Posts Tagged With: Anchor Bay

The Undertaker And His Pals… THE COFFIN JOE COLLECTION Reviewed

Strange World Of Jose Mojica Marins.jpgDVD. Region 2. Anchor Bay UK. 18.

Apparently there’s been something or other going on in Brazil… a legalistic coup in which a progressive President with a huge popular mandate has been deposed on a cooked up charge and replaced by neo-liberal goons? Nah… if that had happened, you’d have seen or heard about it on the news or read about it in the paper, right? It certainly wouldn’t have been relegated to journalistic limbo while our media worked themselves into a froth about some stupid sporting events… would it?

Anyway, in our ongoing quest to be topical, we thought it was time to check out  ABUK’s blockbusting Coffin Joe Collection, an admirably ambitious box set comprising 5 discs, 9 films, 754 minutes (over twelve and a half hours!) of bravura Brazilian bonkersness from the undisputed top dog of favela fear flicks, Ze De Caixao himself. After a couple of marathon sessions digesting that little lot, I staggered out of the screening theatre here at The House Of Freudstein, my brain totally fried, an enthusiastic convert to the cult of Coffin Joe, whom the back cover of this box justifiably declares “a horror icon so full of sadism, immorality and brutality that he would undoubtedly make even Jigsaw squirm and send Jason running to Mommy” (they forgot to mention that he makes Seed look like a total twat but then, so does The Brady Bunch!)

CJ4.png

As evidenced in this box, Joe first came to the attention of an astonished world in 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (A Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma). The film opens with a demented gypsy crone haranguing us and threatening that if we don’t leave the theatre (or presumably, by extension, eject the disc) we’ll fall victim to the aforementioned soul snatching when the big and little hands meet up at the top of the clock. Having shelled out for this box, you’re unlikely to be put off so early in the proceedings… well, you can’t say you weren’t warned! While the gypsy’s words are still reverberating in our ears, CJ himself appropriates centre screen to start ranting the kind of doggerel (“What is life? It is the beginning of death! What is death? It is the end of life! What is existence? It is the continuity of blood! What is blood? It is the reason to exist!”) that you’ll be hearing over and over again before you’ve worked your way through this box. Our man’s a sinister grave digger who scandalises the townspeople with his wild appearance (top-hat, cape, long curly fingernails), aggressive behaviour (after casually glassing an unfortunate dude during a punch up in his local, he announces that he’ll charge double for burying anybody that he has personally killed) and flagrant disregard for religious observances… chided by his wife for not sticking to the “fish on Friday” rule that will be familiar to our older Catholic readers, he declares his determination to have meat for dinner “even if it means that I have to eat human flesh!” It’s this total inability to keep things in perspective and mount a proportionate response to life’s little setbacks that both defines Joe’s character and brings about his downfall. Most significantly, when he and his wife find it difficult to conceive a child, Joe might consider changing his diet, changing his underpants, scrutinising her menstrual cycle or seeking medical advice. Admittedly IVF research wasn’t too advanced in Brazil during the mid-60s but this really can’t excuse Joe’s subsequent antics…

At_midnight...

… he chloroforms Lenita (Mrs De Caixao, played by Valeria Vasquez), ties her up and empties a bucket of tarantulas over her. Even in Brazil, circa 1964, forensic science is up to detecting that there was something suspicious about  this death, but the coroner’s attempt to write a damning post mortem report is thwarted by CJ gouging his eyes out, soaking him in some flammable liquid and torching him. Keen to restart the quest for an heir, Joe takes a shine to his best friend’s girl Terezinha (Magda Mei) and after bashing matey’s brains out he starts wooing her in earnest… well, he rapes her anyway. The traumatised Terezinha promptly hangs herself, which really sends Joe off the deep end (“You have doomed my blood line to extinction!”) Defying further warnings from that old gypsy bint, he starts desecrating cemeteries and challenging God to put an end to his rampage. On the night of the Day of the Dead, after he’s been menaced by a preposterous prop owl and hallucinated his own funeral cortege, not to mention vengeful visitations by his victims, the deity duly obliges with a thunderbolt to bring matters to a distinctly anti-climactic conclusion.

the-strange-world-of-coffin-joe.jpg

The fondness for Universal’s classic horror cycle suggested by endless, Bela Lugosi like close-ups of Joe’s eyes every time he’s about to kill somebody in AMITYS is amplified by the opening to its sequel This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (Esta Noite Encarnarei No Teu Cadaver)… a caption announces that the action of this film will pick up exactly where its predecessor left off and we’re treated to a generous recap of Joe’s closing moments before some of the most brain-jarringly psychedelic (even in black and white) titles ever committed to celluloid… well, this picture was made in 1967, after all. Predictably, Joe was only stunned by that lightening bolt and has now taken up residence in a new town, at the expense of whose “ignorant” and “inferior” inhabitants he intends to pursue his ill-defined, sub-Nietzscianian mission. Indeed, he intends to make them “cry tears of blood!” Business as usual, then… well, not quite: this time out Joe can call on the services of a deformed, Igor-like henchman named Bruno (Jose Lobo), with whose assistance he renews his search for the perfect mother to his “superior” child but now employing ruthlessly efficient, almost industrialised methods. Sundry local lovelies are abducted and incarcerated in some kind of underground dormitory, where Joe torments them with assorted creepy crawlies, including the inevitable tarantulas… and these are real spiders, none of your pipe cleaner crap like the ones in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (Jeez, and people will try and tell you that it was heavy going on a Werner Herzog set!) When the caged cuties complain about their treatment, Joe insists that it’s “not sadism, my dears… but science!” Those who flinch from this insect ordeal are derided as “cowards!” and “fools!” while Joe variously showers them with acid, hands them over to Bruno to be used as sexual playthings and consigns them to a snake pit so that he can enjoy their death throes while canoodling with the “lucky” winner of his bizarre selection procedure. After this there are worrying signs of some kind of plot congealing around the character of a colonel who hires a circus strongman to carry out a hit on Joe but that doesn’t really go anywhere and thankfully we’re soon back to full-on delirium as Joe again defies God to show his hand and is rewarded, as the already variable b/w film stock lurches alarmingly into gaudy technicolour, with an audacious albeit cheapskate rendition of the torments of the damned in Hell.

coffinjoehell.png

This gives Joe momentary pause for thought but he’s soon up to his tricks again, only to drown in a swamp while trying to evade a lynch mob that’s been drummed up by that colonel. Aye caramba! In addition to his Universal fetish, TNIPYC demonstrated that Marins was responsive to more contemporary horror trends, Joe’s arrival in town having more than a touch of Spaghetti Western about it.

000l-the-strange-world-of-coffin-joe-screenshot.jpg

The following year’s The Strange World Of Coffin Joe suggests furthermore that Marins was aware of and enthused by those Amicus portmanteau jobbies, comprising as it does three macabre tales for the price of one. Unfortunately, after delivering the mandatory unhinged opening soliloquy, CJ does not pop up as a Crypt Keeper-type linking character connecting the various vignettes… a seriously wasted opportunity! Story 1, “The Dollmaker”, concerns an old toy maker whose dolls are renowned for their life-like eyes… when his beautiful daughters are threatened by a loutish gang of would-be rapists, we learn the source of his raw materials in the biggest non-surprise twist ending of all time. The second instalment, “Obsession” (a necrophilic take on the Cinderella story) works better and the closer – “Ideology” – best of all: Marins plays a variant on his Ze De Caixao character, now a professor debating his own oddball philosophy of human instincts with a scientific rival on some TV chat show. They agree to differ and indeed, things are so cordial that Ze invites his debating adversary and wife round for dinner, where they are forced to witness, then subjected to all manner of unspeakable tortures, by means of which they are reduced to brutish ghouls, neatly proving our man’s views about the primacy of instinct over rationality and morality. One imagines that this picture played the U.S. grindhouse circuit at some point… its throwaway mix of sadism and philosophy certainly seems to have influenced the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s The Wizard Of Gore (1970) and Joel Reed’s Bloodsucking Freaks aka The Incredible Torture Show (1976) and you could probably make a case for it being the godfather of the dreaded “torture porn” genre (though we shouldn’t hold that against Marins). TSWOCJ also boasts an absolutely corking toe-tapper of a title song, extolling the merits of its eponymous anti-hero.

StrangeWorldOfCoffin Joe comic.jpg

Fumetti adaptation of The Strange World Of Coffin Joe

Back in 1970, Marins was still jumping bandwagons with the drugsploitation epic Awakening Of The Beast, his characteristically cheap and cheerless attempt to grab a slice of the Easy Rider action. Here a bunch of mental health professionals (including Marins) debate a series of cautionary drug tales, all of them climaxing in some form of sexual degeneracy, all of them played out for our lip-smacking disapproval. We are introduced to a stoner who gets off on washing women’s underwear, a coke snorting producer who deflowers aspiring starlets on his casting couch, a suburban housewife whose own appreciation of “the magic powder” is best enhanced by watching a black servant bang the arse off her daughter (there is even a suggestion at one point that their pet dog is going to get in on the act!)… even more bizarrely, a love’n’peace espousing schoolgirl visits a hippy commune and, after a couple of token tokes on a “reefer”, is apparently abused with a thick tree branch by a Charles Manson type!

000awakening-of-the-beast.jpg

The second half of the picture concerns a controlled experiment in which willing guinea pigs are dosed with acid after a screening of This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Just as in that film, there’s an abrupt switch from b/w to colour as every psychedelic trick in the book is trotted out to depict their various trips, all of which feature the menacing figure of Ze De Caixao… the perfect recipe for an unprecedented bummer, one would have thought. Finally it is revealed that none of the participants actually dropped acid, a placebo having been administered instead. What all of this seems to prove is that there’s a little bit of Coffin Joe inside all of us… well fuck me! Ze himself seems to have been eschewing the hallucinogens in favour of cramming doughnuts during 1970, looking distinctly overfed as he delivers his customary diatribe before the titles of this one. Later Marins, debating with those mental health professionals, reminds them not to mistake him for his celluloid alter ego: “He stayed in the graveyard tonight!” Despite the penny-pinching circumstances in which his films are churned out, such narrative devices testify to a Post-modern intelligence at work approximately two decades before Wes Craven had his nightmare, before even that malevolent moggy troubled the murderous mind of Lucio Fulci…

tumblr_mr33ipy4Jq1qampz3o1_500.jpg

… the comparison with Fulci’s Cat In The Brain / Nightmare Concert is even more apt in the light of Marins’ Hallucinations Of A Deranged Mind (Delirious De Um Anormal, 1978) in which Marins is called on to counsel and cure a psychotherapist who has become obsessed with the idea that Coffin Joe has chosen his wife to bear him a superior son. Marins does a creditable job of demonstrating that Joe only exists as a fictional character, though this being a horror film, the proceedings have to conclude with a predictable “or is he?” caveat. Like Fulci’s film, HOADM contains about ten minutes of original material, the balance comprising a mix and mis-matched muddle of footage (colour, tinted and b/w) culled from other films in this set. Fascinating as all this undoubtedly is to semiologically-inclined film critics, it also ensures that the flick is probably the least entertaining one in the box, though it does contain one of the greatest lines of dialogue I’ve recently encountered: Marins becomes unwell while dining out with a bunch of psychiatrists but allays their concern for his well being with the reassuring observation: “Don’t worry, it’s only the effects of a heart attack!” Well, that’s OK then…

000Finis_Hominis.jpg

Having already argued elsewhere (possibly while seriously pissed) that Marins deserves to be taken at least as seriously as Jodorowsky, I’m going to pitch my praise even higher and suggest that The End Of Man (Finis Hominis, 1964) deserves serious comparison with Luis Bunuel… here a mysterious derelict (the director himself) emerges naked from the sea and strolls into town making gnomic pronouncements and generally acting like Jesus… saving adulteresses from their enraged relatives, thwarting would-be child molesters, healing cripples, apparently bringing people back from the dead… you know the kind of thing. Hippies and free-loveniks adopt Finis Hominis (as he is dubbed by a priest) as their guru and, when his fame and influence spread, commercial interests attempt to recruit him to their own agendas. The film climaxes with Marins’ messiah delivering his definitive statement to a waiting world. If the fact that the venue for his platitude-laden sermon is a rubbish dump rather than any Mount does not alert you to this film’s satiric intention, the closing scene will… having said his piece, Finis Hominis calmly strolls back to the mental institution from which he has absconded, where his keepers are patiently awaiting his return. Brilliant!

the-strange-hostel-of-naked-pleasures.jpg

Marins is back in his Coffin Joe persona (albeit sporting a bowler rather than the more familiar top hat) for 1967’s Strange Hostel Of Naked Pleasures (A Estranha Hospedaria Dos Prazeres, 1967) which demonstrates the continuing influence exerted over him by the Amicus legacy: hippy no-goodniks and corrupt representatives of straight society rub shoulders (and other bits) in the eponymous establishment, getting their sinful rocks off until the not exactly unpredictable twist revelation that their host is none other than… put it this way, the shadow of Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors looms large here.

0inferno Carnal.jpg

Hellish Flesh (Inferno Carnal, 1977) deviates entirely from the Ze mythos, Marins instead essaying the role of a workaholic scientist whose alienated wife conspires with his best friend (her lover) to attack him with acid and set fire to him so that they can abscond with his money. It takes them scant months to blow that, at which point the crippled doc makes the extraordinary declaration that he has forgiven his erring spouse and will take her back. If you think that’s unfeasible, wait till you catch the mind-boggling (and completely senseless) twist that caps off this overblown melodrama.

6a00e5523026f5883400e5536c765f8834-800wi.jpg

As if all that weren’t enough to leave you stunned and gibbering, the final disc in this set contains The Strange World Of Mojica Marins, a 2001 documentary profile of the great man (by Andre Barcinski and Ivan Finotti) that achieved what none of his own prolific output ever came close to achieving, a special prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Barcinski and Finotti capture Marins at home in his modest apartment and hanging out on the mean streets of his home town, reminiscing about his upbringing in, literally, a series of cinemas and his consequent fixation on film. His mother reveals that little Jose was born on Friday the 13th, his bodyguard Satan (!) declares that the director is really a nice bloke (cut to footage of Marins and Satan at a bullfight, laughing their asses off as the matador gets gored). We also learn that the Coffin Joe character emerged from his creator’s nightmares and that JJS is a mentally unstable, amphetamine-fuelled workaholic who really does put his actresses through the kind of auditions that are probably outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. He and his crew are proud of the fact that they kept working during tough economic times by cranking out porn, especially proud that they authored Brazil’s first hard-core cinematic encounter between a dedicated actress and a dog… if all of this seems just too bizarre, bear in mind that the host of a Brazilian answer to CrimeWatch was arraigned for arranging murders to provide content for his programme!

0CoffineJoe Collection81RgZ8vso9L._SL1500_.jpg

All of the films are presented in full-screen format, some of them with dodgy sound and / or careless subtitles and at least one of them has a brief outburst of the kind of picture disturbance you only get when mastering from video tape… it is, therefore, a tad disingenuous for the pack to claim “each disc boasts digitally enhanced picture and sound” although, bearing in mind that nobody has ever taken Marins’ stuff seriously enough to archive it properly, the second part of ABUK’s pack boast, declaring this box to be “the definitive celebration” of Marins’ oeuvre, is undoubtedly true and looks likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The art-work on the box cover is quite beautiful, albeit sufficiently understated (surprisingly so when you considering that its subject matter is maniacs, topless girls, living corpses, skulls and bats!) for the box to run the risk of disappearing into the shelves. Make sure you hunt it down, anyway. Essential stuff for any horror fan whose horizons stretch further than the latest remake / reboot of Hollywood product which probably wasn’t any good in the first place.

Embodiment of Evil (3).jpg090725_coffin-Joe__M6G0152.jpg3989669.t.jpgmagecoffinjoe5.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Jodrophenia… THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY Box Set Reviewed

el-topo-poster-UK.gif

DVD. Region 1. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

There is a particularly florid and debilitating ( only eight features and ten shorts completed in fifty years) psychiatric condition, characterised by sexual mania…

“Imagine Superman with a woman… his ejaculate is so great it would explode her brain and eat through the building!”

… body dysmorphia…

“Most directors make films with their eyes… I make films with my testicles!”

… and associated delusions of grandeur…

“Godard has only one testicle, whereas I have three!”

This is the condition to which medical science has given the name… Jodrophenia.

Now assembled alienists will be able pore over much of the cinematic evidence in the most celebrated case history, collected by Anchor Bay in a R1 DVD box set. Made possible when Jodorowsky patched up his long running differences with financier Allen Klein (who famously had a hand in the break up of The Beatles), this cornucopia of Jodsploitation comprises various interesting rarities but its appeal resides chiefly in supplying, at long last, definitive editions (in the correct aspect ratios, minus the prurient pixillations that marred the Japanese editions that were for so long the best available ones) of the ultimate cult movie El Topo (1970) and its 1973 follow up, The Holy Mountain.

el-topo-3.jpg

El Topo, which kick-started the whole Midnight Movie phenomenon after an enthusiastic endorsement from the acid-addled John Lennon (that’s two Beatles references down, one to go, pop pickers) is the everyday story of a gun slinger who goes by that name (and is played by the director himself), who abandons his son in the desert to take up with some femme fatale. She encourages him to prove his love for her by fighting a series of duels with four mystically-inclined martial arts masters. Three of those are satisfactorily dispatched but when the fourth pre-empts El Topo by topping himself and the woman runs off with a lesbian, it’s too much for our hero and he descends into madness. Given shelter and worshipped by a cave-dwelling bunch of cripples and amputees, El Topo vows to facilitate their social rehabilitation by digging a tunnel that will enable them to surface in the nearest town. To finance this, he shaves his head and, together with his new midget girlfriend, performs street theatre for the people of the town, which is run by a puritanical, Russian roulette playing religious cult (so far… what the fuck?) Mission accomplished (with the aid of his abandoned son, who has meanwhile grown up into a pistol packin’ monk) El Topo watches as the intolerant townspeople shoot down the incoming cripples. After his own vengeful gun spree, El Topo lays down his arms and immolates himself in the manner of a Buddhist monk protesting the Vietnam War. Like… cor baby, that’s really free!

tumblr_nkdmdjlNyO1qzqju7o1_1280.jpg

To enhance your appreciation of this ultimate cinematic trip (Jodorowsky insists that cinema, deployed properly, should be more mind altering than LSD) the director supplies a commentary track in Spanish (with English subtitles) where he claims El Topo “was inspired by rabbis, by Zorro, by Elvis Presley” and on a more banal level, admits that it was shot on the sets of The Wild Bunch (other sources insist it was Jerry Thorpe’s Day Of The Evil Gun, 1968.) He explains that the film was broken down into chapters (based, with characteristic modesty, on sections of The Bible) so that it could be passed off as a collection of shorts, because restrictive practices in the Mexican film industry prevented him from openly directing a feature. When it was released, he complains… “People literally waned to kill me! Critics literally vomited on me!” Well, fuck them if they can’t take a cosmic joke. Me, I can’t find fault with any movie that boasts lines of dialogue like “We are all hideously deformed due to constant incest!”

0d20199231a8e21d2e3e4d8f0d64ee98.jpg

Although somewhat overshadowed by its predecessor, The Holy Mountain is, if anything, even wilder stuff. After Jod himself (as “The Alchemist”) has presided over some weird ritual involving two blondes, when the Spanish conquest of Mexico has been re-enacted by frogs and lizards, following a prolonged meditation on the image of Christ… the plot kicks off in earnest and things start getting really wiggy!  “The Thief” (Hector Salinas) makes his way to The Alchemist’s tarot-decorated inner sanctum and, to begin his spiritual purification, a woman tattooed in kabbalistic symbols washes his arse for him… Jodorowsky claims on the commentary track that George Harrison was keen to play The Thief’s part but wimped out on account of this scene. We can only conjecture what George made of the sequence in which one of The Thief’s jobbies is melted in a casserole dish while The Alchemist intones “You are excrement… you can convert yourself into gold.”

The Thief is joined by seven of the richest and most powerful people in the world (all identified by their astrological characteristics and introduced with potty potted biographies) who have renounced all their worldly goods in return for a shot at the one thing money can’t buy… immortality! Together they will storm The Holy Mountain and supplant the nine immortals who direct human affairs from its summit…

the-holy-mountain-french-poster.jpg

After plenty more bizarre preparations they scale that Holy Mountain but there’s a predictable twist at the conclusion of their endeavours. “Farewell to immortality… reality awaits us!” pronounces The Alchemist, and everybody seems improbably satisfied with this outcome. But do the aspirant immortals return to normal life as better people than they previously were? More importantly, did Jodorowsky ever get that casserole dish clean again? In case I ever get invited around for dinner, you understand…

The inclusion of El Topo and The Holy Mountain will probably provide sufficient motivation for many people to splash out on this box. One could quibble about some of the other contents, but Louis Mouchet’s feature length documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994) also constitutes essential viewing. At the onset Jodorowsky pronounces himself unable to provide an answer to the question “Who are you?”, so it’s a good job that admirers like Peter Gabriel (who admits that the Genesis album and show The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway were greatly influenced by El Jodo… a major non-surprise) and collaborators such as Marcel Marceau (with whom Jodorowsky invented the “caged man” mime, as popularised by David Bowie) and legendary comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud (“Jodorowsky’s brain works like three thousand crazy computers!”) are along for the ride.

We learn how Jodorowsky, a Chilean of Russian descent, founded the Panic Theatre after becoming disenchanted with Surrealism (Andre Breton disapproved of Jod’s massive porn collection); of the difficult circumstances under which he was obliged to make The Rainbow Thief (1990); and of his abortive big  screen adaptation of Dune, in which Salvador Dali would have played The Emperor, with an OST supplied by Magma and The Pink Floyd.

0Jod'sDune.jpg

When Jodorowsky does manage to get a fix on himself, he characterises himself as “not a mystic… I’m a gambler, somebody who plays games.” It’s disorientating and disarming to hear the man who made his name via films that are simply loaded with self-consciously metaphysical trappings, declaring categorically  “It’s all bollocks… enlightenment doesn’t exist!” This is, however, in tune with what happens in both El Topo and The Holy Mountain, in which protagonists ultimately renounce their self-seeking inner journeys in favour of taking action in the material world. Jodorowsky believes the world is sick (no shit!) and with characteristic modestly, the medicine he prescribes is viewings of his films! On a more practical and immediate level, we see him conducting one of his regular group therapy sessions, into which Mouchet is drawn from behind his camera and from which he seems to derive great benefit…. compelling stuff. Jodorowsky remains the magus / guru / charlatan / visionary / hyperbolic fantabulist / shaman / con man / contradiction that we always knew he was, but Mouchet establishes beyond doubt that effective method resides within the conspicuous madness of King Jod.

I could quibble over some of the other stuff on this set… OK, so finally we get to see Jod’s 1968 feature debut Fando Y Lis (an unsatisfying b/w dry run for El Topo) and, improbably, his 1957 mime-flavoured short La Cravate (which was previously believed lost) but I doubt that too many purchasers of this box will return for too many repeat viewings of those.

shadesofjoy.jpg

One third of the box is taken up with soundtrack CDs of El Topo and The Holy mountain, guaranteed to clear any dance floor between here and Santiago. Ideally, those could have been jettisoned in favour of a definitive edition of Santa Sangre (1989) and any edition at all of  The Rainbow Thief, which at the time this box was released seemed to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. Still, that’s just my opinion, and as Jodorowsky insists: “Everybody shits faeces and opinions… you must ignore them” (note to the reader: Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore my opinions, alright?) As well as the R1 box reviewed here, there’s an identical R2 set from Tartan which boasts nicer packaging but, due to the vagaries of internet shopping,  would actually have cost me significantly more than the Anchor Bay version.

The Sons Of El Topo has been announced as many times as the closing instalment in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. When this box first emerged, Jodorowsky’s next announced, believe-it-when-you-see-it project was King Shot, which would have starred (gulp!) David Hess and Marilyn Manson, whose wedding to Dita Von Teese was apparently conducted by the reverend Jod himself (and turns out to have been as ill-starred as most of his pictures.) Still crazy after all these years, Jodorowsky’s most recent completed feature, Endless Poetry, drew predictable rave reviews at Cannes earlier this year.

jod&Robot.jpg00SS.jpg0santa-sangre-poster.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Flares Du Mal: Armando Crispino’s AUTOPSY Reviewed

13166063_1745945388957234_3700713801220391007_n copy.jpg

DVD. Region 1. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

There are certain set elements that giallophiles demand from their favoured genre and they tend to comprise visually stylish direction, lashings of violence, a female cast that runs to eye candy and eccentric plotting. Autopsy (1975) features an androgynous female lead (in the gamine form of Mimsy Farmer) and Armando  Crispino’s direction of it is not particularly stylish (unless regularly inserting shots of solar activity is your idea of style) but some of its imagery tested my tolerance for gore (which is pretty high) and when it comes to kooky plotting in Italian Whodunnits, this one  grabs the garibaldi biscuit!

Try this for size… Simona Sanna (Farmer) is a pathologist working overtime at the main mortuary in Rome, where an epidemic of suicides has broken out… Romans in 1975 are kicking the bucket more frequently than celebrities in 2016 and apparently this is attributable to the effect of powerful solar flares. The strain is exacerbating Simona’s long standing psychosexual malaise to the point where she starts hallucinating that cadavers are getting up off their slabs, menacing her and having it off with each other. What’s at the root of this here psychosexual malaise? It’s suggested that her antique dealer father Gianni (the eternally slithery Massimo Serato) has been taking more than a paternal interest in her. Whatever, Simona’s frigidity is causing problems between her and her boyfriend(ish) Riccardo (Ray Lovelock… rather than listing Lovelock’s many Freudstein-friendly credits now, I’ll direct you to his IMDB page here.) Even his collection of hand-tinted fin-de-siecle porno slides can’t seem to get Simona’s juices flowing. One of Daddy Direst’s many conquests, Betty Lennox (Gaby Wagner) befriends Simona, shortly before turning up on one of her gurneys, having apparently blown her brains out on the beach. Betty’s brother Paul (Barry Primus) arrives to tell Simona that, despite evidence to the contrary, his sister was murdered: “You know your corpses but I know my souls!” and well he might, given that he’s a priest. Hang on though, he’s not just a priest… he’s a former racing driver who took holy orders after killing a bunch of spectators when his car crashed at Le Mans. Oh, did I forgot to mention that Riccardo, in the rare  moments when he’s not hanging around on top of Boromini’s tower taking photographs, is a racing driver too?

518XC8XGCHL.jpg13178567_1745945525623887_215013663337343989_n.jpg

After digesting that little lot, you won’t find it too much of a stretch to take on board that when Simona’s father is paralysed after jumping(?) from a high window, he attempts to warn her about the killer’s identity by using an “eye blink” machine that was devised to help one of the people who got run over by Fr Lennox… or that one of the major characters is an epileptic whose anti-seizure medication just happens to be the antidote to a paralysing drug the killer administered to him in an attempt to stage his “suicide.” What were the odds on that, eh? Well, Simona could probably have predicted it, as she’s doing her doctoral dissertation on the suddenly topical question of genuine versus faked suicides. At one point her research takes her to a Crime Museum (managed by yet another of her father’s many mistresses), where the tasteless tableaux are set up in such a way as to shoot each other’s heads (and nearly Simona’s) off… and so the fanciful plot contrivances continue to pile up until the culprit (or an unconvincing mannequin likeness thereof) follows in Boromini’s fatal footsteps and takes a tumble off that tower.

13178044_1745947495623690_4499192081863175547_n.jpg

If James Cameron evidenced a complete lack of perspective when he used that nuclear explosion to back light a kiss between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies,  Crispino and frequent script collaborator Lucio Battistrada have topped him here. Flying in the face of all the outre narrative devices outlined above, the killer’s motives are ultimately revealed to be disappointingly banal (blackmail and a contested inheritance)… despite the amplification of a hint from the opening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it turns out that the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves. But did the culprit really need a suicide epidemic amid which to conceal his murders? Well no, but it gives Crispino the pretext to ramp up the oppressive atmosphere of his film to rarely matched levels of queasy uneasiness. The opening montage that establishes the self-inflicted snuffathon is pretty amusing stuff, actually… I had a particularly good chuckle over the dapper dude who unceremoniously pulls a plastic bag over his head before plunging into the Tiber and the guy who cheerfully immolates himself in his car… reminds me of some of the jolly antics in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973). Things take a turn for the distinctly grotesque though when Crispino shares with us Simona’s collection of grisly post mortem photos. “Don’t tell me you get off on this stuff!” the shocked Betty asks Simona (a question that would be more usefully addressed to the mandatory perverted morgue worker Ivo, played by Ernesto Colli) and indeed, some of the photos look disturbingly authentic. Maybe not, though… those Italian FXperts could always mock up a convincing bit of bodily mayhem. Nevertheless, Joseph Brenner extracted predictable mileage of such alleged authenticity for the film’s U.S. release, packing out the drive-ins and grind houses in the process.

13173657_1745947482290358_2344840965771993832_n.jpg

As well as being an entertainingly tall tale and mini-masterpiece of morbidity, Autopsy also represents a significant entry in that most niche of movie sub-genres, the “Mimsy Farmer going bonkers” flick. After a string of low ranking Hollywood roles, Farmer made her name in Barbet Schroeder’s More (1969) as the doomed dope fiend Estelle. Her vulnerability in this picture convinced diverse Italian auteurs to employ her in similar roles. She’s suitably fragile in Argento’s Four Flies In Grey Velvet (1971) and generates pathos aplenty in Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume Of The Lady in Black (1974)… even Lucio Fulci takes a half-assed stab at getting a signature performance out of her in his endearingly goofy Poe adaptation The Black Cat (1981.) Farmer’s emoting in all of these was underscored and enhanced no end by tremendous musical accompaniment from the likes of Ennio Morrione (Autopsy and Four Flies), Pino Donaggio (The Black Cat) and Nicola Giovani (The Perfume Of The Lady), not to mention The Pink Floyd (More.)

Extras on this Anchor Bay DVD edition constitute two trailers, the American one for “Autopsy” and an international one under the guise of “The Victim”, a title that neatly encapsulates Farmer’s ongoing screen persona (the film is also known as Macchie Solari / Sun Spots, Tension, Corpse, The Magician and Tarot… no, I have no idea why!) Crispino’s film looks and sounds OK for a DVD release of this vintage. I’m not in a position to say whether it looked or sounded any better when it followed many of its fellow Anchor Bay titles to a subsequent release on the Blue Underground label. Unlike many of those, it shows no sign of re-emerging on Blu-ray just yet. Four Flies, The Black Cat and More have all been available in this format for some time and Perfume Of The Lady In Black is on the way from 88 Films… perhaps they’d like to extend a similar upgrade to Autopsy?

I’ll be keeping my eye out for that…

macchie solari.jpg

13179457_1745947532290353_7843377082055805983_n.jpg

13177361_1745945482290558_1286299786228752348_n.jpg

13178736_1745945508957222_5354904886257719229_n copy.jpg

 

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: