Posts Tagged With: Arrow

How Does It Feel To Be One Of The Beautiful People? HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Prior to the advent of the internet (if you pampered millennials can actually imagine such a thing), Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Encyclopedia was the hard-pressed Horror hack’s bible. Before the dawn of VHS, in fact (“Dawn of what, now?” – A Pampered Millennial) we would drool over its reviews of films we thought we’d never live to see… The House That ScreamedThe House With Laughing Windows, Don’t Torture A Duckling, et al. A lot of those titles are now in general circulation, of course, but Hardy’s tome also alerted us to the existence of and tantalisingly synopsised a whole subset of forbiddingly entitled Japanese efforts such as Koji Wakamatsu’s Violated Angels (1967), Teruo Ishii’s The Joys Of Torture (1968) and Shiro Toyoda’s Portrait Of Hell (1969)

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Arrow have been making some impressive inroads into Japanese territory recently, notably (for our purposes) with their Bloodthirsty Trilogy box. Now here’s Ishii’s 1969 effort Horrors Of Malformed Men (“Kyofu Kikei Ningen”) which, startling as it is to Occidental eyes, is typical of the edgy sex / crime / horror fodder that the Toei studio were churning out during the ’60s and early ’70s.

Freely adapted from the popular weird tales of Edogawa Rampo (think about it), the film starts with amnesiac Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) finding himself in a mental institution, the general vibe of which is Marat / Sade-a-go-go, with wall-to-rubber-wall sex-crazed, semi-naked mad chicks. Security seems pretty lax in this joint and during one of his regular nocturnal rambles around its grounds, Hirosuke strikes up a friendship with pretty young circus performer Hatsuyo (Teruko Yumi)… gotta have a circus right next door to the nuthouse, right? After singing a lullaby that sparks a vague childhood memory in his head, she agrees to try to recall its origin but when he meets her next day (after donning a joke shop beard, for some reason) she’s bumped off and Hirosuke is framed for her murder. She says enough before dying to convince him that he can locate his home town “somewhere along the coast of the Sea of Japan”… narrowing things right down, there! Improbably, he does make it back home and even more improbably, passes himself off for his dead doppelganger Genzaburou (also played by Yoshida). It helps that they’ve both got a swastika tattooed on one of their feet… very PC. Most improbably of all, Hirosuke is accepted by the dead guy’s family, the difficulties attendant on carrying off this masquerade briefly slowing the loopy action for a bit…

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… no worries, things are back from flat to barking batshit crazy in a nano-second after our man has sailed over to Panorama island in search of his long-lost dad, Jôgorô Komoda. This guy’s played by one Tatsumi Hijikata, a kind of Japanese equivalent to the recently deceased Lindsay Kemp. No surprise then that when we’re introduced to him he’s doing a spot of, er, interesting interpretive dancing on a wave-lashed stony outcrop of the island.

When not busting radical moves at the seaside, Jôgorô likes to experiment on his kidnapped victims, transforming them into freaks… so we get goat girls, another chick with a hand sewn to her head, non-identical Siamese twins… other dudes seem to have some feathers stuck to them or to have simply been given a quick splash of silver paint.

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Despite professing indirect inspiration from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Horrors Of Malformed Men is clearly based largely upon H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island Of Dr Moreau, though Jôgorô gets things arse-ways about by reducing humans to the level of beasts rather than speeding up the evolution of animals, as was Moreau’s modus operandi. The resulting human oddities and horrors foreshadow those of the Emperor Tiberius’ own island getaway in Tinto Brass’s Caligula (1979) and I wonder if Tom Six had certain scenes from HOMM in mind when he dreamed up The Human Centipede (2009). Japan’s censors sensed other allusions when they banned Horrors Of Malformed Men… although no more sexy or graphic than other contemporary Toei releases it could, they figured, be construed as an allegory for certain unfortunate events that happened in Japan during 1945.

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Love Island’s new policy re recruiting contestants proved controversial with viewers…

What’s Jôgorô’s motivation for these crazy surgical antics? Well, he wants to flood the world with an army of mutants as revenge for the way he was rejected by polite society on account of his webbed fingers (sense of perspective needed here, Jôgorô!) His beautiful wife turned against him and took a lover. He’s just telling Hirosuke how he resolved this little marital spat (by chaining them up in a cave, feeding him to crabs then obliging her to eat the crabs… I couldn’t seem to find this one anywhere in the Relate training manual) when Edogawa Rampo’s regular Sherlock Holmes figure, Kogoro Akechi (Minoru Oki) turns up and proceeds, in know-it-all fashion, to explain everything that’s been going on (I must admit, I was still more than a tad baffled when he was finished).

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Edogawa Rampo, yesterday.

Kogoro persuades Jôgorô not to pull the lever that will blow up the whole island (an inadvisable design feature previously popular in Universal Frankenstein movies) but Hirosuke, having recently discovered that he’s been shagging his sister, opts to blow up with her during a firework display, a spectacle that just about tops all the other weird shit we’ve been sitting through for approximately the last two hours… it’s like the climax of Zabriskie Point, albeit even more dementedly druggy. As the star cross’d lovers heads fly through the air, you ask yourself why, if he was such a shit hot surgeon, Jôgorô didn’t just separate his webbed fingers. Well, that would have been a lot simpler but a lot less fun for us, the viewers.

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Apart from the stuff you’d expect (if, indeed, you’ll ever trust your expectations again after watching Horrors Of Malformed Men) the generous bonus materials include two audio commentaries, by Japanese cinema buffs Tom Mes and Mark Schilling (perhaps things will become a little clearer after I’ve heard those), Schilling’s rather touching video account of Ishii’s visit the Far East Film Festival in Udine (followed by a tourist trip to Venice… I don’t believe he was attending that city’s film festival), a new video interview with veteran Toei screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda and the featurette Malformed Memories, in which filmmakers Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo The Iron Man) and Minoru Kawasaki (The Calamari Wrestler) talk of their admiration for the Cinema of  Teruo Ishii. These interviews did manage to resolve one outstanding issue for me, that of cultural relativity … do these films just look (very) weird (indeed) to our round eyes while being consumed as commonplace by domestic Japanese audiences? No… turns out that they alternate between picking their jaws up off the floor and laughing their asses off, too!

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Ishii’s “Pink” classic Orgies Of Edo, another 1969 effort, is next up from Arrow so hang onto your hats.

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Vicious Sydney… Flavio Mogherini’s THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

During a career in which he was more active as an art director and production designer, Flavio Mogherini managed just this one certified giallo (his swan song, 1994’s Delitto Passionale, sounds like it might be a borderline case) among his directorial credits… but it’s a fascinating one and not only because it’s based on a notorious and perennially enigmatic true life murder mystery (a new cinematic treatment of which is pending as I write these words)… the Antipodean equivalent of the Black Dahlia case .

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The overwhelming majority of gialli are set in an urban Italian milieu and even the most jet-setting efforts of Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino tend to play out in recognisably European cosmopolitan locations. The action of Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (1977), in contrast, apparently unfolds beneath the rolling blue skies and between the wide open spaces of Australia, the land of opportunities and new starts… though its principal characters’ attempts to lay the ghosts of their pasts prove unsuccessful, with tragic consequences. For instance…

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The film kicks off like a commercial for the Sydney Tourist Board, with off-road bikers and a cute little girl enjoying a golden beach… until the latter discovers a dumped, burned out car with a dumped, burned up girl inside it. Sydney’s finest (who make The Sweeney’s Regan and Carter look like by-the-book softies) are happy to pin the murder on shanty-dwelling sex case Quint (Giacomo Assandri) but reluctantly retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland), who’s bored with tending his orchids and can’t be kept out of the station house, thinks that’s a little bit too convenient. Besides, who is the mysterious burned woman? This film is at least as much a “who’sbeendonein?” as a “whodunnit”.

In an attempt to answer that question, the cops arrange for the body, stripped of its yellow pyjamas and dunked in a tank of formaldehyde, to be put on public display in an improbable and gristly attempt to jog somebody’s memory or elicit a suspicious reaction from a viewer… a snarky comment on us, for watching this sort of thing?

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Meanwhile, we are introduced to the troubled love triangle of three struggling immigrants – Dutch former prostitute Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), her oversensitive Italian husband Antonio (Michele Placido) and Roy the German, played as a priapismic Iago by “Howard Ross” (Renato Rossini)… just to further complicate matters, Linda is still making it with long-standing sugar daddy Professor Douglas (Mel Ferrer). The culmination of this romantic tragedy is played out in parallel with the ongoing, ill-fated investigations of Inspector Thompson (a character that anticipates the one played by Max von Sydow in Dario Argento’s Sleepless, 2001) and at some point in this bifurcated narrative you’ll twig  (and I guess this constitutes a SPOILER ALERT!!!) that the time frames are not what you’d initially imagined them to be, the past and present having been crunched together as if to underline that message about the impossibility of escaping one’s own past. Mario Landi, of all people, attempted something very similar in his considerably less accomplished and altogether grubbier Giallo A Venezia (1979) and while TPGC contains nothing like the outré imagery of that film, I was surprised (in view of some rather gruesome moments and an icky gang bang scene) to find that our pals at the BBFC have knocked it down from an ’18’ to a ’15’ Certificate.

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Arrow have done ample justice to Carlo Carlin’s ravishing photography with this 2k scan from the original camera negative, piling on the bonus materials for good measure. Michael Mackenzie presents a featurette concerning the giallo’s globe-trotting tendencies and Troy Howarth supplies a commentary track which I’ll no doubt enjoy when I’ve had a chance to listen to it. Again, I haven’t seen the collector’s booklet (confined to this edition’s first pressing) which features new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Of course you get a trailer, image gallery and reversible sleeve options.

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Best of all are three cracking new interviews with Howard Ross, editor Alberto Tagliavia and assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo, plus a re-edited archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani, all of them competing to lavish the most praise on Mogherini as a collaborator and a man. Ortolani’s OST for Pyjama Girl Case is probably one of its weaker components (at times he seems to be aiming for Giorgio Moroder but falling short at Throbbing Gristle… the dirge-like croonings of Amanda Lear don’t exactly help much, either) but in his featurette Ortolani doesn’t dwell on this rare misfire, giving instead a potted auto-biography that takes in his ongoing chagrin over people misspelling his name, being ripped off by The Chemical Brothers and his impressions of the cinematic controversies he was dragged into via his famous collaborations with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Ruggero Deodato.

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Sly old silver fox Howard Ross gives fantastic VFM in a candid, gossipy confessional that could have gone on ten times longer and left me wanting more. He’s certainly got a lot to tell, about a career that started with a literal spear-carrying bit part in Raoul Walsh’s Esther And The King (1960), where he came to the attention of uncredited co-director Mario Bava by saving a girl from drowning. What he does manage to tell us about during the confines of this half-hour featurette includes his 12th place finish in the Mister Universe contest of 1970 (a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger took the laurel that year) and lessons on screen kissing with confidence from Walerian Borowczyk. Re The Pyjama Girl Case, Ross remembers that Di Lazzaro insisted on a double for her nude scenes, feeling that her bod wasn’t up to it… Jeez, we should all look so shabby! Howard’s not looking too bad himself these days, but complains “nobody ever calls me anymore”. For shame…

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Editor Alberto Tagliavia and assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo provide between them several valuable insights into the making of TPGC. We learn from Tagliavia that the film’s distinctive structure was arrived at after two previous edits failed to impart any oomph to the narrative. After all these years, Castronuovo reveals that apart from obvious establishing shots captured in Sydney, much of this Italo-Spanish production was actually shot in Spain (much of his AD duties involving such mundane tasks as covering Spanish number plates with Australian ones). As any Argento amateur sleuth could have told you, nothing is ever quite as it seems in a giallo…

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The Mystery Of The Elusive Auteur… THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail (1971) plays out in familiar globe-trotting style, kicking off in a London that is still just about swinging (and in which Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin was shot, the same year) before relocating to Greece, where this film was released as “Dawn Of The Black Stilletos” (yeah, I remember her well…) George Hilton is insurance man Peter Lynch, detailed by his employers International Unlimited Insurance to investigate the million dollar payoff to Lisa Baumer (“Evelyn Stewart” / Ida Galli) after her old man was among the victims of a Lockerbie-style plane bombing; her druggy ex is prepared to testify that she was in on the conspiracy but gets silenced by an identikit black clad, knife-wielding assassin (Luis Barboo from a thousand trashy Jesus Franco movies); to complicate matters further, the latter’s girlfriend Lara (Janine Raynaud from Franco’s Succubus) was having a fling with Mr Baumer and is contesting his will. On the eve of her flight to Tokyo, still carrying that million around in a bag (!), Lisa is butchered in her hotel room in a scene that’s cribbed directly from a memorable murder moment in Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) and which also obviously alludes to the shockingly early demise of Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho. Enter Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza), local cop Stavros (?!?) played by Luigi Pistilli and Anita Strindberg as investigative reporter Cleo Dupont. Lynch wastes no time making out with her (good choice, considering the other two options) amid copious consumption of J&B. Lara also pops up again, only to figure in a BWTCP patented siege scene before she and Barboo’s character are both killed off. Still with me? It’s only after Cleo’s own siege scene that the clue of the Scorpion-shaped cuff-link emerges from a photographic blow up (!), soon revealed as a red herring when Lynch takes Cleo on a recuperative harpoon fishing trip and the final wave of twists and shock revelations rolls round. What a carry on for Cleo…

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For some time now I’ve been labouring over a piece (and for an even longer time, trailering it… way to guarantee an anticlimax there, Freudstein!) concerning the way the giallo genre shifted from the superficially “sexy” but ultimately money-motivated potboilers of Guerrieri and Lenzi to the deranged sex killer sagas pioneered by Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage. In the course of researching this piece I had cause to dig out, rewatch and reappraise Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970), a film which anticipates much of what happens in the four more widely celebrated gialli that Sergio Martino clocked up over 1971/2. With an impeccable sense of timing, Arrow are now debuting the second of those, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, on UK Blu-ray.

Martino’s earlier The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh mixed three parts cold, calculating killer(s) with one homicidal sex case (yep, the odds were very definitely stacked against Edwige Fenech) but the action was proceeding in a deccidedly post-Argento direction. The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail suggests that the director, his producer / big brother Luciano and prolific scripter Ernesto Gastaldi were still hedging their bets as to which kind of plot was going to trump the other at the box office. Again, both strains are mixed, though there’s a definite feeling (despite Strindber’gs character anticipating that of Daria Nicolodi in Deep Red… plus a brief and jarring irruption of Fulci-esque eye violence) that matters have regressed into something more resembling one of Lenzi’s torrid bonkbusters. In the absence of Fenech (who was pregnant) one half expects Carroll Baker to arrive centre screen. She doesn’t but there’s so much else going on in this rattling little giallo (I particularly

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appreciated the psycho’s Diabolikesque rubbber kill suit), which rolls along at a fair old lick and (if you can overlook such jarringly cheap moments as the airfix air disaster) in satisfying style. For Martino Jr, TCOTST might well have seemed, in retrospect, to play things a little too safe, which he would remedy in spades with his 1972 brace All The Colours Of The Dark (which incorporated occult elements into the basic formula) and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (a chamber giallo whose sexual decadence is peppered with more than a pinch of Poe). Ringing the changes from film to film was the essence of Martino’s directorial style…

… if, indeed, he had one. Le Dolce Morte author Mikel Koven argues in an engaging featurette here that Martino is some kind of anti-auteur, whose directorial identity dissolves into whatever filone he’s currently navigating, whose genre films are all about genre rather than any personal statement he’s making. Koven suggests that the true auteur of these Martino films could be producer Luciano, but is more probably screen writer Ernesto Gastaldi, obsessively re-refining his take on Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955)… well, Brian De Palma built an auteurist rep by Hitching his star to endless rehashes of you-know-who…

Gastaldi’s auteurist credentials are further examined in a video essay by Troy Howarth and who do we find providing the main feature’s commentary track (moderated by Federico Caddeo) but Gastaldi himself… damning George Hilton with faint praise, explaining his beef with Dario Argento (illogical plotting) and relating the corruption of Italian censorship bodies.

I’m hard pressed to think of a release whose bonus features cohere so cogently into an overarching argument, one which you might or might not care to accept. Should generate a few lively threads on social media, anyhows…

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Sergio Martino does get his own say, citing the notorious Fenaroli insurance murder case as an influence at least as important as that of Les Diaboliques… he also talks about phony credits that were manufactured to meet co-production quotas, his dismay at the overuse of zooms in his films and the ever-popular subject of J&B product placement.

George Hilton is interviewed too, revealing his affair with Anita Strindberg, which is perhaps a little ungentlemanly… even more so, his pronouncements on her botched boob job. More amusingly, he remembers his first encounter with the Argentinian actor Alberto De Mendoza, who ultimately became a friend but initially identified him as “that Uruguyan twat!” You’ll also get to marvel at a trailer that is, quite frankly, berserk.

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We hacks are never sent the limited edition booklets that come with these things so I’m not able to comment on the writings of Howard Hughes or Peter Jilmstead (the latter presumably extracted from Peter’s eagerly anticipated Strindberg biog, The Other Anita) but Rachael Nisbet, one of my favourite bloggers (at hypnoticcrescendos.blogspot.co.uk) has kindly sent me the text of her highly enjoyable essay. I particularly admire the heroic way she manages to stay with the labyrinthine plot twists of these things. I’m more down with Koven (who admits, in his featurette, that he just “goes with the flow”). The main thrust of RN’s piece concerns the way that TCOTST’s deployment of “whodunnit” themes make it a quintessential giallo…

… indeed, although somewhat less adventurous than subsequent Martino gialli (or its predecessor The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, for that matter) this Case belongs firmly in the giallo files on your shelf. Arrow’s new edition looks (bearing none of the dreaded grain often associated with such upgrades) and sounds just great, showcasing a Bruno Nicolai score that’s all prowling bass and snarling trumpets, ably echoing the work of Nicolai’s compadre Morricone in the first three Argento thrillers.

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Make A Space On Your Shelf And Several Hours In Your Schedule, Amigo… Arrow’s COMPLETE SARTANA Box Set Is Here!

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

Since its grand opening at the beginning of 2016, The House Of Freudstein has effectively been a spaghetti western-free desert. I was just pondering how to remedy this regrettable state of affairs when Arrow beat me to the draw by sending screener discs for their monster “Complete Sartana” limited edition box set…

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There’s a widespread misconception that Django is the most prolific pistol-packin’ pasta cowboy character but in fact Sergio Corbucci’s Franco Nero-starring classic from 1966 didn’t garner an authorised sequel until Nello Rossati directed Nero in Django Strikes Again, 21 years later. All of the alleged Django vehicles between those two were bandwagon jumping rebrandings for foreign markets or domestic rereleases… so Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) is true to the opportunistic spirit of those, if not exactly to that of Corbucci’s original vision.

No, the spagwest anti-hero who racked up the most legit screen appearances, by my reckoning (and I’ll happily stand correction on this) is Sartana… and we’re not even counting the bogus outings spawned by the runaway success of Gianfranco Parolini’s Gianni Garko-starring If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death in 1968 (Alberto Cardone’s 1966 effort $1000 On The Black, in which Garko also appeared, re-emerged as simply “Sartana” and there would be countless more luridly titled cash-ins, including several team ups and showdowns with assorted bootleg Djangos).

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Garko, who had amassed a respectable resumé prior to the spagwest craze, suddenly found himself in great demand due to his passable resemblance to Clint Eastwood… stick a hat on his head and a cheroot between his teeth and he could squint menacingly with the best of them (though to be fair to him, Garko took all of his roles seriously and it’s clear from the films in this set how he tried to develop the Sartana character each time out).

IYMS… PFYD also introduces his ongoing facility with gadgets, booby taps and elaborate stings, in an evident attempt to keep up with the Bonds. Under the eccentric directorial hand of Gianfranco Parolini (“Frank Kramer”), the caped Sartana’s inaugural outing also becomes permeated with a gothic sensibility which predates that of Sergio Garrone’s Django The Bastard (aka The Stranger’s Gundown, 1969), often cited as the template for Clint Eastwood’s wraith-like High Plains Drifter (1973).

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In this one the seemingly indestructible Sartana and his trademark four-chambered pistol contend with kill-crazy William Berger, Sydney (son of Charlie) Chaplin, Fernando Sancho in one of his patented greaseball gargoyle roles and Klaus Kinski (his knife-throwing character is itself effectively thrown away), all feverishly striving to double and triple-cross each other (you’ll need a score card to keep up with the succession of twists) in pursuit of purloined gold. Throw in a few implausible sharp-shooting feats, a garrulous grave-digger and a gold-digging whore or two and you’ve basically got the formula. Piero Piccioni’s pleasing OST features bubbly Hammond organ to the fore and between them, Parolini and DP Sandro Mancori contrive some arresting visuals, including some memorable (pre?) De Palmian split focus set ups.

After Parolini’s opening effort he was kicked off the series (don’t feel too bad for him, though, he immediately initiated and continued with the even more eccentric and similarly successful Sabata saga) and the four subsequent, increasingly floridly titled episodes of Sartana’s adventures were handled by Giuliano Carnimeo.

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1969’s I Am Sartana, Your Angel Of Death (1969) underplays the goth aspects, doubling down instead on those improbable (highly so, given the unreliability of firearms in the Wild West) feats of marksmanship and Sartana’s card-sharping expertise (he puts his deck to more deadly uses than even Wink Martindale could ever have imagined). Here he’s falsely accused of robbing a bank and sets out to identify the actual robbers, not so much to clear his name but from the conviction that if everybody believes he stole the loot, he might as well have it anyway.

Contending with him for it we find Sal Borgese, Ettore Manni, Klaus Kinski (as the  effeminately dubbed bounty hunter Hot Dead… you heard me, Hot Dead… whose story line again peters out abruptly) and the ill-starred Frank Wolff. Even Peplum standby Gordon Mitchell pops up briefly, as if there weren’t already enough people shooting each other’s hats off. The film’s score, courtesy of Vasili Kojucharov and Elsio Mancuso, hinges on a musical motif that’s strangely reminiscent of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and just in case that’s not weird enough… did they really have fruit machines in the Old West? Just wondering.

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The first two Sartana movies did sufficiently well at domestic and overseas box offices to garner no less than three further efforts, all shoehorned into a particularly frenetic Italian release schedule during the second half of 1970. Garko, possibly due to his stints in Rafael Romero Marchent’s non-canonical cash-in Sartana Kills Them All and / or Sergei Bondarchuk’s blockbusting Waterloo,  was temporarily unavailable so George Hilton stepped into his increasingly dapper duds for Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin. With a penchant for munching boiled eggs equal to that of the cop in Mario Landi’s flesh-creeping Giallo A Venezia (1979), this Sartana’s prowess as a marksman are risibly overstated (he dispatches opponents with guns secreted in books and even sandwiches!), enabling him to make short work of the allegedly deadly Fossit brothers, the mean Joe (Federico Boido) and his slobbering retard of a kid brother, Flint (Luciano Rossi). Sartana has his more of his work cut out dealing with Erika Blanc (from Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill!, 1966, etc) as good time bar room girl Trixie (“Our main activity here is keeping out of the graveyard”) and Charles Southwood’s perfumed, sartorially poncified and – dare I say it? – ever so slightly camp Sabata. Go West, indeed, young Pet Shop Boys.

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Pink Sabbath.

“What’s the West coming to?” one bemused shit kicker asks another as they witness Sartana’s foppish foil riding into town under a pink parasol. Sabata, in Parolini’s parallel series, would be played by macho hombres Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner… it’s hard not to imagine that Carnimeo or somebody else was having a dig, good-natured or otherwise, at Parolini here but such arch touches were undoubtedly also attempts to stop the formula from getting… too formulaic.

Garko’s back (with blond locks and a fruity moustache) for Have A Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay, which makes further feeble concessions towards shaking up the mix. This time our man’s not contending for a pot of gold but the deeds to a patch of land, under which there are… deposits of gold! Writers Roberto Gianviti and Giovanni Simonelli must have stayed up all night devising that little plot wrinkle. Sartana faces down a gun man by throwing cards at him, gets two floozies for the price of one (Helga Liné and Daniela Giordano) and his main adversary is a seemingly indolent, Confucious-quoting Chinese saloon owner (George Wang) who reveals unexpected kung fu expertise at the climax. Like its predecessor, this one boasts the cinematography of Stelvio Massi. It’s scored by OST legend Bruno Nicolai, so whatever its shortcomings (it’s probably the least compelling of the five titles in this set) it looks and sounds marvellous.

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Nicolai hung around for scoring duties on Light The Fuse… Sartana Is Coming (1970). This, the most sadistic of the series, opens with a corrupt sheriff and his goons violating a girl then shooting her father. Sartana guns down the bad guys then, in expiation of this “crime”, turns himself into a desert penitentiary run by career slimeball Massimo Serrato. The strict regime in this joint involves pissing on the inmates and showering them with acid, but Sartana’s got a good reason to check in, i.e springing his former cohort Piero Lulli (as “Grand Full”!), who possibly knows the whereabouts of the inevitable purloined gold… turns out it’s stashed somewhere in Mansfield (?!?) In the course of his ensuing encounters with Luli, Serrato, dodgy dame”Susan Scott” (Nieves Navarro) and the mandatory chorus line of madly gurning Mexicans, Sartana must figure out exactly where by piecing together their various conflicting accounts of the original heist, before the official series closes in appropriately nutzoid style, our man mowing down his assembled enemies with a pipe organ that’s been pimped into a multi-purpose artillery piece.

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The aforementioned Rashomon pinch gives the whole film a “whodunnit aspect” that demonstrates just how smoothly the spagwest production line was retooling for Italy’s next box office craze, the giallo. Several Sartana stalwarts, of course, would secure profitable employment on the new yellow frontier… Carnimeo directed Why Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer? (1972), Garko appeared in Enzo Castellari’s Cold Eyes Of Fear  (1971), Gianfranco Piccioli’s The Flower With Petals Of Steel (1973) and Lucio Fulci’s marvellous Sette Note In Nero (1970), while Hilton became one half of the genre’s golden couple, canoodling with Edwige Fenech in any amount of spaghetti slashers. Eat Your Heart Out, Gringo… Sartana’s Bonking Edwige Fenech. Now that would have been a title to conjure with…

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The features have all been nicely restored in 2K from original elements and extras wise, this set packs quite a wallop, with commentary tracks from Mike Siegel, C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke plus scads of illuminating interviews with Angel Of Death and Light The Fuse co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who offers fascinating insights into the workings of the Martino dynasty), Carnimeo and actors Garko, Hilton, Erika Blanc, Sal Borgese, Robert Dell’Acqua and Tony Askin. There’s a new video essay running down the series’ most familiar thespian faces, plus all the packaging and collector’s booklet stuff that we never get to see here at THOF.

This set’s crowning glory though, worth the (not inconsiderable) price of admission on its own, is the lengthy interview with Gianfranco Parolini, from which you quickly glean why his movies were so batshit bonkers… seriously, this guy makes look Lucio Fulci look like an introverted stuffed shirt, free associating through subjects ranging from the highlights of his wild career to the challenge of dealing with his wife’s dementia. Filmed shortly before his death on April 26th this year, this agreeably crazed galoot was still hustling – at the tender age of 94 – to get the money together for a new peplum. Argento’s Sandman be damned… this is where you crowd funding bucks should have gone. Too late for that but the most appropriate tribute you could now make would be to shell out for this box set. You won’t regret it.

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This Property Is Condemned. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Reviewed.

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BD/CD. Region B. Arrow. 18.

… and the road leads to Blu-ray.

You millennials make me laugh. You don’t know you’re bloody born! When I were a lad, we used to dream about 3 disc limited blu-ray editions of Last House On The Left, containing three cuts of Wes Craven’s ground-breaking, taboo-busting rape / revenge drama, each restored in 2K from the original film elements… plus a pigeon shed-load of extras… after a 15 hour shift at ‘mill, there was no bonus soundtrack CD waiting for us  when we got back to our hovel… no collector’s postcards, double-sided fold-out poster, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork… and certainly no hoity-toity limited edition, 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by Stephen bloody Thrower. We considered ourselves lucky if someone in ‘village had managed to get their hands on the Replay VHS release… failing that, we’d have to make do with some nth generation bootleg video dub… if we were lucky!

Hang on, if you are a millennial, you probably won’t get the Monty Python gag, either. So enough of that…

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My point, less nerdishly expressed, still holds good. For a long time, in recent memory, any uncut UK edition or cinema screening of Last House On The Left remained a pipe-dream. A particular bete noir for BBFC honcho James Ferman, the film’s defiantly difficult romp through the minefield of “sexualised violence” made it a hotter censorship potato than The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or (perhaps the most pertinent comparitor) Straw Dogs, permanent fixtures on Ferman’s (s)hit list that attained certification shortly after his demise. The film’s ongoing unavailability on these sceptered isles wasn’t for the want of trying on the part of HOF Hall of Famers David Gregory and Carl Daft, who doggedly pursued the BBFC through every available avenue of appeal during their time at Anchor Bay and Blue Underground. Ironically it was Second Sight who finally secured an uncut edition in 2008, rapidly followed by a Metrodome triple disc set that unearthed further forbidden footage from the archives, while Daft and Gregory  were otherwise occupied with their Severin label. By that time a glossy big(ger) budgeted remake was in the works and multiplex screens and retail shelves were awash with slick torture porn franchises…

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As confirmed by its debut on UK Blu-ray, Last House On The Left remains a more gruelling, challenging and emotionally sapping experience than all of those put together, on account of its moral complexity (scuzzball sex offenders who display remorse for their reprehensible actions and elicit a measure of pity from the viewer… middle class parents whose liberal stance collapses into ruthless retribution) and the sheer naivety of its sophomore film makers Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham (c.f. notable early efforts by e.g. Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi) and unknown cast, which translates into documentary-style raw intensity on the screen, focussing on one unspeakable episode and its aftermath in unflinching detail.

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If you think Last House On The Left has no relevance outside its original context of Vietnam protest era America, just tune in to any news bulletin or pick up any newspaper (check the internet, if you can tear yourself away from the latest exploits of the Kardashians), where you’ll find no shortage of stories about an increasingly feral underclass in conflict with the comfortable and complacent devisors of the neo-liberal system that created them. It will also be interesting to see how Craven’s film goes down with consumers of currently voguish Scandi Noir, which draws so much of its inspiration from the same source, Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960).

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The copious bonus material on this set includes featurettes culled from the Metrodome and MGM US releases, plus several new ones including interviews with Marc (“Junior” / “Junkie”) Scheffler (who looks like he got separated from his smurf sidekicks on the way to the shoot) and Anne Paul (who failed to bag a role but ended up applying make ups in LHOTL, initiating a career that eventually saw her making up Bill Clinton and four successive Secretary Generals of The United Nations!) Michael Gingold conducts one of those ever popular tours of the film’s locations and I was particularly pleased to see the reappearance of David Flint’s Krug Conquers England featurette, documenting the first uncut cinema screening of Last House (over the protests of local worthies) at Leicester’s fearless Phoenix Cinema in 2000, with star David Hess and Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen in attendance. It’s great to see Gregory and Daft’s heroic efforts on behalf of LHOTL acknowledged in this mini doc, some of the interviews for which were conducted by Yours Truly. Wonderful memories of a truly memorable night.

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Stillo crazy after all those years…

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DEATH Winks At Weirdness And SMILES ON A MURDERER… Joe D’Amato’s Gory Gothic Folly Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

Life certainly smiled on Joe D’Amato (b. 15.12.36), a man who spent most of it consummating his love for Cinema, cranking out literally hundreds of movies in various genres and of varying merit, under scores of pseudonyms, travelling the world and disregarding the strictures of censors, taste makers and film snobs alike, doing just as he pleased, before checking out under what were apparently “A1” circumstances on 23.01.99. “He wanted to shock and entertain and he spent a life time doing just that”, as Kat Ellinger has it in a 22 minute video essay that appears among the supplementary materials on this must-have Arrow release.

Sure, he died young(ish)… if he’d continued another for twenty (or even ten) years, D’Amato would have racked up a tally of credits that must surely have stood as an insurmountable world record, making even the indefatigable Jesus Franco (the director with whom he is most frequently compared) look like a feckless slacker. Joe packed more into his 62 years than most of us could manage in several incarnations and loved every minute of it. As I discovered when I was privileged to breakfast with him in October 1995, he was a larger than life, joyous and thoroughly charming bloke. It’s a cliché, which I’m as guilty as anyone else of overusing, but the world really is a significantly duller place without Joe D’Amato.

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Although he’d already shot several films for other directors (notably Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange? in 1972) under his given name of Arisitide Massaccesi and directed or co-directed a bunch of spaghetti westerns and Luigi Batzella’s The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) anonymously, plus More Sexy Canterbury Tales (his directorial debut in ’72) as “Romano Gastaldi” and Diary Of A Roman Virgin (1973) under the soon-to-be-legendary D’Amato brand, it was not until the same yea’s La Morte Ha Sorriso All’Assassino, the film under consideration here, that our man (previously keen not to queer his DP pitch) signed off a film he’d directed under the name by which his Mama knew him.

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Proudly announcing his arrival as a for real director, artful Aristide packs Death Smiles On A Murderer with mannered visual tricks, deploying fish eye lenses, slow motion, enigmatic cutting, extreme close-ups and vertigo-inducing repetitious zooms… it’s as though he’s trying to remind us that he once served as Godard’s assistant on Le Mépris (1963), though the results bear more comparison with the works of the aforementioned Senor Franco, a comparison underlined by the presence of Klaus Kinski (fresh from Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath Of God), improvising manfully with flasks and bunsen burners while D’Amato furiously attempts to figures out how to fit him into the narrative before time runs out and Kinski’s off to whore himself in some other atrocity…

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… did I say “narrative“? Well frankly, precious little of that emerges from this succession of odd directorial flourishes. Tim Lucas opines on his commentary track that DSOAM is more of a poem than a narrative. It’s worth noting that Mario Bava made his most baffling picture and one of Lucas’s favourites, Lisa In The Devil, in the same year… there was definitely something in the air – or the drinking water – in Rome during 1973. Lucas makes a good fist of trying to explain what’s going on but is often reduced to describing things that you’ve just seen happen. Various people on IMDB have attempted to come up with a synopsis for DSOAM, if you check out some of these attempts it might spare you the effort of watching it ten times over before you get some kind of inkling. One finds oneself sympathising with Attilio Dotessio’s Inspector Dannick when he confesses: “I begin to doubt that I’ll ever solve this mystery… it just doesn’t add up!”

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For what it’s worth, here’s what I managed to figure out. In some ill-defined “period” setting, Franz von Holstein (perennial Italian screen lowlife Luciano Rossi) rapes his sister Greta (the bum-chinned Ewa Aulin from Candy) which she regards, rather worryingly, as the commencement of a love affair. She subsequently strays, however, from the fraternal bed and into the arms of local toff Dr von Ravensbrück (perennial Italian screen smoothie Giacomo Rossi Stuart). Blaming the von Ravensbrücks for his sister / lover’s subsequent demise, Franz re-animates her with the aid of an Ancient Incan incantation (as you do) and sends her back to the Ravensbrücks’ country pile to seduce various members of the family before revealing her true, rotting corpse’s face (cueing a grand mal-inducing flurry of zoom shots) and killing them.

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Kinski’s Dr Sturges figures out what is going on (by inserting a needle into the unflinching eye of Greta) and subsequently manages to reanimate a corpse of his own with the aid of that incantation, only to be bumped off by unknown hands. Murderous mission accomplished, Greta returns to Franz but their loving reunion doesn’t go to plan – Greta throws a cat into his face, initiating a seemingly endless scene in which the moggy rends his flesh and gouges his eyes out, a scene described by Lucas as “beyond taste and terror”…

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… a description which might just as well serve for the whole picture. So what’s it all about, Aristide? When I interviewed the director he told me that he “was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film” rather than getting hung up on narrative coherence, also that the casting of Klaus Kinski was instrumental in achieving his desired effect.“For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him… because he was crazy!” Indeed… and a succession of post-mortem revelations continue to suggest that this craziness was a) genuine and b) sometimes manifested itself in repulsive ways.

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D’Amato’s success in achieving that “certain atmosphere” visually, complimented by Berto Pisano’s score (enthralling in its own sub-Morricone kind of way) effortlessly anticipates the subsequent delirium of D’Amato’s  Beyond The Darkness… in other words, you need this one in your collection, dear reader.

Additional extras include interview material briefly excerpted from Roger Fratter’s documentary Joe D’Amato – Totally Uncut, in which JDA talks some more about working with Kinsky and expresses sadness on hearing that Luciano Rossi had become a street person, in and out of institutions (indeed, he was dead with in six years of D’Amato)… also a recently filmed, career-spanning interview with Ewa Aulin, who speaks fluent Italian and these days looks like a librarian or a headmistress.

The first pressing of this edition apparently includes new writing on the film by Stephen Thrower and Roberto Curti… not that we humble horror hacks ever get to see any of that stuff.

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“A Man Turned Inside Out”… Kat Ellinger’s ALL THE COLOURS OF SERGIO MARTINO Reviewed

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Ra ra me! The man and his muse in the early ’70s.

Arrow Books. P/B. 91 Pages. ISBNs 0993306063 / 978-0993306068.

I’ve been after this one for a while and finally got my hands on a PDF version (if, indeed, such a thing is possible) through the good offices of the guys and girls at Fetch Publicity.

Kat Ellinger, a commentator and critic who’s proving almost as prolific as Sergio Martino was in his heyday, has gone through all the available material (including our interview and the director’s autobiography Mille Peccati)

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to come up with an engagingly sure-footed and wide-ranging introduction to his career, even if (as the author herself concedes) the limitations of her word allocation meant that she couldn’t always delve as deeply into it as she might have liked.

Nevertheless, over and above its usefulness as a primer for curious general readers (their interest possibly piqued by the praise levelled at Martino by Messers. Tarantino and Roth), there’s plenty of stuff in here that might come as news even to those who consider themselves well boned-up on the director… e.g that he participated in his family’s home movie version of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde in 1955 (what wouldn’t I give to see that?) and nearly made a movie with (just imagine!) Bruce Lee.

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Speaking of boned-up, Ellinger devotes plenty of coverage to Martino’s working relationship with Edwige Fenech and also delves further into his innumerable sexy-comedies than is customary in these things, while acknowledging the near impossibility of viewing many of them. Perhaps Arrow, Shameless, Severin and / or 88 Films might look into acquiring some of these titles for UK release? And while they’re at it, what about Martino’s 1993 TV giallo series Delitti Privati / Private Crimes, whose cast reconvenes the Virgin Wife teaming of Fenech and Ray Lovelock and about which the author writes tantalisingly.

I particularly love the quote in which Fenech avers that she sees no significant distinction between a Bergman film and Guido Malatesta’s Samoa, Queen Of The Jungle (1968), one of her earliest starring vehicles… she obviously appeared in enough issues of my beloved Continental Film Review to absorb its editorial policy.

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Ellinger covers Martino’s family background and the sociological / historical context of the various genres he worked in well and in discussing the evolution of the Italian thriller, picks up Michael Mackenzie’s concept of the f-giallo and the m-giallo and takes a run with it. It was also interesting to be reminded of Martino’s comments on how increasing sexual permissiveness and the reaction against it in Italy led him to explicitly and quite self-consciously impose the dreaded “have sex and die” rule in Torso (1973) and to reflect how massively influential that was, five years later, on Halloween (and everything that came after it!)

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Here at The House Of Freudstein we pride ourselves on snappy titles (that of this posting refers to the US mis-marketing of Martino’s Island Of The Fishmen, 1979) and Kat clearly does too, on the evidence of chapter headings like “Trembling Cities, Cops In Action” and “Cannibal Slaves, Cyborgs And Other Exciting Stories”. Things are rounded off nicely with a discography, bibliography and index. An original Gilles Vranckx cover doesn’t hurt, either. One minor grouch… a still from Enzo Milione’s The Sister Of Ursula (1978) seems to have gate-crashed the book, or at least my PDF version of it.

I’d dearly love to see this volume on sale in a few more shops. In the meantime, you can get it here. Hopefully the author will find the opportunity, amid her prolific other outpourings, to expand ATCOSM into the door-stopping tome it deserves to be at some point in the future.

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That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles… XYY-Rated Suspense From Dario Argento in THE CAT O’NINE TAILS

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

Due to his enhanced sense of hearing, blind crossword compiler Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) finds himself eaves-dropping on attempted blackmail while walking past a car with his niece / ward Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) outside the Terzi genetic institute in Turin. Later the same night there’s a break-in at the institute and shortly after that one of its leading scientific lights is crushed under a train at the city’s rail terminus. An Argento-patented obsessive amateur sleuth, Arno recruits newspaperman Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) to his ongoing investigation into what the hell is going on at the institute, as the killings rapidly multiply and skeletons start to slide from the closets of its eminently respectable staff, including the director’s glamorous daughter Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak), though Giordani’s suspicions don’t deter him from his amorous pursuit of her. When his and Arno’s investigation gets too close to the killer for comfort, Lori is kidnapped, setting up a spectacular denouement on the institute’s roof top…

The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) was, for a considerable time, Dario Argento’s second hardest-to-see feature-length thriller, behind only the disappeared-for-decades Four Flies On Grey Velvet (made, coincidentally, in the same year). It got a Saturday late-night screening on BBC1 during the early ’80s and tapes of that were all we had to go on for another ten years or so until Warner released it on VHS, followed by various DVD editions. Now its time has come for the 4K restoration treatment on Arrow BD, an ideal opportunity for us to re-evaluate the film hyped on its original US theatrical release as “nine times more suspenseful than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage”…

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In fact CO9T is a rather less suspenseful affair than Argento’s debut, not on account of any deficiencies in its conception or execution, rather due to its director’s impatience with the limitations of the “Italian Hitchcock” tag he’d been landed with and keenness to establish his own auteurist identity. There are suspenseful scenes here, for sure (Giordano trapped alone in a tomb after Arno has wandered off into the cemetery… poisoned milk that Giordano and Anna might or might not drink… that climactic roof top drama) but Argento signals his flagging enthusiasm for the “whodunnit” format via this film’s title (clumsily conceived to tie it in with its predecessor), by the anticlimactic, lazy unmasking of a minor character as the culprit (“We used to do that all the time”, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti admitted to me) and in the resolution of Lori’s fate (if, indeed, that is ever satisfactorily resolved) by means of an overdubbed afterthought.

Throughout, Argento is more interested in staging set piece spectacles (a body mangled under a train after head-on close up impact, the killer’s hands smoking as they attempt in vain to arrest their descent down a lift shaft by clutching cables…) and composing mannered visuals (is that our first sighting of the mythical “green puke” as Giordano’s photographer friend gets garroted in his dark room?) …

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… that are consistently complimented by an Ennio Morricone score – all staccato bass, chiming percussion and snarling trumpet – which suggests that il Maestro had been spending time checking out Miles Davis’s recent fusion explorations.

One thing that always strikes me about CO9T is its all-pervasive sense of (hetero)sexual unease bordering on disgust. The nuclear family seems to have broken down… Lori comes without parents and the marriage contract is reduced to a financial transaction for the elite, prefaced by a mandatory act of masturbation (“bim, bam!”) in the sterile confines of the Terzi institute. Has there ever been a colder “love scene” than the one between Giordano and Anna? (Things would warm up considerably, scant months later, between Michael Brandon and Francine Racette during a genuinely tender tryst in Four Flies). Argento explores an alternative gay lifestyle and examines it sympathetically, aided and abetted by the tolerant albeit slightly embarrassed way Franciscus plays his scene at the Saint Peter’s club. That scene unfolds very differently in Paul J. Gillette’s American novelisation of the film, wherein Giordano evinces a brand of petit bourgeois  homophobia that Gillette presumably believed would chime with his readers. He also novelised Play Misty For Me though I strongly suspect this is not the same Paul J. Gillette who translated the complete works of De Sade.

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Is it any wonder that Giordani and Anna go about making the beast with two backs so gingerly, given the film’s endorsement of the (once popular, now discredited) thesis that a predisposition to violent criminality can be chromosomally conveyed via the putative XYY triad? Argento plays this plot point with considerable, multi-faceted irony, presenting us with a character who champions the XYY hypothesis (indeed, their career has been based on work in this field) but feels “unfairly” treated on discovering that they conform to the suspect genetic profile. Once the gene genie is out of the sample bottle, they take the “rational” decision to dispose of those in a position to discover this damning secret, the killer merely confirming the psychopathic destiny written into their biology (and of course losing it completely during the denouement). Argento would revisit “rational” killers (or are they? Clue – check the pile of bodies at the end of Tenebrae) and Sergio Martino would subsequently make great use of this device (at one point in his kinky classic The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, there are no less than four, variously motivated killers in operation) but the giallo which shares the most interesting affinities with CO9T in this regard, at least to these jaundiced eyes, is another 1971 effort, Fernando Di Leo’s characteristically brutal La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (known under several AKAs but the literal translation “The Beast Kills In Cold Blood” is surely most apposite here). In this one a “rational” killer stages a messy kill spree in order to distract police attention from his commonplace motivation for bumping off the one victim that really matters to him, though in the film’s truly delirious closing minutes it’s revealed that the culprit’s accelerating disinhibition in matters of murder has actually reduced him to a sweating, drooling, bloodthirsty maniac.

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My screener copy arrived minus the booklet (featuring new writing by Barry Forshaw Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes, illustrated by Matt Griffin), double-sided fold out poster and four lobby card reproductions which will accompany street copies. Prominent among the significant bonus materials I did get to see were new interviews with Argento, production manager Angelo Iacono and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, who spills the beans on his late ’60s student activism. Sounds like this stood him in good stead for his later dealings with the Argento family, whom Sacchetti suggests he had to threaten with physical violence to secure his screen writing credit for CO9T. Entertaining as it is, I could have done without Sacchetti’s interview being repeated on my screener copy at the expense of the promised conversation with Cinzia De Carolis. It would be interesting to see what she looks like these days and hear her memories of appearing in this film and some of the roles she undertook in adulthood, e.g. in Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and such oddities as Raniero di Giovanbattista’s Libidine (1979). No doubt this oversight will be rectified by the time this limited edition hits the shelves.

Argento buffs will be particularly fascinated by a bonus reconstruction of the film’s original – and rather corny – ending, the only existing image from which is on the German lobby card below (and a slight variation on which is mentioned in the inevitable Jones / Newman commentary track).

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Roberto Rossellini & Ruggero Deodato, Keeping It Real In The Risorgimento… VIVA L’ITALIA Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow Academy. 12.

Brought up in a Giuseppe Garibaldi worshipping household, Roberto Rossellini considered his Garibaldi biopic Viva L’Italia (1961) as the greatest achievement in his illustrious filmography, although this expensive vanity project, financed by the Italian government to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the General’s clinching contribution to the unification and liberation of Italy, did nada at box offices. The film focuses on the final six months of Garibaldi’s campaigning, culminating in his historic meeting at Teano with King Victor Emmanuele II, who accepted Garibaldi’s gift of a viable Italian state and promptly demoted him to the sidelines so that he (His Highness) could hog the limelight. No good deed goes unpunished, you might say. Alternatively, you might consider the modesty and sense of selfless mission with which Garibaldi swallowed all this as emblematic of the greatness of the man.

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The General models Garibaldi red… the exact shade used on Nottingham Forest shirts. Fact.

A.J.P. Taylor considered Garibaldi to be “the only wholly admirable figure in modern history”. While my own understanding of Il Risorgimento is pretty much confined to my History “A” Level studies, I generally find Taylor to be a reliable judge in these (or just about any other) matters. Rossellini certainly presents Garibaldi (played by Renzo Ricci) in a heroic light, magnanimous towards his vanquished foes and refusing to countenance tactics that would rack up significant civilian casualties (“Better to lose the battle!”) Of course such gentlemanly codes of conflict where more commonplace before the Franco-Prussian contretemps ushered in the miserable age of “total warfare”, barely a decade after the events depicted here. As one of the high priests of neo-realism, Rossellini justifies his noble portrayal of the general with reference to the memoirs of Giuseppe Bandi, who accompanied Garibaldi on his campaigns, serving as his Boswell (or, perhaps more appropriately, his Bernal Diaz). Bandi (incarnated by Franco Interlenghi… yes, Antonella’s dad) pops up, observing and ear-wigging at several significant points in the narrative, underscoring Rossellini’s “you are there” approach to his subject matter. Regardless of how accurate Bandi’s reportage might or might not be, it also has to be said that Rossellini leaned equally heavily on the romanticised literary accounts by Alexander Dumas for his source material… so just how reliable is Realism? Just as the 18th Century French school of literary Naturalism, presided over by Zola, ultimately brought forth such strange, decadent fruit as J.K. Husyman’s Against Nature, Rossellini’s insistence on “telling it like it is” would, with accreted sensationalism and cynicism, eventually lead (via the Mondo school of documentary / shockumentary) to the Italian cannibal film cycle, whose own high priest – Ruggero Deodato – served as Rossellini’s assistant on Viva L’Italia…

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… and reminisces about doing so in an engaging bonus featurette here. As you might expect, Deodato has plenty of interesting and amusing anecdotes to relate and some pertinent observations on the symbiotic relationship between Italian “Art House” and “B-Movie” offerings. When he turns his attention to Realism, Deodato is on much shakier ground. After his Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was hyped with the line: “The men you will see eaten alive are the same who filmed these incredible sequences” Deodato had to back-track frantically when summoned to court to account for his collaborators’ whereabouts. For him to claim now that his apprenticeship with Rossellini  entitles him to describe his anthropophagic efforts as “realistic films” rather than “cannibal films” just about takes the Garibaldi biscuit.

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Is this guy for “real”?

The other supplementary materials on my screener copy comprise a shortened English language export cut of the film entitled, simply, Garibaldi and a useful visual essay by Tag Gallagher (author of The Adventures Of Roberto Rossellini: His Life And Films) which intelligently critiques the film while placing its events in their proper historical perspective.

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That’s The Sound Of The Men Working On The Chain Gang… DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING on Arrow Blu-ray

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 18.

As previously mentioned, review copies receive priority attention (reasonably enough) here at The House Of Freudstein. I’ve been enjoying Arrow’s BD edition of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) for a few months now, but the fact that I had to shell out for it put it to the back of the review queue. Having panned a few misfiring 11th hour Lucio Fulci duds on this Blog in 2017, it’s a relief to finally be able to devote some time to one of my favourite director’s unalloyed masterpieces. Fulci’s third giallo is undoubtedly his finest hour-and-a-halfish in that genre (bearing favourable comparison with anything Dario Argento chalked up in the thriller stakes) and arguably Fulci’s finest achievement, period (he often argued that it was, though he alternated between DTAD and the similarly under-distributed Beatrice Cenci, 1969).

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DTAD’s plot concerns a series of murders in a rural back water of southern Italy, in which all of the victims are pubertal boys. Suspicions fluctuate between (and varying degrees of retribution are meted out to) those whom the locals regard as “outsiders”… derelict peeping Tom / inept shake-down artist Giuseppe (Vito Passeri)… Florinda Bolkan’s disturbed, delusional would-be witch Martiara… and such city slicker intruders as the sexually provocative (as ever) Barbara Bouchet (whose character Patrizia has been banished to the boondocks by her rich dad in an attempt to get her off drugs) and Tomas Milian (a Milanese newspaper reporter covering the sensational murder spree).

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The true identity of the killer is ultimately revealed (to the total non-surprise of anyone who’s seen Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Fulci’s tour de force giallo from the previous year) not as some social pariah but a pillar of the local establishment, whose grisly misdeeds proceed from impeccable Catholic casuistry…

The gob smacking impact of Don’t Torture A Duckling is based upon firm foundations. Fulci’s obviously impressive cast (which also includes Mark Porel as the village priest Don Alberto, Irene Papas as his mother and Georges Wilson as a reclusive folk mystic) had a strong script (courtesy of Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Gianfranco Clerici) to work from and enjoyed, it would seem, cordial relations with the director… which wasn’t always exactly a given on a Fulci picture. Bouchet’s delineation of her character’s development, in particular, is another undoubted career peak and speaking of peaks, her nude indoor sunbathing turn herein reminds me why my heart was in my mouth when I found myself knocking on her hotel room door in Manchester in September 2013… I mean, was I going to find her topping up her tan?

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DP Sergio D’Offizi (whom, we gather, didn’t enjoy such cordial relations with Fulci and didn’t work with him again) renders the endless Italian countryside in suitably epic fashion and OST composer Riz Ortolani contributes an exceptional score, even by the standards of a career as exceptional as his was (not forgetting the angel-voiced input of Ornella Vavoni).

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Ornella Micheli (and brother Bruno) had been editing Fulci flicks for some time and would continue to do so until the relationship subsequently soured. Make up FX men Maurizio Trani (debuting for Fulci here) and Franco Di Girolamo (on board since Lizard In A Woman’s Skin) would stick with the director into his gory glory years of the late ’70s / early ’80s (sometimes working in tandem with the De Rossi clan), by which time Fulci had assembled a second dream team for his zombie-fuelled career Indian summer.

With all these talents aligned under his assured direction, Fulci was able to produce such marvels as the six and a half minutes between Bolkan’s arrival at the town cemetery and her death by the side of the autostrada, minutes which plumb the depths of human brutality (obviously) but also scale the cinematic heights of suspense, pathos and yes, tenderness.

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Fulci directs Florinda Bolkan in Don’t Torture A Duckling

DTAD also stands as a peak Fulci moment by dint of how closely it aligns the director with the central concerns of his mirror image Pier Paolo Pasolini. Both were troubled renegade Catholics. Both had tortured private lives. Pasolini was an Art house intellectual who yearned for the “authenticity” of the working classes. Fulci was a working class terza visione artisan with auteurist pretensions. As well as its obvious pessimism and anti-clericism, Don’t Torture A Duckling reiterates Pasolini’s uneasiness… and anger… about the degrading effects of globalisation and consumerism (specifically the Italian “economic miracle”) on “authentic” regional identity, the collapse of “popular culture” into “mass culture” and the widening gulf between those who benefit from alleged progress and those whom it leaves behind… issues whose relevance hardly abated in the four-and-a-half decades since Fulci shot Duckling and which have been thrust to the top of the news agenda during the current reaction against the neo-liberal experiment which had kicked off around the time he was shooting it.

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Pasolini eventually connected with his ideal authentic working youth on the beach at Ostia in November 1975, which is to say that (at least according to the official account of his death) this youth, one Pino Pelosi, connected the director’s head with a spiked plank. Fulci, in contrast, lived on through the depredations of personal decline and the precipitous collapse of the Italian film industry. As late as 1988’s The Ghosts Of Sodom, he was striving to maintain some affinity with Pasolini, though the mediocre resources at his disposal condemned that one to risible failure, economic circumstances determining all others (… now who was it that promulgated this formula?)

Back in 1972 though, Fulci’s righteous ire was a force to be reckoned with. It’s with almost palpable joy that he paints the killer’s washing powder commercial fantasy of clean-limbed, asexual soccer innocence, a vision so ludicrous that it ultimately has to be bashed out of the culprit’s head in slow-motion. What’s the last thing that goes through a fly’s mind before it’s squashed on a windshield? Or that of a killer cleric tumbling off a cliff? Or, for that matter, Pasolini’s during his final moments at the beach in Ostia?

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Don’t Torture A Duckling was shot, incidentally, in pretty much the same neck of the woods where Pasolini had filmed The Gospel According To Mathew, misidentified in Troy Howarth’s commentary track as “The Gospel According To Saint Michael”. Although I’ve picked the prolific Troy up on a few things recently, I bear him no grudge. We all drop clangers and the busier you are, the more likely you are to drop a few (not that anybody ever seems inclined to cut me any slack for mine…)

Fulci was often in variance – and in error – with producers regarding the ingredients that made some of his films so great. I’m a lot fonder of Manhattan Baby (1982) than many pundits, but it would have been seriously compromised by the omission of its Egyptian prologue, which producer Fabrizio De Angelis had to strong arm the reluctant director into undertaking. Nor did Fulci want to include any zombies in The Beyond (1981) and his original intention for Don’t Torture A Duckling (scuppered by producer Edmondo Amati) was to set it in Turin, among the Southern emigres whose labour fuelled that “economic miracle”.

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Arrow seem to have made considerably more fuss about their recent Argento boxes than about this crucial release but any doubts that they possibly didn’t “get” Don’t Torture A Duckling are soon dispelled when you see the restoration job that’s been undertaken here (fascinatingly detailed by Torsten Kaiser – who also helmed TLE’s epic conservation job on Suspiria – in the accompanying booklet). From the opening scene you’re struck as never before by the Earth tones with which D’Offizi renders both the Basilicata soil and the complexions of the wretches who scratch a living from it (ashes to ashes, dust to dust)… the inhospitably rough terrain which ultimately rips the killer’s hypocritical false face from his skull.

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The bonus materials with which Arrow have adorned this edition are equally impressive. Elsewhere in its accompanying booklet Barry Forshaw writes about the film, Howard Hughes about its soundtrack composer, Riz Ortolani. On the disc itself, Dr Mikel Koven expands engagingly on one of the main themes from his indispensable 2006 book La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, concerning how genre films would typically be consumed in Italian “terza visione” cinemas, whose socially interactive and often just plain rowdy patrons might completely  lose interest in a film if it didn’t serve up some violent set-piece spectacle every 15 minutes or so. It would be difficult to conceive of a director more equal to this task than Lucio Fulci and I’m reminded of a hysterical anecdote, related from the grooves of Graveside Records’ House By The Cemetery / Manhattan Baby soundtrack CD by the late Sage Stallone, concerning his and Fulci’s visit to precisely such a venue and the near riot that subsequently broke out. The authentic Italian cinema flavour of Arrow’s print is enhanced by the presence of the “fine primo tempo” caption, a device of which I’ve always been very fond although its appearance in the middle of e.g. Lamberto Bava’s Demons clearly winds up some viewers. In Hell Is Already In Us, Kat Ellinger argues cogently that to address misogyny (an issue without which no discussion of Fulci seems complete) is not to endorse it, deftly employing quotes from various interviews with the director to help make her point. Apparently some people have taken this impressive video essay as “an indictment of Fulci’s misogyny”… ah well Kat, we do what we can. Nice to see that Ms Ellinger’s obsession with The Monk shows no sign of abating, either.

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We’re also treated to a 1988 audio interview with Fulci and filmed ones with a batch of his collaborators on this film. Bruno Micheli talks about editing Fulci flicks with his sister and how they were both arbitrarily dismissed, a memory that’s clearly so emotional for him that he asks for the shooting to stop. Maurizio Trani (who assisted Franco Di Girolamo on the special effects of DTAD) chips in with a few of his own “barmy Lucio” anecdotes and confirms that the director was very active in conceptualising and realising FX shots, contrary to the depiction of him in the Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia (anybody remember that?) as a passive figure faithfully capturing whatever his talented collaborators placed in front of the camera. Trani also gets to comment on Florinda Bolkan’s, er, mortifying death scene in a split screen presentation (“It’s not all bad, though we did make a lot of mistakes”).

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The star herself, during a compelling interview, gets to watch this celebrated sequence (apparently for the first time) as we experience her reactions in the same split screen format. Her memories of it seem very hazy, considering it allegedly took three weeks to shoot and the fact that she now lives just down the road from its location. Bolkan’s recollections of her director recall the ambivalence I’ve previously heard from Catriona MacColl. He was a sadist on set but she loved him anyway. On balance, “Fulci was something else”… wasn’t he just?

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What do you mean… “gratuitous”?

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