Posts Tagged With: Arrow

“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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Bring Me The Head Of Cisco Delgardo! TEXAS, ADIOS Reviewed

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Django unradicalised?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 12.

Sharp shooting Texan Sheriff Burt Sullivan (Franco Nero) takes his kid brother Jim (Alberto Dell’Acqua) south of the border to on a mission to collar Cisco Delgado (José Suárez), the sadistic grandee who murdered his father. Along the way they encounter Mexican insurgents but are less concerned with Revolution than the revelation that Delgado fathered Jim after raping their mother…

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Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios and Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time were the earliest Westerns to star Franco Nero in the immediate aftermath of Sergio Corbucci’s seminal Django (all three films hail from 1966). Consequently both of them were among the first of countless Italian Oaters to suffer retitlings as phoney entries (Baldi’s film became “Django The Avenger” for its German release) in a “Django series” that actually only ever included one official sequel, Nello Rossati’s Django Strikes Again (1987).

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Nero himself states, in the bonus material on this release, that Texas Adios isn’t a “proper” Spaghetti Western, being more closely patterned on American avatars than the innovations of Corbucci and of course Sergio Leone. In another featurette, pundit Austin Fisher embellishes the point, observing that the film dips its toes into the Mexican Revolution without displaying any of the political consciousness that would subsequently emerge in the likes of Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet For The General (1967), Sergio Sollima’s Face To Face (also 1967), Giulio Petroni’s Tepepa (1969) or Corbucci’s Companeros! (1970).

 

 

Although its story is, at superficial glance, simple stuff (encapsulated in its trailer, above, as “the story of a Texan’s Fued”), a more considered viewing of Texas, Adios reveals that its SpagWest credentials can’t be dismissed quite so easily. Like the Leone films and Corbucci’s Django (channeling Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, 1961 and ultimately Goldoni’s 18th Century farce The Servant Of Two Masters) you get a protagonist who’s playing various factions off against each other and there is stuff here about the awakening revolutionary conscience, albeit not so artfully played as by Gian Maria Volontè, as El Cuncho, in A Bullet For The General (whose “Yankees go home” message was quite explicit, whereas in Baldi’s film the peons pine for an injection of American democracy / capitalism to help them throw off the shackles of Spanish feudalism). Baldi also deploys emotionally charged flashbacks in the Leone style, albeit nowhere near as effectively (then again, name me any director who uses flashbacks more incisively than Leone).

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The Gothic overtones of Django (pushed to their limits in Giuli Questi’s Django Kill! / If You Live, Shoot!, 1967) continue to reverberate in this film’s sickly Oedipal ambience and the many acts of casual sadism it contains. Or once contained… branding scenes have been clumsily excised from the print sourced here. It’s too long since I watched Aktiv’s VHS release of Texas, Adios for me to recall whether they were included in that, ditto the occasional print damage, variable colour and moments of wonky focus on this 2K BD restoration.

The redoubtable cinematography of Enzo Barboni (another Django holdover) allows the hills of Almeria to pass nicely for the Sierra Madre and an honourable mention must also go to the macabre mariachi music of Antón García Abril (working his way up to the  unforgettably atmospheric scores he conceived for Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead films) and his main title theme (available on Parade Records, apparently) is belted out in suitably melodramatic style by Don Powell (not the Slade drummer, surely?)

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Apart from the already mentioned extras, there’s an informative and amusing interview with Alberto Dell’Acqua (billed as “Cole Kitisch”!) Yes, Dell’Acqua is one of the legendary stunt specialist family that also produced Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano. Spagwest buffs C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Park supply the audio commentary and co-writer Franco Rossetti is interviewed, in what looks like an off-cut from a session that’s already featured on some other release which I haven’t caught up with yet. The trailer and a gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegel Archive complete the bonus materials… the ones I’ve seen, anyway. You’ll also benefit from a booklet including contemporary reviews and new writing on the film by Howard Hughes, if you buy the first pressing… and why wouldn’t you? Texas, Adios is perhaps more evolutionary than revolutionary in its approach but does enough to earn itself a respectable place in the SpagWest firmament.

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As if anticipating the accusation that his Westerns were somehow too conservative, Baldi subsequently made such Oater oddities as 1971’s Blindman (starring Ringo Starr) and the 3-D effort Comin’ At Ya (1981) also the execrable Terror Express (1980), a late arriving entry in Italy’s interminable series of Last House On The Left clones and arguably the most reprehensible of the lot.

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A pistol for Ringo…

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(Not) Mucho Denero… DE NIRO AND DE PALMA, THE EARLY FILMS Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

For some time now, I’ve been promising / threatening “a major piece” on Brian De Palma (“major” in terms of the amount of time I’ve devoted to drafting and redrafting it, if nothing else) but every time I think I’ve got a handle on this subject, some new subtlety or bit of connectedness in something I watch or re-watch makes me despair of ever managing anything like a definitive take (or even my definitive take) on the complexities of his oeuvre. A review copy of Arrow’s Carrie BD previously obliged me to write something about that one in these pages and for the same reason, the necessity now arises to post something about that label’s “De Niro And De Palma, The Early Films” set, comprising the restored anti-establishment triptych The Wedding Party (1963/9), Greetings (1968) and Hi Mom! (1970).

Tim Lucas’s oft-quoted (frequently on this blog) axiom that “you can’t really say you’ve seen one Jesus Franco film till you’ve seen them all” is doubly applicable to the work of De Palma, whose schematic grasp of what he was going to do with his career is evident from his earliest days behind a camera, during which he lay down markers as bold and intentional as any classical historian embarking upon their magnum opus… indeed, the works of Thucydides, Sallust or Livy are probably more apt points of comparison for De Palma than the filmographies of such contemporaries as Spielberg or Lucas. That might seem like a bold and / or eccentric claim but stick with me and I’ll try to justify it as we go…

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The Wedding Party (co-directed with Wilford Leach and Cynthia Munroe) is a black and white comedy of manners in which young science fiction writer Charlie (Charles Pfluger), on the eve of his wedding to Josephine (Jill Clayburgh), gets cold feet about assimilating into her upper crust family. His misgivings are fuelled by his picaresque friends / ushers Alistair (Bill Finley) and Cecil (De Niro, billed as “Denero” though he didn’t make mucho on this movie… fifty bucks, legend has it). Charlie’s increasingly desperate attempts to escape are underlined by De Palma’s bag of silent movie tricks (always showing his directorial hand… always reminding you that you are watching a movie) but ultimately, the groom makes it down the aisle for an unexpectedly (in retrospect) conservative ending. The central characters are vaguely dissatisfied with what society has to offer them (TWP now reads like some kind of precursor to the likes of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, 1967) but no clear alternatives seem to be presenting themselves… yet.

On this outing neither Finley (who subsequently amassed a respectable CV, notably in De Palma and Tobe Hooper pictures) nor De Niro (no introduction required) particularly outshine Pfluger, who disappeared without a trace after The Wedding Party. The film itself, shot in 1963, remained on the shelf until interest in RDN started to take off, not least on account of Greetings, which predates by a year the more celebrated Easy Rider (1969) as the first alt.Hollywood film.

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Taking its title from the opening line of a draft induction letter, this one begins with a shot of a TV on which President Johnson is addressing supporters, explicitly linking victory in Vietnam to social progress at home (turns out, in hindsight, that neither was possible). One strongly suspects that De Palma is all-too hip to the parallels with (here it comes) Thucydides, whose History Of The Peloponnesian War (written circa 431 BC) struggles with the paradox of Athens’ Golden Age of Democracy being sustained by bully boy tactics abroad (“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must…”) Of course domestic life in America’s nascent Golden Age (proclaimed by LBJ in a winking paraphrase of Harold MacMillan), as lived by another trio of proto-slackers (De Niro as “Jon Rubin”, Gerrit Graham as “Lloyd Clay” and another one shot actor, Jonathan Warden as “Paul Shaw”) consists less of civic virtue than pursuing their ongoing obsessions with getting laid (Paul) or at least copping a look at unsuspecting women (Jon), figuring out who killed Kennedy (Lloyd) and dodging that draft (all of them!) while serving De Palma’s own insatiable obsession with the act of filming, itself.

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The cinematic techniques calling attention to themselves here are, appropriately, more Bertolt Brecht than Buster Keaton, with jump cuts (Godard, of course, looms large) and scant regard for the proverbial fourth wall. De Palma repeatedly identifies looking / filming as an aggressive act of intrusion to the point where Rubin, the only character who does end up in Vietnam, closes the picture by re-staging one of his voyeuristic phony screen tests with a captured Vietcong girl… the proverbial “masculine gaze” writ geopolitically large.

Indeed, when one of Paul’s computer dates shows disturbing signs of autonomous sexual spontaneity he calls in Lloyd, who inks bullet entry and exits points on her naked body to illustrate a point from his relentless mission to debunk the findings of the Warren Commission, a scene which anticipates Ballard (whose The Atrocity Exhibition was published in 1970) as much as it echoes Blow Up (referenced implicitly and explicitly throughout Greetings and far from the last word on Antonioni’s 1966 masterpiece in the filmography of BDP), in the process earning Greetings American cinema’s first ‘X’ Certificate (beating out Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy by a fortnight). The boys’ haphazardly related amatory exploits recall those of Encolpius, Ascyltos and Giton in the pages of Petronius, usefully reminding us of the original derivation of the term “satire”.

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The radicalisation of Robert 1) Reading case studies on voyeurism in Greetings (1968)

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The radicalisation of Robert 2) Reading The Urban Guerilla in Hi, Mom! (1970)

By the end of Greetings Paul’s endless sexual quest seems to have consigned and confined him to a porno loop that Jon picks up from some guy in a dirty mac and Lloyd’s paranoia is vindicated when he’s shot down on account of whatever insight into the JFK conspiracy he might have gleaned. Jon, ironically the last man standing, returns home from ‘Nam to pursue his voyeuristic activities in Hi, Mom! (which co-writer / co-producer Chuck Hirsch insists should have been released as “Son Of Greetings”). When his pitch for a “Peep TV show” (which wouldn’t look out-of-place in the gallery of grotesqueries that is today’s “Reality TV”) gets turned down by a smut producer, Jon trades in his camera for a TV set and randomly tunes into a community arts channel covering an agitprop theatre troupe (including the blacked up Gerrit Graham) who are staging Be Black Baby, a “happening” designed to acquaint complacent whites with the realities of negro life in ’60s America. Rubin signs up to play “a Pig” and psyches himself up by having an argument with a mop in an astonishing dry run for De Niro’s celebrated “You talkin’ to me?” routine in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s a toss up as to which is the more fun, watching this or the various bull sessions on draft dodging in Greetings, wherein De Niro (of all people) method acts a method actor… I wonder what method acting tricks he fell back on to pull off that performance?

The white middle class punters are duly roughed up, robbed and sexually assaulted but leave thankful for having been granted a “real experience”. “The more you rape their senses…” as Ruggero Deodato would have it “… the more they like it”. Presumably nowdays these guys would be sufficiently confident in their right-on personnas to refer to fellow whites as “gammon” (admittedly an equal opportunities bit of nastiness that’s obnoxious to Caucasians, Jews and Muslims alike).

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The continuing radicalisation of Robert: Hi, Mom! (1970)…

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… and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)

When the Be Black Baby players progress to armed insurrection with fatal consequences (chiefly for themselves), Rubin appears to settle for the straight life, becoming an insurance salesman and setting up home with Judy (Jennifer Salt), only to conclude the picture by dynamiting their apartment block into rubble. It’s here that De Palma explicitly sets out the mission statement (joining the mainstream and using his privileged position within it to propagate his own subversive messages) to which he has adhered so impressively throughout his magnificent career. Hm, maybe I’ll write something about that one of these days…

Supplementary materials include a new Greetings commentary by Glenn Kenny (the author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor), Howard S. Berger’s authoritative and engaging take on De Palma’s early films and interviews with Chuck Hirsch. The Hi, Mom! trailer and PDF of the Greetings press book were present and correct on the two (out of three) discs I received but the advertised interviews with actors Gerrit Graham and Peter Maloney were conspicuous by their absence so I can’t tell you anything about those, nor the limited collector’s edition booklet featuring new writing on the films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas and Christina Newland, alongside an archive interview with De Palma and Hirsch. Then again, any attempt to see and comprehend everything is always doomed to failure in the De Palmian universe and even after an incomplete viewing, I have no problem declaring this one of the essential releases of 2018.

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Greetings: Howard Thompson’s perspicacious NY Times review included the line: “Of… Robert De Niro and Jonathan Warden, the latter at least gives some evidence of talent”.

Despite Mrs F’s urgings, I have steadfastly resisted the temptation to sneak another classical allusion into this piece about Italian-American film luminaries, namely that hoary old gag about Euripedes…

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The Joy Of Pinky Violence… ORGIES OF EDO Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

By the late 1960s the Japanese were in the throes of a collective love affair with their TV sets and it was clearly going to take more than another cycle of yakuza epics to tempt them back into movie theatres. The ruthlessly commercial Toei Studio was ready for a change and so was director Teruo Ishii (who had directed no less than ten episodes of the Abashiri Prison series in two years!) So was born the “pinky violence” / “abnormal love” series, inaugurated with Ishii’s  The Joy Of Torture / Shogun’s Joy Of Torture in 1968. Prohibited from depicting explicit sex or even full frontal female nudity, these films doubled… nay, tripled down on BDSM imagery, to increasingly delirious effect.

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The überprolific Ishii’s fourth entry in the series, Orgies Of Edo (1969), like its predecessors, examines the Edo (Tokugawa) era of Japanese history (1603-1868), continuing to explore the proposition that a world of psychosexual malaise underlay that ostensibly serene and prosperous period. It’s not entirely inconceivable that criticisms of contemporary Japanese society were being implied and inferred… whatever, the film’s gleeful “News Of The Screws” style moralistic condemnation of “abnormal love” enabled its makers to have their cake and eat it, a framing device involving the idealistic doctor Gentatsu (Teruo Yoshida), who encounters the casualties of assorted carnal excesses, enhancing its credentials as some kind of cautionary “sexual hygiene” film.

The first segment of this infernal triptych involves Oito (Masumi Tachibana), a naive girl who is lured into a life of prostitution by smarmy conman Hanji (Toyozō Yamamoto). Her Hogarthian harlot’s progress terminates when, having become pregnant, she is beaten by a Madame in an attempt to induce a miscarriage. Her dying plea is that Hanji and her callous sister (with whom he was conducting an affair behind her back) be looked after. Gentatsu wishes he could have saved her life by removing the dead foetus via the Western method of Caesarian section … hold on there doc, you’ll get your chance.

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The second episode introduces us to Ochise (Mitsuko Aoi), a respectable merchant’s daughter who rides her devoted servant Chôkichi (Akira Ishihama) around like a horse and enlists his aid in recruiting deformed and disfigured men for her to enjoy rough sex with. Dwarves… the disabled… none of this is particularly PC but when Ochies’s Jonesing for “repulsive” men drives her into the arms of a black guy… well, they don’t make ’em like this any more and it’s probably just as well. When Dr G hypnotises Ochie, the root of all this perving is revealed… as a young woman she was kidnapped and abused by a man with burn marks on his face. Before she can derive any benefit from this insight, Chôkichi scars his own face in the hope of bedding his mistress but while attempting to monopolise her affections by scarring her, too, he inadvertently administers a fatal wound to her throat. Ochie forgives him as she dies… don’t you just love a happy ending?

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Finally, a depraved lord (Asao Koike) who thinks nothing of dragging women behind his horse and setting charging bulls on them draws the line when he finds out that one of his concubines has been involved in a sexual liaison with her dog! He expresses his disapproval of this by having her painted gold so that she’ll expire, Shirley Eaton style, but before this can be completed she reveals to him that his favourite mistress Omitsu (Miki Obana), whose debauched enthusiasm for rope bondage and cutting matches his own and who’s pregnant with his child, is actually his own daughter. As his Lordship succumbs to madness and the place burns down, House Of Usher style, Doctor Gentatsu gets to do his C-section (a scene that’s both risible and rather icky) and bears the child away, advising it as they (literally) head off into the sunset: “You must live, despite your burden. Resist madness and put all your strength into this precious life”.

Despite its hypocritical moralistic veneer, Orgies of Edo is a truly Sadean film, extolling the joys of individual sexual satisfaction, whatever its consequences, over a life of stifling social conformity. Obviously a pointer towards such increasingly delirious and surreal Ishii offerings as Horrors Of Malformed Men (1969) and Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) it’s also a down-market predecessor of e.g. Oshima’s Ai No Corrida (1976).

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Patrick Macias contributes a video appreciation, as well as liner notes (I haven’t yet seen the booklet accompanying this release) and you also get an amazing trailer that never knowingly understates this film’s salacious selling points: “Surpassing the unique The Joy Of Torture… uproarious scenes of sado-masochism… in the chaos of this world, madness and derangement… a tale of cruelty and perversion… a must see for all adults… a perfect study in debauchery in this highly controversial piece of work… once seen, never forgotten… women’s bodies in sexual ecstasy… sweet perversion… one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look at theses numerous ancient forms of torture… new face of Playboy 1968 – Masumi Tachibana… with her 40 inch bust – Reiko Misaka… plus over 200 nude stars… only Toei could make this unusual yet stimulating film… more than 30 minutes is life-threatening… the agonising torture of being lacquered in gold… a magnificent spectacle!”

Hold the fucking phone… “one hour and fifty minutes of trying not to look”? The version I just watched clocked in at barely more than an hour-and-a-half. Is there more of this in somebody’s vault somewhere? Saints preserve us!

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Gold…

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… Minger.

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(Throwing) Stars In His Eyes… Jim Van Bebber’s DEADBEAT AT DAWN Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

They say that there are only five or six stories in the world and thereafter, just different ways of telling them. During the composition of this review I was exposed to Mandy, in which Nicolas Cage goes on a rampage of revenge against the bad guys who killed his girl… a synopsis that hardly does justice to Panos Cosmatos’ astonishing vision but when you get right down to it, that’s what it’s all about. Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat At Dawn (1988) is nothing like as druggy a film as Mandy (though various comments in the supplementary materials suggest that a lot more drugs were consumed during its four-year production) and clearly made on a fraction of Mandy’s budget, but sure as goose shit, it follows (give or take a Cenobite biker or two) the same narrative arc.

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As well as writing, directing, editing, choreographing fights, performing stunts and applying make-up (he probably knocked up lunch every day, too) Van Bebber stars as Goose, a prominent member of the Ravens, battling for turf against rival gang the Spiders on the mean street of Dayton, Ohio… the only trick JVB missed, perhaps, was not composing a couple of  West Side Story-style numbers for the OST. When Goose’s girl Christy (Meghan Murphy) is offed by a Spider, he ransacks his arsenal of nunchakus, shurikens and manrikigurasis (you bet your ass James Ferman stamped all over this one when Dave Gregory and Carl Daft submitted it for home video release, back in the day) and we’re off, on a relentless gonzo adrenaline rush to a predictably bleak denouement.

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Arrow have done a creditable job here of making a thirty year old 16mm effort look as good as its ever going to and the assembled array of impressive extras serve as a primer for any unwary aspirant regarding the level of dedication required of the zero budget auteur (Nat Pennington’s short VHS documentary records the day’s effort that went into a couple of set ups, only for a jammed camera to render all footage unusable). Van Bebber famously signed up for film school and absconded the moment his student loan arrived, utilising it to start shooting DAD. Plenty more colourful anecdotes emerge during Victor Bonacore’s Deadbeat Forever! documentary and the various commentary tracks. The participants all seem to be collaborators / friends / boosters of Van Bebber and sometimes you find yourself hoping for a more balanced, neutral view, though I guess enthusiasm is of the essence in this particular cinematic demi-monde. The long running Charlie’s Family saga is glossed over in favour of talking up JVB’s proposed Day Of The Deadbeat sequel.

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Other extras include outtake footage that reveals one participant sporting an incongruous Moody Blues T-shirt, some rather jolly video promos that Jimbo shot for Pantera and others, a trailer for the so-far unrealised, Chas Balun scripted Chunkblower, chunks of another work-in-progress, Gator Green and restorations of Into The Black (1983), the Ed Gein “inspired” Roadkill (1994) and My Sweet Satan (1993), all with commentary tracks. The last-named title is probably Van Bebber’s best effort so far, a docudrama treatment of the real life Ricky Casso murder case that echoes Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge (1986) with its depiction of the nihilisitc milieu in which that crime unfolded.

Enjoy.

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The Gates Of Delirium… Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD on 4k.

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Ol’ Purple Eyes is back…

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

City Of The Living Dead (1980), initiating Lucio Fulci’s celebrated “Gates Of Hell trilogy”, was only his second Horror film and clearly evidences the crash course in H.P. Lovecraft recommended to him by co-writer Dardanno Sachetti after their collaboration on that unexpected international box office champ, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979).

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Evil New England clergyman Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself in a Dunwich cemetery, thereby opening the very Gates of Hell (the initial manifestation of which is a bunch of grungey zombies clawing their way out of their graves). All of this is witnessed by psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) during a drug crazed seance in New York City, resulting in convulsions and her apparent death. Presiding medium The Great Theresa (Adelaide Asti), an authority on The Book Of Enoch, warns the investigating cops that “at this very precise moment, in some other distant place, horrendously awful things are happening… things that would shatter your imagination!” 

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After Mary’s been rescued from living internment by bibulous hack reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George), they set off for Dunwich, intent on closing those Gates Of Hell before All Saints Day, when Hell’s dominion over the Earth will be irreversibly completed. Hooking up with Dunwich psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren), they learn that Theresa wasn’t bullshitting about those “horrendously awful” things, principle among which are the gruesome demises of genre icons Daniela Doria (who vomits up her entire gastro-intestinal tract), Michele Soavi (skull ripped off) and (as misunderstood vagrant sex-case Bob) John Morghen, who gets treated to an impromptu spot of amateur brain surgery by a red neck vigilante. Penetrating the bowels of Dunwich cemetery (and indeed of Father Thomas himself), the surviving protagonists Mary and Gerry save the day… or do they? Your guess is as good as mine, on the strength of COTLD’s proverbially baffling conclusion.

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This film has already appeared in so many editions (several from Arrow alone) that the above synopsis is probably superfluous, though one entertains the hope that it might galvanise some new viewer, in some other distant place, into connecting with the imaginationshattering milieu of Lucio Fulci, much as Alan Jones’ accounts of these films in Starburst magazine galvanised Your Truly, oh so many years ago. What’s important these days, I guess, with each successive reissue, is the quality of both the film transfer and any supplementary materials. Subjecting the negative of a 1980 film to 4k scanning, while shedding further, er, light on the subtleties of DP Sergio Salavati’s handiwork, is arguably an upgrade too far in terms of ramping up screen grain... you pays your twenty quid and you takes your choice. Sound wise, we’re offered the usual language alternatives and a 5.1 option… Arrow’s previous steel box edition offered 7.1 but I’m not certain that my home set up (nor those of most people) extracted any discernible benefit from that anyway… suffice to say Fabio Frizzi’s celebrated score fair throbs from the speakers this time out.

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The pizza girl’s here…

It’s the sheer breadth and depth of its extras that ultimately promote this City Of The Living Dead from a debatable purchase to an indispensable one. You’ll already be familiar with some of those… audio commentaries from Catriona MacColl and John Morghen (the latter moderated by Calum Waddell) and Waddell’s video interview with Carlo De Mejo… from previous editions. The disc is creaking with a veritable cemetery load of cracking new stuff, though… Stephen Thrower’s take on these films is always worth listening to and here he challenges the received wisdom that Fulci couldn’t get a gig after the success of Zombie Flesh Eaters (what’s indisputable is that producer Fabrizio De Angelis was slow to see the possibilities and continued to think small even after he did reconvene with Fulci). For once Thrower’s presentation, as diligently researched and passionately felt as ever, takes a back seat, given the wealth of primary sources testifying on this set. Among the most compelling is a lengthy new interview with Dardano Sacchetti, in which the irascible writer pursues his familiar theme of De Angelis’ short-sightedness while throwing out all manner of interesting insights re what was going on behind the scenes. Never one to hold back on his opinions, it would seem that Signor Sacchetti is not the biggest fan of Catriona MacColl. 

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“Oui, whatever…”

MacColl herself is duly interviewed, sounding a lot more French than I remember from my own encounter with her (then again that was nearly 25 years ago and she’s spent the intervening quarter Century living in Paris)… interesting  to hear that when she wasn’t being buried alive and showered with maggots, Catriona was required to dub and scream over multiple takes of the same shots, prior to the definitive editorial decisions being taken. 

Camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati talks, among other things, about the difficulties of making sunny Savannah, Georgia look like an autumnal New England location, neatly illustrated by his private “behind the scenes” 8mm footage, for which he also supplies an audio commentary. Production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng also talks about “the Savannah problem” and his own difficulties breaking the ice with Fulci, after having been parachuted in by producers Medusa over the director’s original pick, Massimo Lentini. Fulci’s misgivings were predictably assuaged by Geleng’s amazing work on this picture.

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Cinematographer Sergio Salvati clearly loved Fulci but acknowledges and regrets the director’s sadistic treatment of some of his actresses… also his overuse of the zoom lens. As an unexpected bonus, Salvati supplies some fascinating incidental revelations about how The Beyond’s stunning denouement was contrived, against all the odds, in the face of producer De Angelis’s constant budget cutting.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice / John Morghen (these days sporting a beard of Biblical proportions) reiterates that he never had any problems with Fulci but confesses that he’s never been able to watch Daniela Doria’death scene all the way throughGino “Bombardon” De Rossi talks us through that and several other of his gory FX tours de force for City Of The Living Dead et al. He also mentions the prank played on Fulci, referenced by several of the participants in these featurettes, by which maggots were placed in the ol’ goremeister’s pipe. De Rossi initially got the blame for this, but turns out the culprit was actually Christopher George, who obviously figured that one good maggotty turn deserved another.

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Father and son acting team Venantino and Luca (“Jon Jon”) Venantini recall their experiences on the picture, which have become somewhat sanitised in the telling, compared to the version they offered in Mike Baronas’ documentary Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered. Venantino, clearly still very much a character in his late ’80s, now resembles an over-baked spud. Luca’s obvious love and concern for his dad make for touching viewing. There’s also a previously unseen interview with Fulci’s go-to OST man Fabio Frizzi, who suggests that Fulci’s personal sufferings made him a person of substance.

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Fulci fan boy Andy (Ghost Stories) Nyman, though obviously not a member of the inner circle, recounts his encounters with Giannetto De Rossi and Richard Johnson in appropriately enthusiastic style and the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger contributes another of these here video essays, concerning Fulci and his seminal role in the busy Italian zombie cycle.

Among the more predictable extras are the alternative US “Gates of Hell” credits sequence and assorted trailers and radio spots. The extensive image gallery features over 150 stills, posters and other ephemera from the FAB Press and Mike Siegel archives. You also get reversible sleeve options (choose between Charles Hamm and pals in all their original glory and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter), a double-sided fold-out poster and 6 lobby card reproductions. As usual we HOF drones haven’t set eyes on that stuff yet, nor the limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford and Roberto Curti, an archival interview with Fulci and contemporary reviews.

Just make sure you grab your copy before All Saints Day, or there’ll be Hell to pay…

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