Film Reviews

Not So Wonderful Copenhagen… A Quick Take On Brian De Palma’s DOMINO.

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Domino (Denmark / France / Italy / Belgium / Netherlands, 2019). Directed by Brian De Palma.

Looks like Brian De Palma burned all his Hollywood bridges with Redacted (2007) and presumably his proposed Harvey Weinstein picture isn’t designed to rebuild any of them any time soon. Passion (2012) was a Franco-German co-production and his latest, Domino, sucked up tax shelter investments from several European countries, principally Denmark, where BDP experienced sufficient problems with producers to declare that this will be his first and final foray into Scandinavian Noir. The film recently crept out on disc in the UK without much fanfare and I was pleasantly surprised (also kinda shocked) when antisocial media pal @GIALLO_GIALLO advised me that it was available on Amazon Prime.

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So, what we got here? Things start promisingly enough when Copenhagen cops Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Lars (Søren Malling) roll up to a reported domestic abuse incident. Lars is running down the clock to retirement and talking about taking his wife on a Caribbean holiday, so no prizes for guessing what happens to him when the incident actually turns out to be a bit of jihadist score-settling. All this plays out as yet another Vertigo (1958) rehash and Christian’s guilt over his part in the death of a colleague, interacting with the motivation of Lars’ pregnant lover Alex (Carice van Houten) and machinations of slippery CIA man Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) promise much but ultimately, De Palma flatters to deceive.

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Lip service is paid to signature concerns such as media / message, scopophilia and the surveillance society (updated to include drones and facial recognition technology) and Pino Donaggio (above, with De Palma) delivers his mandatory Herrmannesque score but Domino lacks the kind of camera and editing virtuosity we’ve come to expect from BDP and packs just one significant set piece scene, at a Spanish bull fighting arena, where suspense is adeptly built then fizzles out with a well-aimed kick in the balls.

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De Palma seems to have reached that point in his career to which Dario Argento has been reduced for some time now. You know: Sleepless is better than The Phantom Of The Opera, but… Domino is a competent thriller on which you won’t begrudge spending 90 minutes of your time, but any amount of competent directors could have knocked it out. Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale and Passion, never mind Dressed To Kill, Blow Out or Raising Cain, would all knock spots off it.

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Would probably make quite a nifty double bill with Sergio Pastore’s Crimes Of The Black Cat (1972)…

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A Twist In Tinsel Town’s Space Time Continuum: Observations On ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD.

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (US, 2019). Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I know people who take real umbrage at “revisionist” accounts of the Tate / Labianca slayings. It’s difficult to imagine how things could get any more revisionist than in Quentin Tarantino’s much-hyped latest offering, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, which interweaves the stories of fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his stuntman sidekick / personal support system Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) with the build up to the Manson Family’s visit to 10050 Cielo Drive on 09/08/69. After her initial misgivings, the film arrives with the blessing of Debra Tate, the late Sharon’s sister and you can kind of see why. It’s been billed as “the film that people who hate Tarantino will enjoy” and indeed, I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to. This is clever stuff but neither as ostentatiously nor obnoxiously pleased with its cleverness as some of its predecessors have been…

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Predictably, the Quentster spurns no opportunity to rub women’s feet in your face. Is it true that his next film will be shot in 3-D, with scratch’n’sniff cards handed out at the box office? Maybe if he reads this it will be. If so, I expect a screen credit, OK Quentin?

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OUAT…IH’s 161 minute running time doesn’t weigh too heavily on it, or the viewer. Some of the TV Western stuff wears out its welcome a bit, though when Dalton starts fluffing his lines and we’re dragged abruptly back into the world of Hollywood, 1969, you can see what Tarantino is doing. There’s a l-o-n-g and sappingly suspenseful sequence where Booth is poking around at the spahn Movie Ranch, under the disapproving glares of The Family, which makes you kinda wish the director would try his hand at a full-on Horror Film.

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The way he intercuts fact and fiction, drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Film (and Pop Culture in general) to disrupt narrative conventions, owes more to European Arthouse Cinema than the exploitation mavens he is so fond of referencing (though the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure of Pulp Fiction demonstrated that Hollywood had finally caught up with Lucio Fulci, according to no less disinterested an authority than Fulci himself). There are loving tributes here to Sergio Corbucci and Tarantino’s talismanic Antonio Margheriti (he probably figures he’s bigged up Enzo Castellari quite enough for the time being).

The audacious historical rewrite which closes the picture is only the final of several pointed reminders that QT is an auteur and in the realm of his movies, he can do whatever he likes with culture and history, right? I can go along with this to a certain extent but the idea that there could exist, in any possible alternative universe, a stuntman (one who, moreover, seems to subsist on pot noodles) capable of licking Bruce Lee? Nah, you’re not having it. As for the idea that anybody could continue to ply their thespian trade in Tinsel Town while under ongoing suspicion of having murdered their wife on a boat? Actually, now you mention it…

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P.S. Ten great tracks from 1969 that didn’t make it onto OUAT…IH’s certifiably groovy soundtrack… just off the top of my noble bonce. You’re welcome.

01) We’re Going Wrong – Rotary Connection
02) Soul Sister Brown Sugar – Sam & Dave
03) Touch Me – The Doors
04) Savoy Truffle – Ella Fitzgerald
05) Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
06) Cymbaline – Pink Floyd
07) I Want To Take You Higher – Sly And The Family Stone
08) In A Silent Way – Miles Davis
09) Thank You – Led Zeppelin
10) Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa

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The Shadow Over Doug McClure… HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP Reviewed.

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Monster: Humanoids From The Deep (1980). Directed by Barbara Peeters (and Jimmy T. Murakami, uncredited). Produced by Roger Corman (uncredited), Hunt Lowry and Martin B. Cohen. Written by Martin B. Cohen, Frank Arnold and William Martin. Cinematography by Daniel Lacambre. Edited by Mark Goldblatt. Art direction by Michael Erler. Music by James Horner. Creature FX by Rob Bottin. Special FX by Roger George and (uncredited) Chris Walas. Stunts by Diamond Farnsworth and Jack Tyree. Starring: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub, Anthony Pena, Denise Galik, Lynn Theel.

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“We’re having a great time down here… we’re waving to people… we’re playing records… we’re doing a whole lot of things!” Mad Man Mike Michaels paints an irresistible radio picture of the annual Noyo Salmon Festival.

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Jim Hill (Doug McClure… you might remember him from constant lampooning in The Simpsons) and beautiful scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel… you might remember her as the trophy wife of Richard Harris) team up to investigate weird goings on in the fishing town of Noyo. A sinister salmon canning corporation is setting up its new factory upstream, which Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow), his redneck cronies and the townsfolk in general regard as booster for the local economy, though Native American “Johnny Eagle” (Anthony Pena) has eco-conscious-cum-spiritual legal objections to the misappropriation of his people’s ancestral lands. A certain amount of low level racist aggro plays out in this poor man’s Henrik Ibsen scenario before we crack on with what everybody’s actually come to see… i.e. oversexed mutant salmon-men, spawned by sinister corporate attempts to increase fishing yields, chasing large-breasted, bikini-clad lovelies around the cove and impregnating them. “It’s my theory that these creatures are driven to mate with humans, to accelerate their already incredible evolution” speculates Turkel. Who could forget (or indeed forgive?) the scene in which a ventriloquist’s dummy talks a buxotic beach babe out of her bikini, only for a humanoid to invade their tent and violate her?

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All hell breaks loose when the Humanoids run amok at Noyo’s annual Salmon Festival, molesting women (and dismembering people of whatever gender) to the running commentary of the exceptionally irritating Mad Man Mike Michaels, a DJ who’s clearly learned his trade from the guy heard over the climax of Zombie Flesh Eaters). Created by Rob Bottin (he’s actually in there under one of his suits), they look fucking great, with long arms that they wave around like Andrew Marr and (unlike Marr) prominent brains that are bashed in by handy-dandy planks, marlin spikes and what have you when the crowd turns on them and drives them into the bay, which Jim Hill (not, under any circumstances, to be confused with Jimmy Hill) ignites.

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There’s a touchy feely reconciliation between Johnny Eagle and his erstwhile persecutors. “Everything’s alright now, Sheriff… isn’t it?” asks a character who’s clearly never seen a New World release or any kind of monster movie before, cueing the sucker punch coda in which Turkel supervises the rather messy birth of a humanoid / bikini-clad lovely hybrid, incorporating the ten seconds of alien copying that was obviously all Roger Corman was prepared to fund… ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

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Like a dumbed-down Creature From The Black Lagoon / sexed-up Horror Of Party Beach, Monster rattles through its economical 80 minutes ticking all the exploitive boxes to pleasing effect. I first encountered it on a theatrical double bill with Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls (1979) and it’s been a firm personal favourite ever since, just crying out for rediscovery by a wider audience (Arrow, are you listening?) Nothing is as powerful as a trash movie whose time has come… not only was M:HFTD parading its eco-consciousness and championing civil / indigenous rights nearly 40 years before David Attenborough started counting all the plastic bags floating around the North Pole, the story behind its production also chimes spookily with today’s feminist movement… but not in a good way. Not if you believe the official account, anyway…

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The widely accepted version is that Roger Corman promised Barbara Peeters that she could direct a right on eco-thriller then undermined her by cutting in gratuitous tit’n’ass shenanigans filmed by Jimmy T. Murakami on obviously inferior film stock. Doncha just hate that kind of patriarchal bullshit? But wait just a cotten-pickin’ minute… the “starry eyed neophyte shafted by chauvinist movie mogul” line must have generated some useful hype for the publicity campaign, but how does it square with the known facts? For an alleged sexist, Corman has relied heavily on the collaboration of his wife Julie over the years and has never shown any reluctance to foster female talent (who’s that “Gale Hurd” lurking among the production assistant credits on Monster?) What’s more Peeters had already directed the exploitive Bury Me An Angel (1971) and the sexploitive Summer School Teachers (1974) for Corman, not to mention co-writing and co-directing the dykesploiation epic The Dark Side Of Tomorrow (1970) for Harry H. Novak (never exactly regarded as among the most woke of producers).

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As for Murakami, he subsequently directed (among many others) the film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ anti-nuke parable When The Wind Blows (1986) and video promos for Kate Bush and David Bowie, so for all we know, he was responsible for the eco-conscious stuff and Peeters handled the boob’n’bum aspect. Whatever, her career wasn’t exactly sabotaged by the Corman connection, any more than those of Joe Dante or Jonathan Demme (who earned their spurs shooting bits and pieces for insertion into Corman features) or Gale Anne Hurd were. Although she never attained the same heights as some of those guys, Peeters carved out a respectable career for herself directing episodes of such TV shows as Cagney and Lacey, Falcon Crest and Remington Steele.

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Two final thoughts… 1) Jeff Yonis’s 1996 TV movie remake of M:HFTD (despite perpetuating the original’s big boob fixation with the casting of Emma Samms) is a travesty which you can safely avoid. 2) The film under consideration here should also be avoided by anyone who’s about to give birth. In fact anyone who might ever conceivably find themselves in that position should give it a very wide, er, berth indeed…

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Meanwhile, on a Ghanaian poster for a completely different film…

 

 

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Buio Alpha (Before The Darkness)… Mino Guerrini’s THE THIRD EYE Reviewed

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Il Terzo Occhio (“The Third Eye”), 1966. Directed by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini). Produced by “Louis Mann” (Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati). Written by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini), “Dean Craig” (Piero Regnoli), “Phil Young” (=?) and “Gilles De Rays” (?!?) Cinematography by “Sandy Deaves” (Alessandro D’Eva). Edited by “Donna Christie” (Ornella Micheli). Production design by “Samuel Fields” (Mario Chiari). Music by “Frank Mason” (Francesco De Masi). Starring “Frank Nero” (Franco Nero), Gioia Pascal, “Diana Sullivan” (Erika Blanc), “Olga Sunbeauty” (!) (Olga Solbelli), Marina Morgan, Gara Granda, Richard Hillock, Luciano Foti.

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Mino Guerrieri’s The Third Eye concerns itself with the murderous misadventures of an uptight young man who’s dominated by his mother and spends too much time on his hobby of taxidermy… hm, remind you of anything?

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Said young man is a spoilt aristo who goes off the rails when his beloved fiancee carks it. He picks up young floozies and has it off with them in the company of his enbalmed paramour then does away with them, with the collusion of his infatuated housekeeper. Everything’s going swimmingly until his fiancee’s identical twin turns up… remind you of anything else?

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Yep, Mino Guerrini’s The Third Eye is the missing link between Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Jolly Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega / Blue Holocaust / Beyond The Darkness / Buried Alive (1979). That domineering mother figure, who’s absent from the D’Amato flick and only exists as a figment of Norman Bates’ warped imagination (albeit a pivotal one) in Psycho, is present here in the all too fleshy form of Contessa Alberti (Olga Solbelli) and the resentful, calculating housekeeper (Gioia Pascal’s “Marta”), completely missing from Psycho, foreshadows Franca Stoppi’s spectacularly overplayed Iris in Buio Omega.

The Third Eye 3.jpgThese two alpha females go mano a mano over young Count Mino (Franco Nero) but are smart  enough to call a pragmatic truce when his fiancee Laura (Erika Blanc) threatens to eclipse both of them in his affections. At the suggestion of The Contessa, Marta drains the brake fluid from Laura’s car and she ends up dead in a pond. Having witnessed this sorry spectacle, Mino returns to the family chateau to be informed by the local gendarmerie that his mother has died after a fall down the stairs (in fact Marta pushed her)…

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Mino’s definitely had better days but his response to these events, traumatic as they are, can only be classified as overreaction. After Guerrini’s given him a goofy nightmare sequence, he starts picking up a string of strippers and hookers (the first of whom reminded me more than a little of Ania Pieroni) and making out with them until they object to the presence of the mummified Laura, at which point he throttles them to death.

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Screams were heard in the night as the result of him stuffin’…

“I’ve done it again…” Mino confesses to Marta (who’s already mopping up the evidence of his latest homicide) before protesting that he didn’t want to … his third eye made him do it!!! That’s OK then… After Marta has assisted on a few clean ups, she has sufficient leverage over Mino to extract a promise of marriage from him… perhaps a happy, if seriously twisted ending is in prospect? No, because now Laura’s identical twin Daniela (Blanc again, obviously) turns up and things start getting really wiggy!

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For Franco Nero, who’s about to overtake Donald Pleasence and may well live to challenge Malcolm McDowell or possibly overhaul John Carradine in terms of sheer quantity of screen appearances, 1966 was a particularly busy and fruitful year, even by his standards… we’re talking this, Margheriti’s War Of The Planets and Wild, Wild Planet, no less than three important Spaghetti Western’s (Corubucci’s Django, Fulci’s Massacre Time and Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios) and playing the role of Abel in John Huston’s The Bible, among others. The following year, the role of Galahad in Joshua Logan’s Camelot would elevate Franco into the firmament of international stardom, though he continued to maintain a healthy prsence in Italian genre Cinema. It’s a single note performance that he gives here, but perfect for a part in which he’s effectively dominated by the female characters. Veteran Solbelli impresses as the Countess. Gioia Pascal as Marta chews nowhere near as much scenery as Franca Stoppi in Buio Omega but delvers a performance so solid that one is surprised to learn that this, only her second screen appearance (after Franco Indovina’s Menage Italian Style, the previous year) also turned out to be her last.

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Was Guerrini attempting some kind of auteurist statement by naming the character after himself? He directs well throughout, with his own distinctive eye for the camera angles and compositions that will best enhance the telling of his sick little tale, though hereafter he marked time as a filone hack-for-hire.

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Just as Hitchcock, feted for the “tastefulness” of Psycho’s signature shower murder, felt empowered by shifts in Cinema community standards to get a whole lot more brutal twelve years later in Frenzy, so Joe D’Amato (never the most shrinking of violets anyway) had no qualms whatsoever about bringing the viler implications of the Norman Bates legend to the screen in 1979. Mino Guerrini was never going to get away with anything like that level of explicit sadism in 1966 and any grand guignol eruption of guts, filmed as here in black and white, was going to lose much of its impact anyway. Picking up on hints in Riccardo Freda’s Dr Hichcock brace (1962/3), The Third Eye cracks on more in the manner of Italian Gothic (coming right at the end of that particular cycle) than the giallo as which it has sometimes been identified… presumably by pundits who haven’t actually seen it. Last time I checked, it was still available (subtitled) on Amazon Prime, complete with shots from the first stripper killing that were excised from some releases. What are you waiting for, you sick puppies?

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Beating The Bishop… MAGDALENA – POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL Reviewed

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West Germany, 1974) aka Beyond The Darkness / Devil’s Female. Directed by “Michael Walter”.

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Just another Winter’s Tale…

We’ve already surveyed Spaghetti Exorcist clones, but Italians were by no means the only ones trying to join the post-Blatty box office bonanza during the 1970s, Catholic countries proving to be predictably fertile soil for the Devil’s cinematic seeds. In Spain, Jess Franco did his bit with Lorna The Exorcist (1974) … Paul Naschy took on Father Karras’ mantle in the 1975 Juan Bosch effort Exorcismo… and Templars director Amando De Ossorio pitched in with Demon Witch Child the following year. In 1978 the long overdue French release of Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling adopted the title Long Night Of Exorcism. Must try harder, France. By that point, Catholic southern Germany had already contributed an absolute cracker to the cycle with “Michael Walter”s Magdalena – Vom Teufel Besessen (1974).

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Walter, better known to his Mutti as Walter Boos, had hitherto laboured in that particular German specialty genre, the cautionary tale of curious German college girls (generally played by actresses… and I use the term advisedly… in their 20s and 30s) and their sexual misadventures. The title of Boos’ own What Parents Should Know (1973) tells you all you should know about the News Of The Screws-style cod moralising that justified these films’ shagtastic shenanigans. MPBTD represents a welcome respite from all this tit-and-ass tedium by throwing demonic possession into the sexploitive mix and true to form, the engaging Dagmar Hedrich was nearly forty (making Stockard Channing in Grease look positively pubertal) when she essayed the title role of troubled schoolgirl soul Magdalena Winter.

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The film kicks off in the wee small hours of a beery Bavarian night before, at the end of which a hooker (her ensemble pitched somewhere between Pussy Cat Doll and New York Doll) discovers some hapless guy crucified on his own front door. The MO of his demise and tattoos found on him suggest that he was a Satanist who fell foul of like minded evil dudes. As he stirs on the mortuary slab, his grand daughter Magdalena starts undergoing seizures at her boarding school (each signalled by flies buzzing on the soundtrack), writhing around in agony and / or sexual ecstasy, foaming at the mouth and spitting out the expected blasphemous obscenities (though there’s a conspicuous absence of pea soup… very disappointing for a film with the word “Vom” in its original German title). Alfie the dog (he’s no Dickie but you can’t have everything) begins cowering and growling in her presence and up in the attic, there’s more rickety furniture flying around than at an MFI clearance sale (I know I’ve used that gag before but it’s one of my favourites… apologies to any readers who are too young to remember the shambles that was MFI). After a particularly epic mong attack during which Magdalena kicks in a sturdy door with her bare feet, a doctor is called in but says that none of this is anything to worry about. He changes his tune the next day, after she’s been told about her grandfather’s death and responds with the announcement that she “despises” the dead, before shinning up a wall and running away. Thumbing a lift, Magdalena breaks the arm of a driver who tries it on with her… which will, ironically, make him more rather than less likely to pester women for hand-jobs in future. Concerned teachers take her to see kindly old village priest Father Conrad (Rudolf Schundler from Suspiria!) to whom she expresses a desire to take Communion “but not in my mouth… down here in my pussy!” More tea, vicar?

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Professor Falk (Werner Bruhns) and Dr Stone (Michael Hinz) spirit Magdalena away to a country retreat, from which she’s soon absconding for more unbridled rumpy-pumpy. Attracted to a beer hall knees-up by flatulent oompah music (conclusive proof that the Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes) she prick teases two burly brothers until one stabs the other to death then adds insult to injury by disappearing (literally) before the winner can claim his prize. She’s soon trying the same tactics on the Prof and Dr Stone. “Surely you don’t believe in The Devil?” gasp Falk when Fr Conrad suggests exorcism. Damn silly question, really… I mean, is The Pope a Catholic?

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Falk is finally persuaded after Magdalena (having seemingly been fucked by some invisible entity or other) tries to stab him, bursts out of strait jacket, set a fire and starts threatening people with an axe. The “climactic” exorcism turns out to be a pretty light touch affair. Magdalena is browbeaten into reciting The Lord’s Prayer, at which point a joke shop snake jumps out of her mouth, is stamped on and disappears. “There are things between Heaven and Earth” pronounces the Prof, sagely as Magdalen and Doctor Stone wander off, arm in arm. That’s all, folks.

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Dagmar Hedrich goes for it full throttle throughout and if there was any justice, she really would have got an Oscar for her performance as Magdalena. Instead, she never made another film. Perhaps she figured she’d be able to get by just fine on her old age pension….

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This is arguably the best among the legion of Exorcist clones and a superb exploitation film, full stop. How often do you find yourself watching one of these things and fast-forwarding through bothersome bits of exposition to get to the next outrage? There’s really never a dull moment in M-PBTD, it just flies by. Maybe it’s been cut? The version I saw clocked in at around the 90 minute mark but the packaging for this Super 8 release suggests a two hour (!) running time. How accurately were such listings, Super 8 collectors?

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Let’s get one little thing straight (as the actress said to the bishop): a boarding school girl in Germany with an affinity for supernatural Phenomena and a strange connection with insects… and at one point she even has EEG wires strapped on her head? Makes you wonder if Dario Argento ever donned a shabby raincoat and went to see Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil.

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There Goes The Neighbourhood… THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED Reviewed

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The House That Vanished (UK / Spain, 1973) aka Scream… And Die! / Psycho Sex Fiend / Don’t Go Into The Bedroom / Please! Don’t Go Into The Bedroom. Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

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Made just three years after Larraz’s feature debut, the mortifying Whirlpool, THTV shuffles that film’s thematic concerns and its director’s personal obsessions (paranoia, glamour photography, gerontophilia) to ultimately disappointing effect. In contrast to its predecessor, the female lead glamour model character (“Valerie Jennings”) isn’t played by a for-real glamour model, though actual actress Andrea Allan, who inevitably brings more nuance and conviction to her role than Viv Neves could muster in Whirlpool, does remind me of Page 3 girl Gillian Duxbury (funny how I can’t remember what I did yesterday but retain encyclopaedic knowledge of women I fancied when I was a teenager… pathetic really, isn’t it?)

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Andrea Allan displays “nuance” (left) and “conviction”.

To the considerable chagrin of her photographer / sort-of-boyfriend Terry (Alex Leppard), Val won’t agree to do pornier shots. Maybe if he had some of those to sell, feckless Terry wouldn’t have to resort to petty crime. Driving Val back from a shoot, he takes a detour into the foggy countryside to burgle a house. Val’s not best pleased when she twigs what he’s up to, even less when it transpires that he’s forced entry into the wrong house, where he and Val are separated and she witnesses an unidentified nut job stabbing a prostitute to death. After escaping the scene and being stalked through a car breaking lot, Val hitches a lift home but loses any trace of where this traumatic incident took place (the house doesn’t actually disappear… though Terry does). Nor, under the circumstances, is she particularly keen to report what happened to the police.

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It wouldn’t be early ’70s erotica without that bloody wicker chair…

Her unease doesn’t exactly abate when Terry’s car turns up parked outside her flat, containing her photographic portfolio, from which one identifying shot of her has been conspicuously pinched. Things get creepier still when the sinister Mister Hornby (Peter Forbes-Robertson) moves into the basement flat with his collection of birds (you’ve seen Psycho, haven’t you?) There’s the possibility of a redemptive romance with art dealer Paul (Karl Lanchbury), then again he’s having it off with his aunt (you’ve seen Whirlpool, haven’t you?) Although veteran smut scribbler Derek Ford is credited with writing THTV, this Wayne Rooneyeque hangover from Whirlpool would seem to reflect the director’s own personal proclivities (yes, tastes in these matters can get more niche than “Page 3 girls from the ’70s”). Val’s friend Lorna Collins (Hammer and Pete Walker alumnus Judy Matheson, below) pays a visit and is promptly raped and strangled.

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Val decides it might be wise to accept Paul’s invite to spend the weekend at his place in the country and after a surprisingly tender love scene, she starts to get the feeling that (hands up if you didn’t see it coming) she’s been in this house before…

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The House That Vanished delivers enough sex and violence (and then some) to satisfy your average undemanding deviant’s cinematic desires but its plot, considerably more expansive than that of Whirlpool (which was effectively a chamber piece) hangs together significantly less well and the improbably upbeat ending packs correspondingly less of a punch than the bleak denouement to Larraz’s debut. This one fits the Spanish sleaze brief but to seriously diminishing returns. Fret ye not, Larraz still had it in him to tweak his ingredients yet again and come up with…

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… that’s “Vampyres”, in English money.

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Twisted Neves… José Ramon Larraz’s Mean, Mean WHIRLPOOL Reviewed.

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Now that’s what I call an alternative title…

Whirlpool (Denmark / UK, 1970) aka She Died With Her Boots On / Perversion Flash.  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

I never did get my hands on a review copy of Arrow’s spiffing Blood Hunger – The Films Of José Larraz box set and I certainly can’t afford to buy it (at this point, if you’ve got the required plugin, you’ll be able to hear the smallest violin in the world scratching away) but I did get to access their online Larraz resources while researching an interview with those comely Vampyres Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, affording me the opportunity to rewatch the director’s debut feature Whirlpool as it was intended to be seen, looking a lot better than the nth generation VHS dub of my previous acquaintance… and wow, it finally hit me what a bleak (and arguably mean-spirited) little film this is. I mean, it isn’t quite Saló but, you know, it’s unlikely to turn up anytime soon on the Talking Pictures channel, nestled in between Genevieve and The Good Companions, sponsored by Dormeo…

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In furtherance of her model girl career, the lovely Tulia (Viv Neves) agrees to accompany intense young photographer Theo (Karl Lanchbury) to his Aunt Sara’s place in the country. Aunt Sara, as played by Pia Andersson, is a libidinous libertine involved in a dodgy sexual relationship with her nephew but also partial to a bit of old-girl-on-glamour-girl action. Plying Tulia with drink and surreptitiously administered Mary Jane (Larraz’s idea of smoking a joint can only be described as quaint), they draw her into a game of strip poker and then their lustful bed. Ooh er indeed, Missus.

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Being the liberated young Missy that she is, Tulia’s quite happy with this arrangement but becomes increasingly troubled by traces of her disappeared predecessor in this menáge à trois, a certain Rhonda (Johana Hegger) who even returns in a dream sequence for a sleazy bit of rumpo-pumpo from beyond the grave.

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While they’re taking a brief break from shagging, Theo takes Tulia to the pub to score some more “special fags” from his mate Tom (Andrew Grant), after which they all go for a drive in the country and Theo takes photos of Tom tearing Tulia’s clothes off and assaulting her. Whatever reservations Tulia might entertain about this treatment are soon apparently overcome and she wastes no time jumping back into bed with Theo and Sara. As difficult to swallow as this turn of events might prove for viewers, it seems for a while that we’re possibly headed for a similar plot twist to that in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (a film which seems to owe much to Whirlpool, which itself owes a certain something to Roy Boulting’s Twisted Nerve, 1968) whereby Neves will be revealed as Rhonda’s investigating / avenging sister or lover or whatever. But no… Tulia unearths a set of dodgy prints in Theo’s forbidden darkroom, depicting more rough sex in the woods and deduces from it (in an inspired / improbable joining of the dots) exactly what happened to Rhonda. Before she can even express her dismay, let alone extract any measure of justice, she is definitively – and quite shockingly – silenced.

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Although her big screen career soon hit the buffers (with only one more appearance, as a sexy nun in Paul Morrissey’s 1978 Pete’n’Dud vehicle The Hound Of The Baskervilles) the undeniably statuesque Ms Neves (she was either Vivian or Vivien… sources vary) was perfectly cast in the role of a sexually adventurous, doomed early-70s “dolly bird”. She was one of the Sun’s first Page 3 girls (making her topless debut in May 1970) and the very first woman to appear naked in a British broadsheet when her Fisons Pharmaceuticals ad graced the pages of The Times on 17/03/71. She quit nude modelling in early 1973, expressing herself embarrassed and disillusioned, though in the mid-’80s she set up a glamour modelling agency and her daughter Kelly followed in her footsteps onto Page 3 during the ’90s. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1979, Neves passed away on 29th December 2002.

In his feature debut, José Ramon Larraz begins to embroider themes that he would continue to embellish through such subsequent offerings as Deviation (1971), The House That Vanished (1973), Symptoms and Vampyres (both 1974, with Lanchbury cropping up again in the latter)… country retreats in the spooky English countryside (as similarly portrayed by fellow Catalan Jorge Grau in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, 1974), dangerous secrets, a sense that some tragic history is playing itself out again, emergent psychosis in a milieu of uninhibited and ultimately deadly sexual indulgence… Larraz obviously experienced a sense of artistic liberation in swinging England after escaping the repressive atmosphere of Franco era Spain, but if you can take the boy out of Franco era Spain… well, the converse is not necessarily true.

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When Tulia is cut down before she can offer the expected rationale for continuing to participate in orgies with these obvious nut cases, one theoretical explanation… and the one that you might feel Larraz is nudging you towards… is that her character’s just an irredeemable hussy who simply “had it coming”. Despite the mitigating chuckles to be had along the way over some of Whirlpool’s wardrobe excesses and equally florid patches of dialogue, that remains the most troubling aspect of this truly troubling picture.

Alongside that Larraz box set, Arrow are also releasing Stelvio Cipriani’s haunting OST on vinyl, pop-pickers…

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“Cor, that Viv Neves was one fit bird…”

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Toy Division… PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH Reviewed

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (USA / UK, 2018). Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund.

Nazi atrocities reinterpreted via the conventions of the stalk’n’slash genre… what offence could conceivably be taken? In cinemas, now.

Hey, ho, let’s go… I haven’t exactly been an avid follower of Charles Band’s Puppet Master franchise, despite the fact that this Blog’s fairy godmother Irene Miracle starred in David Schmoeller’s 1989 original. If you’re approaching the latest sequel / reboot in a similar state of woeful ignorance, you might well appreciate its pre-titles recap of “the Toulon massacre” that kicked off all this shit in the first place. Blink and you’ll miss HOF Hall-Of-Famer Udo Kier under heavy burns make up as evil puppeteer Andre Toulon.

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Cut to the present day, where recently divorced comic book writer Edgar Easton (Thomas Lennon) moves back in with Mom and Dad, in fact into the bedroom of his puppet-collecting brother, who died under mysterious circumstances. On a more positive note, he embarks on a heated affair with girl next door Ashley Summers (Jenny Pellicer) and together with his wise-cracking schlubb of a buddy / comic store co-worker Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) they take a road trip to a convention marking (well, celebrating, really) the 30 anniversary of that massacre, in the hope of auctioning off one of Ed’s dead brother’s Andre Toulon puppets. You might well be thinking at this point that they and the other attendees deserve all they get. Which turns out to be plenty…

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Having taken ten minutes or so to establish the protagonists’ characters and back stories, Laguna and Wicklund spend the rest of the picture trotting out a succession of eye-wateringly inventive splatter set pieces (appropriately enough in a film going out under the reactivated Fangoria banner… its co-directors both seem to have backgrounds in prosthetic effects and  look like they were probably weaned on that mag in its heyday) when the undead Toulon launches a telekinetic campaign from his crypt (as you do), mobilising his repulsive toys in a  blitzkrieg of butchery against the minority groups he so despises.

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Many of the victims are messily dispatched while having sex which is, in itself, one of the dodgier tropes of the stalk’n’slash cycle that Laguna and Wicklund are so gleefully invoking… but that’s the least of this film’s transgressions against political correctness. Most of the victims are also Jewish (including the couple who congratulate themselves on surviving The Holocaust, only to have their faces burned off by a flame thrower wielding killer puppet) but a lesbian is carved up in her bath and a gypsy ends up pissing on his own head, which has just been lopped off his shoulders by a puppet piloted drone. “These are hate crimes”, Ed tells dim investigating officer Brown (Michael Paré). No shit, Sherlock.

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My initial exposure to PM:TLR was at the 2018 Mayhem Festival,  and I do recall that it was received with a collective “What the actual fuck?!?” response reminiscent of the audience reaction to Springtime For Hitler in The Producers. Before we’d had a chance to debate its ethical niceties, though, we were watching Mandy, after which nobody could talk about anything but Panos Cosmatos’ tripped out revenge saga. Even so, it was difficult to dismiss the memory of the (jewish) Markowitz pushing a “junior fuhrer” puppet into an oven with the words: “See how you like it!” It was only on a second viewing that the penny dropped for me about the exact significance of the film’s crowning outrage, in which a puppet tunnels up a pregnant woman’s vagina and exits, dragging her unborn foetus and placenta behind it. The “Jew Suss” features of the embryo snatcher suggest only one possible interpretation of this scene, i.e. as a take on the old pogrom promoting myth about Jews using christian children in their passover meals… on a holiday that actually coincides with this release! Tasteless, much? I’m only surprised at the restraint by which this film wasn’t marketed as some kind of dark mirror image to Toy Story, utilising the line “To Buchenwald and Beyond!” The final twist suggesting that everything we’ve seen might be the contents of a comic book written by world-weary Ed comes as little mitigation for a film both violent and politically incorrect enough to make The Gestapo’s Last Orgy look like The Sound Of Music.

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich arrives in UK cinemas at an “interesting” moment in time, where it seems impossible to discuss Israel or The Holocaust or whatever without somebody branding you “an anti-Semite” before you’ve even got two syllables out. God knows what the PC brigade will make of this. The BBFC don’t seem to have found any fault with it but what will The Daily Mail say? (“Hurrah For The Blackshirts Puppets!”, perhaps?)

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The film boasts a better cast than it probably deserves. The principals are likeable (which doesn’t prevent just about all of them being graphically bumped off), Lennon playing it admirably straight-faced throughout. It’s always good to see Barbara Crampton, here as a tart-tongued tour guide / former cop. Must have seemed like old times for the film’s soundtrack composer, Fabio Frizzi, who was Lucio Fulci’s go-to OST guy (come to think of it, the character who gets the back of her head pulled off in a car must have given Frizzi a proper case of the Dunwich deja vu!)

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Now I hear that bloody Chucky is getting relaunched. If that one does OK, how long will it be before producer Band goes for a Dolls reboot? Check your Christmas stocking very carefully, this year…

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Sette Studentesse Per L’Assassino… THE MINISKIRT MURDERS Reviewed.

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Directed by “Anthony Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti) in 1968. Produced by Lawrence Woolner, Virgilio and Giuseppe De Blasio. Written by Antonio Margheriti, Giovanni Simonelli, Franco Bottari and (all uncredited) Mario Bava, Tudor Gates, Brian Degas. Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli. Edited by Otello Colangeli. Production design by Antonio Visone. Music by Carlo Savina. Starring: Michael Rennie, Mark Damon, Eleonora Brown, Sally Smith, Patrizia Valturri, Ludmilla Lvova, Malisa Longo, Silvia Dionisio, “Alan Collins”, (Luciano Pigozzi).

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Antonio Margheriti was, by the general consent of anyone who ever met him (among whose number I’m fortunate to count myself), a total sweetheart. Much the same is said,  by those who encountered him, of Mario Bava. Between these two great Italian genre directors, though, little love seems to have been lost. One possible contributory factor to this alleged frostiness might have been Margheriti’s string of Gothic horror efforts which, while constituting a respectable body of chillers in their own right (The Virgin Of Nuremberg, 1963, Danse Macabre and The Long Hair Of Death, 1964) unquestionably shadowed such Bava classics as Black Sunday (1960), Black Sabbath and The Whip And The Body (both 1963). Perhaps such copy-catting was considered par-for-the-course in the Italian B-movie tradition… but maybe not by everybody.

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Whatever, it is suggested (notably by Tim Lucas in his epochal Bava tome All The Colors Of The Dark) that Bava quit as director of the picture under consideration here (at that point known as Cry Nightmare) when he learned that the producer he’d be answerable to was none other than Antonio Margheriti. Inheriting the direction of the project, Margheriti definitively established that he was nowhere near as good a copyist of Giallo Bava as he was of Bava in Gothic mode. Margheriti’s 1973 spaghetti slasher Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye is pretty watchable stuff, precisely because of the way it allows him to indulge his gothic inclinations… whereas this effort more closely resembles one of the more schoolbound krimi (those West German Edgar Wallace adaptations which are shading off into gialli proper round about this time) than the great giallo leaps forward that Bava seemed to manage every time he worked in the genre.

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For such a pedestrian effort, Marghereti’s film boasts a plethora of lurid titles aside from its original designation, Cry Nightmare. There’s Nude… Si Muore (“Naked You Die”), Sieben Jungfrauen Fur Den Teufel (“Seven Young Girls For The Devil”), The Young, The Evil And The Savage, Schoolgirl Killer and – my favourite – The Miniskirt Murders. Under whatever name, its alleged “action” unfolds, at a very sedate clip indeed, within the walls of St Hilda’s College, a boarding school for the daughters of the well off, whose dormitories are populated by some of the oldest looking “schoolgirls” since Stockard Canning slipped on her Pink Ladies outfit… Sally Smith was thirty when she appeared in this picture, for Chrissakes! Most irritating by far, though, is Lorenza Guerrieri as “Jill”, exactly the kind of mandatory, misfiring “comic relief” that is again strongly reminiscent of the krimis. All of these superannuated students are busily lusting after supposedly hunky teacher Mark Damon, whose penchant for jail bait immediately marks him out as the chief suspect when various girls and faculty members start getting bumped off (in disappointingly perfunctory style). The fact that he likes to hang around the college’s lime pit (yes, St Hilda’s has a lime pit… I imagine that it features prominently in the school prospectus) looking menacing does nothing to ease our suspicions. Another possible culprit is Margheriti and Bava’s ubiquitous character player “Alan Collins” alias Luciano Pigozzi (“the Italian Peter Lorre”), the school handyman who spends his time lovingly polishing his scythe (Freudian, much?) while relentlessly ogling schoolgirls from the bushes.

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Inspector Durand, the cop called in to investigate St Hilda’s alarming mortality rate, is played by a fast-fading Michael (The Day The Earth Stood Still) Rennie… fading so very fast that he was rather, er, tentative in his role, as Margheriti delighted in telling me when I interviewed him in 1995: “Rennie had suffered a heart attack about a year before we shot that picture. Every time we had to shoot a scene with some action, he would come to me and say: ‘Tony, what do you think? Maybe we could have Franco come in with all the policemen running and I arrive later and have a look…’ What he meant was: ‘Don’t make me run, I don’t want to die!’ Ha ha… a terrible story. He would open the door and step out before you could tell him to jump out, because he was really sick, you know? Ha ha ha!” Yeah, that’s very sensitive of you, Antonio…

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The biggest clue to the killer’s true identity lies with a corpse in a crate that we see being deposited in the school’s cellar towards the beginning of the film, and the ultimate revelation comes in a silly cross-dressing twist that really isn’t too hard to spot coming. Margheriti told me that he regarded The Miniskirt Murders as “a Dario Argento picture, ten years before Argento started to make movies!” Apart from the hazy grasp of chronology implied by this statement, it flagrantly disregards how much more Argento managed to achieve with the school setting in Phenomena (never mind Suspiria!) Nowhere in Schoolgirl Killer do we find the delirious levels of sheer stylised cruelty that Italian directors such as Argento, Bava, Fulci and Martino – even Carnimeo and Bianchi – brought to the genre. Even Sidney Hayers’ British girls school giallo wannabe Assault shows The Minskirt Murders the door. Margheriti clearly regarded this one as a job of work, taken on at short notice, rather than any kind of labour of love. He was an admirable jack of all cinematic trades but clearly no master of the giallo. He has left us with many enjoyable pictures but Naked You Die is not one of them.

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It must have been even more underwhelming when cut by 20 mins in States to fit on AIP double bills with “The Conqueror Worm” (that’s Witchfinder General to you, me and the late Michael Reeves). Gialli completists who feel compelled to catch it should be seeking out something close to the original Italian release’s 98 minute running time.

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Why Didn’t They Ask Evelyn? THE WEEKEND MURDERS Reviewed.

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The Weekend Murders aka Concerto For A Solo Pistol (1970). Directed by Michele Lupo. Produced by Antonio Mazza. Written by Sergio Donati, Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru. Cinematography by Guglielmo Mancori. Edited by Vincenzo Tomassi. Art direction by Ugo Sterpini. Music by Francesco De Masi. Starring: Anna Moffo, “Evelyn Stewart” (Ida Galli), Gastone Moschin, Peter Baldwin, Lance Percival, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Chris Cjhittell, Marisa Fabbri, Quinto Parmeggiani, Beryl Cunningham, Orchidea de Santis, Claudio Undari, Franco Borelli,  Ballard Berkeley, Richard Caldicot, Harry Hutchinson

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Whenever the origins of the giallo are discussed, various tributaries that fed into that particular filone will inevitably be invoked… Hitchcock, film noir, such German components as Expressionism and the subsequent cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations, American pulp fiction… but critics, fans and indeed the film makers who plied their trade in this murderous milieu seldom mention the influence of Golden Age (circa the interwar years) British detective fiction. Among the major exponents of the genre, Mario Bava, perhaps, came closest in Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970), a thinly disguised adaptation of the 1939 Agatha Christie novel whose name we dare not, these days, speak.

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In the same year (1970, that is) Michele Lupo was far more explicit in acknowledging this debt with The Weekend Murders, a comic country house murder mystery actually filmed in and around an English country house (Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk) and so broadly played that I kept expecting Miss Marple to pop up from behind a privet hedge or Lord Peter Wimsey to pull up in his Roller. After a flash forward to the discovery of a body in a bunker during a sedate round of golf, the action kicks off with the mustering of the ill-assorted Carter clan for the reading of the eccentric family patriarch’s will. Everything worth having goes to Barbara (Anna Moffo) and the grumbling has hardly subsided before an attempt is made on her life and a series of characters who would become beneficiaries in the event of her demise are bumped off. Co-writers Sergio Donati, Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru have the wit to do away with the butler (Ballard Berkeley) first… and yes, Berkeley would become more famous several years later as The Major in Fawlty Towers.

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There’s no shortage of remaining suspects (several of whom, naturally, find themselves on the growing pile of victims…) Ted (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) is a charming cad with his eyes on the prize… his wife Pauline (Beryl Cunningham), whom he seems to have married mainly to upset his racist family, is similarly on the make… Isabelle (Ida Galli) is involved in a tortured love triangle with two of the Carter men and Aunt Gladys (Marisa Fabbri) is a sinister battle-axe with terminally maladjusted son Georgie (future Tomorrow Person Chris Chittell) in tow… the latter’s penchant for morbid practical jokes complicate the police investigation at several junctures and his Oedipal hang ups (clearly inherited from those of Hywel Bennett’s identically named alter ego in Roy Boulting’s Twisted Nerve, 1968) are horribly exposed in a really cringe-inducing sexual encounter with nymphomaniac maid Evelyn (Orchidea de Santis).

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A great cast is topped off with Lance Percival (who, as previously noted in these pages, holds an inexplicable grip on Mrs F’s erotic imaginings) and Gastone Moschin (unrecognisable from his hard man roles in such poliziotteschi as Fernando Di Leo’s Milan Calibre 9, 1971) playing, respectively, the snotty Supt. Grey of Scotland yard and bucktoothed, bumbling bobby Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe. Although Grey regards Thorpe (and openly addresses him) as a “hobnailed country yokel bumpkin”, the local beat cop is more on the ball throughout and it’s he who ultimately identifies the culprit, their elaborate MO and motivation in a game-changing twisteroo that could have been dreamed up by Agatha Christie herself (and possibly was… I can’t claim to have worked my way through her complete bibliography). The knockabout relationship between these recalls the set up in many of those German krimi efforts which were, at this point, interchangeable with Italy’s gialli. Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, of course, was about to change all that…

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Francesco De Masi’s score, which riffs on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (served up straight in Duccio Tessari’s The Bloodstained Butterfly, the following year) is more suggestive of the Spaghetti Western in the way it incorporates gun shots to punctuate the percussive cutting of (Fulci’s go-to editor) Vincenzo Tomasso, hence the original Italian title Concerto Per Pistola Solista. Throughout, the director’s visual flair, a witty script and very watchable cast elevate The Weekend Murders above the mundane run of drawing-room detection duds… in fact, Lupo’s solitary shot in the Italian slasher stakes makes for one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable gialli you’ll ever see. Should be required “after Sunday dinner viewing” and indeed, here at The House of Freudstein, it now is.

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