Posts Tagged With: Al Cliver

Lucio Fulci Grabs You By The Pussy… THE BLACK CAT Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 15.

Even while Lucio Fulci’s zombie quartet was wowing the splatterati in the early ’80s, any attempt to do critical justice to his underrated non-Z offerings was thwarted, if not by sheer unavailability then by the poorly panned, scanned, expurgated and washed-out looking video releases that some of them did manage… One On Top Of The Other, Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, The Naples Connection, Manhattan Baby and “The Eroticist” all suffered in this way, as did the film under consideration here. All have subsequently been resurrected and reappraised in all their diverse digital glory and now it’s the turn of Fulci’s 1981 effort, The Black Cat…

Fulci only got the gig directing Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) for Fabrizio De Angelis after both Enzo Castellari and Joe D’Amato had turned it down. When that one scored big time at international box offices, De Angelis overlooked the obvious claims of Fulci to direct his quickie cash-in on his own quickie Dawn Of The Dead cash-in, 1980’s Zombi Holocaust (possibly in an attempt to boost profits by cutting costs, possibly because he just couldn’t get on with the notoriously irascible Fulci), ultimately signing up Castellari’s dad (!?!) Only when City Of The Living Dead aka Gates Of Hell (1980), wrought by Fulci and his crack team of collaborators (Salvati, De  Rossi, Frizzi) for rival producer Giovanni Masini, brought home the Grindhouse bacon, did De Angelis see fit to liaise once more with Lucio for that crucial 1981 brace of low-budget living dead miracles The Beyond and House By The Cemetery. In the meantime Fulci had undertaken this predictably looser-than-diarrhoea Pasta Paura variation (“freely adapted”, as the credits readily admit, by Biagio Proietti) on Poe’s portentous pussy parable for producer Giulio Sbarigia.

Much loved by UK horror hounds, Fulci obviously found these British Isles a convivial environment, as witnessed by his swinging London giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971) and the Beachy Head opening to The Psychic / Sette Note In Nero (1977.) Here he appears to have gone native, turning in a rendering of The Black Cat that you might swear, if you didn’t know differently, had been produced by Amicus in the early ‘70s. This impression is underscored by the iconic presence of Asylum star Patrick Magee (on top scenery-chewing form) in the role of Professor Robert Miles, whose attempts at communicating with both the eponymous evil moggy and recently deceased inhabitants of his village recall nobody as much as doomed maverick record producer Joe Meek. Rumour has it that this role was originally offered to Peter Cushing.

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The rolling pea-soupers that frequently fill the screen are another nod to the iconography of Brithorror but also reminiscent of the prevailing weather conditions in City Of The Living Dead’s Dunwich. Needless to say, the man who directed that priest-hanging, brain drilling, gut-puking atrocity doesn’t let all this eldritch atmosphere obstruct the unfolding of the expected cavalcade of ultra-violence… I mean, Daniela Doria’s in this film (misspelled as “Dorio” in its titles, though a victim by any other name…) for Chrissake! Surreptitious hanky panky is often the cause of DD’s demises in Fulci’s films and here, as “Maureen Grayson”, she sneaks off with the amorous Stan to make out in a boat house, only for that darned cat to make off with the key and sabotage the air conditioning, so both of them  suffocate (which apparently involves foaming rabidly at the mouth), their putrefying corpses (in a typically gratuitous Fulci touch) subsequently being gnawed on by rats.

Because their disappearance follows hot on the heels of a guy going head first through his windscreen then burning to death in the wreckage of his car (after another run in with that malevolent moggy), Scotland Yard bike over one of their finest, Police Inspector Gorley (!) to this rural backwater. As played by David Warbeck, his double act with local beat bobby Wilson (“Al Cliver” / Pier Luigi Conti) makes for a characteristically skewed and perversely enjoyable Italian take on British police procedure (and approved hair styles!)

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Not that this dynamic duo can do much to quell the ever-accelerating accumulation of bodies… the local drunk is stalked through a derelict building by you-know-what until he falls from a beam and is impaled on some handy-dandy spikes. Then the feline fiend starts a fire in the house of Maureen’s mom (Dagmar Lassander), who ends up crashing through the bedroom window in her flaming flannelette nighty (wasn’t that a George Formby song?) Warbeck ends up in hospital too after his own run-in with the eponymous flea-bag, though Fulci’s decision to cut the sequence of his convalescence and spring DW as a surprise survivor at the picture’s climax meant that his customary directorial cameo, this time as a doctor, also had to go.

Did I nearly forget to mention Mimsy Farmer as “Jill Travers”? If so it’s because her turn as an ex-pat American photographer (who spends her time strolling around local cemeteries and climbing down into the catacombs and ossuaries with which Fulci apparently believed our English countryside to be littered) is one of her least effective forays into the field of Pasta Paura. As for her misfiring love scenes with Warbeck… put it this way, David – normally gentlemanly to a fault –  remembered her to me as “that odd bitch”! He also told me that Fulci advised him not to worry too much about acting in The Black Cat because the script wasn’t up to it! The film is indeed an entertaining albeit insubstantial souffle, which only serves to underscore the intensity of Magee’s mesmerising central performance, a performance that is doubly (trebly?) impressive given that he was simultaneously battling the poor script, alcoholism (not very effectively) and Fulci (the director intimated to me that their troubled working relationship culminated in an actual fist fight!)

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“C’mon, own up… who farted?”

Of course the other factor holding everything together is that Fulci (when he could take time out from beating up his lead actors!) was a considerable visual stylist. With the aid of favoured DP Sergio Salvati he mounts painterly compisitions and delivers familiar low slung steadicam shots (here rendering feline POV), signature tracking zooms and ultra close-ups on characters’ eyes (while uncharacteristically resisting the temptation to force sharp objects into them.) Editor Vincenzo Tomassi, art director Massimo Antonello Geleng and production designer Massimo Lentini all make sterling contributions to that Fulci look. Makeup FX technicians Franco Di Girolamo and Rosario Prestopino substitute satisfactorily for the De Rossis and music wise, the absence of Fabio Frizzi barely registers, given a splendidly quirky Pino Donaggio score that perfectly compliments Fulci’s visuals by alternating the beautiful (wistful woodwind motifs) with the bizarre (droning bag-pipes!)

Arrow’s 2K restoration of The Back Cat presents all this sound, vision and feline fury with admirable clarity, restoring this previously marginalised title to the pantheon of late ’70s / early ’80s Fulci classics where it belongs. This edition boasts, furthermore, some truly nifty bonus materials. In “Frightened Dagmar”, Frau Lassander reflects on her lengthy exploitation career and how the roles dried up when she attained “a certain age.” Interesting that the supposedly misogynistic Fulci found roles for her when her bloom had faded though, as she laughingly recalls, he nearly did set fire to her for real. I’m yet to check out the audio commentary by erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander but can’t help wondering if Stephen Thrower might have been a better choice to deliver it. Thrower fans fret ye not, though, as he’s all over the rest of this disc. The featurette From Poe Into Fulci: The Spirit Of Perverseness hints at the painstaking approach to Fulci studies which make the upcoming, updated edition of his Beyond Terror tome from FAB Press such a tantalising prospect. At Home With David Warbeck is a lengthy interview with the much-missed actor at his Hampstead pile, The Convent. Looks like it was recorded on super-VHS at best but Jeez, did it bring back some wonderful memories. Shortest and sweetest though is In The Paw Prints Of The Black Cat where ST, in suitable rambling attire, takes us on a walking tour of the film’s Hambledon and West Wickham locations, including the caves where Mimsy Farmer had a rummage among them bones and Francis Dashwood before her had hosted his Hellfire Club bunga-bungas. By its very nature the shortest of shorts, this one had me wishing that it could have gone on ten times as long. You get a trailer and a reversible sleeve of course but no booklet… apparently that was reserved for the pricey box set in which Arrow previously  paired The Black Cat with Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key, a title which I’ll be reviewing in these very blog pages shortly.

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He thought he saw a puddy tat…

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“Oh, Soledad Mio…” A FISTFUL OF FRANCOS on BD From Severin

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Vampyros Lesbos. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18. 

She Killed In Ecstasy. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Bloody Moon. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Devil Hunter (c/w Alain Deruelle’s Cannibal Terror… “Two Gore Horrors To Rip Out Your Guts!”) Blu-ray. Region free. Severin. Unrated.

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The Freudsteins barely had a chance to recover from Birdemic: Shock And Terror before those Severin boys had thrust another bunch of review discs into my hot little hand… though I won’t be screening these for the offspring, constituting as they do a random trawl through the cinematic crimes of the late Jesus Franco, sometimes cited as “the most boring director in the world.”  I can’t say JF’s prodigious outpourings mean anything like as much to me as the films of Lucio Fulci, but he commands a similar level of devotion from his fans on account of similar wilfulness and waywardness in his life and work and the obsessiveness with which he stubborny pursued his skewed personal vision, via a distinctly oddball aesthetic.

As with Fulci (in fact far more frequently) this often obliged him to take on quicky, fly-by-night productions, the proceeds of which helped finance his more heartfelt projects. The latter category is represented here by Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy (a 1971 brace which he effectively shot simultaneously on the same sets and locations and with an interchangeable cast, most importantly their extraordinary star,  the beautiful and doomed Soledad Miranda), the latter by contemporary bandwagon jumpers Devil Hunter (a 1980 attempt to emulate recent Italian cannibal shockers) and Bloody Moon (a 1981 entry in the slasher stakes.)

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“Nadine… Oh honey, is that you?”

Vampyros Lesbos is a predictable (at least in outline) sapphic variation on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Intercourse is more beautiful when it’s between two lesbian women” opines Franco in one of the disc’s bonus feature and one is disinclined to argue the point.) Gerry Halliwell lookalike Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) takes the Jonathan Harker role, travelling to Istanbul (the film was mostly shot in Germany but Franco freights it with travelogue shots of the Turkish capital) to facilitate Countess Nadine Carody (Miranda)’s inheritance from her benefactor Count Dracula, no less. The Countess doesn’t dwell in a musty castle – when Linda’s first sets eyes on her, she’s swanning around spectacularly in a skimpy white bikini and wastes no time persuading her to go skinny dipping.

“It’s fun to lie naked in the sand… especially with another person.”

“Yes.”

No fear of daylight or running water for this vampire, then and her other unorthodoxies extend to performing in a cheesy girl-on-girl nightclub act seemingly based on the Pygmalion legend for the delectation of its bored looking bourgeois patrons. The seduction of  Linda and her induction into the wild world of vampirism proceeds as a matter of course.

Dr Alwin Seward (Dennis Price) is a psychiatrist whose patients include former Countess Carody lover / victim Agra  (Heidrun Kussin), though his interest in tracking down Nadine turns  out to be rather less heroically motivated than it initially seems. Franco himself pops up as Agra’s estranged husband Mehmet, who gets over this romantic mishap by torturing and butchering women in his cellar… a plot point that never satisfactorily connects with the rest of the film’s fractured narrative and has been introduced, one suspects, solely to bump up the running time to feature length (and furnish Franco with a little fun.)

Sceptics might take all of this as confirmation of their hard wired Francophobia but I must confess that I enjoyed watching this edition of Vampyros Lesbos more than I can remember enjoying previous releases of the film, or indeed any Franco film. Severin have triumphed by sourcing the German (subtitled)  version, which is not only claimed to be the favourite cut of Franco (a director whose filmography is proverbially complicated by the alternative edits in which his various films tended to be released) but it looks absolutely fantastic, a stark contrast to the nth generation video dubs via which many of us originally tried to get to grips with the Franco mystique and so much more conducive to an acceptance of Franco’s narrative, er, looseness.

As for the music, Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab serve up a sexadelic treat… think “Richard Alpert & The Marijuana Brass” with heavy Hammond and soaring sitar. Readers are strongly advised to get their hands on the Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party Soundtrack album if at all possible, comprising as it does groovy sounds from the Franco / Miranda films reviewed here and their subsequent collaboration The Devil Came From Akasava.

Among the bonus materials, Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco) is his usual erudite and eloquent self. He doesn’t say much about Soledad Miranda on this disc (but read on), that’s left to Amy Brown (the obsessive web mistress of soledadmiranda.com). Of course you get all the expected trailers and bits of business, including a clip which suggests that Franco was the inspiration for Yoda(!)

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Narratively, She killed In Ecstasy is a more straightforward affair, proceeding along the “revenge killing” plot-line that Franco would employ many times, both previously and subsequently. Miranda begins the film in memorable style. In a folly of a castle in Alicante, she models a metallic brassiere as she mooches around a collection of unnerving anatomical exhibits. Her husband, Dr Johnson (Fred Williams) enthuses about the medical advances he has achieved by breaking taboos against experimentation on human subjects.  Is Franco fulminating here against the reactionary backwardness of his native Spain, with Miranda as the Sadean woman in the vanguard of revolt? Whatever, contemporary audiences wouldn’t need to have particularly long memories to find such subject matter questionable in a German co-production…

… and Dr Johnson’s superior’s feel pretty much the same way. One by one Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg and Franco himself denounce Dr J’s hubris and conspire to strike him off. Nonplussed by this unexpected turn of events, our maverick medic goes into a steep decline and despite Miranda’s best efforts, ultimately succumbs to suicide. Whereupon his widow takes it upon herself to seek out and seduce his inquisitors, exposing the sexual kinks that lurk behind their facade of bourgeois respectability before killing them off in their turn. On the lam from the law she dies in a car crash, the amateurish staging of which is more than made up for, impact wise, by the reflection that this is exactly how Miranda would meet her actual demise, some months later.

What a loss…. in this film, a much more conventionally told story than Vampyros Lesbos, so much rests on Miranda’s ability to render the delirium raging within her character. She renders an extraordinary reverie just after she’s offed Muller, flashing back to love making with her husband accompanied by some of the most elegiac music I’ve heard from Bruno Nicolai, who shares scoring duties here with Hubler and Schwab.

Thrower has much more to say about Miranda in the supplementary material here, complimented by the reappearance of Amy Brown’s tribute to the late actress, which really gives you an idea of her capabilities over and above the dark eyed angel of death. Brown reveals her gifts for comedy, singing and dancing and a surprising (on the strength of her Franco collarborations) sunny sweetness which suggest she really would have had a career at least as successful as that of the similarly versatile Edwige Fenech, had she not perished in that car crash in 1970.

Another lovely BD transfer… kudos to the Severin boys.

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Bloody Moon is an altogether more formulaic effort, following comprehensible, not to mention tediously predictable, giallo / slasher lines… and yes, all the killings are all prefaced by shots of the moon. Miguel’s sister having tuned down his incestuous advances at a ludicrous al fresco disco, he contents himself with stealing first some girl’s undies then a Mickey Mouse mask so that he can surreptitiously seduce their owner. At the height of her passion she rips the mask off to reveal Miguel’s scabby face and screams her displeasure, which he curtails by carving her up with a pair of scissors. All this is filmed P.O.V. style a-la Halloween, so it comes as no great surprise when the next thing we see is one of those “five years later” captions. Miguel is discharged from a booby hatch into the care of his sister, who’s admonished to “keep your eyes open and any reference to that unfortunate night … he might not be cured” (seems the procedure in Spain is not exactly super stringent in these cases.)

Erected on this nonsensical basic premise is a saga of intrigue over an inheritance at a mysterious language school on the coast, populated by, among others, a sinister shears-brandishing gardener, Antonio the tennis ace / super stud, the suspicious looking smoothie proprietor and a bunch of tedious girls who lust after Antonio’s body and spend their time in puerile discussions of their sexual experience. Meanwhile Miguel’s dumpy sister is exciting him to the point where he loses control, grovelling and slobbering over her chubby legs. “Can’t you see they won’t let us love each other?”, she chides him: “Everyone around us is judging us … if we could just get rid of everyone!” Cue polystyrene boulders, gratuitous animal maltreatment and the sawmill decapitation of a witless floozy who’s too busy enthusing about hot blooded Latin lovers and S/M to try and escape.

Meanwhile back at the language school the plot resolves itself, after a fashion, with some indecipherable revelations about who inherits from whom. Inevitably, the proprietor of the school is revealed as the killer. What’s more Miguel’s sister is revealed as his lover, and – best of all – she announces her total contempt for Miguel and his incestuous attentions, following up with some catty observations about his complexion. Unfortunately for her, Miguel has been eavesdropping on all this. Dusting off his trusty chainsaw, he reduces his tormentors to grungey gouts of gushing gristle.

Again, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good a Franco film can look when competently transferred to Blue-ray. For your money you also get a trailer and a mini-interview with Franco.

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The Devil Hunter (1980… aka The Man Hunter / Mandingo Man Hunter / Sexo-Canibale) was originally to have been directed by Amando de Ossorio (he of the atmospheric “Blind Dead” series) but when he dropped out the property devolved into the careless hands of Franco, here employing his trusty “Clifford Brown” alias. Utilizing the sets, locations, general tone and certain cast members from his 1979 film Cannibals / White Cannibal Queen, Franco mounts an objectionable, albeit entertaining (if you’re in an undemanding mood) sexist, racist fantasy in which starlet Laura Crawford (Ursulla Fellner) is abducted and spirited away to an unspecified Third World locale where the natives live in fear of the eponymous Devil, offering him frenzied tribal dances and chained maidens in supplication.

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The Devil, when he finally turns up, is a major disappointment, being nothing more than a tall black guy with ping pong eyeballs. But boy, can he eat pussy … no, really, he actually eats it!! Meanwhile Fellner, in chains (a major Franco fetish), is being raped by one of the kidnappers, while gang-leader Gisela Hahn (from Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination) enjoys the spectacle from her hammock. Back in civilization, Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti), in low-rent Indiana Jones threads, is picking up a hefty fee to liberate this damsel in distress. He’s flown out to that unspecified Third World jungle in a helicopter, then, true to Franco form, he spends an eternity wandering around in the undergrowth not actually doing anything much. Eventually he arranges with the ’nappers to swap the girl for a suitcase stuffed with money. They keep the girl and try to shoot Cliver, but anticipating this turn of events, he has stuffed the suitcase with worthless paper (unfilmed Franco scripts, perhaps… if such a thing exists).

Now the bad guys start getting picked off by The Devil (Hahn’s head is beaten in with a rock) and the natives prepare Fullner for consumption … none of this being anything like as interesting as it might sound. Cliver scales the cliff on top of which the sacrifice is to take place and incredibly, his cliff-scaling exploits are rendered by that staple expedient of the old Batman TV series, i.e. Franco’s camera is laid on its side and Cliver is filmed crawling across the floor! It’s for the individual viewer to decide whether this is more or less ridiculous than the spectacle of Al with his arm… supposedly amputated by natives… conspicuously tied behind his back in Franco’s Cannibals. Whatever, Cliver makes it to the cliff-top and, after a perfunctory wrestling match, hurls The Devil to his death, saves the gal and pockets the money. The natives are so chagrined at the death of their idol that they trash his totem pole. Thankfully, the world was spared a sequel in which they turned their worshipful attentions to Indiana Al. Extras include the expected Franco mini interview and another with thesp Bertrand Altmann.

Cannibal Terror

If Devil Hunter looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray,  its co-headliner on this disc, Cannibal Terror (1981) probably looks better than it ever deserved to look. This is the “video nasty” that notorious Producer Marius Lasoeur arranged to have shot, guerrilla-style on the set of Franco’s Cannibal. As cobbled together in post-production, its plot follows a similar kidnapping / jungle rescue theme to Devil Hunter. There are endless ugly scenes of “natives” scarfing down offal, a rape scene which plays out without the perpetrator even unzippping his trousers and plenty of shots of people hanging around, gazing goonishly into the mid distance. The following exchange may stand as representative of the dialogue herein.

“Can’t you open the fucking door?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Shit… what are you doing?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Fuck… oh fuck it! No fucking idiot could get that door open… made me look a fucking fool!”

By the time the kidnap victim’s parents -acting on a hot tip-off -arrive in the jungle to confront the kidnappers, the latter have already been eaten by the cannibals. “Those gangsters got all the punishment they deserved”, a handy-dandy tour guide assures them, indicating what is supposed to be the severed head of the chief baddy: “He got all the pain and suffering that was coming to him.” So did anyone who managed to sit through this piece of garbage, a shoe-in for the accolade of very worst film among all those that exercised the attention of the DPP in the 1980s.

Nominal director “Allan W. Steeve” was long long believed to be a certain Julio Perez Tabernero but a bonus interview here with one Alain Deruelle (“Video nasty? Weird lot, the Brits”) seems to suggest that he might be the guilty party, though not clearing the matter up beyond reasonable doubt… well, would YOU admit to directing this clinker? Franco animatedly disavows any involvement in it (or another, comparably putrid Lassoer atrocity, Zombies Lake) in an easter egg interviewette. The balance of the extras comprise the theatrical trailer (astonishing to contemplate that this actually played theatres) and a hysterical “spicy deleted scene” which they really should have left it. It’s absolutely dreadful but quite a hoot, as opposed to the soporific shit you have to endure in the final cut… conclusive proof, if nothing else, that Jesus Franco wasn’t “the most boring director in the world.”

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Slashdance… MURDER ROCK reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Shriek-Show. Unrated.

The recent coincidence of Keith Emerson’s shocking suicide with the 20th anniversary of Lucio Fulci’s passing persuaded me to take another look at this underrated effort.

After the peak of personal creativity represented by the period 1979-82, Lucio Fulci’s career entered a confused phase, characterized by frantic hopping from genre to genre and the announcement of films that were never made, or mutated into new projects. Disagreements with producers and bouts of ill health compounded his problems. British fans found it difficult to keep track of Fulci’s output because most of these films were not released over here, distributors being wary of the censorship hassles that had dogged his zombie epics, not to mention the New York Ripper debacle. Having severed his successful partnership with producer Fabrizio De Angelis after 1982’s Manhattan Baby (the direction of which, allegedly, he pretty much phoned in) Fulci undertook Conquest  in 1983 for Giovanni Di Clemente, reportedly walked before shooting of that one was complete and reunited the following year with his old producer Edmondo Amati (for the first time since Four Of The Apocalypse in 1975) on Rome 2033: Fighter Centurions. Conquest threw a few token (and unconvincing) zombies into its eclectic (that’s “eclectic” as in “totally barmy”) mix and Fighter Centurions concerned itself with the ethics of serving up violence as popular entertainment (an appropriate theme for Fulci to ponder and one to which he would add a few mind-boggling twists in 1990’s Night Concert / A Cat In The Brain) but there was a growing sense that his auteurist identity was fading along with the inexorable decline of the Italian film industry itself.

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The first I heard of his Murder Rock: Dancing Death (Murder-Rock: Uccide A Passo Di Danza, 1984) was, typically for those pre-internet days, courtesy of Martin Coxhead in the pages of Video – The Magazine (or possibly moonlighting in Allan Bryce’s Video World.) Coxhead claimed that Fulci had taken a powder on this one after yet another bust-up with its producer, Augusto Caminito and that the finished item bore none of the trademarks of a Fulci picture. But when I interviewed Fulci, ten years after Murder Rock was made, he insisted that it was all his own work.  And, with apologies to Mr Coxhead (who was perhaps understandably preoccupied with the director’s then recent gory zombie outrages) Murder Rock follows on very much in a tradition of Fulci gialli that stretches from One On Top Of The Other / Perversion Story (1969) through such ’70s classics as Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture A Duckling right through to the aforementioned New York Ripper (1982), though admittedly it falls short of the standard set by those.

In the latter Fulci had required his DP Luigi Kuveiller to emulate the look of an American TV cop show from the ’70s (he had Kojak very much in mind, apparently.) Convinced by his recent experiences that “the old style of horror… so wild and free” had run its course, Fulci dialled the gore right down and instructed Giuseppe Pinori to shoot Murder Rock in the style of a slick TV movie. Coincidentally, most of its action plays out in “The Arts for Living Centre”, a deadringer for Fame’s “School for Performing Arts”, right down to the presence of dance instructors who inform the students that if they want success it costs, and right here is where they start paying… in sweat. They’ve got plenty to sweat about too… “I’m gonna live forever”? Most of these suckers will be lucky to survive to the end of the second reel, as some loony is stalking them and puncturing their hearts with an ornamental hat-pin… a particularly feminine modus operandi for a serial killer, you might think, and one reminiscent of that in Lizard In A Woman’s Skin. As another indicator of how far the violence levels have dropped here, although much use is made of extreme close-ups of Olga Karlatos’ beautiful eyes, neither of them are at any point gouged out by a wooden splinter a la Zombie Flesh Eaters.

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Karlatos it is who’s charged with unmasking the killer, a feat which she seems to achieve in a dream where she’s attacked by Ray Lovelock, shortly before meeting (and being romanced by) him for real. But is everything as it seems? In classic giallo style the exact meaning of that dream, though elusive, contains the key to the mystery. To keep you guessing, Fulci and co-writers Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannini drag in a veritable shoal of thinly motivated and clumsily handled red herrings. The vocal cue “Not So Innocent” pops up at regular intervals… but to whom does it refer? Further attempts to distract the viewer are made  with dance sequences as ill-assorted as they are intrusive… break-dancing kids bust their moves all over the title sequence but are never seen again (Fulci unintentionally capturing Hip Hop just before it degenerated from Popular Culture into Mass Culture), one of Jennifer Beals’ routines is clumsily lifted from Flashdance and elsewhere the chorus line shake a leg in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place in “Seaside Summer Special.” During periods when Fulci couldn’t arrested in terms of film directing (he’s on the record as claiming that he was effectively blacklisted), he moonlighted in the direction of such TV variety fare, including shows hosted by Raffaella “Do it do it again” Carra.

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The pin point choreography of Murder Rock…

There’s further fun to be derived from identifying familiar faces other than Karlatos and Lovelock… Claudio Cassinelli from any amount of Sergio Martino pictures, Christian Borromeo from House On The Edge Of The Park and Tenebrae, little Silvia Collatina – Doctor Freudstein’s daughter in The House By The Cemetery – and the ol’ doc himself (also Joe the plumber from The Beyond), Giovanni de Nava. Cosimo Cinieri from New York Ripper is the candy munching cop, Zombie Flesh Eaters alumnus Al Cliver appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo as a voice analyst and of course Fulci gets his own cameo as Phil the bitchy agent. No prizes for guessing that there’s a character named “Bob”!

When the true identity of the killer is finally trotted out it emerges as a major non-surprise (especially if you’ve been picking up on the heavy hints I’ve been dropping through this review) and their motivation, such as it is, recalls that of The New York Ripper… another protest by somebody who never got their bite of The Big Apple… the furious reaction of a loser against a society that celebrates winning to the exclusion of all other, more substantial human values. To quote a line from John Huston’s Asphalt Jungle (as Fulci does in the film’s credits): “Often crime is a distorted form of human endeavour.”

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Keith Emerson’s score for Murder Rock is often disrespected by the kind of confused, trendy fucktards who pay lip service to how cool Goblin are but also feel the need to sneer at ELP, seemingly unable to join the dots between those bands. In fact Emerson’s score is punchy, symphonic and synthtastic. The film itself is a lot better than it is generally given credit for (and picked up a prize when it made it to the Avoriaz Film Festival in 1986.) Contrary to Coxhead’s caveats, it’s recognisably Fulcian and arguably the last reasonably satisfying picture in the great man’s filmography… not exactly top drawer Fulci but as a supporting feature it would make for a great double bill with Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987.) It’s a sign of how times had changed that Soavi was outshining his old mentor at this stage in the game, but all such considerations became a moot point as the whole edifice of Italian horror collapsed around them. Both films are saying that the show must go on, but by this point the show was effectively over.

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