Posts Tagged With: Cannibals

How To Become A Movie Mogul, In Several Easy Steps… The OVIDIO G. ASSONITIS Interview

Eccentric mavericks have never exactly been in short supply on the Italian film scene but even in that colourful milieu, OVIDEO G. ASSONITIS stands out. Born of Greek stock in Egypt, 18/01/43, he became involved in film distribution after his family relocated to Italy. When the kind of films he wanted to distribute weren’t available, he started producing them himself. When he couldn’t find satisfactory scripts, he started writing his own. And when the directors he hired weren’t up to scratch… you guessed it. The runaway success of his first (co)directed feature Beyond The Door (currently available in a beautiful BD edition from Arrow) ruffled the feathers of Tinsel Town’s big wigs, resulting in a long running legal case. His fingerprints are on films that represented the best of some genres and changed the course of others. He was behind a couple of the “video nasties”, fired a Hollywood A-lister and saw more of the real Emmanuelle than he probably wanted to. And he’s still going strong, preparing to shoot his latest effort in Maui when we caught up with him.

First things first, Ovidio… I know that you were born in the great commercial centre of Alexandria, also that your father was involved in film distribution. Presumably these things impacted on your choice of career…

When my family lived in Alexandria we were not involved with the film industry. My father was an entrepreneur in the cotton trade, though he did bring writers and film makers over to Alexandria as part of his efforts to promote Italian culture. We moved to Italy when I was 14 years old and my father became the general manager for international relations at a major film producers’ association. Every day at lunch and dinner, I heard a lot of things about the making of movies, something to which I was definitely attracted. Later, I become a film distributor in South East Asia, opening offices all over that part of the world. My partners and I released more than a thousand movies over ten years. At a time when I was having difficulties finding the right pictures for that market I started producing them myself.

As a producer and distributor you were collaborating with people like AIP and the Shaw Brothers…

AIP was an independent distributor in the United States, one of my strongest connections over there. Nicholson and Arkoff released a lot of my movies and in the process we became great friends. I worked with the son of one of the Shaw Brothers, who was running the company then, also with people like Prince Yukolo Anusom, the brother of the King of Thailand who became one of my business partners.

A movie you produced that did very well in Far Eastern markets was Umberto Lenzi’s Man From Deep River, an important film which transformed the flagging Mondo genre into the highly successful and controversial Italian cannibal film cycle…

My inspiration for that one was definitely A Man Called Horse and also my connections in Thailand, where we shot the movie. It’s a country I knew very well and visiting the small villages in the forests, I discovered some very cinematic elements that could be combined interestingly in a movie. That’s how I decided to write and produce The Man From Deep River. Umberto Lenzi was the kind of director who could understand what I wanted to achieve, though I had to correct some of his more commercial instincts. But collaborating with him was nice, he was a very hard worker… although a little bit crazy!

You’re noted for your forceful personality, I was wondering how you found dealing with such similarly forceful types as Lenzi, Lucio Fulci (who was in the frame to direct Beyond The Door and helped out on the direction of David Keith’s The Curse, which you produced in 1987)… and yes, James Cameron. How were disagreements with these guys resolved?

Very simple. They had to back down… (Laughs)… because I never give up!

OK. Another of your early productions, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die, is considered one of the classics of the giallo genre…

I was involved in conceiving the mystery story for that film, beyond that my contribution was mainly financial. I was not a “hands on” producer for that one.

When I spoke to Aldo Lado he said that the thing about the killer being somebody who impersonated a priest rather than an actual priest was tacked on under pressure from censors and the Catholic church…

I don’t remember anything about. That sounds like a “post mortem” explanation…

You did have a killer priest in a film you later directed, Madhouse…

Yes.

Were you aware that Madhouse and Man From Deep River were both banned on home video during a crazy UK moral panic in the early ’80s?

Not really. I knew that those pictures had the potential to generate controversy. They were part of a tendency in horror movies that was going on at that time but they were original works… in fact I think there was that over reaction to them because they were ahead of their time.

Well, they’re now legally available in the UK, which kind of supports your argument. The female lead in Madhouse was Trish Everly, a very good looking woman and she gives a strong performance but she didn’t do much after that. What happened to her?

She’s the ex-wife of one of the Everly Brothers, so she was not short of money. After Madhouse I never heard from her anymore...

Like Fulci and Enzo Castellari you had great success in The States with a movie that ran into problems over its perceived similarities to a previous film… obviously I’m talking about Beyond The Door.

The world of horror movies was always something that attracted me and what really changed my vision of how to make them was Rosemary’s Baby. Films like that one and The Exorcist were bringing the horror into our houses, into our daily lives by representing something the audience knows very well. They’re both films about sick people and everybody at some point has some experience of illness, of family members with cancer or something like that.

Warners sued you over perceived similarities to Friedkin’s film of The Exorcist but you said at the time you hadn’t even seen that film… did you ever watch it?

No, but I read the book. We started shooting our film when theirs was still in post production. I read the book on a plane flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong on a very stormy night with a lot of turbulence, which seemed very appropriate. All the passengers were screaming and I was reading about The Devil. I thought this was a perfect project for me to shoot and as soon as I got back to the office I called the publisher to ask about the film rights, which of course had been sold to Warners, who were about to make their movie. So I said OK, I want to do something similar but original, something about the demons that are part of every one of us. Beyond The Door is about those demons we don’t like to acknowledge but we see lurking inside us, parts of ourselves that cause us to do irrational and selfish things, not out of love for ourselves but out of fear. No matter how hard we try to ignore our demons they are always there, bubbling up from under the lid that we try to keep on them. It wasn’t just reading a book that convinced me to produce a horror movie along these lines. The preparation for Beyond The Door was a very extensive intellectual exercise. It was both less and more than just “ripping off” The Exorcist. Every movie is influenced by movies that came before it and you could argue that The Exorcist is a “rip-off” of Rosemary’s Baby. We weren’t motivated to just make a cheap imitation of a famous movie, there was a lot of thought behind Beyond The Door and we hired one of the most important special effects artists, Wally Gentleman (who was Doug Trumbull’s right hand man on 2001) so we could make a good movie… all of this while confined to a $300,000 budget against $10 million for The Exorcist!

The case that Warners brought against you was one of “infringing visual copyright”…

Yeah, they charged me with infringing something that doesn’t even exist! Warner thought that they could intimidate this Italian producer, this small company, considering that the judge had confiscated $20 million dollars from us, pending the trial. Of course they didn’t know me because like I said, I never back down. It took me three years fighting them and I spent three times the cost of our negative on lawyers. In the end I met with them. I was in LA and I drove to Burbank, knocked on the office door of the number 2 man at Warners and I told him: “You have to stop, because you’re going to lose. You’re claiming $20 million from us but I’m going to take you for $100 million! So just stop!” We arrived at a compromise. He asked for two things, firstly that I shouldn’t do a sequel to Beyond The Door, because they were very worried about that, also that I should sign a deal with them to make three movies. They saw the return on my budget compared to what they had done with The Exorcist and they were so impressed that they wanted me to work with them.

That return on your budget had something to do with the amazing marketing for Beyond The Door, with gimmicks worthy of William Castle… the whole “Sensurround” bit and actors planted in the audience who were supposed to be having heart attacks because it was so scary!

The marketing was very smart and the sound was very important because when we had preview screenings for American audiences, they were screaming during the scene where Juliet Mills’ head turns around but it was a different story in Italy. Italian audiences are always very sarcastic and when Juliet’s head was rotating, they started laughing. I know I had to stop this laughing and I had heard that Universal were going to use this thing Sensurround on Earthquake so I flew from Rome to LA and asked them if I could borrow the sound technology. They showed me around this huge laboratory that looked like something out off NASA but of course they weren’t going to lend me the sound system until they had exhibited their picture first and then maybe, who knows. But we had the idea and we came up with a very basic concept which, instead of using 40w of sound, had thousands of watts at front and back of the theatre and the combining of these two low frequencies built a sound that covered the laughs of the Italians.

Try laughing that off! You’ve had some real star names in your films… Richard Johnson and Juliet Mills in Beyond The Door… Henry Fonda, John Huston and Shelley Winters in Tentacles…

Juliet Mills was perfect for the role, she came from this great British acting background. Richard Johnson was the same, from Shakespearian theatre. I liked Richard and he became a very good friend, worked for me in more than one movie. Working with them was great. I always want my actors to be totally involved in the picture, intellectually involved and giving to it the maximin of their experience and talent. They were not just “actors for hire”, they were really behind the story and we worked as a team. John Huston was in Tentacles mostly because he swapped roles with Henry Fonda, who had a heart attack and couldn’t play for us as long as we’d planned. John Huston was an amazing person who became my best friend and worked for me in another movie. I wanted him to direct a movie based on a famous novel for me but of course he died. Glenn Ford was another who played not just for money, these guys had to approve and believe in the story.

All of those were solid pros but in Beyond The Door you also had those two kids in very strange roles… jive-talking and swearing… was it difficult getting good performances out of them?

There have been children in many of my movies and you have to treat working with them like working with animals. They can be extremely good when they are just acting spontaneously but very bad when they start thinking about what they are doing. It’s the same with animals. When they act spontaneously they are very good but when they’ve been trained to do something, they might or might not do it well. Children can be really good, the trick is in choosing the right ones. The girl in Beyond The Door… the Italian Susan Strasberg… they way she talked in the movie was exactly the way she talked in real life. The boy was a very strange American boy who went to school with my son, an overseas student in Rome. I only met him because he was a friend of my son, a strange kid who would sit there silently for hours, which made me think he would be good for our movie. Neither of them had any previous acting experience.

That boy, David Colin Jr., appeared again in Mario Bava’s film Shock, which was even released in America as Beyond The Door 2. Given all the legal problems you’d had with Warners, I was wondering if anybody involved in Shock had had to settle with you.

Not, they just helped themselves to that and I didn’t even chase them. I don’t think it was the film’s producers, it was the American distributor of that picture who did it, taking maxim advantage of the title and logo of my picture.

I guess that illustrates just how successful your picture had been. Several writers are credited on Beyond The Door, one of whom is The Incredible Melting Man himself, Alex Rebar…

Alex Rebar was an American dubbing artist, he dubbed movies from Italian into English and I met him when I was working as a distributor in the Far East. As a matter of fact I originally cast him to play the Richard Johnson role but our schedules clashed and I went ahead without him. In the end his contributions to the film were very limited.

Beyond The Door has a great score from Franco Micalizzi and so many other great composers have scored your pictures. Morricone, Ortolani, Cipriani…

I’ve always believed that music is one of the most important elements of a movie. Alongside the acting and the photography, the music is as important as the plot, so I always want to hear the composition that I’ll be using in my movie before shooting the movie itself. I’ve always done that, that’s what happened with Morricone on Who Saw Her Die

That’s a beautiful score!

It is. In the case of Beyond The Door, Micalizzi, had worked for me in my previous picture which was a tremendous success, a tear jerker called The Last Snows Of Spring. His music for that was a big success on the hit parade for many weeks all over the world. I asked him to have the main composition ready before I shot Beyond The Door and he asked me what I wanted. I had been thinking and thinking about what the theme should be, the language of that music and when I was in Paris, I had heard Barry White…

Who needs Sensurround when you’ve got Barry White?

Whether it was coming from a concert stage or a recording studio or even a telephone conversation I had with him, Barry White’s voice is unlike anything else in popular music. There is something truly profound about that basso… it rumbles! It’s not his voice but the way that he used it. This is what I told Micalizzi about the kind of music I wanted… I wanted to hear the voice of The Devil! That’s how we came up with the theme Bargain With The Devil and he recorded it before I made the the movie, I listened to that music before shooting many of the scenes because it was so very inspirational.

That music plays as Gabriele Lavia and Juliet Mills walk around in San Francisco, having all sorts of weird experiences. I believe that you shot these scenes guerrilla style, without any permits… masquerading as Italian tourists! Was that difficult?

It was very easy. Sometimes we asked for and received permits to shoot in public places sometimes we didn’t have time to ask so we just went ahead and shot the scene but all the interiors were shot in a studio in Italy. We had to be very careful to keep all the stylistic elements consistent so we brought everything we could back from the States to make the room look like an American apartment.

On several of your films you’ve co-directed with Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli and I wonder how you typically divide the work between you. Is one guy doing the set-ups while the other directs the actors, or whatever?

Beyond The Door was the first picture which I directed or co-directed. I had a lot of experience in editing, especially the pictures that I was releasing in the Far East, recutting them for different markets. This editing experience also helped me in writing stories and conceiving the pictures I wanted to make. Roberto D’Ettore had worked as my DP and directing together, we didn’t really share out the work. It was more about pooling our different experiences to support each other and make the best movie possible. Of course his camera experience was greater than mine at the time and my experience with editing and conceiving stories was greater than his. I did deal more with the actors, mostly because I could speak English and he couldn’t.

You co-wrote and produced the 1976 film Laure aka Forever Emmanuelle, supposedly directed by Emmanuelle Arsan herself… which I doubt. What was the real story behind that picture?

First of all you have to know that the person who wrote Emmanuelle was not Emmanuelle Arsan…

It was her husband, wasn’t it?

Exactly. Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane. He was an officer of UNESCO but he had these strange ideas about sex, he was like a theoretical philosopher of “the new sexuality”. He wasn’t a porno guy, but he considered porn as part of a normal life. I knew him very well, he used to live in Rome and Paris. He was a person of great intelligence, very highly cultured, but he wrote Emmanuelle and had this great success with it. Now one day, I was sitting in front of the President of 20th Century Fox in LA and he was reading the box office takings and he just was screaming, saying hey, look at the figures for Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle… he said that I should do something like that and I told him that I knew the guy who wrote Emmanuelle. He was very excited by this and proposed we do a movie in Italy with Louis-Jacques directing, of course under the name Emmanuelle Arsan and also have her as one of the leads. I asked Louis-Jacques about this and he jumped at the chance.

We started putting the elements together and then had the bizarre idea to have Linda Lovelace acting in the movie. I thought that to put somebody with one of the most famous names in the world, particularly in the United States, in a normal, well directed picture with production values would sell the picture and give her more quality, representing her the way she really was. So I asked my assistant to find where she was and a couple of weeks later he found her living in Arizona, almost retired. So we hired her and flew her over to Rome for a meeting with Louis-Jacques. I told everybody to treat her like a lady rather than the Porn Star she used to be, to forget about Deep Throat, to treat her like a normal actress and everybody was willing to do that but throughout the meeting Linda sat with a bodyguard who was also her boyfriend…

Was that Chuck Traynor?

It was an American – Italian guy and she wouldn’t talk directly to us, we had to talk to the bodyguard so it was a funny situation where we were asking him the question, he was asking her the same question, she was answering to him then he was telling us the answer.

Like Chinese whispers…

Yeah. Then she said: “I will never shoot this scene the way that it’s been written. I will never appear naked in the movie”.

WTF?

Yeah, she said that it was absolutely against her morality. Like I say, you could write a book about every movie I’ve ever made. There were so many problems with Linda but we had a commitment with Fox to have her name on the marquee so we called in the actress Annie Belle to do the nude scenes and changed Linda’s role to one in which she kept her clothes on. Then we went to the Philippines to shoot the movie and immediately there were more problems. In the first scene we shot, Linda was walking in a corridor and she had to stop and say some lines but she refused because there was a statue behind her, a copy of the Venus De Milo statue and she said she would never appear in a scene next to a naked woman! That was it, no matter what the deal with Fox was, I fired her. Going back to Emmanuelle Arsan, of course she didn’t really direct the movie, that was Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli, who loved photographing naked women. Then some stills were released to a magazine which published some really unflattering shots of Emmanuelle Arsan. I had to sue them because they also ran an interview with me that never actually happened! Anyway, Emmanuelle Arsan came to me and said she didn’t want her name attached to the movie anymore and in the end we publicised it with a picture of her, saying she wrote it but that it was directed by “Anonymous”.

What sort of a person was Emanuelle Arsan? Was she comfortable with being this erotic icon created by her husband?

The first time we visited Louis-Jacques ’s apartment in Rome, he opened the door and right in front of us, in the lobby to his apartment, there was a big photo of his wife, naked, with her legs wide open. My wife didn’t want to go in and I had to convince her, c’mon, were doing a business deal here. But everything was like this, the whole apartment was full of photos of his wife in, let’s say, the most incredible artistic positions.

Wow! In 1979 you produced Giulio Paradiso’s The Visitor… that’s another wild movie. What can you tell us about that one?

Again, that would fill a book in itself, like most of the films I’ve directed or produced for other people. There are so many interesting things that happened on that movie, some of them positive, some of them negative. Like most of my movies, it was ahead of its time. I’d like to remake The Visitor, bringing in elements of gaming and virtual reality that we didn’t have at the time. It was an interesting movie, but much more interesting in its conception that what actually ended up on the screen. The same is true of Tentacles, which had a really good script that was compromised by the distributor’s vision. But come on, I know you’re dying to ask me about James Cameron and Piranha 2…

Well, now you mention it… in fact before you signed Cameron to direct that picture, I believe you were going with Rob Bottin.

Exactly. Piranha 2 was not my idea. After I’d settled with Warners over Beyond The Door, they asked me if I would produce a script they were interested in but they didn’t trust the producer… it was the same producer from the first Piranha. They said they’d shoot it if I’d take over. So I read the scripts which was very bad and I told them I’d executive produce if I was allowed to change the story which was really stupid, beyond any credibility. They did insist on me keeping those piranhas, flying out of the sea, which was absolutely irrational but that’s what I signed up for. Immediately I was looking for a director who’d be good with special FX. Knowing very well the work of Rob Bottin, I approached him and he was very happy about directing the movie. About a week after we signed an agreement he came asking me to release him because he’d just got an offer from Universal to pay him a million dollars a year to supervise effects on some of their films and I couldn’t stand in his way. He recommended James Cameron so I went to see him while he was some shooting second unit stuff on Escape From New York. I asked him to direct Piranha 2 and he was jumping like crazy, very happy to do it. That’s how we started to know each other. I like Jim a lot because I understood that he had a great vision. The problem was that he did not know how to make his visions happen, especially in a film whose budget was so limited considering the amount of special effects that Warners wanted to keep from the original script. I have thousands of stories to tell but I’m not going to tell them now, but basically Jim failed in what he was supposed to do. I didn’t want to fire him but I had to after 10 days because at that point we were 9 days behind schedule.When the picture was finished we had to shoot the FX scenes all over again and try to make them work. We spent a lot of time in labs trying to make it happen and have hundreds of flying piranhas attacking, not just one or two on wires and stopping in the middle of the shots. That’s what Jim did. I asked him to stay next to me and help wherever it was needed. I allowed him to shoot all the underwater scenes in the Cayman islands and he got some great shots but only when he didn’t have to deal with special effects. I admire Jim for flying from LA to Rome without any money and staying here for two months. Of course I put him in hotels and gave him whatever he needed. I admire that he is so stubborn but he is a very difficult character. When I was directing the movie he wanted to take part in the editing and although he didn’t have the right to do it, I said fine, but after a week the editor came to me and said: “Hey, I’m very happy to work with James because you will pay me for one year!” He had edited it, Jim had taken it and changed things around but after three days it was right back to what the first editor had already done. He was too inexperienced. I wanted Jim to gain experience but the editor didn’t want him in the editing room any more because he was wasting so much time. I told him that we’d look at the scenes in my office and he could have his say. That’s where the idea of The Terminator came up, based on a book that I bought called Formula Man, by an Italian writer…

Do you remember the name of the writer?

He was a physician as a matter of fact. His name escapes me right now but the inspiration for Terminator came from this book. Jim was asking me what we were going to work on next and he proposed a Terminator-like story but I told him: “Jim, I want to do your third movie with you, not your second, because when you have learned enough you will surely become a great director”. So once when I was in LA, I was going to meet the chairman of Orion Pictures and I saw Jim coming out of his office so asked the chairman, who was a good friend of mine, what Jim was doing there and he said well, they were going to release a picture that he would direct, called The Terminator, which was basically that story. The chairman said that they had seen Piranha 2 and liked it, not knowing that I had actually directed it. I didn’t say anything to put him down and he made The Terminator. Since then he’s written a lot of inaccurate things about our relationship but I’ve kept quiet about it because I don’t want to embarrass him. But every time he made a new movie I’d send him a message saying “You need to improve” and his answer was always “Fuck you!” When I saw Titanic, which I really liked, I sent him a message saying: “You’re improving but you still need to do better” and again he replied “Fuck you!” So this was our relationship. One day I called him because I read something he said that was not true and said: “Hey Jim, we’ve got white hairs now, we’re getting older. You’re much more famous than I am, you’ve made a lot of money and I’m making much less money, we should stop doing this stuff. We spent more than one year together and I admire you for many reasons. I had to do what I had to do because it’s a business but we should stop doing this, let’s meet and have a drink… of course you should pay because you have so much more money than me!” He said I was right and we should meet but after an hour he called me and said: “No Ovidio, I don’t want to meet you, because you are such a convincing person, you will convince me that I am wrong and you are right!”

I heard that Cameron released an alternative cut of Piranha 2 in certain markets, though I’ve never seen it. Is that true?

Absolutely not. He doesn’t have the rights and I would sue him if he did. That just never happened, anyway. I directed Piranha 2 and I could have put my name on it but I kept his on there because I didn’t want to embarrass him, I wanted to help his career.

Can you tell us something about the part you played in the ongoing saga of Cannon Films at the end of the ‘80s?

How long have you got? (Laughs) It’s a long story… I was approached by one of the people who acquired Cannon Films from the cousins Golan and Globus, his partner was the very important financier Giancarlo Parretti who had financed some of my pictures. He said they’d just acquired a major company and requested my help after discovering the critical financial situation that Golan and Globus had left it in. I said I didn’t want to be part of it unless we could sort out the company and we employed a very important lawyer to do that. We split Cannon into two new companies, one which I ran as chairman and which would produce pictures with budgets of lower than ten million dollars and the other, run by Alan Ladd Jr. doing films with budgets beyond ten million. I had a plan and the first policy I wanted to introduce was to move away from the pictures Golan and Globus did which were all about action with machine guns and helicopters. I wanted to try what New Line had done, gradually introducing more quality into their productions. I wanted to make Scent Of Woman with this new company but in the end they did that with Universal because the budget was over ten million. When Parretti decided to buy MGM, that was the beginning of the end and I got out just before everything collapsed. But in that period, it was little more than a year, I made ten movies with good box office receipts, well in excess of the costs of these movies.

A couple of times I’ve asked you about things and you’ve said: “How long have you got?”… “You could write a book”. Do you in fact have any plans to write your memoirs?

After death! You can write them for me after I’ve gone…

Well, we’ve made a good start today. What are you working on now?

Well, you haven’t asked me the question that everybody else asks, i.e. among the pictures I’ve shot, which is the one that I like the most?

And the answer to that question is?

I don’t like any of them! The one I like is always the next one and principal photography for the next one will begin in Maui in Hawaii, where I’m flying out to tomorrow. It’s called The Disappearing Girl, it’s a very strong story about love and life and death. The leads are two teenagers, one American and one Italian. The really interesting thing is that the director of this picture will be a 15 year old girl, a very famous Youtuber and author named Iris Ferrari. I’m never satisfied with my films but I’m sure this one is going to be very good and a tremendous box office success.

We’ll be looking out for that and wish you well with it. Thanks for your time, Ovidio.

Ciao!

Beyond The Door is available in a spanking Arrow BD edition from all good retailers or directly from Arrow.

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“Mr Foot Knows All About Eating Human Flesh”… THE BEAST MUST DIE, Buffed Up Into A Spanky New Severin BD.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Those Severin guys don’t muck about or go in for half measures. Having already released a pretty good looking BD of Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die (1974) as part of their totally cool Amicus box set, as soon as they got wind of a better looking alternative they acquired the rites and have now released it in a stonking stand alone edition. Severin’s previous rendering was an amalgam of (censored for TV broadcast) HD telecine with inserted scans from an uncut 16mm print. This one is based on a 35mm pre-print element, recently discovered in France and newly scanned / restored to pristine condition by Studio Canal. Needless to say, Annett’s country mansion whodunnit / hi tech blacksploitation survivalist werewolf hunting epic now looks like the proverbial mutt’s nuts.

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(My money was on Paul Foot but WTF do I know?)

Concluding their legendary run of Horror pictures (only Hammer outdid them in UK terms), Amicus came up with a grab bag of exploitable elements and as if that wasn’t enough, topped them off with a ludicrous gimmick (the truly hysterical “Werewolf Break”) blatantly filched from William Castle’s Homicidal (1961). Improbably, the result is a pants-pissingly entertaining concoction that still stands up 46 years after the event.

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A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse…

Calvin Lockhart stars as thrusting industrialist Tom Newcliffe (equal parts Shaft, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Count Zaroff) who’s invited a few guests around to his impressive pile for an ostensibly civilised weekend in the country. Unfortunately the croquet and canapés are regularly interrupted by bouts of hunt the loup garou. Tom has always wanted to top off his collection of hunting trophies with one of those and as all of his guests have been, er, dogged by rumours of lycanthropy, ONE of them MUST be a werewolf, right? (Makes no sense whatsoever but let him have his fun).

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As he waits for the full moon to bring out the hairs on the guilty party’s knuckles, we are invited to ponder the lupine credentials of those assembled, prior to taking our punt, come that Werewolf Break, ushered in by the sepulchral tones of Valentine Dyall. There’s Supertramp refugee and one shot cannibal (“You have been doing your research!”) Paul Foot (Tom Chadbon)… boring Jan (Michael Gambon)… patrician Bennington (Charles Gray)… sexy posh bird Davina (Ciara Madden)… and even Tom’s own missus, Caroline (Marlene Clark). It’s a strong cast, keeping its collective face admirably straight amid all this unfolding piffle, which werewolf researcher Dr Christopher Lundgren (Peter Cushing) compounds with a few fascinating new wrinkles on lycanthropic lore (bet you never knew that silver will only kill one of these beasties when there’s Wolfbane pollen in the air, huh?)… not forgetting Anton Diffring as Newcliffe’s surveillance supremo.

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If you can’t extract a riotous evening of viewing pleasure from the contents of this disc, you’re probably reading the wrong Blog. Among the bonus features, some of which will be familar from that earlier Amicus box and other releases, you’ll find the late Paul Annett’s amusing audio commentary, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott; archival interview with Annett; audio essay by Troy Howarth concerning the history of cinematic variations on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None; audio reminiscences of The Beast Must Die from Amicus’s Milton Subotsky (interviewed by Phil Nutman) and Max J Rosenberg (in conversation with Jonathan Sothcott); and if you aren’t sufficiently excited by the Original Theatrical Trailer, you get the option to run it again with a (necessarily short) commentary from Kim Newman & David Flint.

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Stay on the moors, dear readers and beware the moon…

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What Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes At Me For? Jess Franco’s THE DEVIL HUNTER On 88 BD.

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“They make me glad, they make me sad, they make me wanna lot of things that I never had”

BD. Region Free. 88 Films. 18.

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

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The Devil, when he finally turns up, is a major disappointment, being nothing more than a tall black guy with ping pong eyeballs. But boy, can he eat pussy … no, really, he actually eats pussy!! Meanwhile Fellner, in chains (a major Franco preoccupation), is being raped by one of the kidnappers, while gang-leader Gisela Hahn (from Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination) enjoys the spectacle from her hammock.

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Back in civilization, Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti), in low-rent Indiana Jones threads, is picking up a hefty fee to liberate this damsel in distress. He’s flown out to that unspecified Third World jungle in a helicopter, then, true to Franco form, spends an eternity wandering around in the undergrowth not actually doing anything much. Eventually he arranges with the ’nappers to swap the girl for a suitcase stuffed with money. They keep the girl and try to shoot Cliver, but anticipating this turn of events, he has stuffed the suitcase with worthless paper (unfilmed Franco scripts, perhaps… if, indeed, such a thing ever existed).

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

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A gag I seem to have used in several reviews recently runs along the lines of the film in question being sufficiently well remastered to look better than it probably has a right to. This is certainly the case here, a good-looking presentation that underlines the slapdash way that many of these titles were originally thrown out there on VHS (only to be confiscated, in the UK), a point made by both academic and veteran anti-censorship campaigner Julian Petley and our old mate John Martin in the 47 minute bonus featurette Franco-Philes: Musings On Madrid’s B-Movie Maverick.

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Other worthies having their say on Franco’s wild and wilful career include ertwhile Fango editor Tony Timpone, Hypnotic Crescendos blogger Rachael Nisbet, Starburst Assistant Editor Martin Unsworth, Andy (Necronomicon) Black and Sitges Film Festival Organiser Mike Hostench, plus Franco collaborators Antonio Mayans, Howard Maurer and Dyanne (Wanda The Wicked Warden herself) Thorne. Nobody has a bad word to say for Franco… then again, I imagine none of them ever sat down to watch Devil Hunter all the way through!

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Jess Franco (1930-2013). We will never see his like again…

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“There’s A Girl In My Soup!” “So What… There’s A Piranha Up My Arse!” CANNIBAL TERROR & Antonio Climati’s THE GREEN INFERNO On 88 Blu-ray.

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1) Don’t Torture A Turtle…

The Green Inferno. BD. Region Free. 88 Films. 15.

Although Eli Roth seemed to be paying his dues by including an Italian cannibal filmography in the credits for his Ruggero Deodato pastiche The Green Inferno, he conspicuously omitted from it the Antonio Climati picture whose title he had pinched. It’s a significant omission because Climati’s Green Inferno (originally released in Italy as Natura Contro in 1988) develops an ongoing argument about the moral dilemmas inextricably associated with The Italian Cannibal Film and the fact that this spilled over into something of an ongoing personal feud between Climati and Deodato makes the whole thing of more than mere academic interest…

The main thrust of this film’s plotting will be all too familiar to regular viewings of Italian man-munching epics, with Professor Korenz (Roberto Ricci) disappearing while on an expedition into the Amazon basin in search of the elusive Eema tribe. Jemma Demien (May Deseligny, who bears a vague, pleasing resemblance to Daria Nicolodi) is your mandatory sassy TV reporter (we’re introduced to when she reports on a head shrinking racket for the mondo-esque TV program “Reality Beyond Fantasy”) aiming to track down the Prof. Inexplicably, she decides to recruit Fred (Marco Merlo) and Mark (Fabrizio Merlo) to the cause. These shiftless sibling adventurers, whose allegedly endearing but actually highly irritating antics include TWOCing planes and driving ludicrously big-wheeled jeeps around, would be better qualified to present the next series of Top Gear… and that’s certainly not intended as a compliment.

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Before you can say “Yanomamo”, however, these good ol’ boys are accompanying Jemma into the jungle, together with their eccentric young scientist pal Pete (never embark on an Amazonian mission without one) played by Pio Maria Federici, who supplies a trumpet accompaniment to (and misconceived witticisms about) the unfolding “action” (if we can stretch a point and call it that). The perils they encounter include frog races, a tussle with an anaconda, attacks by ants, spiders and more of those ubiquitous spiky ball booby traps. Our heroes even have snakes held to their peckers by crime lords who want to find the Eema on account of their alleged inside information on the whereabouts of El Dorado (that old chestnut!) They  manage to break up an organ farming racket en route to their disappointing rendezvous with those Eema types and the discovery of the Professor, who promptly takes off in their plane with Jemma, stranding then so they won’t be able to give away the location of the tribe. “Well, we said we wanted adventure!” one of them quips, though thankfully viewers were spared any sequels. Maybe they never made it back?

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Ruggero Deodate was as fascinated and horrified as anybody by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s epochal Mondo Cane (1962) and its shockumentary sequels. The deadly duo’s 1966 doc Africa Addio (which excites controversy to this day over the provenance of its animal and human death scenes) is often cited as the departure point for his devastating critique of Mondo mores in Cannibal Holocaust, but Deodato seems to have been more focussed, while constructing it, on a couple of mondos co-directed in the mid-70s by Antonio Climati (DP on both Mondo Cane and Africa Addio) and Mario Morra, another protegé of Jacopetti and Prosperi. The films in question were Savage Man, Savage Beast aka Ultime Grida Dalla Savana (“The Last Cries From The Savannah”, 1975)  and This Violent World aka Savage World / Mondo Violence (1976). Both feature the mandatory mix of violence inflicted on both animals and human beings (but how much of it is faked… and how worried should we be about the bits that aren’t?) This Violent World (“banned in 40 countries!”) seems to have registered particularly strongly with Deodato, to the extent that he restages two scenes from it (native women bathe a white man and seem fascinated by his penis / an episode of enforced abortion) in Cannibal Holocaust.

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Japanese poster for This Violent World.

By attempting to grab the Mondo moral high ground, Deodato was laying himself open to charges of having his cake and eating it. Certainly Climati, sensing that the finger was being pointed at him, took note of the animal abuse that litters Cannibal Holocaust and the nudge, nudge marketing which implied that its little known cast had indeed been eaten by cannibals and decided to lob a dissenting brick, in the shape of The Green Inferno, through the wall of Deodato’s cinematic glass house. That’s probably enough mixed metaphors for now…

Serving as his own DP (and making a predictably beautiful job of it, given his CV), Climati shot Contro Natura in the Colombian town Leticia, where Cannibal Holocaust (and also Umberto Lenzi’s coat-tail riding Cannibal Ferox, 1981) had been made. Returning a dubious favour, he copped the Green Inferno title  from a line in Holocaust and also went out of his way to stage scenes in which monkeys, coatis and turtles receive kind treatment at the hands of the protagonists… a very far cry, if not from the Savannah then  from the way in which comparable animals were treated during Deodato’s picture. You don’t have to abuse animals to make a mondo / cannibal picture, seemed to be Climati’s message and although he was a conspicuously late convert to this position, he seems to have won the historical argument, with Deodato and Sergio Martino now endorsing more animal friendly versions of Cannibal Holocaust and Prisoner Of The Cannibal God and Umberto Lenzi accepting (it’s clear that he never entertained any moral qualms on this score) a similarly softened variant of his Cannibal Ferox (all of these for Blu-ray release by Shameless). There are, it’s worth noting, restored shots of monkeys being hit with blow darts in The Green Inferno that had to be trimmed before Vipco got their ’15’ certificate (for a DVD release opportunistically entitled Cannibal Holocaust II) in 2002. There is no record of how a small fish (allegedly a piranha) felt about swimming up and being pulled out of a native porter’s arse.

Bonus materials include a limited edition glossy slip case and booklet with notes by Italian pundit Francesco Massaccesi (these if you buy early enough), remastered trailer, reversible sleeve and Italian opening / closing credits. Most worthy of your attention is Eugenio Ercolani and Giuliano Emanuele’s documentary Scenes From Banned Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Movie, in which Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and Sergio Martino are interviewed about their efforts in this particularly blood stained filone. There have been several documentary investigations of this area in recent years but it’s interesting to see a native Italian take on the Phenom. We’d heard that Lenzi and Deodato buried the hatchet before Lenzi’s death but there’s a significant amount of low-level niggling here, though the notoriously irascible Lenzi reserves  most of his ire for stoking another ongoing feud, with Ferox star “John Morghen” aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Modest as ever, Lenzi declares the decapitation of Johnny in that film “a stroke of directorial genius!” Steady on

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2) … and among the nominees for best screen dialogue, H.L. Rostaine and Ilona Kunesova…

Cannibal Terror. BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

“Can’t you open the fucking door?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Shit… what are you doing?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

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

… but seriously folks, “Allan W. Steeve”s Cannibal Terror was never nominated for and certainly never received any Oscars, the only accolade it ever actually managed being a place on the DPP’s official “Video Nasties” list. Because, in our youth, we prided ourselves on our consumption of Forbidden fruits, this was just one of the many cinematic atrocities to which we anal retentive types willingly subjected ourselves, back in the day. Now it’s back on our shelves courtesy of 88 Films, certified ’18’ and in an HD restoration that makes it look whole a lot better than it probably ever had a right to look….

The swear fest we just heard comes courtesy of some kidnappers who abduct a child and secrete it in a safe house, in the depths of some jungle or other, while the ransom is sorted out. Their jungle guide advises them that cannibals lurk behind every bush. “They’d love to put you in the soup” she warns “but if we don’t stop, there’s no sweat.” As it happens, there’s perspiration aplenty when their jeep breaks down. Disregarding her own warnings, the guide wanders off into the undergrowth and is promptly ambushed by the locals who, it has to be said, present a less than convincing spectacle…

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Frighteningly authentic Amazonian cannibals. Yesterday.

The “cannibals” (who seem more interested in playing tug-of-war with her raw intestines than actually eating them… understandably enough) overact shamelessly, grinning like loons as they brandish fistfuls of guts at the camera. I get that these extras are no more trained actors than they are genuine South American natives, but couldn’t their pantomime excesses have been a bit more skillfully edited? Apparently not. Further ineptitude in this department ensures plenty of shots of people standing around waiting for cues and gawping aimlessly into space. The magic of the movies, eh?

Despite the loss of their guide the kidnappers make it to the jungle safe-house, and no sooner has their host gone away on a business trip than one of these desperadoes ties his wife to a tree and rapes her (a feat he accomplishes without dropping or even unzipping his trousers). When hubby gets home he takes his guests on a hunting trip, ties the rapist to the very tree against which he had performed this violation and gives a sharp whistle, which is apparently the cannibal equivalent of a dinner gong. The rapist is eaten and his partners in crime tied to poles and carried off to the native village, where they are given the Cannibal Holocaust treatment while the kidnapped kid is led off to play in a cannibal kintergarten. By the time the parents arrive, acting on a hot tip-off, there’s not much left of the ’nappers. “The gangsters got all the punishment they deserved”, the tribal chief assures them, indicating what is supposed to be the severed head of the baddy-in-chief, blinking visibly as he pokes his head through a bit of scenery. “He got all the pain and suffering that was coming to him.” So did anyone who’s ever sat through Cannibal Terror…

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In possible mitigation, those bemused by the absence of any actual cannibalism in Climati’s Green Inferno will find buckets of palpably phony gore here. Cannibal Terror is similarly devoid of violence against animals, though…  at least on-screen (all those innards had to come from somewhere, I guess). Since his days as one of the DPP’s least favourite directors, “Allan W. Steeve” has been outed as an unholy combination of Alain Deruelle and Julio Pérez Tabernero… Jess Franco’s alleged participation in the project has now been ruled out, though apparently Franco acolyte Olivier Mathot (who also appears in the picture as “Monsieur Danville”) directed certain scenes. Sabrina Siani contributes her characteristic combination of significant eye candy and infinitesimal acting talent.

Perhaps we’ll discover some redemptive element in this disc’s bonus materials? Well, aside from a trailer and deleted “erotic” dancing scene with which you might already be regretfully familiar from Severin’s earlier edition of Cannibal Terror, there’s Naomi Holwill’s documentary That’s Not The Amazon! – The Strange Story of the Eurocine Cannibal Film Cycle, in which assembled pundits Allan Bryce, Mikel Koven, John Martin, et al, (plus cast member Antonio Mayans, who admits it wasn’t always easy to remember which film he was supposed to be acting in at any given moment) attempt to elicit a few laughs from the amateurish anthropophagic efforts that the Lasoeur family were churning out in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Martin summarises the guiding principles of Eurociné’s cannibal dabblings thus: “If you’ve got a bucket of offal and you can stuff it up somebody’s jumper then pull it out again and if you can film in a park somewhere and pretend it’s the Amazon basin, then you’ve got yourself a movie”, further characterising these films as “shoddily executed”… and who am I to contradict the sartorially splendid but increasingly gnarled looking doyen of dodgy film criticism?

As time marches on, those who haven’t seen Cannibal Terror and many of its DPP list-mates might be unclear about exactly what is was that our moral guardians had in their cross hairs during the early ’80s when they predicted the imminent collapse of Civilisation. If that’s you, prepare to be gob smacked!

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“Here’s A Bit Of A Scoop For You…” The ALDO LADO (Micro)Interview

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During my flying visit to Manchester’s 29th Festival Of Fantastic Films on Saturday, 27th October it was a pleasure to catch up with some old (and getting older) mates, say hi to Luigi Cozzi and finally meet Aldo Lado, who has directed some of the darkest, most troubling and subversive entries in the Italian B-movie tradition. Thanks are due to Gil Lane Young for graciously allowing me to attend the director’s Q&A session, during which we managed the following brief exchange…

Signor Lado, is it true or just a rumour that you made an unacknowledged contribution to the writing of Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

I haven’t said much about this for the last forty years but now I feel like talking about it, so here’s a bit of a scoop for you… I was working as AD on a film produced by Dario’s father, Salvatore. Dario talked to me about ideas he was considering for his first film. He gave me the book he wanted to adapt and asked me what I thought of it.

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After I read it I told him that frankly I didn’t think very much of it but that there was something in there which would translate very well into a film, i.e the idea of the killings being seen from the killer’s point of view. So we worked together on a treatment of the film, until I was called away to assist on a Western in Spain (Presumably Sergio Bergonzelli’s Colt In The Hand Of The Devil – BF.) When I came back, he was making The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, featuring all these POV shots that would become “his trademark” and it was being presented as something that he had dreamed up all by himself, with no mention of me whatsoever. Dario built a very successful career on the back of that film and if he’d acknowledged me, it would have opened a lot of doors for me, too. So now I regard him as my sworn enemy, because why would you treat somebody like that unless they were your enemy?

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) At the climax of your brilliant giallo Who Saw Her Die (1972) it’s revealed that the child killer is a priest but the film ends with a hastily dubbed line, right out of the blue, to the effect that he wasn’t a real priest, just somebody who dressed like one… was this ending imposed on you by the censors?

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Yes. You have to realise what a Catholic country Italy was in those days and how much power was wielded by the Church. The producers told me either we insert this false ending or the film will not be distributed, it was as simple as that. If you know me, you’ll have no doubt whatsoever what my attitude towards this was. I’ve been saying for decades that one day the truth will come out about all this sexual abuse in the Church and look where we are today…

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At the start of your career you were part of the circle around such heavyweight Arthouse directors as Pasolini and Bertolucci (whom you assisted on The Conformist, 1970)… is it fair to say that with your films you’ve carried on their tradition of social comment and criticism but in the idiom of a more popular / commercial Cinema?

Yes, I was part of that circle. All of those directors had important things to say about our society and I had things I wanted to say, too. One of them was inspired by something I read, when I was about 12 or 13, in a book by a Czech author… I forget his name. He said that everybody is actually two people… the person they present to society and their other, more authentic self.

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So in a lot of my films you see these people who are outwardly respectable but that’s not the whole story. People are judged by their outward appearance so we see that rich people and poor people who commit very similar crimes are treated very differently.

I wonder if you can tell us something about the film you made that was based on the notorious case of Japan’s “celebrity cannibal”, Issei Sagawa…

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Was that one of mine? Oh yes, Ritual Of Love (1989) was loosely based on that case. To me, it’s a love story. You know that in Italy, when people express their love for their grandchildren, they often say things like: “You’re so sweet, I could eat you up!” Well, this is a story about a man who is so much in love with a woman that he wants to eat her… and she is so in love with him that she wants to be eaten by him! I’m putting together a book in which I expand upon the ideas of this film and other films I have made, also films that I will never get to make. I think that you would find it very interesting… 

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Making Love On The Wing… EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS On Severin Blu-Ray

00000EMANUELLEANDTHELASTCANNIBALSLC2ws.jpgBD/CD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals aka Trap Them And Kill Them (1976) is generally regarded (though sketchy information on shooting schedules and subsequent retitlings confuse the issue) as Joe D’Amato’s fourth “Black Emanuelle” effort, after he’d hi-jacked the franchise from Adalberto Albertini. It’s also Joe’s maiden co-production with Fabrizio De Angelis for their company Fulvia Cinematografica, though the partnership only survived for one more film (1978’s Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade).

This improbable yarn is presented as “a true story” courtesy of one Jennifer O’Sullivan, whose investigative reporter role is taken on by Gemser’s Emanuelle, which involves her in sneaking around mental hospitals with a camera concealed in a teddy bear (?) She comes over all tabloid moralistic when a nurse is bitten while molesting a disturbed female patient (“She’ll be OK but she lost her breast… she had it coming”) but has no qualms whatsoever about pursuing a scoop by masturbating the same patient (Dirce Funari), who boasts a distinctive tribal tattoo on her pubic area. When she mentions this to hunky anthropologist Mark Lester (!) he invites her back to his place but not with the intention of showing her his etchings… oh no, he shows her anthropological footage of castration and cannibalism, which somehow convinces her to sleep with him. The Prof is played by Gemser’s husband and frequent screen partner Gabriele Tinti and I often wonder if that’s how he wooed her in real life! It would be useful to know such stuff…

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I’m told that Ruggero Deodato got really pissed off, when he watched the documentary Eaten Alive, at my suggestion that D’Amato pre-empted his Cannibal Holocaust here with the use of the film-within-a-film device and by setting the action of E&TLC in South America (even though his crew never got anywhere near there)… no disrespect intended, Ruggero but hey, facts is facts!

Anyway, Emanuelle successfully seduced, she and The Prof abscond to Tapurucuara, Amazons (actually the Fogliano Forest on the outskirts of Rome… honestly Joe, you are a one!) to hook up with Donald and Maggie McKenzie (Donal O’Brien and giallo stalwart “Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro), who are encountering a few difficulties in their relationship (“You’re just a tramp!” he chides her. “You’re an IMPOTENT!” she spits back, cuttingly albeit ungrammatically). Annamaria Clementi (as the idealistic nun Sister Angela) and Mónica Zanchi (as the nymphomaniac Isabelle) have also packed their pith helmets for the expedition.

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These guys’ soap operatic interactions are put firmly into perspective when the cannibals turn up to dismember and eat them and various camp followers, all recorded in excruciating albeit incompetently rendered detail by D’Amato, to the accompaniment of an OST that sounds like some demented, retarded ancestor of Groovejet. Of course, various people take time out from dodging cannibals to have sex and watch each other having sex and only in a Joe D’Amato film could you ever hope to see a lesbian tryst observed by a chimpanzee who’s savouring the spectacle while puffing away contentedly on a Marlboro… you can finally cross that one off your bucket list!

The denouement is a total hoot, with Emanuele and The Prof looking on from the bushes, calmly swapping anthropological observations as their friends are done away with (O’Brien torn limb from limb, particularly unconvincingly, in a cannibal tug-o-war). Eventually Emanuelle’s moved to discard her clothes and rescue Isabelle by impersonating a water goddess, a spectacle that has to be seen to be disbelieved… likewise Gemser’s lumpen closing soliloquy, delivered as though she’s in the throes of a major stroke  (“Maggie and Donald with their…” what, now?) I guessed those who dubbed this scene must take their share of the blame, though Gemser makes for a truly statuesque (in every sense of that term) presence throughout the film’s alleged climax and indeed, everything that precedes it.

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Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals did enjoy a theatrical release in the UK (minus all the gore), playing to packed houses of old guys in dirty macs. Severin’s release is, as you would expect, uncut, though one imagines there could well be versions floating around in some territories that have been recut with hard-core inserts, standard operating procedure for D’Amato. Their 2K scan from original vault elements is the best I’ve ever seen this film to look, even though the improved picture quality does make the stroboscopic alternation of day and night shots within certain scenes even more obvious (the amount of times the characters say something along the lines of “We’ll wait until dawn” with the sun beating down on them!) 

Severin have put together a really strong slate of extras here, reflecting the kind of colourful characters that used to gravitate towards Joe D’Amato productions. Aside from the predictable trailer you get an audio interview with Gemser, from whose reminiscences it’s clear how much she misses the late director. In the video interviews, Monica Zanchi remembers her wild life and times and the fun she had on D’Amato shoots. Annamaria Clementi also seems to have had a ball but now, working as a casting director, she reflects rather ruefully on missed opportunities. Nico Fidenco (who looks like he’s just stepped off the deck of a luxury yacht) recounts the improbable career trajectory that took him from failed director, via unlikely crooning idol to OST composer. Best of all, Donal O’Brien piles on the anecdotes in an opinionated “must see” memoir. My copy included a CD of the original soundtrack, too. Great stuff!

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Nature, Pink In Tooth And Claw? CANNIBAL FEROX On Shameless Blu-Ray

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Yes Johnny, he gets off on ecology,

BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

In the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who’s unfamiliar with the “plot” of Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981)… Lorraine De Selle, Zora Kerova and some bloke head into deepest Colombia in search of  evidence to support De Selle’s  academic thesis that Third World cannibalism is “bat shit”… i.e. fake news, disseminated to further the agenda of wicked western corporations and ideologically unsound imperialists. The following hour and a half establishes pretty conclusively just how wrong she was on this score, but the film ends – SPOILER ALERT! – with her safely back in the Groves of Academe, presenting her thesis as proven, having decided that the locals were driven to avenge themselves on “Naughty Mike” (as Giovanni Lombardo Radice refers to his character), who came to the Amazon basin on his own search for emeralds and cocaine and, having overindulged in the latter, tortured and killed the natives in an effort to find those elusive gems.

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The most notorious Gino De Rossi special effect in this former “video nasty” reminds me of a very non-PC joke about two hippy chicks… though I couldn’t possibly repeat it in polite company. Women being strung up by hooks through their breasts… a native having his eye prised out with a knife… sexualised violence… a woman being kicked in the head… disembowelment… cannibalism… the machete amputation of John Morghen’s penis (then hand) and the slicing open of his skull so that natives can feast on his coke-crazed brain… all of this was removed from Replay’s “soft” VHS version, to which the BBFC awarded an unofficial ’18’ certificate in September 1982 (which proved to be a pretty pointless exercise for all concerned, as both versions subsequently ended up on the dreaded “nasties” list). The BBFC take a relatively relaxed view of such simulated splatter shenanigans these days but there is, of course, another outstanding issue with Ferox and its cannibal kin…

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Animal wise, the “soft” version forfeited such Mondoesque moments as the dismemberment of a live turtle, snakes eating and attacking coatis and lizards, a monkey falling foul of a hungry jaguar, natives gutting and eating a crocodile and most of the scene in which Morghen’s character, a propos of nothing in particular, stabs a small pig to death. “Do you get off on ecology, huh, twat?” he asks Lorraine De Selle when she censures him for this gratuitous act of butchery. Well yes, she did… and as we have seen, the BBFC entertain serious reservations about such conduct, too. By 2001 the Board were certifying all manner of ex-“nasties” and other betes noirs of the departed James Ferman’s tenure, but before Vipco got the nod for a VHS / DVD release they were required to make an additional excision to the animal violence, i.e. “six seconds of a tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep”.

The BBFC are legally obliged to take account of The Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937 and the Animal Welfare Act (2006) but in the intervening years there’s been serious disquiet about the content of Italian cannibal films, even among hardened gore hounds and much dispute on social media forums about ethical vs authentic versions of them.

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Make them die within the provisions of the Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937…

And so, following in the wake of such recent Shameless releases as Ruggero Deodato’s “preferred” version of Cannibal Holocaust and what Sergio Martino describes as an “improved” Mountain (formerly Prisoner) Of The Cannibal God, here comes Cannibal Ferox redux. While Deodato and Martino seem to entertain genuine misgivings about some of the things they’d gotten up to half a lifetime previously in South East Asia and up The Amazon, you suspect Lenzi didn’t really give a monkey’s cranium for animal rights, happily agreeing to anything that would squeeze a few more dollars out of a film that, it’s common knowledge, he despised.

So, what’s in and what’s out? Natives chewing on butterflies and live larvae are here, because the relevant legislation only applies to vertebrates. Ditto the skewering and stamping on of spiders. Because “quick clean kills” are not legally prohibited, you get the decapitation of a turtle that the natives are preparing for supper and the BBFC have deemed the thrashing around of what’s left of the unfortunate critter to be “a post mortem nervous reaction, akin to a headless chicken running around a farmyard”… and equally revolting. There still seem to be shots of that “tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep” and although the subsequent scene of said Coati being attacked by a large snake has been re-cut to eliminate the actual kill (remaining footage runs in slo-mo to maintain the film’s 93 minute running time) you still see its desperate attempts to avoid capture, which is pretty distressing stuff. There are further abridgements to a jaguar killing and dragging a monkey off into the foliage, natives gutting a small crocodile and the notorious pig stabbing scene in which Signor Radice / Morghen refused to participate. A clumsily contrived and totally gratuitous snake / lizard fight-to-the-death has completely gone, the narrative proceeding at this point straight to Johnny’s big seduction scene (“I had you nailed down the minute I saw you…”, etc) with Zora Kerova.

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So there you have it. A Cannibal Ferox that’s sufficiently compliant with the law to piss off completists but is still unlikely to persuade Morrissey to trade in his A Taste Of Honey DVD to get a copy…. this might prove to be one of Shameless’s most divisive releases yet.

Extras-wise, Lenzi and a heavily bearded Lombardo Radice continue their war of words from beyond the grave… Lenzi’s, anyway (his interview here is possibly the last one he ever recorded). A comparison feature shows how much better the 2K scan of Ferox’s 16mm negative looked after colour correction. The results are pretty grainy but Shameless argue, with some justification, that this is better looking and more authentic than certain other releases, with their “blingy shimmer” of Digital Noise Reduction. Whatever, if you pre-order this one (and there’s still time to do so as I post this) you get a barf bag into the bargain, all the better to turn you lounge into a 42nd Street grind house for an hour-and-a-half… but no monkey spanking, OK?

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“What cannibalism?”

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Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow… MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD On Shameless Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Ever wondered how an old gargoyle like me managed to snag the alluring Mrs F? (Calm down at the back, I said “snag“, OK?) If so (and in the unlikely event that you haven’t got anything better to do), study the UK quad poster, reproduced above, for Sergio Martino’s Prisoner (alternatively Mountain / Slave) Of The Cannibal God intently. When I suggested that the menacing central figure in it resembled nothing so much as “a turd with teeth”, her funny bone was sufficiently tickled for me to be considered a reincarnation of Oscar Wilde and the rest, as they say, is history. But enough autobiographical snatches from me…

… no, hang on, here’s another one. While wooing Mrs F and indeed, for about a quarter of a century in total, I was a vegetarian. During that period, when people would express unease to me about the maltreatment of animals in Italian cannibal films, I would respond along the snooty lines of: “Do you eat meat? You don’t need to, so what’s the difference?” About a decade ago, on medical grounds, I regretfully reverted to an omnivorous diet, decided that there was, indeed, a difference and began to seriously question some of the content of these films. By the same token, friends who remain committed to vegetarianism have protested the recent trend of releasing them in versions cut to eradicate or reduce scenes of cruelty to animals. It’s complicated…

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Having already released a BD edition of Ruggero Deodato’s epochal Cannibal Holocaust (1980) in a marginally more animal friendly variant now endorsed by Deodato as his “preferred version”, Shameless now bring us a Mountain Of The Cannibal God which “softens” its animal cruelty and which director Sergio Martino (in his on-screen intro) declares an “improved version” for a new generation of viewers, although once again it’s not exactly going to find favour with card-carrying PETA supporters.

M/S/POTCG (set in Papua New Guinea but actually filmed in Sri Lanka and Malaysia during 1978) is a ripping yarn of derring do that kicked off an action adventure trilogy which Martino completed the following year with The Great Alligator (below, also filmed in Sri Lanka) and Island Of The Fishmen (filmed in some park in Sardinia).

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Ursula Andress and Antonio Marsina hire Stacey Keach to help them find Ursula’s old man, an explorer missing in action among the natives. Stacy’s got a personal stake in the adventure and a burning ambition to wipe out the Puka tribe, who forced him to eat human flesh when he was briefly incarcerated by them. The gang encounter all the expected jungle perils and hook up with Claudio Cassinelli en route to the eponymous mountain, where they find the suppurating corpse of Mr Andress (looking like a refugee from the opening shots of Texas Chainsaw Massacre) being worshipped by the locals en account of the bleeping Geiger counter stuck in his chest, which they take for his heart… yeah, whatever. Turns out Andress and Marsina were after the local uranium all along.

While fitting nicely into the Rider Haggard / Jukes Verne terrain of Alligator / Fishmen, M/S/POTCG also reels off the expected cannibal film tropes with alacrity… y’know, “Who are the real savages?”… white woman worshipped (Andress decked out in a fetching Albanese goddess outfit in which she still cuts an impressive figure, 13 years on from Hammer’s She) by impressionable (and, it is strongly implied, inferior) natives… cannibalism (duh!) and – most contentiously – violence against animals…

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The pre-cut film was only certificated ‘X’ by the BBFC for a theatrical release (under the “Prisoner” title) in 1978 after the excision of two episodes of crocodile-on-turtle violence, a bit of snake vs eagle unpleasantness and the infamous scene in which another snake suffocates and consumes a terrified monkey, comprising 126 seconds. This version was identical to the one released by Hokushin on home video three years later, which “enjoyed” a place on the DPP’s official list of “video nasties” from November 1983 to May ’85. After that unfortunate spasm of witch-hunting had run its course, M/S/POTCG  became one of a slew of “contentious” titles that were certificated for VHS (in its dying days) and DVD after further cuts, in this case 126 seconds from the Vipco release (“Cuts required to sight of animal cruelty, including animals being goaded to fight each other”). 2008 and 2013 releases, by Orbit and Cornerstone respectively, were identical in duration and contents.

Shameless have restored scenes of sex and violence never previously seen in an official UK release of this film, including a female Puka frigging herself off, a dude getting castrated and the ludicrous sight of another guy pretending to bum a pig, which seems blithely oblivious to his amorous efforts. Such footage would fall foul of “extreme porn” legislation if rendered “explicitly / realistically” but fortunately that particular statute doesn’t include “laughably”. Apparently the restoration materials were sourced from Martino’s personal archive. Although the BBFC were prepared to wear all this stuff, 121 seconds of compulsory cuts were “required to remove six sequences of animal cruelty in accordance with BBFC Guidelines and policy”.

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Even so, the film still contains the knife impalement of a tarantula, immediately  followed by the gutting of a lizard (its innards promptly scarfed down by natives)… a monitor lizard is seen honking up the messy remains of a snake it recently consumed… a live crab is roasted over the fire (to the obvious enjoyment of Marsina’s character)… and the memorably revolting underground snake-scoffing fest is present and (politically) incorrect. The working assumption would seem to be that the more mammalian (more sentient?) an animal is, the more likely the BBFC are to take exception to its mistreatment in this kind of film.

Shameless suggest that much of the animal abuse was inserted for Far Eastern markets where such stuff goes down well at the box office, though this hardly absolves Martino from responsibility… nor does the micro-featurette in which he addresses the issue here. Honestly, I love the guy’s movies but this apologia is all over the place, no more convincing than that which he gave on Blue Underground’s previous, totally uncut release. That one also contained a frame-by-frame analysis of the “snake eats monkey” scene that conclusively demonstrates the inadequacy of Martino’s account of it.

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But where do you stop? If non-PC depictions of women and indigenous people were removed from these films, there’d be very little of them left to screen… and what about the unpleasant dwarf who torments Cassinelli before having his midget brains bashed out? Is this an acceptable depiction of a vertically challenged person? Like I said, it’s complicated…

This BD transfer looks rather  marvellous, Giancarlo Ferrando’s shimmering cinematography effectively rendering the heat and humidity of which Martino complains in Riccardo Trombetta’s NoShame “making of” documentary, Cannibal Nightmare: Return To The Mountain Of The Cannibal God, which includes nifty “on location footage” and contributions from Martino and the dynamic duo of DP Ferrando and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. You also get a trailer and Italian title / credit sequences.

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Don’t look back on Andress…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Electric Sex Aid Acid Test… Umberto Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! on Severin Blu-Ray

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“He’s not The Messiah… he’s a very naughty boy!”

BD / CD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s third cannibal outing / outrage, Eaten Alive (1980… its title thoughtfully expanded to Eaten Alive By The Cannibals! in some territories) makes its BD debut via Severin and arrives in our in-tray with a thud and an added whiff of unexpected topicality, opening as it does with assassinations by nerve toxin (derived from cobra venom and delivered via blow darts) in major Western cities. The unfortunate victims  are disaffected members of The Purification Sect, a wacked out religious cult operating out of Sri Lanka (doubling for New Guinea) under the acid fascist leadership of a certain Jonas (Ivan Rassimov). Any resemblance to the Reverend Jimbo of  Jonestown massacre infamy is, of course (cough!)… purely coincidental!

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As in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (made the same year), the bad guy is using cannibal-infested country as a buffer zone to shield his nefarious antics from the prying eyes of outsiders… but again, this ploy fails when Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) approaches Vietnam deserter-turned-mercenary adventurer Mark (Robert Kerman), whom she finds arm-wrestling over sharp knives in a Deer Hunter-type dive, to help spring her brainwashed sister Diana (Paola Senatore) from the cult’s grasp. I’m sure we’ve already commented on Robert Kerman / Bolla’s extraordinary CV elsewhere on this blog, alternatively get your cyber self over to IMDB and prepare to be amazed.

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Anyway, after the expected jungle hazards and hi-jinks (much of them comprising crudely transplanted stock footage from Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World and Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God), Janet and Robert make it to Puresville and discover Diana alive if not exactly well, living under the thrall of the insane Jonas, who alternates bible quotations with the application of venom soaked dildos to his comelier acolytes, justifying such shenanigans on the grounds that pain will reunite mankind with Nature… yeah, whatever!

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There are further kinky developments when villager Mowara (Me Me Lai) finds herself widowed, Purification doctrine demanding that she lays down in her recently cremated husband’s ashes while his surviving brothers queue up to bonk her. In another echo of Martino’s earlier cannibal epic, Sheila is stripped down and painted gold for Big J’s drug crazed gratification. When she and Mark  have had enough of Rassimov’s dystopian New Jerusalem, they make a break for it through cannibal country with Diana and Mowara, who are promptly trapped, messily dismembered and eaten by the locals.

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Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Mark and Sheila are on the verge of carrying out a suicide pact when police helicopters arrive to whisk them away. The same choppers prompt Jones… er, Jonas to utter the memorable line “Have them prepare that mixture, Dick” and harangue his followers into consuming the killer Kool Aid so they can accompany him on his final trip, though the film’s ending suggests that he declined the drink himself and is still on the lam somewhere (the Jones cult, explicitly identified as such, would feature again as a plot point in Deodato’s Cut And Run, 1985). Mark is cheated out of his money but gets the girl and Sheila is browbeaten, in time honoured cannibal film fashion, not to reveal to the media the extent of anthropophagous antics still going on under our complacent Western noses just a piddling plane ride away.

Among other familiar cannibal film tropes vying for our attention we find the expected troubling “found footage”, casual racism (one of Agren’s “comic” lines about life in the cotton fields will have you reaching for rewind to check she actually said what you thought she just said)… it’s fair to say that there was never any realistic chance of this film’s credits carrying that line about “no animals having been harmed during the production” and inevitably, despite the tough line Jonas takes on alcohol, the onscreen action is sometimes obscured by the sheer volume of J&B bottles, piling up on conspicuous display.

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Kudos to Mel Ferrer (as anthropologist Dr Carter) for starring in two films entitled Eaten Alive (which was one of the many alternative titles for Tobe Hopper’s sophomore Horror feature) when most actors would have considered one to be more than enough. I also appreciate the fact that at one point Agren looks like she’s about to go into a grindhouse cinema to watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.

With this release Severin prove themselves once again the masters of, er, remastering, delivering an Eaten Alive! that looks better than you probably believed possible. The claim in their typically gonzo sleeve notes that watching this film is equivalent to having your dick ripped off can safely be dismissed as hyperbole, but Lenzi’s rendition of “cannibal movie greatest hits in bite-sized chunks” might well register as a painful twist on your short and curlies. Although even its the director concedes its shortcomings (see below), Lenzi directs the 90% of Eaten Alive! that he did direct with consummate craftsmanship and characteristic gusto, earning this 42nd St classic a space on the shelves of any self-respecting spaghetti exploitation buff.

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Extras include a Freakorama interview in which Lenzi (who seems to have borrowed Craig Wasson’s porn star pullover from Body Double) airs a familiar grievance, namely that people ignore all the war films he made. I remember him moaning about that rather a lot when I interviewed him, but Lenzi seems to have mellowed a bit. He still calls Ruggero Deodato “a liar” for claiming to have invented the Italian cannibal genre (which, of course, Lenzi kicked off with The Man From Deep River in 1972) but admits that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is far superior to any of his own jungle pot-boilers, indeed that it’s “a masterpiece”.

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We’re treated to a recording of Lenzi’s Q&A session at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester. Again he talks up his war films (and gialli) and restates his low regard for cannibal films, insisting that he slams the phone down on any journalist who has the temerity to mention Cannibal Ferox (no mere rhetorical flourish, this… he once actually did precisely that to Yours Truly!) but gets the biggest laugh of the session when he announces that all the money Ferox has subsequently made for him has belatedly convinced him of its status as a cinema classic. He won’t talk about his differences with John Morghen but rehashes, when invited, the feud between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli which necessitated each of them to film their participation in the climax to The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) on alternate days. Poignantly, Lenzi talks about subsisting on a slice of pizza every three days when he embarked upon film-making. The fact that just before this Q&A he had been brunching with Barbara Bouchet testifies most eloquently to the satisfactory career arc that ensued. I was actually enjoying a private audience with Bouchet when this session took place, so I’m glad of the opportunity to catch up with its contents here.

We also get an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and a mash-up of archive interviews with Rassimov and Kerman. The latter tries to sort out his different personas and recalls that the famously wiggy Lenzi was more courteous to him on set than Deodato, whom he describes as “sadistic”.

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Most welcome of all is the inclusion among the supplementary materials of Naomi Holwill’s nifty documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen, previously thumbed up on this blog in a review which has emerged as one of our most heavily visited postings since it debuted in March 2016.

My copy of Eaten Alive! came in a slipcover and boasted a bonus disc of Roberto Donati’s discotastic OST. Grab ’em while you can…

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… better or worse than being trapped in a jungle of rational flesh eaters? You must be the judge!

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