VHS Reviews

On The Horns Of House And Hip Hop… PROFONDO ROSSO By The SIMONETTI HORROR PROJECT Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Exempt from classification.

Claudio Simonetti (along with his avatar, the late, great Keith Emerson) represents a point on the graph where two of my main obsessions (’70s Prog Rock and ’70s/80s Italian genre cinema) coincide. It’s the Proggier stuff that Simonetti essayed with Goblin which holds a special place in my heart (their debut album – released when the band were still known as Cherry Five – sounds more like Yes in their pomp than Yes themselves have sounded at any time in the last forty years) but, like the Italian exploitation film makers with whom he collaborated so memorably, Simonetti’s output and his presentation of the jewels in his musical crown have changed to reflect perceived shifts in public taste. In recent years, for example, his band (whether branded Daemonia or Goblin) has affected a quasi-Goth image with vague suggestions of Death Metal.

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In the early ’80s Simonetti took a disco direction (signalled as early as the four-to-the-floor main theme he contributed to Argento’s Tenebrae in ’82) and the tape under consideration here, issued by DiscoMagic to promote the LP Simonetti Horror Project in 1990, finds him on the cusp of Hair Rock, House and Hip Hop.

Crammed onto the stage of a small theatre in Siena, Simonetti and his core band of gurning, shape throwing, fright-coiffed, leather jacketed and ripped jeaned desperadoes (Giacomo Castellano, gtr; Maurizio Colori, bs; Giulio Sirci, dr) mime their way energetically through the album tracks, augmented at various points by rapper Dr. Felix and “Mad DJ” Luca “The Scratcher” Cucchetti, the back of whose leather jacket is adorned with one of those unfortunate “smiley” images… is he on one, matey? Further musical (but mainly visual) distraction is provided in the buxom shape of one Andrea Simonetti, shaking her Titian tresses and ample booty impressively in a lycra jump shoot… whoever she is, it’s probably a safe bet that Andrea is not Claudio’s granny! Also competing for your attention are a human skeleton and several silly plush toys. The proceedings are regularly punctuated by clips from Argento’s movies and a brief one of the director himself emerging from between a pair of thick red curtains. The directorial duties for this 45 minute promo were divided between Simonetti and Dr. Felix who between them have obviously enjoyed Led Zep’s Song Remains The Same and its overuse of split screen mosaics, which are deployed to alarming effect on, e.g. the murder of Ania Pieroni in Tenebrae .

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As for the music,  things kicks off with Craws (sic)… 1987’s Opera is, by general assent, the final film in Argento’s imperial period but I’ve never been too crazy about Simonetti’s music for it. Does he look like he cares, posing away with his keytar? Swimming against the tide of this general dance music tone, the Tenebrae theme unfolds in rockier style than on the film itself… a pretty exhilarating reading. The previously exhilirating Phenomena, on the other hand, has mutated into sub-Cerrone mush, appropriately enough, I guess, given the film’s notoriously odd “Supernature” storyline. Demons provides one of the tape’s standout moment. Now underpinned by the ubiquitous “Funky Drummer” James Brown sample, Simonetti embellishes the original with satisfying flights of synthesiser fancy while Sergio Stivaletti’s screen creations do The Lambeth Walk and CS himself, decked out in his finest Byronic frills, discovers a dusty manuscript whose music converts him into a demon when he play it. Riotous stuff! Andrea, The Scratcher and Dr. Felix take centre stage (with the band doing hand jive behind them!) as the doc raps sacreligiously over the canonical Profondo Rosso theme. While you’re getting over the shock of that, Simonetti slips in a less radical albeit thoroughly underwhelming Suspiria make-over which neither incongruous guitar histrionics nor the return of Andrea, mincing around in a tutu, can redeem. She’s back again, ineptly miming the aria from Opera, for a romantic scene with Claudio. Two unfamiliar tracks, Elucubration and Ozone Free, feature original Goblin drummer Walter Martino on drums (though he doesn’t appear on screen.) As if to mollify disgruntled conservatives, Simonetti (in Jack The Ripper hat and cape) closes the proceedings with Profondo Rosso – Rock Version, which unfortunately equates to tacking on further sub-Van Halen guitar tedium. Simonetti leaps into the air, flicking his mullet, the frame freezes and we’re done… undoubtedly not soon enough for some, but you’d have to be a terminally po-faced purist not to find something entertaining and / or amusing in this uneven collection, much of which is available on Youtube.

Click here for Claudio Simonetti interview, elsewhere on this blog.

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Edwige Fenech Gives Mutant Nazi Sex Midget The Boner Of The Year… SEX WITH A SMILE Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Skyline. Unrated.

Justly feted as one of the masters of giallo (see reviews of The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Torso elsewhere on this site) Sergio Martino was also a nimble genre jumper, diving fearlessly and  proficiently (as was required from any journeyman director of his generation) into several other filoni. The “Sexy-Comedy” proved a particularly fertile furrow for his plough and his favoured giallo ingenue Edwige Fenech doubled, of course, as the Queen of Sexy-Comedy. Her only serious rival in both genres, Barbara Bouchet, shares prominent billing (though no scenes) with her in this 1976 portmanteau effort, Martino’s take on Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). It seems fitting to kick off our Martino weekender with a look at Sex With A Smile (aka 40 Gradi All’Ombra Del Lenzuolo), as this prolific field of spaghetti endeavour has so far received pretty short shrift here at The House Of Freudstein… and perhaps we’re about to find out why.

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The title of the first episode, One For The Money, actually short changes Enrico Montesano, who manages to seduce the glacially beautiful Barbara Bouchet on three separate occasions in return for money which… well, I’ll leave you to discover the twist for yourself if you’re not already familiar with it. Suffice to say, this is a well constructed little piece of ribaldry, probably the best segment of the picture. Which means, of course, that everything goes downhill a bit, thereafter. Marty Feldman and Dayle (Spermula) Haddon star as The Bodyguard and his client, the latter finding her love life thwarted by Marty’s tendency to see kidnap plots everywhere. Feldman was cast to enhance the international box office appeal of SWAS but for me he’s the most irritating thing in a film that’s chock full of “broad” performances. I’ve enjoyed him in plenty of other things but his lame attempts to do Buster Keaton here come across more like Buster Cretin. In Catch It While It’s Hot Alberto Lionello is a chauffeur being mercilessly prick teased by his aristocratic mistress Giovanna Ralli, a situation which resolves itself in another entertaining if not exactly unguessable twist.

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In Dream Girl, Edwige Fenech is the town hottie driving the horny locals crazy (“She’s giving me the boner of the year!” drools Salvatore Baccaro), none more so than Tomas Milian, nebbishly cast against type as the schmendrick getting completely lost in his nerdy daydreams about her. When he phones his fantasies in to the divine Edwige she starts getting hot pants herself, coming over all twitchy while watching a Dracula movie whose lighting is highly suggestive of that on Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963), in which Christopher Lee starred and Martino served as assistant director. The ultimate, accidental beneficiary of her stoked libido, however, turns out to be Baccarro. Yes – spoiler alerts be damned – “Sal Boris”, the mutant Nazi sex midget from Luigi Batzella’s “video nasty” The Beast In Heat enjoys carnal knowledge of Edwige Fenech… there’s hope for all of us!

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This instalment might have made a good closer but regrettably Martino opts to wind things up with a mutt of an episode entitled A Dog’s Day in which Aldo Maccione saves dotty Sydne Rome from suicide and seems set for a carnal reward, only to fall foul of her protective Alsatian… the same one from Suspiria? Or is it Dicky himself from The Beyond? Buggered if I know…

Italian comedy travels about as well as Gorgonzola and my Skyline video of Sex With A Smile, having sat gathering dust on the shelf for some decades now, doesn’t look that fresh either. I have to admit, I just don’t get the “Comedy” component of “Sexy-Comedy”… which is fine, as I’m sure your average Italian hipster would similarly struggle to get any chuckles out of Keith Lemon (and why wouldn’t they? That guy is about as funny as popping a hemorrhoid!) As for the “Sexy” bit.. well, we’re talking international language here. Martino’s celebration of the physical charms of Haddon, Rome and Ralli requires little explanation, though it might need justification in some politically correct quarters. As for the naked vistas he affords us of Bouchet (impressive) and Fenech (quite jaw dropping)… forget about it!

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Skyline Video found themselves dragged into the whole “video nasties” brouhaha when they released Ruggero Deodato’s sexually violent essay in crude class struggle, House On The Edge Of The Park. Although that one has now been released (albeit with cuts) on DVD by Shameless, I suspect that this Martino effort would struggle to get certified today, cutting perilously close to depicting, as it does in at least three of its episodes, women who mean Yes when they say No and rape as suitable subject matter for comedy. Nothing remotely funny about that, Sergio. Different times, different mores as several UK radio DJs could no doubt have told you…

The Sergio Martino Weekender continues tomorrow evening, with all eyes on Edwige Fenech…

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Hell Is (with apologies to Jean Paul Sartre) Another Bruno Mattei Movie To Watch: L’ALTRO INFERNO Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Redemption. 18.

I kicked off our survey of Italian Exorcist knock-offs with Pope Paul VI’s observation, from November 1972, that Satan really exists and has us all in his power. Some readers have suggested that I erred in omitting Bruno Mattei’s The Other Hell (“L’Altro Inferno”) from that survey. Did The Devil make me do it? Or was I right in my initial judgement that Mattei’s picture is more properly bracketed with the slew of “lesbian orgy outbreaks in a convent” epics that Mattei’s erstwhile collaborator Joe D’Amato was inspired to perpetrate after seeing Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) than with spaghetti exorcism proper? Either way, now seems as propitious a moment as any to examine this particular cinematic outrage, also known as Guardian Of Hell and Terror In A Convent.

Deploying the “Stefan Oblowsky” guise from his extensive collection of pseudonyms, Mattei shot TOH simultaneously with his The True Story Of The Nun Of Monza in 1980. It’s undoubtedly his best picture (though he himself has had the gall to cite Rats – Night Of Terror  as his career pinnacle), which is not to say that it’s in any way accomplished… it’s the sheer go-for-broke audacity, the all-out  sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium in The Other Hell that puts it ahead of even D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, female lead Franca Stoppi and even its fluffed “shock” ending) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.

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Incredibly, its pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more subdued moments in The Other Hell, which goes on to delineate trendy cleric Father Vaelrio (Carlo De Mejo)’s vain attempts to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!

Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (yep, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from Dario Argento’s Suspiria, although Mattei always claimed this picture as a tribute to  Argento’s Inferno (with tributes like this, who needs insults?) Mattei’s trump card here is probably Stoppi, who chews the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza.

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The Other Hell was co-written by “Clyde Anderson” (Claudio Fragasso), a frequent scripting collaborator who has often found himself completing the direction of pictures that Mattei started before rushing on to his next schlock-fest. This ploy, together with Mattei’s already-noted reliance on stock footage, was crucial in sustaining his prolific output. Fragasso also co-wrote what is probably still Mattei’s most widely-seen monstrosity, that insufferable soufflé of amateur dramatics, Fulci thievery, goofy grand guignol and grainy stock footage Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981.)

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So who was the real Bruno Mattei (death finally intervened to stop him churning out motion pictures in 2007, the year in which he managed his final two directorial “credits”)? The poor man’s Joe D’Amato? The rodent-obssessed recycler of other people’s ideas and footage? The accomplished technician described to me by David Warbeck? You must be the judge… but to come to a fair decision, one that will not (to paraphrase the dude in Faces Of Death) implicate yourself… you’re gonna have to watch a whole shit load of terrible movies!

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“Can I look yet?”

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