Can You Dig It? Armando Crispino’s THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN Reviewed

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The Etruscan Kills Again (1972). Directed by Armando Crispino. Produced by Artur Brauner. Written by Armando Crispino, Lucio Battistrada, Lutz Eisholz, adapted from a short story by Bryan Edgar Wallace. Cinematography by Erico Menczer. Edited by Alberti Gialitti. Art direction by Giantito Burchiellaro. Production design by Giovanni Nataluccu. Music by Riz Ortolani. Starring: Alex Cord, Samantha Eggar, John Marley, Nadja Tiller, Enzo Tarascio, Horst Frank, Enzo Cerusico, Carlo De Mejo, Mario Maranzana, Carla Brait.

“In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, lived a strange race of people… the Druids. No one knows who they were… or… what they were doing… but their legacy remains… hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge!”: Stonehenge by Spinal Trap. 
… and pretty much the same could be said of the Etruscans, whose civilisation shaped, but was ultimately supplanted by, that of Ancient Rome. Certainly tousel-haired Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord) is mulling their mysteries when he flies in to investigate some recently unearthed burial mounds, but archeological enigmas soon prove to be the least of his worries… for starters he’s trying to woo back his ex, Myra (Samantha Eggar), who finished with him on the pretty reasonable grounds that he’d stabbed her (“Sure, love can make you stab a woman and you might even knock her around a little” observes a sympathetic if not entirely PC cop). She’s now married to the tyrannical orchestra conductor Nikos Samarakis (John Marley) who, it turns out, still hasn’t divorced his first wife Leni (Nadja Tiller)… whose son Igor (a very young-looking Carlo De Mejo) is working on the Prof’s dig. A canoodling couple who choose one of the mounds for a spot of furtive nookie end up getting their brains beaten out (in a scene which might well have influenced the pre-credits sequence to Fulci’s House By The Cemetery, 1981) with a ceremonial club that turns out to look exactly like one wielded by an Etruscan deity (“Chakuka”? Sorry, my Ancient Etruscan’s a but rusty…) in a subsequently discovered mural. Is some kind of supernatural nemesis avenging the desecration of this sacred site? Or is some really weird shit going on?

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Suspects include choreographer Horst Frank (in a performance that is, even by his standards, floridly camp) and an insect torturing tour guide-turned-blackmailer (seriously, I’m not making this up!) but Jason finds himself fitting neatly into the frame (rather like Jon Finch’s character in Hitchcock’s Frenzy, 1972) on account of his track record in domestic violence and significant gaps in his memory, occasioned by his habit of downing a bottle of J&B a day… it’s nice to see the giallo wonderdrink actually serving as some sort of plot point for once, over and above its customary product placement purpose. Oh, Mr Porter… things are looking bad for our stab-happy, dipsomaniac academic but the fact that Verdi’s Requiem is heard playing every time some gormless youth gets messily bumped off amid the Etruscan remains (yeah, it happens a few times)  and the introduction of a shoe fetish motif suggest that some kind of primal trauma is being played out and if you pay attention, you shouldn’t find it too hard to identify the culprit before the climactic revelation.

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If TEKA was the only giallo ever attempted by Crispino, he would probably has made about as lasting an impression on the genre as those Etruscans did on world history, but fortunately in 1975, the year that Dario Argento perfected the form with Deep Red, our man Armando got his thematic shit (the soapy interaction of characters with improbable biographies, morbidly delineated in a macabre atmosphere) together and hewed his legacy into the living rock of pasta paura with the remarkable Autopsy.

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If this one whets your appetite for Etruscan-themed thrillers you’ll want to check out Sergio Martino’s so-so Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery (1982) and Andrea Bianchi’s gobsmacking Burial Ground (1980), the latter featuring some even weirder domestic entanglements than Crispino’s picture and also enough badly made-up zombies to improve the mood of any living dead completist who felt that they were tricked into seeing The Etruscan Kills Again by a misleading American retitling and ad campaign.

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Avanti Avati! The PUPI AVATI Interview

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Feted and decorated at Cannes, Berlin and Venice for such Arthouse efforts as Bix, Il Cuore Altrove and Il Papà Di Giovanni, Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati has pursued a parallel career in Freudsteinian film. In this archive interview from 1996 he reveals the full extent of his hidden Horror history, over and above such self-directed classics as The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and Zeder (1983), taking in collaborations with Mario and Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Signor Avati, many horror fans are frustrated that you have chosen to limit your participation in that genre…

I am not aware of being able to count on fans in the gothic genre. I know that The House With Laughing Windows is quite well known in some countries, and also certain other of my works. I don’t know if I could work exclusively in this genre without paying a price in originality and the kind of stimuli which are necessary for me to return to film-making with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

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I believe your horror spoof Tutti Defunti… Tranne I Morti was made with the specific intention of frustrating attempts to type-cast you as “a horror director”…

Yes it’s true, I made Tutti Defunti specifically to avoid having that label stuck on me.

Please tell us something about your early experience working as assistant director on films like Piero Vivarelli’s Satanik…

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It was a modest experience, in fact my role was actually that of second assistant… Piero Vivarelli was not a great director, but he was an able technician, from whom I learned the importance of organising a shoot properly, how to put together a troupe, the relationship between a script and a shoot, between the directors and his actors… a little of everything which I then developed on my own account.

What are your memories of working with Lamberto Bava on Macabro?

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Good memories! Lamberto has no ambitions to become a great auteur, but he is a tremendous professional. He loves the whole business of making a film, of using effects, music, actors, the script… the whole machinery. He had already worked as my assistant director, which was when I discovered that he is very gifted.

That film proceeds with the restrained menace that is characteristic of your own pictures… until that abrupt final twist with the head attacking the blind man!

My recollection of Macabro is rather hazy. Frankly, it’s a film that I haven’t watched again. I like the idea of the head being kept in the fridge, then taken to bed. It both amuses and terrifies me… the right mix, wouldn’t you agree?

Please tell us about working with Mario Bava on Bordella…

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He only worked on the realisation of the “invisible man” sequence towards the end of the film. After many false starts with other so-called effects men, Bava resolved the technical difficulties with ease. Looking back, the effect seems pretty infantile now.

What would you say are the respective talents of Bava Sr and Bava Jr?

Mario belonged represents a cinema with more convictions, with less irony… to a dark cinema which believed in itself. These films were directed at a more naive public, who would willingly go along with a story. Lamberto has had great success with fairy-tales, in a milieu of absolute unreality. What links them is their desire to astonish their audience.

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Tell us about collaborating with Pasolini and Sergio Citti on the script of Salò… what was your input?

Pasolini had never even read De Sade. We wrote the film with 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. Screen-writing with Pasolini was conducted on a basis of mutual respect and close collaboration, I have never been keen on collaborating with others, but I did enjoy my collaboration with Pier Paolo.

How do you remember Pasolini the man?

He was the mildest and perhaps the most sensitive man I have ever known. To work with him was simplicity itself, because he knew exactly what he wanted from you.

Although it is not generally known, I believe you collaborated on an early draft of Profondo Rosso… how do you remember your collaboration with Dario Argento?

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I only worked on the film for a few days. Dario had been sick, and was recovering in hospital. We came up with the film’s opening, without even writing a line. I believe something of that remains in the film, a seance I seem to recall. But Dario Argento, who I know very well, was already an established film-maker. He’s a centraliser, who doesn’t like to concede any control to anyone else. I’m the same… and two cocks in the same hen-house isn’t a good recipe for artistic collaboration.

What about Lucio Fulci, with whom you collaborated on the satire Dracula In Brianza? Did you find him as “difficult” a man as he has been painted?

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Fulci always comported himself very well with me. I wrote a script that he thought was perfect, then he made a complete about turn and rewrote everything. I completely lost track. It was not easy to capture exactly what he wanted. I think that ultimately, little of what I contributed ended up on the screen. Anyway the film’s star, Lando Buzzanca, had a big say on what went into the script.

You have always operated as an independent and stayed loyal to your regional base of Emilia Romagna… what has the region contributed to your artistic vision – particularly to your macabre sensibility?

The peasant culture in which I grew up is still very strong in Emilia Romagna… I was brought up on terrifying fairy tales and a religiosity which always emphasised the terrible penalties for sin. I was brought up in a state of fear, and these fears are acknowledged in my work. They have shaped my imagination.

You’ve made several movies in the U.S. but – true to your independent philosophy – in Iowa rather than Hollywood. Tell us about the affinities you see between this state and the Emilia Romagna…

They are two very similar regions with wide plains, farming land and the kind of people who are bred by that culture: a little restricted, a little conservative, deeply versed in tradition but also open to the future… a singular mix in each instance.

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Although you love the Emilia Romagna, your film The House With Laughing Windows (above) portrays it as place of degeneracy and decay…

I have tried to portray the dark side of my homeland. The secret side, which doesn’t appear in the tourist brochures. It was in Zeder that I best captured this unofficial side of “the Riviera Romagnola”.

You based the character of Paolo Zeder on Fulcanelli… are you aware of the way this character has also been used in Guillermo Del Torro’s Cronos and Michele Soavi’s La Chiesa?

Many people have been fascinated by Fulcanelli. I certainly was. Recently however, a document has come to light in France that proves he never existed, except as a literary invention.

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An unsettling moment from Avati’s Zeder (1983)

Is it true that L’Arcano Incantatore is based on another allegedly “real-life” alchemist…

Another real-life figure, yes, but not an alchemist… he was a student of necromantic texts, named Achille Ropa Sanuti and he was another Bolognese. He stayed in my city halfway through the eighth Century. Excommunicated for his studies, he took the esoteric name “Arcane Enchanter”.

Would you agree that Zeder has influenced Soavi’s more recent effort Dellamorte Dellamore (not to mention Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary)?

I couldn’t comment, because I haven’t seen either of those films.

Your female lead in Zeder was the gorgeous Anne Canovas, an actress who I haven’t seen much of anywhere else…

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I don’t know how Anne Canovas was chosen. She was very good in a TV film by my friend Giacomo Battiato, perhaps I saw her there.

Isn’t it true that you like to work more closely with your actors than is generally the case in Italian horror cinema?

Yes. In Italian horror cinema (which is considered unworthy by everybody, particularly by actors) the director’s rapport with the cast tends to be non-existent. This isn’t exactly the best way to get good performances! I always approach a dark film in exactly the same way as I would approach a realistic one.

I believe though that Zeder, the only one of your horror films to get a proper release in the US was shot in the English language… Gabriele Lavia has said that this made it a difficult film for him to work on… what are your recollections of this?

I didn’t manage to achieve much of a rapport with Lavia. Because the film was shot in English, it was difficult to devote as much attention to the nuances of his performance as he would have liked.

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I was told that The House With Laughing Windows was originally shot in the dialect of Emilia Romagna… is this why it has never received the distribution that it deserves?

It wasn’t shot in any dialect and it received excellent distribution in Italy, where the film was a great success. It didn’t get much overseas distribution because of the inadequacy of our organisation then… our fault, entirely.

Rumours persist that you are planning an English-language remake of House With Laughing Windows… aren’t you discouraged by the poor results when other classic European films have been remade in America?

It’s true, we’re studying the feasibility of doing an American remake. There are many small towns over there that remind me very much of Comacchio… with rivers, uninhabited houses, old churches… I think it would be a fantastic film.

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Is it true that you wanted Alec Guiness to star in the original?

Yes, we made a rather naive attempt to sign him up.

Do you see any affinity between the paranoid sensibility of a film like The House With Laughing Windows and films like Francesco Barilli’s Perfume Of The Lady In Black, Aldo Lado’s Short Night Of The Glass Dolls and Gianfranco Giagni’s Il Nido Del Ragno?

Of these films, I’ve only actually seen Perfume Of The Lady (below). There are affinities, probably because Barilli originates from the same region as myself. Also, we shot these films during the same period.

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In connection with this paranoid ambiance, I’m told that you once worked as an investigative reporter…

I’ve never been an investigative reporter, though I have worked as a researcher of historical documents, which is a rather different field.

Bologna is noted as a centre of left-wing intellectualism, and I believe that you took a degree in political science… do you consider yourself in any way a political film-maker?

I’ve tried to avoid any possibility of being defined as a political film-maker. I’m not happy to be tied to any one party. I have never felt that anyone could represent me, apart from myself. I can’t delegate anything, and for that reason I’m a loner. Perhaps an outsider. In this aspect, I’m an atypical Bolognese.

Looking back, how satisfied are you with an early effort like Balsamus?

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Balsamus was my first film. It was the culmination of 30 years of life, of waiting. It was 1968 and I wanted to put everything into it. Too much. It has too much energy, too much invention, not enough communication… very little heart.

Do you agree that your film Thomes… The Possessed in many ways foreshadows Peter Greenaway’s subsequent, more famous film, The Baby Of Macon?

I don’t know, I haven’t seen Greenaway’s film.

How do you remember working with actor / writer / director Luigi Montefiori (“George Eastman”) in films like Regalo Di Natale and (below, right) Bordella?

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He’s an actor with a very wide background in films of every genre: westerns, Italian thrillers, and so on… he’s written many scripts. It was a pleasure to work with him, because he was so familiar with every aspect of film-making.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a producer who is also your brother?

With my brother Antonio there have been only advantages. He protects me from everything, from all the difficulties that can plague a director. And he counsels me… he’s the only person I’ll take advice from.

Do you enjoy your role of producing for other directors?

It’s my brother who is mostly occupied with these new young directors. I’m rarely involved in the choice. At times I’ll collaborate in the writing or editing, but I never set foot on their sets.

Why do you feel that the Italian industry in general is in such a poor state? Are you optimistic about the prospects of a revival?

Italian cinema has been suffocated. It is afraid of telling impossible stories. It has made a fatal pact with reality, with time, with politics, that has stifled it and restricted its growth.

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Please tell us a little about the films you’ve produced in the USA, such as Maurizio Zaccaro’s Dove Comincia La Notte and Fabrizio Laurenti’s La Stanza Accanto…

Dove Comincia La Notte is based on one of my stories, a story I really like. La Stanza Accanto is based on other stories and perhaps is less direct. But they are both honourable efforts. The first met with some success, though the second didn’t.

Can you tell us how your love of jazz structures in music translates into the way you structure a film?

Improvisation is at the heart of jazz. Certain sequences in my films have been saved by improvisation. Sometimes you have to go with the flow of your imagination, to rely on it, to trust it to provide you with what you need. Often you wait in silence, as though pregnant, then something just happens.

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Does the success of L’Arcano Incantatore (above) mean that we can look forward to more fantasy / horror films from Pupi Avati in the future?

Of all my fantastic films L’Arcano Incantatore is dearest to me, because of what it doesn’t contain, because of what it leaves unexplained. Stories that connect you with extraordinary, disturbing co-incidences… this is what I like. I myself do not thoroughly understand the stories I tell. The mystery remains.

Signor Avati… thanks for your time and your kind attention.

You’re welcome. I’m delighted by your profound knowledge of my work.

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Dreams Of Discontent … THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Note: The disc under review here was issued as a bonus on Blue Underground’s 2-disc set of Harry Kümel’s Daughter Of Darkness, which has subsequently been upgraded, in its entirety, to Blu-Ray.

Asking a man how down he is with the aims of Feminism is a bit like asking him if he’s stopped beating his wife. Feminism is too broad a movement for that question to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Do I believe that women should have equal opportunities and receive equal pay for equal work? Yes, it’s a no brainer, though I’m getting fed up with showboating offers from male media personalities to have their pay cut to the same level as female colleagues… let’s level things up, fer Chrissakes! Do I believe that the law should protect women from sexual assault and harassment? Yep. Do I believe that every attempt by a man to chat up a woman constitutes assault or harassment? Nope. Do I buy the argument that more women in the corridors of power will automatically lead to a more caring, sharing, nurturing world? Well, check how the influx of female Labour MPs in 1997 (“Blair’s Babes”) voted re waging war on Iraq. Do I believe that Page 3 girls should be banned? No. Do I believe, like Andrea Dworkin, that sexual intercourse should be abolished? Are you out of your fucking mind?!?

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They sure knew how to put together double bills back in the day…

During the #MeToo moment we’re currently living through, our mass media regales us on a daily basis with the argument that every possessor of a penis spends their every waking hour ruthlessly abusing and exploiting everybody with a vagina. Although the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Tribunals disallowed the concept of collective guilt, the fact that Harvey Weinstein allegedly liked masturbating in the company of actresses and female employees has been used to justify constant injunctions to the rest of us to reconsider our behaviour and attitudes towards women. I’ve decided, instead, that now is an appropriate moment to revisit Vicente Aranda’s La Novia Ensangretada (“The Blood Spattered Bride”, 1972), which co-opts Sheridan Le Fanu (previously adapted into Dreyer’s Vampyr, 1931, Vadim’s Et Mourir De Plaisir, 1960 and miscellaneous Hammer “lesbian vampire” efforts) in the service of a feminist parable of Aranda’s country waiting for the death of Franco so that it can take its place in the 20th century and at the heart of Europe. It was precisely such (often female centred) exploitation movies as this that blazed the trail subsequently taken up, to international acclaim, by Arthouse directors like Pedro Almodovar.

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The House That Screamed and Bell From Hell refugee Maribel Martin (as Susan) and Simón Andreu (as her husband, whose name we never learn… in fact none of the male characters seem to have names) are newlyweds, honeymooning in his family’s country seat. Things seem idyllic enough but Susan is rapidly alienated by her beau’s increasingly boorish, macho behaviour, which includes rough lovemaking, brusquely helping himself to al-fresco blow jobs, shooting foxes and even at one point  (that old cave man cliché) literally dragging her around by her hair! During a visit to the family crypt, Susan discovers the ancestors of her in-laws included one Mircalla Karstein, who married into the clan only to butcher her disagreeable spouse…

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As her own husband’s obnoxious behaviour intensifies, Susan becomes increasingly obsessed with the figure of Mircalla, catching glimpses of her (in the comely form of Alexandra Bastedo) around the grounds, dreaming of sexual encounters with her (recalling some of my own adolescent reveries concerning the divine star of The Champions) and also of embarking with her on the gory dispatch of her husband. A trendy shrink (Dean Selmier) spouts supposedly reassuring stuff about “the Judith complex” and hysterical young ladies’ fear of penetration.

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Judith With The Head Of Holofernes by Luis Cranach the Elder, 1530.

Indeed the Andrea Dworkin-type coaching that Susan receives in her dreams from Mircalla (“He has pierced your flesh to humiliate you… he has spat inside your body to enslave you… punish his arrogance, destroy his masculinity!”) seems to bear out his diagnosis… but is Mircalla merely a hallucination? Why does a vicious carving knife keep turning up under Susan’s pillow, despite all attempts to hide it? And will Susan actually enact her murderous dreams? Well, an opening title informed us (and the good doctor reminds us) that, in the words of Plato: “The good ones are those who are content to dream what the wicked actually practice”…

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“Eeh that’s champion, lass!”

One morning, walking on the beach, hubby discovers Susan’s mystery woman completely buried in the sand…. just like that! He brings the amnesiac girl (who can only remember that her name is Carmilla… geddit?) home and blithely waffles on about himself, blissfully oblivious to the growing sexual tension between his bride and the attractive newcomer. They start taking long nocturnal walks together and, after a tip-off from that psychiatrist, hubby eventually discovers them sleeping naked together in a coffin, down in that crypt. It’s too late for Relate to save this one, as the now vampirised Susan and her supernatural sapphic pal, having already killed off the doc and a gamekeeper, turn their murderous attentions on Andreu’s character.

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Love is a battlefield…

He dispatches their schoolgirl victim / accomplice then traps them in their coffin, shoots it full of holes and is about to carve open their breasts when a freeze-frame and the arrival of the newspaper headline shown below definitively concludes matters… or does it? Andreu can be heard at the end insisting that the female vampires will return.

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Such dreams of discontent are the natural product of a pressure cooker society but in an ideal world, nobody’s going to regard their contents as the template for a social program (Andrea Dworkin is no longer with us, I’m told and it’s unlikely that she left any heirs) but like De Sade, Mircalla and Susan must be allowed to dream…. indeed, how can anybody stop them? The fact that their dreams are mediated for our consumption by Sheridan Le Fanu and Vicente Aranda is something to ponder. And while we’re pondering it, here’s a word from our sponsors…

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“Double bill be damned…”

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China In Your Hands… Umberto Lenzi’s THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST Reviewed

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DVD. Alfa Digital. Region Free. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s comments re The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) in our last posting (on Lenzi’s Eaten Alive!) prompted me to prise this one off the shelf and give it another go. Enhanced by appropriate beverages and a selection of salty snacks, an agreeably chucklesome 90 minutes or so duly ensued…

Everybody’s favourite Italian answer to Dirty Harry, Maurizio Merli’s ex-Inspector Leonardi Tanzi (he must have pissed off his shilly-shallying, “by the rule book” superiors one too many times) is scraping a living in Milan, sub-editing detective novels. Suffice to say, his hard-ass cop days are behind him. Try telling that to Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto (Tomas Milian), though. Recently sprung from the jail where Tanzi’s sterling hard-assed detective work had landed him, the vengeful “China” sends Tanzi one of his trademark greeting cards, announcing the date of our hero’s death. Sure as shit, he’s promptly confronted by gun-totin’ goons but despite talking a good fight (“Hey motherfucker, I’ve got a real quick nickle-plated lead message from the Chinaman for you”), their work is so shoddy that he only sustains a shoulder injury before the assassins are disturbed in their work and scarper. The papers having reported his death, Tanzi is advised by his old boss Commissioner Astalli (Renzo Palmer) to go lie low in Switzerland, advice to which he gives characteristically short shrift, relocating to Rome before getting back on the case… Tanzi’s no pansy! He hits back at China by sewing suspicion between him and Frank DiMaggio (John Saxon), the American gangster whom China is aiming to team up with and ultimately supplant, setting the scene for a climactic kick-ass confrontation between this unholy trinity of Crime Slime titans…

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… well, that was the general idea but TC,TR&TF ultimately emerges as a slow burn that never quite ignites and lumbering it with a title that evokes one of Sergio Leone’s finest hours was always leaving it with a lot to live up to. It’s generally agreed that Tanzi = “The Fist” in the eponymous equation, but opinions differ as to whether China or DiMaggio should be taken as The Cynic or The Rat. There are also those who wonder why Maietto is known as “Chinaman” but I’m pretty confident that this is a reference to his “inscrutable” demeanour. He’s also referred to by one of the cops as “the Clockwork Orange kid” so you can take it as read that beneath said inscrutable facade, there lurks the squirming brain of a stone psycho. He’s particularly dead pan while supervising the breaking of an offending dude’s legs. Meanwhile DiMaggio, who cultivates a similarly urbane persona, bounces golf balls off the head of a lieutenant who’s pissed him off, before turning his dogs on the guy.

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Mistreating women is thirsty work in TCTR&TF… better keep that J&B bottle handy!

Being one of those morally ambiguous cops, Tanzi’s behaviour is scarcely more PC at times… although he advises one hood who’s been roughing up a woman to “pick on somebody your own sex” before beating the crap out of him, he’s not averse to slapping the ladies round himself (though, to be fair, unlike his opponents, he draws the line at repeatedly addressing them as “twot” and throwing acid in their faces). Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti keeps the fruity dialogue coming thick and fast, e.g. “That blond faggot… I should have known that bastard was a Pig!” and “Why are you with that cop? Has he got loads of money? Or a big wang?” (we’ve already established that Tanzi’s living in reduced circumstance, but he’s got a hairy chest and a fuck off gold medallion… so yeah, on the balance of probability, I’d imagine he’s got a pretty sizeable wang). There are plenty of pleasingly outrageous ’70s fashion mis-steps on display and Lenzi keeps things chugging along with his customary efficiency if not, perhaps, quite the flair evidenced in most of his other Crime Slime outings.

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“How d’you like your coffee?”

There’s a sub-plot about Tanzi avenging his antique-dealer uncle (Guido Alberti) which although far-fetched (learning that the kid who beat and robbed Unc is nicknamed “Cappuccino”, Tanzi hangs around bars and pool halls till he spots somebody drinking cappuccino and kicks the shit out of him… lucky he got the right guy, eh?) is well-integrated into the wider narrative, but I could have done without the interminable “caper” sequence in which Tanzi burgles DiMaggio’s apartment… Merli should leave the “wriggling through laser sensors” stuff to Catherine Zeta Jones and stick to what he does best, i.e. shouting abuse at / pistol-whipping / punching / kicking / shooting people who irritate him (i.e. just about everybody he encounters) and asking questions later. That sequence could usefully have been replaced with a car-chase, of which TC,TR&TF is woefully bereft. What does it matter that Lenzi’s budget wouldn’t stretch to staging one? Producer Luciano Martino could have just lifted the one from his brother Sergio’s The Violent Professionals (1973), as he did in so many other ’70s Italian cop epics. While I’m moaning, Franco Micalizzi’s “OST” is a tepid warm over of his thrilling contribution to Lenzi’s superior Violent Naples from the previous year.

My principle gripe though, as mentioned already, is the way that the climactic dust-up between Tanzi, China and DiMaggio, a consummation devoutly to be wished, ends up being phoned in by all concerned…

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… I mean, Merli and Milian don’t even appear in the same shot during their alleged settling of accounts, something which I’m inclined to attribute to scheduling problems on a low-budget picture. Sure, Lenzi perpetuates the notion that there was a feud between the two actors but I suspect that this was just a publicity stunt. Then again, I am a bit of an old cynic…

Often rated a classic by the Crime Slime cognoscenti, The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist strikes me as more of a missed opportunity. Poliziotteschi, nevertheless, are very much like pizzas… even when they’re not great, they’re pretty good, so waste no time grabbing yourself a slice of the action, presumably via 88’s recent DVD or Blu-ray releases. The OK-looking edition under review here came courtesy of the mysterious Alfa Digital label, an allegedly Portuguese outfit that put out some interesting titles at the dawn of the DVD era and promptly disappeared.

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Ex-Inspector Tanzi… has he got loads of money? Or just a big wang?

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The Electric Sex Aid Acid Test… Umberto Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! on Severin Blu-Ray

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“He’s not The Messiah… he’s a very naughty boy!”

BD / CD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s third cannibal outing / outrage, Eaten Alive (1980… its title thoughtfully expanded to Eaten Alive By The Cannibals! in some territories) makes its BD debut via Severin and arrives in our in-tray with a thud and an added whiff of unexpected topicality, opening as it does with assassinations by nerve toxin (derived from cobra venom and delivered via blow darts) in major Western cities. The unfortunate victims  are disaffected members of The Purification Sect, a wacked out religious cult operating out of Sri Lanka (doubling for New Guinea) under the acid fascist leadership of a certain Jonas (Ivan Rassimov). Any resemblance to the Reverend Jimbo of  Jonestown massacre infamy is, of course (cough!)… purely coincidental!

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As in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (made the same year), the bad guy is using cannibal-infested country as a buffer zone to shield his nefarious antics from the prying eyes of outsiders… but again, this ploy fails when Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) approaches Vietnam deserter-turned-mercenary adventurer Mark (Robert Kerman), whom she finds arm-wrestling over sharp knives in a Deer Hunter-type dive, to help spring her brainwashed sister Diana (Paola Senatore) from the cult’s grasp. I’m sure we’ve already commented on Robert Kerman / Bolla’s extraordinary CV elsewhere on this blog, alternatively get your cyber self over to IMDB and prepare to be amazed.

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Anyway, after the expected jungle hazards and hi-jinks (much of them comprising crudely transplanted stock footage from Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World and Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God), Janet and Robert make it to Puresville and discover Diana alive if not exactly well, living under the thrall of the insane Jonas, who alternates bible quotations with the application of venom soaked dildos to his comelier acolytes, justifying such shenanigans on the grounds that pain will reunite mankind with Nature… yeah, whatever!

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There are further kinky developments when villager Mowara (Me Me Lai) finds herself widowed, Purification doctrine demanding that she lays down in her recently cremated husband’s ashes while his surviving brothers queue up to bonk her. In another echo of Martino’s earlier cannibal epic, Sheila is stripped down and painted gold for Big J’s drug crazed gratification. When she and Mark  have had enough of Rassimov’s dystopian New Jerusalem, they make a break for it through cannibal country with Diana and Mowara, who are promptly trapped, messily dismembered and eaten by the locals.

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Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Mark and Sheila are on the verge of carrying out a suicide pact when police helicopters arrive to whisk them away. The same choppers prompt Jones… er, Jonas to utter the memorable line “Have them prepare that mixture, Dick” and harangue his followers into consuming the killer Kool Aid so they can accompany him on his final trip, though the film’s ending suggests that he declined the drink himself and is still on the lam somewhere (the Jones cult, explicitly identified as such, would feature again as a plot point in Deodato’s Cut And Run, 1985). Mark is cheated out of his money but gets the girl and Sheila is browbeaten, in time honoured cannibal film fashion, not to reveal to the media the extent of anthropophagous antics still going on under our complacent Western noses just a piddling plane ride away.

Among other familiar cannibal film tropes vying for our attention we find the expected troubling “found footage”, casual racism (one of Agren’s “comic” lines about life in the cotton fields will have you reaching for rewind to check she actually said what you thought she just said)… it’s fair to say that there was never any realistic chance of this film’s credits carrying that line about “no animals having been harmed during the production” and inevitably, despite the tough line Jonas takes on alcohol, the onscreen action is sometimes obscured by the sheer volume of J&B bottles, piling up on conspicuous display.

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Kudos to Mel Ferrer (as anthropologist Dr Carter) for starring in two films entitled Eaten Alive (which was one of the many alternative titles for Tobe Hopper’s sophomore Horror feature) when most actors would have considered one to be more than enough. I also appreciate the fact that at one point Agren looks like she’s about to go into a grindhouse cinema to watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.

With this release Severin prove themselves once again the masters of, er, remastering, delivering an Eaten Alive! that looks better than you probably believed possible. The claim in their typically gonzo sleeve notes that watching this film is equivalent to having your dick ripped off can safely be dismissed as hyperbole, but Lenzi’s rendition of “cannibal movie greatest hits in bite-sized chunks” might well register as a painful twist on your short and curlies. Although even its the director concedes its shortcomings (see below), Lenzi directs the 90% of Eaten Alive! that he did direct with consummate craftsmanship and characteristic gusto, earning this 42nd St classic a space on the shelves of any self-respecting spaghetti exploitation buff.

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Extras include a Freakorama interview in which Lenzi (who seems to have borrowed Craig Wasson’s porn star pullover from Body Double) airs a familiar grievance, namely that people ignore all the war films he made. I remember him moaning about that rather a lot when I interviewed him, but Lenzi seems to have mellowed a bit. He still calls Ruggero Deodato “a liar” for claiming to have invented the Italian cannibal genre (which, of course, Lenzi kicked off with The Man From Deep River in 1972) but admits that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is far superior to any of his own jungle pot-boilers, indeed that it’s “a masterpiece”.

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We’re treated to a recording of Lenzi’s Q&A session at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester, moderated by Calum Waddell with the assistance of Nick Frame. Again he talks up his war films (and gialli) and restates his low regard for cannibal films, insisting that he slams the phone down on any journalist who has the temerity to mention Cannibal Ferox (no mere rhetorical flourish, this… he once actually did precisely that to Yours Truly!) but gets the biggest laugh of the session when he announces that all the money Ferox has subsequently made for him has belatedly convinced him of its status as a cinema classic. He won’t talk about his differences with John Morghen but rehashes, when invited, the feud between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli which necessitated each of them to film their participation in the climax to The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) on alternate days. Poignantly, Lenzi talks about subsisting on a slice of pizza every three days when he embarked upon film-making. The fact that just before this Q&A he had been brunching with Barbara Bouchet testifies most eloquently to the satisfactory career arc that ensued. I was actually enjoying a private audience with Bouchet when this session took place, so I’m glad of the opportunity to catch up with its contents here.

We also get an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and a mash-up of archive interviews with Rassimov and Kerman. The latter tries to sort out his different personas and recalls that the famously wiggy Lenzi was more courteous to him on set than Deodato, whom he describes as “sadistic”.

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Most welcome of all is the inclusion among the supplementary materials of Naomi Holwill’s nifty documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen, previously thumbed up on this blog in a review which has emerged as one of our most heavily visited postings since it debuted in March 2016.

My copy of Eaten Alive! came in a slipcover and boasted a bonus disc of Roberto Donati’s discotastic OST. Grab ’em while you can…

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… better or worse than being trapped in a jungle of rational flesh eaters? You must be the judge!

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It’s About Time… CRONOS Reviewed.

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When I learned that Guillermo del Toro had won the best director and picture Oscars for The Shape Of Water, I intended to dust off an interview I did with him in 1994 (when he was publicising his feature debut Cronos) for this Blog. The relevant data file proving resolutely elusive, I’ve decided to dust off my contemporary review (here slightly modified). It’s fair to say that I feel vindicated in my prediction of great things for Senor del Toro (who struck me even then as an intelligent and amiable dude). We Freudsteins are even contemplating a rare cinema visit… to watch a film so mainstream that it won an Oscar. Strange times indeed…

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Cronos (1993). Directed by Guillermo del ToroProduced by Arthur Gorson, Bertha Navarro, et al. Written by Guillermo del Toro. Cinematography by Guillermo NavarroEdited by Raúl Dávalos. Art direction by Brigitte Broch. Production design by Tolitga Figuero. Musiby Javier Álvarez. Special FX by Laurencio Cordero. Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Mario Iván Martinez, Juan Carlos Colombo.

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Cronos begins with antique dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) acquiring the statue of an archangel, which has apparently been missing for four hundred years. The appropriately named but distinctly menacing Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) turns up at his shop, very keen to acquire the artefact for his dying uncle Dieter (Claudio Brook), a Howard Hughes-type so anally retentive that he keeps his surgically removed tumours in glass display cabinets. Nice. Gris and his little granddaughter Aurora (the spooky Tamara Shanath) soon discover why he’s so intent on buying the piece – it contains the legendary Cronos Device (shades of the Lemarchand Configuration), a small, elaborately engineered metallic sphere which incorporates a worm-like organism whose secretions confer the gift (or is the curse?) of eternal life… along with an overpowering urge to drink human blood.

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To gain possession of the alchemical contraption, Angel does away with Gris… or so he thinks. The antiques dealer has already experimented with the device and, unpicking his mortician’s stitches, wanders out of the crematorium, visibly decomposing, for a confrontation with the bad guys. After finally destroying the Cronos Device, Gris goes to blessed oblivion, surrounded by those who love him. “I am Jesus Gris” he states, and that’s enough. Mortality is acknowledged as an essential component of humanity.

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I knew doodly-squat about Guillermo del Toro when I first watched his feature debut, apart from the fact that he is Mexican. For all I knew, Cronos might have been some kind of masked wrestler smack down or something akin to the loony likes of Night Of A Thousand Cats. Instead, it emerged as that kind of horror picture which comes along every so often and gives you new hope for the future of the genre. “As far as I’m concerned, Cronos is a world-class gem of a film” says one of its stars, Ron Perlman and while there’s a touch of “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” about this pronouncement, it just so happens that he’s right.

You could call Cronos a vampire movie, but it’s a revisionist one that continually confounds your expectations by reversing the conventions of the genre. Never mind Tom Cruise mincing around in Interview with the Vampire, Cronos cuts the crap and delivers the kind of new blood the genre has been crying out for… and in supplying it, del Toro announces his arrival as a major new Horror auteur for the nineties and beyond.

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Dead Ringer… THE BELL FROM HELL, Reviewed

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“La Campana Del Inferno”. DVD. Pathfinder. Region 1. Unrated.

When I asked Paul Naschy about the difficulties of making genre films under the Franco dictatorship, he told me that he had encountered far more problems since the democratisation of Spain. I guess that his simple-minded paeans to the glory days of Universal horror were never going to trouble El Caudillo unduly. Other, more subversive Spanish film makers, had to consider their options. Jesus Franco left his mother country for quite a while and those who remained had to find ways to couch their social protests in somewhat oblique terms…

a-bell-from-hell1.jpgIn Claudio Guerin Hill’s “La Campana Del Infierno” (1973) we are introduced to John / Juan (Reynaud Verley), a virile, brooding youth, who’s just been released from the booby hatch his family have banged him up in after his casual attitude towards sex was taken as conclusive evidence of his “mental instability”. He seeks gainful employment in an abattoir and after a few days of slaughtering animals (cue the expected grisly killing floor footage, recalling Eloy De La Iglesias’ official “video nasty” La Semana Del Asesino (“The Killer’s Week”) aka Cannibal Man (1972), quitting with the ominous words: “I’ve learned enough”. Heading back to his home village, where he is due to appear in court on account of some minor peccadillo, John moves into his dead mother’s house and starts visiting her wheelchair-bound sister Marta (Viveca Lindefors) who is responsible for his incarceration, and her three sexually attractive daughters (Esther, the youngest of them, is played by Maribel Martin, whom Spanish horror buffs will find a familiar, pretty face from the likes of Ibanez Serrador’s La Residencia / The House That Screamed (1969) and Vincente Arranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada, 1972).

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From this promising set-up, director Guerin Hill embroiders a growing sense of unease with the slow accumulation of off-kilter detail. John reveals a penchant for inventive and cruel practical jokes, first by pretending to gouge out his own eyes (he’s something of a budding Savini) then, more subtly,  by convincing leading citizen Don Pedro (Alfredo Mayo), when he visits the Aunt’s house, that her daughters are the ghosts of three drowned girls. Their startling slow-motion, mist-enshrouded return constitutes a cinematic shock worthy of Mario Bava (TBFH writer Santiago Moncada also scripted Bava’s Hatchet For A Honeymoon, 1969). In fact the girls are very much alive and their varying degrees of sexual engagement with John add  further kinky twists to an already unhealthy situation.

One night John is riding around on his motorbike in the woods (as you do) when he happens upon Don Pedro and other purported community pillars, who’ve taken time out from their hunting trip to hassle the local hermit’s mute daughter. He arrives just in time to break up what’s threatening to become an I Spit On Your Grave type situation. From here on, anxious about John blowing the whistle on their nocturnal activities, these guys start pussy footing around him. True to form, he takes this as his opportunity to play a particularly elaborate and humiliating practical joke on Pedro. Watching John’s macabre antics, the viewer grows increasingly anxious about just how far he is prepared to go.

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Things take a turn for the decidedly nasty when he sprays bee-stimulating chemicals all over his Aunt, while she snoozes in the garden, then releases the contents of an agitated apiary in her direction. For his next trick he contrives, with varying degrees of flirtation and physical force, to tie up his comely cousins. The girls are then suspended from a mechanical rail in the home abattoir he has constructed in his mother’s basement (every home should have one!, washed down and consigned to a dissection bench. Intending to bury their remains on the cliff from which his socially ostracised mother fell to her death, John  delivers a beautiful but spooky soliloquy about their flesh becoming grass (well, sap actually) but ultimately he is unable to go through with exacting his intended vengeance via vivisection.

The girls escape and John is overpowered by outraged locals, who subject him to another perverse variation on crucifixion. A noose round his neck, John is bricked up alive in the walls of the local cathedral. He’s to be used as a counterweight for the new bell, which we saw arriving in town on the same day as him, symbolising the traditional, hypocritical  values that have dogged him, and to which he will ultimately be sacrificed. “Was I really insane?” he muses, as he waits to be tolled off… well yeah, but society’s vengeance is scarcely more balanced.

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John‘s no ding-a-ling though, having ensured that he’ll get the last laugh from beyond the grave. In a tour de force, phantasmagorical finale, Don Pedro goes over to John’s family home after seeing lights being turned on and off. He is first alarmed by the life-size mannequin of John that we saw being made in the film’s surreal opening shots, then drowned in a fish tank… at John’s ghostly hands?  The final laugh is really on the viewer…

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The joke turns very black indeed when you learn that Guerin Hill (a sort of Iberian Michael Reeves figure, who only completed one other feature, La Casa de Las Palomas / The House of the Doves in 1972), plunged to his death from the cathedral’s bell tower (above) on the final day of shooting, obliging Juan Antonio Bardem to complete the picture. Like the character of John’s mother in the film, nobody is sure if the director was pushed, fell or jumped. If he was pushed, somebody obviously took particular exception to his scathingly satirical vision of Spanish society. If he jumped, Bell Of Hell begins to look like a bleak cinematic suicide note. If he fell… well, carelessness and bad luck deprived us of a major talent.

Pathfinder have done a good (if not great… some of the darker scenes are distinctly grainy) job of bringing The Bell From Hell to disc, in a nicely framed anamorphic print. This is a particularly welcome release when you consider that TBFH hasn’t been available in the UK since the long-gone Duplivision video release, which I previously believed to be cut but is, one of our reliable sources now tells me, more complete than the disc under consideration here, despite the latter being hyped as the full enchilada.

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Extras include an OK commentary track by critic Chris Desjardins and a trailer gallery for other Pathfinder releases, including their Master Of The Flying Guillotine “ultimate edition”.. Check out the eponymous decapitator in old dude make up… Jimmy Wang Yu as the one-armed boxer… and that fakir guy with the long wobbly arms. Hm, I can feel a review of that demented chop socky masterpiece coming on…

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Too Much Monky Business… “Lucio Fulci Presents” THE RED MONKS

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DVD. Screen. Region Free. 18.

Back in 1988, Lucio Fulci was still regarded as a consummate horror meister who’d taken some time out to dabble in other genres (e.g. with the likes of Conquest, Rome 2033 – Fighter Centurions and The Devil’s Honey) and consolidate former giallo glories (with Murder-Rock). It’s unlikely that many people had seen Aenigma or Zombi 3 by this point. No doubt those who had were attributing the shortcomings of the latter to Bruno Mattei… and who (with the exception of The Great Theresa from City Of The Living Dead) could possibly have foreseen such upcoming miseries as Touch Of Death or The Ghosts Of Sodom?  Every reason then, to believe that the old boy would soon be back knocking out gloriously gory, low-budgeted pasta paura classics… so it makes sense that the producers of this minor Gianni Martucci effort would stump up some dough for the privilege of hyping it with the banner “Lucio Fulci presents” (the German publicists, who presumably had never seen The Beyond or Don’t Torture A Duckling, took things a hyperbolic step too far, dubbing I Frati Rossi “The Masterpiece of Lucio Fulci”). Unfortunately, in retrospect the pimping out and consequent devaluation of the Fulci brand can be seen as just one more accelerating mis-step in a career that was tumbling towards its bottom rung faster than Ania Pieroni’s severed head in The House By The Cemetery.

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The “action” here kicks off with a smarmy yuppy wandering around the spacious grounds of a villa he’s just inherited and encountering a mysterious hooded violinist. Letting that one pass, he lets himself in and is soon on the trail of an equally mysterious bare-assed chick who leads him down into the cellar and, just when he’s congratulating himself on his good fortune, swings around and decapitates him with a jewelled sword. Things now flash back “50 years previously” and just to establish an authentic 1930s vibe, Robert Gherghi (Gerardo Amato) has tuned his radiogram to some vaguely jazzy music that’s being played on one of Casio’s cheaper, cheesier electronic keyboards.

Wandering around those grounds, he finds winsome Ramona Icardi (Lara Wendel) perched on a tree branch, evading the attentions of his Alsatian. I’d like to believe that this pooch is some way related to Dicky in The Beyond, though without checking the Kennel Club records there’s no way of knowing. I think I’m on safer grounds to suggest that the wobbly joke shop spider on the branch which also menaces Ramona was retrieved from the props hamper from that film (is it for this that Fulci was credited with “special effects” on The Red Monks?)

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Anyway, after a cursory romance, Robert and Ramona tie the knot. But why is he so reluctant to consummate their relationship, despite the fact that Ramona is clearly gagging for it? Well, believe it or not, he’s got a chapter of red-robed Templars living in his basement (didn’t the real estate agent warn him about this?) who are expecting to use her as a virgin sacrifice on the upcoming second sextile of Saturn. As presented by Martucci, these Templars are a pretty disappointing bunch, bearing less resemblance to Amando De Ossorio’s immortal Blind Dead than to some of those whip-wielding monks in Rialto’s Edgar Wallace adaptations (sorry for all the recent Wallace references… having just slogged our way through Universum’s 33 disc box set, we at the House Of Freudstein are currently viewing life through a krimi-encrusted lens).

Ramona’s sexual frustration boils over into full-blown “woman scorned” hellishness when she discovers that Robert’s been happily bonking his obliging secretary Priscilla (Malisa Longo, who’s been dropping her drawers in these things since the late ’60s… Malisa, we salute you). She allows a passing lounge lizard lothario to divest her of her pesky  cherry (promptly disqualifying herself from that upcoming sacrifice) and also consults a local notary, who fills her in on the historical gipsy-raping shenanigans that kick-started all this shit in the first place.

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Great second sextile of Saturn! Do these RED MONKS know how to party or what?

The clumsy use of this “flashback-within-a-flashback” only serves to remind the viewer how deftly Fulci, in his prime, deployed the same device during his Beatrice Cenci (1969). Anyway, this forbidden knowledge enables Ramona to turn the tables on Robert in a manner that is simultaneously senseless and eminently predictable… and that’s your lot, really.

The Red Monks is a fairly typical example of mid-late 80’s Italian Horror vainly attempting to revive an only recently faded glory. To be fair, it’s nowhere near as painful to watch as some of the efforts Fulci himself directed during the final decade of his life. If you’ve seen The Ogre (Lamberto Bava’s 1989 attempt to “do” the aforementioned House By The Cemetery”), you’ll know the kind of mid-table mediocrity to expect. Once you’ve located it on some charity shop shelf, coughed up your quid, brought it home and watched it, you won’t hate yourself too much, but I can’t imagine that you’ll be in any hurry to repeat this particular viewing experience.

The moral of our story? Beware Lucio Fulci, presenting gifts… especially when Uranus is entering the second sextile of Saturn!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DVD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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