Posts Tagged With: Arrow

Move Like Jagger… THE ANNIHILATORS Reviewed

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This is what you want…

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… this is what you get. Try not to shoot each other, boys.

BD. Arrow. Region B. TBC.

While Joe Zito was filming Invasion U.S.A. for Cannon in Atlanta, with a $10 million budget and Chuck Norris in the starring role, another action film was being made just down the block… Charles E. Sellier Jr was shooting The Annihilators (1985) for Roger Corman’s New World outfit, with a considerably less starry (albeit interesting) cast and predictably meaner financial resources at his disposal. Zito’s film made something in the region of seven and a half million dollars profit and was, until 2007, MGM’s second highest selling home video title (only Gone With The Wind kept it off the top spot). As for The Annihilators, well…

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The action commences with a crack team of American special forces operatives socking it to the slopes in Vietnam. Apparently nobody questioned this kind of thing back in 1985… nobody at New World, anyway. It definitely occurred to somebody that the local park setting of these shenanigans wasn’t entirely convincing, so we also get a bit of actual ‘Nam stock footage, some of it looking suspiciously similar to that used in the title sequence of Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980).

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The Atlantan cannibal outbreak depicted in that classic has thankfully now subsided,  only to be replaced by the scourge of gangs such as The Scorpions, The Turks, and The Rollers. It’s the latter, led by (I kid you not) Roy Boy Jagger (as played by Paul Koslo, arguably the oldest and bushiest coiffed gang banger in Cinema history) who enter the grocery store of Joe Nace (Dennis Redfield), one of the special forces guys we saw in the film’s opening but now confined to a wheelchair, to have a word with him about the resistance he’s been organising to their protection racket. This involves groping and fatally stabbing one of his female customers and beating his head in with a steak tenderiser. Perhaps Charlie Bukowski and his buddies are, after all, still living and dining in the area? Whatever, Dekalb County has definitely seen better days…

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Swept aside by the simple act of annihilation… murder! (Nice hair, Roy Boy.)

Obviously a fan of such Vet Vigilante opuses as James Glickenhaus’s The Exterminator (1980) and Patrick G. Donahue’s Kill Squad (1982), Colonel Bill (Christopher Stone) decides to reconvene his crack ‘Nam team to seek justice for their buddy. Ray Track (Gerrit Graham) is now a successful yuppy but years behind a desk have left him just itchin’ for action. Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (as martial arts ace Garrett Floyd) is a happily married man, possibly seeking atonement for the part he played in Death Wish (“Mugger in Park #2… uncredited”). Woody (Andy Wood) has been fighting a losing battle with the bottle since being demobbed, but a mission to clear the scum off the streets (plus the prospective love of a good woman) is exactly the kind of motivation he needs to turn himself around.

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Like a cut-price Seven Samurai, the gang conduct crash courses in martial arts for the besieged citizenry and – even more crucially – teach them to knock three times on the nearest worktop, drainpipe or whatever, whenever threatened by bad guys. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it…

 

These tactics are improbably successful in degrading The Rollers’ power base but Colonel Bill ups the ante by hijacking their latest drug shipment, prompting Roy Boy to walk up and down the high street with a flame thrower, demanding his dope back. Faced down by a bit of a drainpipe tapping, he commandeers a school bus a la Scorpio in Dirty Harry (1971) at which point the kids he’s been grooming as future Rollers turn on him… jolly good thing, too. During the narrative wrap up, the ongoing mystery concerning the identity of the squad’s intelligence handler in Vietnam is finally revealed… as if you could give an actual rat’s ass!

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Despite its magpie borrowings from all of them, The Annihilators is no Seven Samurai, it’s no Assault On Precinct 13… it’s not even The Exterminator… but it is a cheesey urban Western, so very cheesey that its elements probably have to be stored at or below 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. From those elemental chunks of emmental, Arrow have fashioned a nice 2K restoration, whose extras include an in-depth examination (a little too in-depth, probably) of the boobs’n’blood stabbing scene that the BBFC excised from previous editions, new Graham Humphreys art work and interviews with Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs and David O’Malley, an erstwhile collaborator of the late Chuck Sellier (below).

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O’Malley talks about Sellier’s unlikely involvement in the Grizzly Adams movies and a series of “Chariots of The Gods” type speculative schlockumentaries and suggests that he didn’t really like introducing any element of confrontation into his films. Those viewers for whom The Annihilators doesn’t really live up to its title (we’re promised “heat on the street” but those sidewalks barely get tepid) might well see the justice of this observation… Sellier must certainly have got out of the wrong side of the bed when he dreamed up the Daddy of all the Killer Santa flicks, the ultra mean-spirited Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).

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Rules Is Rules… Teruo Ishii Addresses A Significant Gender Gap In YAKUZA LAW

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BD. Region B. Arrow. Cert 18.

Although a perennial, prolific and promiscuous genre-jumper, Teruo Ishii is undoubtedly most famous… nay, notorious… in the West for the series of “pinky violence” epics he initiated in 1968 with Tokugawa Onna Keibatsi-Shi (The Joy Of Torture / Shogun’s Joy Of Torture) and we’ve already covered his Zankoku Ijô Gyakutai Monogatari: Genroku Onna Keizu (Orgies Of Edo, 1969). Constrained by contemporary domestic censorship restrictions on images of the naked female form, these films routinely doubled (and indeed tripled) down on imagery of women’s BDSM debasement, to increasingly delirious and (from today’s vantage point… “the Sadism inherent in The Male Gaze” and all that) decidedly troubling effect.

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Although women are routinely insulted, groped and slapped around for getting uppity in 1969’s Yakuza Law (original title Yakuza Keibatsu-Shi: Rinchi!), it’s main thrust is the dire punishments handed out to (male) Yakuza members who break the code of the underworld (give or take the moll who ends up in a cement block with her gangster boyfriend)… and it’s unrelentingly grisly stuff, at levels consistently way above and beyond the well known scene in Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1974) where Robert Mitchum cuts off one of his finger as honourable atonement for a misdeed.

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After a mind bogglingly gruesome opening compendium of tortures that don’t even occur in the main body of the feature, Yakuza Law begins to unfold, like Orgies Of Edo, as a portmanteau movie told in three instalments though, unlike that film, they play out over discrete historical eras. In that Edo Period, various samurais plot against and double cross each other for advancement in the organisation. I must admit that I found the plot of this section quite difficult to follow (Jasper Sharp’s commentary track helped a bit) but the outcome was clear enough – a stack of mutilated corpses. Fast forward to the Meiji Period, where Ogata (Minoru Oki, later one of the dreaded Masters Of Death in Shogun Assassin) comes out of the slammer, having taken the fall to protect his Yakuza master. No gratitude or payback is forthcoming and when Ogata sees how his allegedly honourable brethren mistreat the locals, he relinquishes his vows, resulting in another predictable pile of mutilated corpses. Stand out moments include somebody hacking out his own eyeball and throwing it in the face of the guy to whom he owed a debt of honour. A word of advice to Mino (Ryôta Minowada), whose criminal colleagues beat and piss on him for some misdemeanour… probably best to register your protests over this treatment with your mouth closed, dude!

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Finally, the action is brought bang up to date (ish) with another tale of internecine gang conflict, headlined by Teruo Yoshida (who plays the idealistic doctor Gentatsu in Orgies of Edo). Technological advances mean that in the late ’60s, traditional swordplay has been replaced by guns, faces are burned with cigarette lighters and renegade yakuza can be locked in cars that are then crushed into cubes. The “guy dangled out of helicopter” sequence and casino scene are straight out of the James Bond franchise (which had visited Japan two years previously with Lewis Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice) and the unlikely feats of marksmanship, eccentric whistling henchmen and prominent poignant poinging of a jew’s harp on Masao Yagi’s soundtrack, not to mention the plot device of a maverick / Ronin playing two factions off against each other, suggest a desire to cop a dollop of Spaghetti Western box office…

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… and yes, I know that virtually the whole of Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) was an outrageous pinch from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) but Ishii was undoubtedly oblivious to such niceties, more concerned instead to pack a plethora of audience attracting elements into these portmanteau pictures to tempt contemporary viewers away from their beloved TV sets. Sharp points out that like contemporary Amicus releases, these films ran on narrative patterns more in tune with people’s telly watching habits, while simultaneously serving up stuff that couldn’t possibly be broadcast on the box.

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Ishii always was a commercial film maker rather than auteur with any kind of message, as he is at great, er, pains to point out in the bonus interview here. The late director was not without a social conscience though, explaining that he stopped directing episodes in the ongoing Supergiants franchise (below) after reports that kids wearing capes were jumping out of windows  and injuring themselves.

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Tom Mes contributes new writing to a collector’s booklet that will appear in the first pressing only. Jasper Sharp’s commentary track, as previously mentioned, is useful in maintaining a running score card on who’s doing what to whom and periodically drawing our attention away from the ongoing outrages to e.g. a particularly painterly piece of composition or the merits of Yagi’s score. He also name checks Morihei Magatani’s Girl Divers At Spook Mansion (1959, below) whose IMDB synopsis makes it sound like an especially deranged episode of Scoby Doo. Any chance of releasing that one, Arrow?

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It’s indicative of this film’s severe imagery that Mr Sharp can introduce its second episode with the observation that it’s the least violent of the three, his comment coinciding with Ogata storming into a rival gang leader’s place and chopping his arm off… that’s  Yakuza Law for you!

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“Hardboiled eggs and NUTS! Huh…”

 

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Park Your Taxonomy, Mister … THE GRAND DUEL Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. Cert 15.

The Grand Duel aka The Big Showdown (or, in Germany, “Three Our Fathers For Four Scoundrels”) begins with Philipp Wermeer (“Peter O’Brien” = Alberto Dentice) besieged by a plague of bounty hunters after being framed for the killing of Samuel Saxon, the Saxon City “patriarch”. Although he’s no mean sharp shooter himself, for the first of several occasions he is rescued against overwhelming odds by the intervention of his unlikely guardian angel, the former Sheriff Clayton (Lee Van Cleef), who was dismissed for calling out corruption in the Saxon’s political operation. After butting heads through a series of shoot outs and foiled ambushes, Clayton and Wermeer make it into town to confront not only the patriarch’s bad-ass sons but also the truth about who killed him and why…

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After serving his apprenticeship as assistant director to Sergio Leone (not to mention Giulio Petroni on Death Rides A Horse, 1967), Giancarlo was all set to take up the directorial reins on Duck, You Sucker! (1971) until its stars (most vocally, Rod Steiger) insisted that Leone direct that one, too. His directorial debut finally came the following year on this, often claimed as one of the last of the “classic” Spaghetti Westerns, a genre that was already well into its self-parodic phase with the advent of the Trinity films and their ilk, wherein elegies for the sacred myth of The West were becoming elegies for the Spagwest itself.

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To be sure, TGD is larded with Golden Age tropes. There’s the mysterious gunslinger mentoring a younger man while pursuing his own, hidden agenda (which had by now become the laconic, cadaverous Van Cleef’s signature role in the SpagWest)… improbable feats of marksmanship…allusions to the outlaw origins of American capitalism… Oedipal shadings… and the telling use of flashbacks, incrementally developing towards a crucial revelation (here, the identity and motivation of The Patriarch’s killer… and no, it’s not who you thought it was going to be). Santi had clearly osmosed enough from his proximity to the master Leone to render (in concert with DP Mario Vulpianina and camera operator Pasquale Rachini) striking compositions and make optimal use of the picturesque Tuscan locations (Spanish jollies in Almeria were clearly considered an expensive indulgence by this point). The cast is populated with familiar faces from the genre: Van Cleef himself, Horst Frank (playing both David Saxon and, via the addition of mutton chop whiskers, his own Daddy in the flashbacks), Jess Hahn (who had played alongside LVC in two pictures from the previous year, Captain Apache and Eugenio Martin’s Bad Man’s River), Antonio Casale from the Leone films … no bonus points for spotting The Beast In Heat himself, Salvatore Baccaro as a saloon bar sniper (I mean, how could you miss him?) Klaus Grünberg, who plays the syphilitic, psychotic and (it is strongly suggested) gay Adam Saxon is best known (around here, anyway) for his 1969 appearance alongside HOF Hall-of-Famer Mimsy Farmer (below) in Barbet Schroeder’s cautionary drugs epic More (boasting a groovy OST courtesy of The Pink Floyd).

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Speaking of OSTs, in another tick of the “Classic SpagWest” boxes, TGD boasts a fab score from Django man Luis Bacalov (or so it is usually credited), so very fab that it’s one of those pinched by Tarantino for Kill Bill. In a bonus interview Santi leaves us in no doubt regarding his feeling about such cultural appropriation… also insisting that while Bacalov conducted the score, its actual composer was Sergio Bardotti.

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With the benefit of hindsight, such distinctions between prime time and parody can be too sharply etched… some of the comedic acrobatics that “Peter O’Brien” (or his stunt double) indulges in during the shootouts here would fit perfectly into any Gianfranco Parolini knockabout farce and anyway, even the cream of the Classics (e.g. Leone’s films) are shot through with humour, albeit of a distinctly gallows variety. You’re best advised to just park your taxonomy by the stable door, saddle up and enjoy the ride, during which you might care to consider the extent to which TGD, allegedly among the last  of the “real” Spaghetti Westerns, anticipates Enzo Castellari’s Keoma (1976).

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Arrow’s transfer does justice to the sub-Leone visuals and there are various image galleries, a reversible sleeve option and, for the first pressing only, a booklet containing contemporary reviews and new writing on TGD by Kevin Grant. A wealth of supporting featurettes include an enjoyable and informative profile of unsung character actor Marc Mazza (Eli Saxon in the film) from “tough guy film expert” Mike Malloy, director of the documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop And Gangster Films That Ruled The ’70s, though perhaps it was a mistake to kick off with the observation that Mazza never appeared in any of the stills or posters for his movies, then trot out a bunch of precisely such artefacts. Academic Austin Fisher provides a suitably scholarly overview of the main feature. Ubiquitous scripter Ernesto Gastaldi recalls the heady heyday of the SpagWest cycle (“You’d see key grips going to the races dressed like millionaires!”), also detailing how Damiano Damiani’s Nobody’s The Greatest (1975) derailed the Leone-produced trilogy initiated with My Name Is Nobody (Tonino Valerii, 1973) and offering a tantalising glimpse of the never shot final instalment. AD Harald Buggening also has his say and producer Ettore Rosboch reveals that Western veteran Van Cleef was actually afraid of horses. An interview with Alberto Dentice establishes that he remains a hippy at heart, with connections to avant garde theatre. In his own interview, larger-than-life director Santi reciprocates Quentin Tarantino’s devotion by calling him a thief and remembers his time with the likes of Antonioni and Ferreri, underscoring a theme that we’ve highlighted so often in this blog, the symbiotic relationship between Italian “high” and “low” cinema.

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Twisted Neves… José Ramon Larraz’s Mean, Mean WHIRLPOOL Reviewed.

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Now that’s what I call an alternative title…

Whirlpool (Denmark / UK, 1970) aka She Died With Her Boots On / Perversion Flash.  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

I never did get my hands on a review copy of Arrow’s spiffing Blood Hunger – The Films Of José Larraz box set and I certainly can’t afford to buy it (at this point, if you’ve got the required plugin, you’ll be able to hear the smallest violin in the world scratching away) but I did get to access their online Larraz resources while researching an interview with those comely Vampyres Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, affording me the opportunity to rewatch the director’s debut feature Whirlpool as it was intended to be seen, looking a lot better than the nth generation VHS dub of my previous acquaintance… and wow, it finally hit me what a bleak (and arguably mean-spirited) little film this is. I mean, it isn’t quite Saló but, you know, it’s unlikely to turn up anytime soon on the Talking Pictures channel, nestled in between Genevieve and The Good Companions, sponsored by Dormeo…

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In furtherance of her model girl career, the lovely Tulia (Viv Neves) agrees to accompany intense young photographer Theo (Karl Lanchbury) to his Aunt Sara’s place in the country. Aunt Sara, as played by Pia Andersson, is a libidinous libertine involved in a dodgy sexual relationship with her nephew but also partial to a bit of old-girl-on-glamour-girl action. Plying Tulia with drink and surreptitiously administered Mary Jane (Larraz’s idea of smoking a joint can only be described as quaint), they draw her into a game of strip poker and then their lustful bed. Ooh er indeed, Missus.

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Being the liberated young Missy that she is, Tulia’s quite happy with this arrangement but becomes increasingly troubled by traces of her disappeared predecessor in this menáge à trois, a certain Rhonda (Johana Hegger) who even returns in a dream sequence for a sleazy bit of rumpo-pumpo from beyond the grave.

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While they’re taking a brief break from shagging, Theo takes Tulia to the pub to score some more “special fags” from his mate Tom (Andrew Grant), after which they all go for a drive in the country and Theo takes photos of Tom tearing Tulia’s clothes off and assaulting her. Whatever reservations Tulia might entertain about this treatment are soon apparently overcome and she wastes no time jumping back into bed with Theo and Sara. As difficult to swallow as this turn of events might prove for viewers, it seems for a while that we’re possibly headed for a similar plot twist to that in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (a film which seems to owe much to Whirlpool, which itself owes a certain something to Roy Boulting’s Twisted Nerve, 1968) whereby Neves will be revealed as Rhonda’s investigating / avenging sister or lover or whatever. But no… Tulia unearths a set of dodgy prints in Theo’s forbidden darkroom, depicting more rough sex in the woods and deduces from it (in an inspired / improbable joining of the dots) exactly what happened to Rhonda. Before she can even express her dismay, let alone extract any measure of justice, she is definitively – and quite shockingly – silenced.

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Although her big screen career soon hit the buffers (with only one more appearance, as a sexy nun in Paul Morrissey’s 1978 Pete’n’Dud vehicle The Hound Of The Baskervilles) the undeniably statuesque Ms Neves (she was either Vivian or Vivien… sources vary) was perfectly cast in the role of a sexually adventurous, doomed early-70s “dolly bird”. She was one of the Sun’s first Page 3 girls (making her topless debut in May 1970) and the very first woman to appear naked in a British broadsheet when her Fisons Pharmaceuticals ad graced the pages of The Times on 17/03/71. She quit nude modelling in early 1973, expressing herself embarrassed and disillusioned, though in the mid-’80s she set up a glamour modelling agency and her daughter Kelly followed in her footsteps onto Page 3 during the ’90s. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1979, Neves passed away on 29th December 2002.

In his feature debut, José Ramon Larraz begins to embroider themes that he would continue to embellish through such subsequent offerings as Deviation (1971), The House That Vanished (1973), Symptoms and Vampyres (both 1974, with Lanchbury cropping up again in the latter)… country retreats in the spooky English countryside (as similarly portrayed by fellow Catalan Jorge Grau in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, 1974), dangerous secrets, a sense that some tragic history is playing itself out again, emergent psychosis in a milieu of uninhibited and ultimately deadly sexual indulgence… Larraz obviously experienced a sense of artistic liberation in swinging England after escaping the repressive atmosphere of Franco era Spain, but if you can take the boy out of Franco era Spain… well, the converse is not necessarily true.

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When Tulia is cut down before she can offer the expected rationale for continuing to participate in orgies with these obvious nut cases, one theoretical explanation… and the one that you might feel Larraz is nudging you towards… is that her character’s just an irredeemable hussy who simply “had it coming”. Despite the mitigating chuckles to be had along the way over some of Whirlpool’s wardrobe excesses and equally florid patches of dialogue, that remains the most troubling aspect of this truly troubling picture.

Alongside that Larraz box set, Arrow are also releasing Stelvio Cipriani’s haunting OST on vinyl, pop-pickers…

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“Cor, that Viv Neves was one fit bird…”

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When Irish Eyes Are Screaming a.k.a. The Politically Incorrect Way To Wash Your Underpants… Riccardo Freda’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE Reviewed

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Who shivs ya, baby?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

“The times we live in!”, as Lucio Fulci once exclaimed before disappearing in a taxi. “Willy Pareto” (Riccardo Freda)’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire, rushed out during 1971 as a sure-fire cash in on the international success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) didn’t, in the event, get much of a release anywhere. In March 1972 British distributor Ben Rose submitted it to the BBFC for theatrical certification, which was promptly refused on the grounds of its florid sadism. Since then it’s only been available on nth generation bootleg VHS dubs and murky DVD-Rs sourced from them. Now, courtesy of Arrow (a label which has released several Freda titles in the last few years, with Double Face on the way) here’s a spanky new 2K restoration, uncut and rated ’15′(!) The times, indeed…

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Now a more general audience can discover (and bootleg watchers can more clearly evaluate) the sheer oddness of this film, in which a serial killer on the loose in Ireland is defacing the proverbial prettiness of Dublin’s female inhabitants with acid before slashing their throats, to be sure. While TIWTTOF’s ineptly rendered gore scenes (courtesy of Lamberto Marini, who did rather better on Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, among others), nasty and mean-spirited as they undoubtedly are, look more laughable than anything these days, the very wilfulness of e.g. its plotting / dialogue / ludicrous Irish dubbing reaches levels only rarely attained by a select few, among whose numbers we can include the visionary likes of Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen.

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Whereas Freda’s 1980 directorial swan song Murder Obsession aka Fear, et al (alternating as it does phoned in-banality and such audacious visual moments as the climactic recreation of Michelangelo’s Pietá) might suggest that, while making it, he was recovering from a stroke (a stroke that he was conceivably in the full throes of while directing 1972’s batshit bonkers Tragic Ceremony) there are signs here of a director who very much knows what he’s doing (there are crane shots and even helicopter shots) but is winking at us and daring us to get the joke during TIWTTOF’s  more ludicrous passages… dreaming, perhaps, that after all this faddish giallo nonsense has blown over, he’ll be back making “proper” pictures like the lavish costume dramas for which he was noted in the ’50s and ’60s. Guess again, Riccardo…

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The film kicks off with Dominique Boschero, playing the mistress of Sobieski, the Swiss ambassador (Anton Diffring) being bumped off in the first of many not-so-grand guignol FX scenes. The fact that she promptly turns up in the boot of his limo (and is discovered there by a bored-looking, possibly catatonic schoolboy) immediately puts the aryan ferrero rocher slinger in the frame, but why is his chauffeur Mandel (familiar giallo face Renato Romano) acting so suspiciously? Come to think of it, why is everybody in the cast acting so bloody suspiciously? Just about all of them seem to own at least one pair of murderous black leather gloves…

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The murder investigation, by Police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan), is hampered by Sobieski’s diplomatic immunity so he spends a lot of time giving Mandel a hard time, to no avail, then calls in his “secret weapon”… ex-detective John Norton (played by Luigi  Pistilli and seemingly named after his transportation mode of choice). Lawrence recruits Norton to the investigation by sending some of his men round to duff him up, which might seem a perverse tactic… until you consider the circumstances under which Norton (nicknamed “The Beast”) became an ex-detective. As revealed in a recurring Leonesque flashback, this involved the enhanced interrogation of a suspect, so very enhanced that when Norton took a break from beating up on him, the dude grabbed a carelessly placed pistol and blew his own brains out. Yep, that’s definitely gonna piss on your career chips (incidentally, as acknowledged in the audio commentary to this release, the unidentified actor briefly essaying the role of that victim is a particularly fine-looking specimen of manhood).

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Norton’s beastliness is explained by reference to his own wife’s death at the hands of violent criminals, a revelation which fails to make his character any more sympathetic but significantly raises his own status as a suspect. In a clumsy bit of exposition / excruciating dialogue, Lawrence explains the film’s title to Norton… though he’s clearly confusing iguanas with chameleons. Shifting effortlessly from taxonomical error into political incorrectness, Lawrence confidently declares that the killer’s modus operandi is typical of “a woman… or a coloured person!”

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Norton starts dating Helen Sobiesky (the ever lovely giallo icon Dagmar Lassander), apparently unaware (in one of the film’s many improbable narrative spasms) that she’s the ambassador’s daughter. Looks like Dublin’s got no bigger since Bloomsday. He takes her on a date to Ireland’s ravishing coastline and seems to contemplate strangling her and throwing her off a cliff. She’s OK with this. Takes all sorts.

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Meanwhile various other characters are murdered and some gay people are being blackmailed. Or something. A decapitated moggy turns up in somebody’s fridge and every time any pair of spectacles appear on-screen, a burst of Stelvio Cipriani’s most sinister musical theme swells on the soundtrack. During one of the repetitions of the all-important flashback, Pistilli is clearly resorting to that most ludicrous of Francoesque expedients, acting in slow motion! Valentina Cortese’s excellent performance as Sobieski’s wife looks like it belongs in another film and she probably wishes it was. Confused yet?

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Understandably, in view of his long lay off, Norton’s grasp of contemporary police procedure is a bit shaky so he debates the likely guilt or innocence of the various suspects with his elderly mum (Ruth Durley), with whom he lives. I’m reminded of President Carter announcing to a bemused world that he frequently sought advise on nuclear disarmament from his brattish daughter Amy… in fact Norton’s daughter lives with them, too. He mocks his mother’s “Mrs Marples” identification of the culprit, which turns out to be bang on the money. This is no consolation when the killer pays them a visit (in drag) during the film’s genuinely shocking climax, which briefly attains the kind of goofy delirium also seen at the conclusion of Fernando Di Leo’s Cold Blooded Beast, made the same year. Norton intervenes and the killer (whose previous appearances in the film you quite possibly missed if you blink at anything like the normal human rate), apropos of nothing in particular (I mean, he’s already killed plenty of other people) jumps out of a high window, down into the street and through the windshield of a passing car, whose driver seems understandably miffed to find his shredded face puking blood all over the dashboard. It’s suggested that the killer became a misanthrope because he was gay / a slaphead / traumatised by somebody else in his family being a murderer. That somebody else thinks they’ve eluded justice, but there’s a twist in the tail. Award yourself bonus points if you spotted Freda’s cameo as one of the guys who fished Lassander out of The Liffey and… relax. You have been watching Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire.

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Things get a bit iffy on The Liffey for Dagmar Lassander…

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The commentary track, conducted by David “Reprobate” Flint and Adrian J. Smith (author of giallo tome Blood And Black Lace) strikes just the right balance between informative (they made the effort to research and confirm the existence of The Swastika Laundry, in which Dubliners could once tumble their underpants) and fannishly enthusiastic… there really is no alternative to raucous guffawing when confronted by some of TIWTTOF’s unlikelier plot developments and choicer visuals. In a bonus featurette, cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer further accentuates the film’s narrative incoherence, a quality which he found engaging in Sergio Bergonzelli’s In The Folds Of The Flesh but not here. Developing the thesis he previously expounded on the Arrow release of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Lady Of The Lake, he talks up his theme of “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Editor Bruno Micheli talks about learning his craft from his big sister Ornella, how sex scenes removed by the Censor were surreptitiously spliced back into prints, working closely with Freda and how producer Adolfo Donati was the only man allowed to wear a red tie in the presence of Mussolini.

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Dagmar… the Nancy Allen of her day.

We’ve had a few career-spanning interviews with Dagmar Lassander recently and there’s another here, conducted by Manlio Gomarasca, which starts with her oblique entry into the industry and takes in Lucio Fulci’s misogyny, Freda’s snobbery, Tomas Milian’s charisma and Valentina’ Cortese’s thespian caprices.

OST guru Lovely Jon presents a useful 25 minute primer on the recently deceased Stelvio Cipriani, pushing his claim for a place alongside the “big three” of Morricone, Nicolai and Alessandroni. He discusses the influence of Dave Brubeck, talks us through Cipriani’s deployment of music during three key scenes in the film and – evaluating the killer’s acid chucking, throat slashing MO – offers the verdict: “Fucking ‘ell, that’s some really nasty shit, man!” Indeed.

If your fancy is tickled by what Lovely Jon has to say, Arrow are issuing an LP release of Cipriani’s score too!

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… and yes, that’s two reviews in a row where we neglected to mention (until now) that Werner Pochath was in the film under consideration. So sue us!

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“The Lady Dragon Has Attacked Our Wig Warehouse!”… Arrow’s SISTER STREET FIGHTER COLLECTION Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Yes, Arrow are once again pillaging the Tohei archives, for a release that would have had James Ferman shitting bricks, back in the day, over its gratuitous nunchuck slinging and general levels of martial arts mayhem. What are the BBFC thinking? What’s the world coming to?

During 1974 Sonny Chiba had already starred in The Street Fighter (Gekitotsu! Satsujin Ken), Return Of The Street Fighter (Satsujin Ken 2) and The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge (Gyakushû! Satsujin Ken), not to mention several other features and the TV series Za Bodigaado, but such was the pressure to cash in on the box office bonanza inspired by Bruce Lee’s impact in Robert Clouse’s Enter The Dragon (1973), Sonny also found time to mentor and contribute a supporting performance to the lovely Etsuko Shihomi, herself a supporting player in the Streetfighter flicks but now spun off into her own franchise, commencing with Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s Sister Streetfighter (Onna Hissatsu Ken).

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With the occasional aid of some ass kicking girlfriends and Sonny (as Seiichi Hibiki), Koryu attempts to rescue her brother from Mr Big’s drug dungeon by fighting her way through Kakuzaki’s assembled henchmen (guys wearing wicker bins over their heads, dudes with swastikas on their karate suits, a bunch of Thai girls in Betty Rubble dresses, a Mohican tonsured blow pipe assassin in a fancy dress outfit, et al), each of them expert in various fighting codes. I love the way these guys manage to get a few licks in before there’s a freeze-frame and caption identifying their particular discipline. Who says you never learn anything from exploitation films? After watching Sister Streetfighter, you’ll never again confuse Karate with Shorinji Kempo. Hopefully. Anyway, despite Koryu’s best efforts, Big Bro gets bumped off, setting up a particularly choice, wire-assisted climactic dust-up during which Kazukaki dons razor claws in an obvious attempt to evoke the denouement of Enter The Dragon.

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Having Sonny Chiba as your support act is obviously a high risk strategy and Sonny nearly steals the show with such moves as breaking the arms of a guy who has the temerity to flash spiky knuckle dusters at him, then disembowelling a fat baddy with his bare hands (that’ll teach him to maintain his six-pack!) But Shihomi trumps this by twisting one crim’s head around the full 180, after which he staggers down the stairs looking very sorry for himself. All this to the delirious aural accompaniment of wicky-wacky guitar and blaring horns… audiences were clamouring for more and director Yamaguchi didn’t keep them waiting very long.

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Sister Streetfighter: Hanging By A Thread (above) was in theatres before the end of 1974. No Sonny this time out but plot wise, it’s pretty much “as you were”, with Koryu travelling from HK to Yokohama to locate a woman who’s been drawn into a diamond smuggling syndicate which transports its illicit goodies in the buttocks of trafficked women (“Dealing in blood diamonds is a real pain in the ass!” quips one of the bad guys in a dubious, er, crack). As if the buttock slicing sequences aren’t unpleasant enough, there’s a scene of torture and eye violence (inflicted on Koryu’s sister) which reminded me very much of Lucio Fulci’s Contraband (1980). The eyes very much have it in this film… Koryu is alerted to the bad guys’ nefarious deeds on viewing micro film retrieved from a dead man’s glass eye (!) and when she finally confronts the operation’s Mr Big, she nails his glasses to his eyeballs in a sweet bit of poetic justice. By this point, of course, it must feel like a hollow victory as most of her nearest and dearest have been wiped out in the process and the film ends with Koryu’s agonised wailing… hanging by an emotional thread, indeed.

Our girl is assisted at the denouement by a Ronin figure who initially threw his hand in with the mobsters, only to switch his allegiances. Obviously intended to invoke Clint Eastwood’s intense drifter in Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars, 1964 (itself a pinch from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, 1961), this is just about the only significant innovation in what’s essentially a cookie cutter sequel, plot-wise…

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Continuing ossification is signified as early as the title sequence of Return Of The Sister Street Fighter (1975), which is lifted lock, stock and barrel from its predecessor (and in which Shihomi goes though her combat stances in a hall of mirrors setting that’s clearly, er, indebted to Enter The Dragon). The plot (Kuryo versus fiendish gold smugglers) is another retread and the film’s shortened  running time also suggests that the law of diminishing returns is starting to set in. Most disappointingly, Yamaguchi dispenses with those freeze frame martial arts captions.

In an attempt to distract our attention from the stale plotting,  The “Mister Big” figure in this one is pitched so over-the-top, he’s virtually in orbit. Confined to a wheelchair, he presides over martial arts tournaments in which the cream of the world’s evil henchman-types fight to the death for the right to take on Koryu. Why, one wonders, doesn’t he just send them all? While we’re asking, when Koryu is fighting the bad guys, why do they always form an orderly queue instead of all rushing her at once? And wouldn’t it be more effective to just shoot her? Alas, there are no guns in these gentlemen’s bouts…

Despite spouting lines like: “Kill all pests… that’s my philosophy!”, Koryu’s foe also makes the classic Bond baddy mistake (much lampooned in the Austin Powers films) of not killing her outright whenever he gets the chance. After she’s wiped the floor with all his goons, Mr Big (whose just been outed as a War Criminal) somersaults out of his wheelchair (that’s his incapacity benefit claim fucked) and whips off his Michael Jackson glove to reveal a golden hand (exposing Goldfinger for the cheapskate we always suspected him to be) before going (golden) mano a mano with Koryu. She’s assisted in the final showdown by another freelancing Clint Eastwood type, who gets his own subplot concerning his rivalry with a Lee Van Cleef clone (!) Koryu also has to protect the young daughter of a mob victim, whose “cute” antics will really grate on your nerves.

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This particular formula was clearly getting a bit played out but Sister Streetfighter: Fifth Level Fist, a 1976 effort from original Street Fighter director Shigehiro Ozawa, shakes things up so much that it’s debatable whether this one actually belongs in the Sister Streetfighter series or on this box. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a pleasure to see the lovely Ms Shihomi doing her fistic thing… though she doesn’t really get to do that much of it here, her character (reinvented as the 100% Japanese “Kiku Nakagawa”) expending most of her energy on foiling her social-climbing parents’ attempts to marry her off to some boring young Professional. Ozawa privileges romantic comedy and social comment (notably women’s emancipation and racial prejudice) over martial arts and the heroin smuggling gangsters, when they eventually appear, are more realistically depicted (less of the Blofeld stuff but more self-referential humour, as they front up their operation with a film production studio).

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A despised social marginal because of his mixed race heritage, Jim Sullivan (Ken Wallace) falls in with the mobsters but is eliminated when he becomes a liability to them. This tragic figure is sympathetically portrayed and gets his own sweetly soulful theme on the soundtrack. His half-sister Michi (Rabu Micchii) calls in her friend Kiku to bring the bad guys to book but as much time is spent on the sexual tension between her and the investigating cop Takeo Nakagawa (Masafumi Suzuki) as on fighting. Only at the end does Kiku kick over the traces and really get to express herself with her feet and fists before another triumphant / downbeat ending…

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Bonus wise, you get another excerpt from Arrow’s ongoing interview with Sonny (Shinichi to his mum) Chiba, who talks of his working relationship with Etsuko Shihomi plus interviews with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (initially dubious about the new female star, he was ultimately won over “by her dimples and her physical capabilities) and screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda (“We wracked our brains, day and night, to come up with scenarios for the bad guys”). There are various trailers for the films and a stills / poster gallery. The reversible sleeve features original and newly commissioned artwork by one Kungfubob O’ Brien and there’s an illustrated booklet featuring writing on the series by Patrick Macias and a new essay on the U.S. release of Toei’s karate films by Chris “Temple Of Schlock” Poggiali, which you won’t see once the first pressing has sold out or if you’re a humble blogger like me.

Chiba expresses his regret that Shihomi eventually (in a case of life imitating Sister Streetfighter: Fifth Level Fist) got married and retired from action movies. Who knows what she’d have achieved if she’d continue to develop her extraordinary abilities on the silver  screen? Sixth Level Fist at least, I reckon. But I’d have to check one of those freeze frame captions to be sure…

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Is that a nunchuck in your pocket, Jonny Wang, or are you just happy to see me?

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My Brain Hurts… Siberian Khatru On Board Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

If you’ll indulge me in a spot of nostalgia (and why wouldn’t you?), Eugenio Martin’s Horror Express (Pánico En El Transiberiano, 1972) was – along with the likes of Witchfinder General, Tales From The Crypt, et al – a regular fixture on the Friday late night horror slot with which Granada TV used to enliven my humdrum adolescence. In those days of course (sit up and pay attention, Junior, this is for your own good!) we didn’t yet have the benefit of VCRs and given that the gaps between transmissions of certain films might be as long as two years, it was a catastrophe of global proportions if you succumbed to sleep half way through this or some or other horror gem, usually waking up during the credits with a stiff neck and another significant wait in prospect.

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Flash forward past the VHS era and into incipient middle age, at the dawn of DVD, where Horror Express became one of the most widely released titles on the nascent format, mostly in scuzzy looking and not necessarily authorised editions on fly-by-night labels, apparently because of a misconception that it had entered the public domain. Indeed, if memory serves me well, this is the first title I ever saw on DVD, round at David Flint’s place. Image Entertainment’s managed a decent R1 version that has been deleted for some time now and was followed  by a R2 incarnation from Cinema Club’s Horror Classics imprint, very welcome despite its absence of extras, full screen presentation and rather tired, solarised-looking print, which seemed identical to the one that subsequently got screened by the BBC. In 2011 Severin managed a predictably pristine BD / DVD combo edition chock full of impressive extras that you’re going to get another chance to catch on the new Arrow release under consideration here.

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Born in 1925 and now (if indeed he’s still alive) long retired, Eugenio Martin was an able journeyman director of adventure yarns until the success of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy (shot in Spain) initiated a vogue for Paella Westerns in which he enthusiastically participated with the likes of El Precio De Un Hombre (aka Bounty Killer, 1966) , Requiem Para El Gringo aka Duel In The Eclipse (1968) and as late as 1971 with El Hombre De Rio Malo (“Bad Man’s River” aka Hunt The Man down)

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By this point Martin had already started dabbling in the horror genre, his 1969 offering Una Vela Para El Diablo (“A Candle For The Devil”) showing a preoccupation with hidebound social concealing psychotic deviance that would be amplified in later efforts up to and including the early ’80s brace Sobrenatural and Aquella Casa En Las Afueras (“That House On The Outskirts”). The latter turns on a memorable, Sheila Keith type turn from the venerable Alida Valli and features abortion as a plot point in a way that would have been impossible scant years earlier, under Franco’s regime.

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There’s a similar faith vs secularism motif in the Spanish / British co-production Horror Express (1972), easily the best of Martin’s fear flicks… how could it fail to be, combining as it does a truly stellar cast (including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in their strongest non-Hammer outing) with some totally wacked out plotting. Said action commences with Sir Alexander Saxton (your basic Professor Challenger type, as essayed by Lee) unearthing some kind of deep frozen yeti in scenic Szechuan (in fact all the impressive locations in this picture are actually Spanish) at the turn of the Century. Later he runs into old scientific adversary Dr Wells (Cushing) at Shanghai railway station, as both are about to board the Transiberian Express. The prickly professional rivalry between these two leads to Wells bribing a porter to take a peek at the contents of Saxon’s crate. Oh, mister Porter… what he finds is a thawed out troglodyte whose glowing red medusa stare leads to prolific bleeding from the victims’ own eyes (which rapidly cloud over with cataracts), followed in pretty short order by death. Cushing’s autopsy (pretty graphic stuff for its day) reveals that the victim’s brain is smooth as a baby’s bum, every wrinkle (and piece of information that is potentially useful to a space Yeti) sucked right out of it.

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Having bailed out of his crate, Trog now mooches around the train, disturbing the genteel travellers with further eye-bleeding, brain-sucking antics. His victims’ ordeals, effectively conveyed via dissolves and quick cuts, still pack a horrific punch and really shook me up as a kid. I’m convinced that they also made a big impression on Lucio Fulci who, it became apparent to me after meeting and interviewing him, was a bit of a Spanish horror buff. The mistreatment to which various characters’ eyes are subjected in Fulci’s 1980 schlock opera City Of The Living Dead are unmistakably reminiscent of these scenes, ditto the ping-pong eyeballs which pop up at the conclusion of his masterpiece The Beyond (1981).

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Back on that train, as if all of the above weren’t entertaining enough, Martin chucks in Eurobabe Helga Line as the beautiful Polish Countess Natasha and her Rasputin-like personal chaplain Father Pujardov, played by Alberto de Mendoza in a performance possibly patterned on that of Patrick Troughton as Lee’s sidekick Klove in Roy Ward Baker’s Scars Of Dracula (1970). The Argentinean Mendoza was a busy actor (right up  till his death in 2011) whose notable Eurotrash credits include Bitto Albertini’s Nairobi-based giallo oddity L’Uomo Piu Velenoso Del Cobra (“Human Cobras”, 1971), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1970) and Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale (1971) plus the Fulci brace One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story (1969) and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971.)

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His mad monk maintains that the Troglodyte is Satan incarnate (”There’s the stink of Hell on this train… even [Line’s] dog knows it”) and Saxton’s attempts at rational explanations (“Hypnosis! Yoga!”) are somewhat less than compelling. When the train’s resident detective manages to shoot Trog, Mills performs an autopsy that presents some startling results. This missing link’s retina has retained images of dinosaurs and even a view of The Earth seen from Outer Space (Martino taking his cue here from a pinch of the pseudo-science that informed Dario Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet, made the previous year). The conclusion is that the evil entity comprises pure energy that must inhabit a host body to make its way around terra firma. The train dick’s hairy hand (hope I got that the right way round) indicates that he is the new host, and a fresh cycle of brain sucking and The Thing-type paranoia kicks in when he sets out to absorb the engineering expertise that will allow the construction of a spaceship with which to check off of planet Earth. Ultimately Pujardov volunteers to host the Elemental and, as if the passengers hadn’t already suffered more than their fair share of commuting misery, he now raises the bodies of all the previous hosts and victims as a horde of marauding zombies!

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By this point the express has been boarded by a macho bunch of cossacks, under the command of Captain Kazan, played by Telly Savalas. Ah yes, Telly Savalas… never the subtlest of actors, the future Kojak star raises the bar here for all subsequent outbreaks of scenery-chewing thespianism… but how else was he going to steal the show from the legendary Lee / Cushing axis? Obviously labouring under the delusion that he’s performing in a Spag Western (an impression enhanced by frequent, tuneless whistling on the soundtrack) Savalas swaggers around gargling with vodka, smashing glasses, ranting xenophobic invective and delivering such impenetrable aphorism as: “A horse has four legs, a murderer has two arms and The Devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack.” “What’s he raving about?” demands Mills, reasonably enough, only to be punched out by Kazan of this trouble. “Everybody’s under arrest!” howls the Captain before handing out a few lumps to Saxton, a propos of nothing in particular and horse whipping Pujardov into the bargain… Oh, those Russians! Savalas’ overripe performance had such an impact on my impressionable mind that I long misremembered him as dominating the entire picture, and it came as quite a shock on my first adult rewatching of Horror Express to realise that this character doesn’t make his entry until well into the film’s final third.

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Thankfully, Saxton and Mills manage to de-couple the zombie-infested carriages and send them down the line that sends them careering over a cliff. Great miniature work throughout, but which bright engineering spark decided to lay down a line that would send trains careering over a cliff? Even Southern Rail commuters expect better than this… and speaking of stiff upper lips, Cushing gets to utter the best line in the film –  “Monsters? We’re British, you know!”, one that still resonates loudly in the wake of Brexit…

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Bonus materials include an interview with director Martin in which he reveals that the film’s motivating “high concept” was producer Philip Yordan’s desire to get his money’s worth out of the train that he had purchased for Pancho Villa, in which Martin had already directed Savalas earlier in 1972. He also describes how Lee coaxed the recently widowed and deeply depressed Cushing back into a working mood. In the featurette Notes From The Blacklist producer Bernard Gordon talks about his run-in with everybody’s favourite Commie-baiter, Senator Joe McCarthy. Telly And Me comprises an interview with composer John Cacavas, who acknowledges how his scoring career flourished under the patronage of Savalas. There’s an enthusiastic intro piece from erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander and of course you get a trailer.

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All of these were on Severin’s BD, which also included an audio interview with Peter Cushing that you could listen to while watching the film. Arrow replace that with a useful Kim Newman / Stephen Jones commentary track. The main feature here looks marginally grainier but more a tad more nuanced, colour wise, than the now out of print Sev disc, for which this disc constitutes the perfect replacement.

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Death Disco… Hipster Hoofers Fail The Electric Vino Acid Test, Big Time, In Gaspar Noé’s CLIMAX.

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Gaspar Noé… shaman or shammin’?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

“Quousque tandem abutere, Gaspar, patientia nostra?” (After Cicero in “Against Catiline”).

Cumming soon to a screen near you… actually the spuming cocks that decorate several of Gaspar Noé’s previous cinematic outrages are ironically conspicuous by their absence from his latest, though the ugliest of all human organs can be found doing its inimitable thing in some of this disc’s supporting featurettes. Whatever, Climax (2018) still packs enough sex, drugs and violence to outrage the Daily Heil and excite vacuous thrill seekers everywhere on account of its daring, taboo-busting blah, blah, blah

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Described on its poster as being “like Fame directed by the Marquis de Sade with a steadicam”, Climax has also been likened by its director to Irwin Allen’s disaster movies from the ’70s, a description which did, I must admit, raise a chuckle with me. Beyond that, though, there’s precious little to smile about here.

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Yowza, yowza, yowza…

The proceedings open with a troupe of painfully cool dancers celebrating the end of strenuous rehearsal sessions for their upcoming US tour. Naturally, they decide to celebrate the cessation of all this physical exertion by staying up all night for even more frantic dancing in some remote hall, to the accompaniment of some seriously shit music. Little do they know that some malcontent has slipped a lysergic kicker into the communal sangria bowl. The acid seems to take an eternity coming on, allowing Noé the opportunity to introduce us to his cast of characters and their signature insecurities (“Irwin Allen disaster movies”, indeed) plus their scarcely concealed racist and sexist prejudices. As soon as the assembled dancin’ fools are all tripping off their tits, mob rule sets in… lots of fucking, fighting and self-mutilation… a child freaks out when locked in a room with cockroaches and a girl who’s stingy with her coke supply has her hair set on fire… there’s a spot of incest and a pregnant woman is savagely beaten… well, it seemed to go over OK in Irreversible (2002) and the slight return of that film’s reverse chronology gimmick reeks of an attempt to turn the clock back to a time when Noé could actually be mistaken for a director with something to say, rather than just another bozo competing with Lars Van Trier and Tom Six in the vapid “self promotion via pointless shocks” stakes.

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Tried it. It didn’t agree with me.

Climax has been dragged into the trendy and detestable nouveau giallo category on the grounds that it ends with the revelation of who actually perpetrated the 2018 equivalent of putting the benzedrine in Mrs Murphy’s ovaltine (*). Unfortunately the only possible response to the revelation that one of these unbearable characters (rather than any of the others) was the culprit is a bemused shrug of the shoulders… BFD! As well as Argento, Noé and his supporters have invoked the likes of Zulawksi (there’s an am-dram recreation of Isabelle Adjani’s epic Possession mong-out at one point) and Kenneth Anger in an attempt to boost his credentials. The director gets to blow his own trumpet on a commentary track and in a “bonus” interview. In another featurette entitled Shaman Of The Screen, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas assesses Noé’s career so far (plenty of XXX-rated career highlights in this one). Elsewhere, Alan Jones dissects the film’s soundtrack and suggests that it constitutes a concise history of late 20th Century Dance Music, for those that want one. Fine for those who do. I don’t, personally. There are obvious areas where Mr Jones’ artistic tastes coincide with my own but equally obviously, music is not one of them. Another bonus bit comprises interviews with thespians Kiddy Smile, Romain Guillermic and Souhelia Yacoub. Trailer, reversible sleeve, limited edition booklet, etc…

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“You got Hi, Ho Silver Lining, mate?” Gaspar Noé hits the decks…

Climax is allegedly based on a real life incident, but one has one’s doubts… I mean, how many of those warehouse parties and Hacienda nights, insufferable as they undoubtedly must have been, ended with a significant proportion of participating revellers being carried out in body bags? At least Noé records the whole sorry spectacle with cold, detached objectivity, resisting the temptation to render everything in cheesy POV tripovision, but ultimately this comes as small comfort.

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In case you haven’t already picked up on this, I really didn’t like Climax. In fact I’m really anti-Climax. That said, the sex, drugs and violence on display here, together with the inevitable tabloid hand wringing it will provoke, should ensure that enough units are shifted to contribute towards keeping  HMV ticking over for another month or two.

It’s no Murder-Rock, though…

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(*) The Harry “The Hipster” Gibson tune recorded by Slim And Slam, among others… now that’s what I call dance music.

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Truth With A Capital “T”? Luigi Bazzoni’s THE LADY OF THE LAKE, Released On Arrow Blu-ray As THE POSSESSED.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 12.

Successful novelist Bernardo Giovanni (Peter Baldwin from Freda’s The Spectre Of Dr Hichcock and Michele Lupo’s The Weekend Murders) winds up an unsatisfactory relationship and returns, out of season, to a hotel in the Alpine village where he grew up. Keen to rekindle an involvement with Tilde (Virna Lisi), a maid he encountered on his previous visit, he is shocked to learn that she has committed suicide and withdraws into obsessive musings about what happened to her, fuelled by gossip he picks up from local photographer Francesco (Pier Giovanni Anchisi) and his own observations of the outwardly respectable but seriously dysfunctional family who own and run the hotel… Enrico (Salvo Randone), his son Mario (Philippe Leroy), daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese) and clinically depressed daughter-in-law Adriana (Pia Lindström). Fuelled by a flu bug he picks up, Bernard’s memories, dreams, speculations and fantasies fuse in a fashion that causes the viewer to constantly question what they’re seeing. Just as you’re beginning to think that Bernard’s suspicions might be the product of an overheated imagination, Adriana drowns under mysterious circumstances… meanwhile, who is the mysterious lady whose presence haunts the lake?

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Made in 1965, a year after Mario Bava’s Sei Donne Per L’Assassino / Blood And Black Lace, La Donna Del Lago / The Possessed is as much ghost story as giallo (in the wide definition offered by Tim Lucas during his commentary track) or even proto-giallo (as suggested in Arrow’s publicity blurb), Luigi Bazzoni’s psychological thriller having more in common with Bergman or Borges than Bava. Although it’s generally accepted that he contributed very little to the film’s actual direction, Franco Rossellini (nephew to the great Roberto and future producer of several Pasolini efforts, also Caligula) is officially credited as co-director, the film is scored by his father Renzo and Pia Lindström, as Ingrid Bergman’s daughter, was of course related to the Rossellini family by marriage… things behind the camera on this one were nearly as incestuous as the familial relationships portrayed in it, inspired by Giovanni Comisso’s book documenting the notorious “Alleghe killings”. Giulio Questi (later the director of Django, Kill! and Death Laid An Egg) collaborated with Bazzoni and Rossellini on the screenplay, which can’t exactly have detracted from the overall quirkiness of the proceedings, then again Bazzoni rendered similarly surreal psychological malaise without Questi’s collaboration in Footprints On The Moon (1975) and even his straight(ish) giallo The Fifth Cord (1971) plays out as an existential crisis suffered by its protagonist / chief murder suspect Franco Nero.

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The Lady Of The Lake occupies the crucially important but critically under-explored hinterland between Italian Arthouse Cinema and the B Movie tradition that underwrote it. Bazzoni and his closest circle of collaborators never made it into the august company of erstwhile associates Pasolini, Bertolucci, Antonioni et al, nor did they ever descend to the lowest common denominators of Italian genre cinema. The dynamic between these cinematic demi-mondes is incarnated here by the presence of Francesco Barilli, reminiscing about his friends and collaborators the Bazzoni brothers, Luigi and Camillo, throwing in random bits of tittle-tattle as he goes (“Steve Reeves was rumoured to have a very small cock”). Having played the protagonist of Bertolucci’s Before The Revolution in 1964, Barilli went on to write Aldo Lado’s memorable giallo Who Saw Her Die and Umberto Lenzi’s seminal Deep River Savages (both 1972) before directing his own unforgettable, indefinable oddity Perfume Of The Lady In Black (1974).

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Arrow’s 2K restoration from the original b/w camera negative does ample justice to the beautiful b/w cinematography of Leonida Barboni (Enzo’s big brother), whose camera team included the up and coming Sergio Salvati (subsequently to pull off so many lighting miracles for Lucio Fulci). Bonus materials include a video appreciation by cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer, who identifies the film’s central thesis as “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Interviews with assistant art director Dante Ferretti and make-up FX ace  Giannetto De Rossi are highly watchable but neither of them touches upon The Lady In The Lake to any great extent. De Rossi’s is particularly entertaining. During it he identifies the personal attributes that smoothed his career trajectory (“My deep voice, my big eyebrows and my assassin look! That’s why people feared me. Everyone behaved when I was around”), recalls a run in with Anne Parillaud and confirms that it was his hand pushing Olga Karlatos’s head towards its celebrated intersection with a splinter in Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters. You also get some trailers and then there’s the stuff I never get to see, including a reversible sleeve that features original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips and – in this edition’s first pressing only – an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich and Roberto Curti, plus reproductions of contemporary reviews.

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Lucas’s commentary track is every bit as informative and insightful as you’d expect. Bonus points for twice referring to Pasolini’s Jesus biopic by its correct title, The Gospel According To Mathew. Deduct one point for subsequently misidentifying it as “The Gospel According To Saint Mathew”. TL makes much of TLOTL’s sliding perspectives and the difficulty of arriving at Truth with a Capital “T”, a point nicely underlined by the fact that his interpretation of the story’s resolution deviates markedly from my own. I think he watched it with Italian dialogue and English subtitles (as you might well care to, this option reducing as it does the on-the-nose portentousness of Bernardo’s introspective musings) while I oped for the English dubbing. Try running the English language version with English subtitles, which also throws up some significant discrepancies. An already substantial plot thickens…

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Figures like Questi, Barilli and the Bazzoni brothers represent a significant but long concealed stratum of Italian Cinema, further illumination of which is long overdue. Arrow’s new edition of La Donna Del Lago constitutes a solid step in that direction.

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Caesar’s Wife’s Blues… FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION on Arrow BD.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

Minou (Dagmar Lassander) lives a privileged life of pampered ennui as the neglected wifey of workaholic industrialist Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi). Comfortably marooned in Jacqueline Susann territory, her most significant daily decisions include what colour to paint her toe-nails, which wig to wear (she and her snooty pals all boast extensive wig collections, any of which pale into insignificance in comparison with the legendary lacquered Capponi comb-over) when she hits Barcelona’s hot and happening nite spots (FPOALAS is clearly shot in Barcelona, though at several points in it characters can be seen waving wads of US dollars around) and how early in the day she can get away with downing a tumbler or two of J&B and popping a few prozacs. Yep, Minou is bored off her delectable arse and longs for a little excitement in her life, but you know what they say… be careful what you wish for! Attempting to see off the blahs with a moonlit walk on the beach, Minou is waylaid by a menacing dude (Simón Andreu) with a sword stick who cops a feel off her and demands that she “beg for me… plead for my kisses”. When he’s done groping he disappears, but not before advising her that her husband is “a fraud and a murderer”.

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Pier Paolo Capponi and friend… anybody noticing a recurring visual motif yet?

You have to keep reminding yourself that all of this is taking place in pre #metoo days, otherwise the general reaction to Minou ordeal at the hands of a sword stick wielding weirdo might seem a little… off-key. “It was probably just a prank”, hubby helpfully suggests and the victim herself seems to take the incident in her stride, refusing to alert the police on the grounds that “they just make you fill in forms”. Later, at a hep party where ageing swingers bust their funky moves to delirious dollops of Morricone Hammond heaven, Minou meets up with pal Dominique (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro) to discuss her run in with the kinky maniac. “It means you’re bursting with sex appeal”, gibbers Dominique (who’s at it with Peter behind Minou’s back, incidentally) : “I’d adore being violated!”. No big deal then, it’s unanimous… indeed, there seems to be the suggestion that a bored, spoiled woman is just getting carried away with her Angie Dickinsonesque sexual fantasies.

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Stoking the fire, Dominique shows Minou some (rather tame) nuddy photos she’s had taken of herself and her pals (which had to be developed in Copenhagen!) Who should turn up in one of them, but Mr Menacing Dude from the beach?! He subsequently contacts Minou, claiming that the recent death of one of her husband’s creditors (from the bends, of all things) was no accident. Taped telephone conversations seem to lend credence to this version of events, and Minou is only too well aware that Peter has been suffering some serious cash flow problems, so she agrees to meet the blackmailer… but was it really wise to go in that mini skirt?

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Minou offers to buy Menacing Dude’s silence but he scorns her paper dollars: “You don’t know me, Minou…” he emotes: “You must submit your mind and body… you must suffer and be my slave!” What this florid nonsense boils down to is the blackmailer bonking her while taking pictures. With the eponymous forbidden photes in his possession, Minou’s tormentor reveals that he has faked the incriminating evidence against her husband but now has a strong bargaining position from which to demand her ongoing sexual favours… which she seems to dispense, shall we say, not without enthusiasm. Deduct several credibility points if you haven’t worked out there’s more to this debauched scenario than meets the eye and that there are several twists still to come…

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On the evidence of his Death Walks On High Heels (above, 1971) and Death Walks At Midnight (1972), each of which has its moments but both of which ultimately amount to less than the sum of their convoluted parts, I’d long considered Luciano Ercoli a bit of a second stringer, an underachieving Sergio Martino wannabe. While researching a piece on how the “bonkbusting” strain of giallo (presiding goddess Carroll Baker) gave way to the “psycho slasher” variant (and the divine Edwige Fenech) after the success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage, however, I rewatched Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970) and completely revised my long-standing, complacent opinion.

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Martino’s gialli are clearly key transitional works between the sexually overheated, money-motivated murder mysteries of Guerrieri and Lenzi and the post-Crystal Plumage sagas of deranged sex killers, mix-and-matching elements from both strains to keep their audiences guessing while simultaneously, director Sergio, producer Luciano and writer Ernesto Gastaldi  furiously attempted to figure out which side of the equation was going to put the most natiche on Italian cinema seats. No fewer than four aspiring assassins are interacting in their attempts to eliminate Edwige during The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). Just one of them is a full-blown nutzoid sex case, while the others coolly calculate the financial benefits potentially accruing from her demise. Subsequent Martino efforts essentially reshake the mix while refreshing the flavour with such incidental distractions as a black magic cult (in All The Colours Of The Dark, 1972) and the boho / Poe stylings of the same year’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key.  Martino finally came down firmly in psycho killer territory with Torso (produced by Carlo Ponti in 1973), which stripped the narrative right down to “pretty girls vs drooling loony” basics, with the most sexually conservative girl surviving the kill spree… establishing, in the process, the template for the whole American slasher / splatter phenom.

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From Copenhagen with love…

FPOALAS was released over the last two months of 1970 in Northern Italian cities and during early ’71 in the South. In other words, it was an earlier response to TBWTCP than any of those Martino pictures and anticipates several of their recurring narrative strategies. Like Fenech’s Mrs Wardh, Minou responds to marital neglect by drifting into an abusive S/M relationship with a cad, here the prolific and still busy Simón Andreu, who would combine the neglectful and sadistic male roles in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride, two years later (his roles in both films are so archetypal that his characters in each remain unnamed!) Just like Ivan Rassimov, who would subsequently take the corresponding role in Martino’s thrillers, Andreu tends to lurk in the shadows or barely glimpsed through rain-streaked windows, turning up at pivotal plot moments to further turn the screws on the increasingly desperate heroine. The ease with which Dominique converts Minou to the joys of amateur Porn prefigures Edwige Fenech’s rapid recruitment to a Satanic cult when Marina Malfatti suggests it might remedy her conformist malaise in All The Colours Of The Dark… jeez, Lassander even does the “take a shower in your slip” thing before it ever occurred to Edwige Fenech to do so!

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What really clinches FPOALAS’s place as a seminal text in the discourse between the bonkbusting and Argentoesque substreams of giallo is the self-consciousness with which the conspiring characters discuss precisely this dichotomy.  “You want to defeat me with your money… you’re trying to make a fool of me!” chides Mr Menacing when Minou attempts to buy him off: “Both of you think that your money can buy anything. You’re like animals, yet you call me mad!” “He’s crazy…” Minou confides to Dominique ” he doesn’t think like other people, there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do next”. As it happens, he’s only playing a role, but acts it out so (over)enthusiastically that he ends up spoiling the scam that his puppet-master (guess who) had devised. “He enjoyed playing the maniac and forgot I was paying him to follow instructions” complains the actual culprit behind this whole tawdry affair, before the cops arrive and gun him down… but if Andreu’s anaemic antics during this film (which amount to handing out a few superficial scratches with that sword stick) constitute him “going over the top” as a sex killer, one can only wonder what a half-assed attempt by him could possibly have looked like! The “rational” motive for all the unseemly shenanigans in Ercoli’s film, furthermore, when ultimately revealed, makes no sense whatsoever… I mean, I know there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on in Italy during the ’70s, but has there ever been a time (anywhere?) when insurance companies paid out on suicides?

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Luciano Ercoli (who also produced FPOALAS… Ernesto Gastaldi, still working through his obsession with Les Dialoboliques, wrote it) retired from the film biz after inheriting a fortune in the mid ’70s, presumably to enjoy the J&B quaffing, leisured lifestyle with his muse Navarro (who carried on acting – in several Joe D’Amato titles, among others… till 1989). Hopefully they spent their time until Ercoli’s death in March 2015 more harmoniously than Peter and Minou. The interviews with them on the supplementary materials for this release, conducted in their ostentatiously luxurious Barcelona apartment, rather suggest that they did. Indeed, Ercoli seems so happy with his lot that in his closing remarks he expresses the desire to live another 82 years, setting up the featurette’s final ironic caption. Gastaldi also has his say on their collaboration. Much of this material seems to have been re-edited from Arrow’s earlier releases of Death Walks On High Heels / At Midnight.

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Among the other extras, aside from the expected trailer, soundtrack nabob Lovely Jon illuminates the working relationship between “The Big Three” (Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Alessandro Alessandroni (from the privileged position of having himself collaborated with Alessandroni) and suggests that Nicolai, in particular, has been given short shrift, credits-wise, in relation to Morricone (Billy Strayhorn suffered much the same in his collaborations with Duke Ellington). Lovely Jon also takes the time to credit the contributions of the angelically voiced Edda Dell’Orso, among others. There’s a lengthy and revealing interview with Lassander, conducted by the inestimable Steve Green on stage at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in 2016. During her commentary track, Kat Ellinger eloquently champions pre-Argento, non-Bava gialli with reference to Michael Mackenzie’s “F-giallo” / “M-giallo” schemata. I’m not altogether convinced by this distinction… is Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story (which we’ll be reviewing shortly), for instance, an “F-giallo” or an “M-giallo”? A social media friend (and if I could remember who it was, I’d give them due credit) drew what is, for me, a wittier and more useful distinction between “60s scheming gialli and 70s stabby gialli”. If anything, the current background buzz over Umberto Lenzi and Romolo Guerrieri’s early Italian thrillers gives me grounds for optimism that Arrow might be preparing long overdue BD releases for them. Mr Mackenzie, incidentally, contributes an essay on FPOALAS in the illustrated collector’s booklet that accompanies the first pressing of this edition, but not the screeners that we hacks get.

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Quite aside from all the worthy extras, the main feature’s colour palette is presented here with significantly more nuance, vibrancy and general oomph than on Blue Underground’s previous DVD release… suitable grounds for an upgrade.

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“I hope you threw that cucumber in the bin afterwards!”

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