-wielding undead Knights at the other end. Finally the Templars petrify and crumble in the morning sunlight, hunky Tony Kendall leading what’s left of the human characters between their desiccated husks to freedom, in a tense “resolution” reminiscent of that to Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Le Monde

Our favourite visually challenged, deceased dudes notched up their hat-trick of screen appearances in El Buque Maldito (also 1974, aka Ghost Galleon / Horror Of The Zombies). Unfortunately this is the weakest entry in the series by a long  chalk or, shall we say, several fathoms, despite an enthusiastic endorsement from late Cramps front man and trash movie connoisseur Lux Interior. Ossorio is on the record as attributing the Templars’ slow motion movements to “a displacement in the space / time continuum”. Perhaps this would explain why they turn up in Ghost Galleon, sleeping in their coffins on board… well, on board a ghost galleon, which has apparently been sailing the seven seas since the 16th Century, stuffed with their ill-gotten loot and accompanied by a perpetual pea-soup fog. You can bet your ass that when the ghost galleon’s course is crossed by a smaller boat packed with drug-crazed, bikini-clad, lesbian glamour models (De Ossorio also throws in the now mandatory recreational rape scene) the puritanical Knights are soon out of their coffins, waving their swords and slaughtering swingers left, right and centre. From their point of view this is made easier by the fact that although they’re moving as slowly as ever, their potential victims have pretty much nowhere to run except elsewhere on the galleon. The downside though, from the viewers’ perspective, comprises a completely static “plot” and the conspicuous absence of those slow-motion skeletal horse-rides that worked so well in the previous two instalments. Jack Taylor and the last surviving bimbo model have the brain wave of driving the Templars back into their coffins with fire then slinging them overboard. At this point the eyes of the horned skull which the Templars worship start glowing red and their vessel (laughably rendered by a model that will have all Spinal Tap fans thinking “Stonehenge!”) bursts into flame. The two survivors  struggle to the shore and collapse on the beach, only to find themselves surrounded by the clutching deadsters. The freeze frame closing shot suggests that there’s no stopping the Templars though, in truth, this substandard effort suggested they were washed up in every sense of the term.

Seagulls copy

After their living death on an ocean wave, the Templars took to the sea so well that they spend 1975’s La Noche De Las Gaviotas / Night Of The Seagulls bumming around the beach, brandishing buckets and spades, holding bloody beach barbecues in honour of a Lovecraftian fish-god (OK, so I was kidding about the buckets and spades). Only briefly do we get atmospheric shots of them riding their horses through the surf, and far too sparing use is made of Anton Garcia Abril’s Templar theme, one of the series’ trump cards (here largely supplanted by irritating tinkly incidental muzak). Otherwise, thankfully, it’s back to Templar basics. In the pre-titles sequence Medieval honeymooners are sacrificed to the Deadites’ grotesque amphibian gargoyle god. In “modern times”, Dr Henry Stein and his wife Jean (Victor Petit and Maria Kosti) arrive to take over their new practice, whose regulars are rural retards from central casting. Everybody fears the coming of darkness, especially Teddy, De Ossorio’s gooniest village loon yet (“Teddy’s afraid … they always beat teddy!”), though relatively sympathetically treated. The doc and his wife eavesdrop on an eerie torch lit beach procession, unaware that it’s intended to placate the Templars with the sacrifice of a virgin, who’s been taken away from her wailing family by black-shawled old biddies.

The Steins make friends with one pretty village girl called Lucy, whose own number soon comes up in the lottery for virginal sacrifices. Henry frees her, prompting a Templar siege of his home. With Lucy out of the picture, Henry matter-of-factly tells his wife: “It’s obvious that they need another victim for their ceremonial rites … and it looks like they’ve chosen you!” That’s some bedside manner you’ve got there, doc… After the expected atmospheric horse-back chase, the Steins upturn and smash the Blind Dead’s idol at which point The Templars return, visibly crumbling, to their coffins, for a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, though Seagulls is undoubtedly a better note for them to bow out on than Ghost Galleon.

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La cruz del diablo 2

The aforementioned Blue Underground box set, comprising these four films (and plentiful bonus material), is touted as the  complete Blind Dead saga, but a truly complete account of The Templars’ horror film exploits would also have to include John Gilling’s directorial swan song, The Devil’s Cross (1975), in which they populate the troubled protagonist’s dreams. Readers might recall my interview with Paul Naschy, in which he complained bitterly that Gilling had hijacked this picture from him.

Unfortunately we must also account for one of Jesus Franco’s sloppier offerings, in which he tried to jump the Templar bandwagon approximately a decade after it had stopped rolling. The Internet Movie Data Base identifies Franco’s Mansion Of The Living Dead as a 1985 production, though I’m more inclined to trust the bad film boffins from Severin, who put it out on DVD in 2006 and claim it as a 1983 effort. Admittedly Franco’s fractured filmography (in which films are typically re-edited and ransacked to be combined with footage from other, completely unconnected efforts, even unto porno editions) lends itself to precisely such confusion. It could also be reasonably suggested that, sorry Jess, with films of this calibre… nobody really gives a toss! MOTLD “boasts” similar production values (OK, the cinematography is actually quite nice in this one, even if that zoom lens is as overworked as ever) and plot mechanics (down to the “comic relief” peeping Tom character) to Franco’s insufferable “video nasty” (one of three) Bloody Moon, which was shot in 1982.

Allegedly based on a novel by one D. Khunne (one of Franco’s many pseudonyms) the story, such as it is, kicks off with four topless waitresses of varying attractiveness (including Franco’s muse Lina Romay / “Candy Coster) arriving from Munich at a luxury holiday resort in the Canary Isles, with the primary intention of getting shagged by as many men as possible ( “The Sadean Woman” according to Jesus Franco!) Unfortunately there are no other guests, male or otherwise, and equally mysteriously, the hotel seems to be staffed by just one guy, the mean and moody Carlos Savonarola (“Robert Foster” / Antonio Mayans). Undaunted, our hot pants wearing “lovelies” quickly pair up for some hot’n’heavy (though never, at least in the Severin release, quite crossing over into hard core territory) girl-on-girl lovin’. “This vacation is gonna be unbelievable” predicts Candy as her lover laps away at her… truer than she knows! Needless to say, Carlos is soon grabbing himself a piece of the sweaty action, though he hastily breaks off from another spot of cunnilingus with the observation “My God – it’s 4 o’clock…. I’ve got to go and feed a sick woman” (change your douche, darling!) Turns out he’s actually got to go and torment his rather butch-looking wife Mabel (Mabel Escano) with some food which she can’t reach from the corner of the room in which he’s chained her up.

Just in case the girls haven’t twigged yet that something rather rum is going on, their next sunbathing session is rudely interrupted by a near miss with a flying meat cleaver. “Who would want to murder four hotties like us?” asks one of them, indignantly. Who indeed? A fan of good acting? Their efforts to crack this mystery involve wandering around the hotel corridors endlessly in various states of undress. Is that a shadow, a tuft of hair or something more sinister protruding from between Candy’s ample cheeks at one point? (“Emergency delivery of toilet paper, please, to the mansion of the living dead!”)  When the girls finally tire of those corridors, they stroll off separately to the island’s nearest dilapidated church, which turns out to be Templar HQ… and yes, the mouldy monks are well up for chastising some promiscuous females.

Jess's Mansion

Now, Amando De Ossorio really made an effort to get his Blind Dead dudes looking like mummified corpses, but Franco’s budget obviously only extended to a few white sheets, a couple of joke shop skull masks and, because there weren’t enough of those to go around, a bottle of calamine lotion to splash on the faces of the other ghouls. Though not looking too impressive, these guys wax eloquent about their unholy intentions… “Our brother Savonarola has brought another sinner to the court of the Cathars, the saintly men with white robes and black hearts” (Ooh-er) …“I propose that she is put to death while she enjoys carnal sin, so that her desirable body many join the ranks of Satan’s servers… she will receive the mark of the accursed semen”. Sounds like a plan.  The unfortunate victim is stripped of her sparkly hot pants and enthusiastically raped and stabbed by the Templars, whose legs don’t seem to have suffered any discernible decomposition over the Centuries (their todgers still up to the job, too!) “Bless you and damn you…” intones the top Templar: “Enjoy the mortal sin… may your sins never be forgiven!” I bet he says that to all the girls…

Candy discovers Mabel, still chained to the table, and learns of the sadistic way in which Carlo has been treating her. “We work in a topless bar… we’re waitresses showing off our boobs!” is her helpful opening conversational gambit, and she further advises the hapless captive that this career option is very  “in” at the moment. It’s probably at this point that Mabel decides to eat the rat poison which her husband has thoughtfully left for her. None of this seems to dampen Candy’s ardour for Carlo, who announces that he’s one of the Templars and has recognised her as a reincarnation of the Princess Irina (an ongoing character in Franco’s tangled mythos) who had cursed the Cathars while they were burning her at the stake, condemning them to an eternity of living death. You crisp the chick, you gotta pay the price…

I won’t give away the ending, because a) I don’t want to spoil it for you and b) it made absolutely no sense whatever to me. Severin present Mansion Of The Living Dead in a lush 2.35:1 transfer, enhanced for wide screen, which is probably better than it deserves. English subtitles compliment the Spanish language soundtrack and as bonus material you get a featurette, The House That Jess Built, in which Franco and faithful cohort Candy / Lina are interviewed and the director attempts to explain the theological underpinning of his work. Luis Bunuel he ain’t… I’d usually give a film like this the dreaded “for completists only” but the aforementioned Internet Movie Data Base suggests that even completists give it a miss! A nod’s as good as a wink to…

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