Posts Tagged With: Censorship

Serving God With Biochemistry Since 1981… ABSURD Arrives On Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

What can I possibly tell you about “Peter Newton” / Joe D’Amato’s Absurd that you don’t already know or can’t easily glean from Seduction Of The Gullible: The Curious History Of The UK’s “Video Nasty” Panic? OK, if you haven’t got a copy of that to hand (and if not, why not?!?) I’ll try to get you up to speed. On account of its Medusa VHS release, Absurd became alphabetically the first of the “nasties” and was also one of the last, in the sense that along with 38 other titles, it stayed on the DPP’s proscribed list until that throwback to The Spanish Inquisition was discontinued. Plotwise, it unfolds as equal parts Halloween remake and half-assed sort of sequel / sort of not, to D’Amato’s other “nasty” Anthropophagous Beast (1980), though it manages the improbable feat of being an even worse film than that. Luigi Montefiori’s monstrous dude boasts a much better complexion here than in Anthropophagous and doesn’t actually eat anybody (he even resists the urge to consume his own intestines when they spill out, yet again, at the start of this one) though he does hang Michele Soavi’s juvenile delinquent upside down from a tree, bake Annie Bell’s bonce in an oven and penetrate the heads of various other dudes with axes, black’n’deckers and bandsaws. All of this is on account of a genetic mutation (a scientifically induced one, it is darkly hinted) that has also, as (bad) luck would have it, rendered him virtually indestructible, as Father Edmund Purdom explains to the sceptical cops, their scepticism scarcely mitigated by the priest’s announcement that he serves God “with biochemistry rather than ritual.” Katya Berger, who spends most of the film screwed to some fiendish orthopedic device, ultimately rises from it (begging certain obvious questions that D’Amato clearly can’t be arsed answering) to prove that when it comes to challenging the alleged indestructibility of hulking home invaders, eye pokings and decapitation trump biochemistry every time!

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88’s Absurd Blu-ray represents the first legitimate UK release of this title – and its first appearance on disc in this country – since the “nasties” witch hunt receded. It’s uncut and looks better than it probably deserves, the graininess that plagues many such 2K upgrades of films from its era contained within acceptable parameters. You get a commentary track from The Hysteria Continues (Teenage Wasteland author and Richard Osman soundalike Justin Kerswell with his pals) which makes for reasonably diverting stuff, if not quite as amusing as their Pieces commentary (these guys are fast becoming the “go to” crew for Edmund Purdom movies!) Their audio track is slightly out of synch with the visuals, too, which gets a bit jarring when they’re talking about specific shots.

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In addition, you get the expected reversible sleeve options and a nifty little insert which contains amusing capsule reviews of the DPP’s least favourite 39 titles by Calum Waddell. Best of all are two interview feauturettes, each about a quarter of an hour long, with Montefiori (aka George Eastman) and Soavi, both looking significantly greyer than you probably remember them. Montefiori, who still presents an imposing physical presence, generates plenty of tantalising trivia for pasta paura buffs, including how he took on the Anthropophagous role because he was keen to visit Greece… only for all of his scenes to be shot in Rome… and how he was originally slated to direct Stagefright (1987) until he was distracted by problems with a restaurant he had just opened (!) and the project devolved to Soavi. Big George, who is endearingly modest and self-deprecating throughout, concedes that Soavi did a much better job than he could have hoped to. He also makes some fascinating and frank observations on the character and career (“He preferred staying in the lower league where he could have more control over everything”) of Joe D’Amato, whom he clearly loved dearly. He reiterates the story that D’Amato’s fatal heart attack was brought on by the disappearance of several cans of footage, a sad but also apposite ending to a life consumed by film. Soavi obviously worships the memory of D’Amato too, recalling his first impression of him as “a little man with a smirk and a cigarette… it was love at first sight!” Elsewhere in the interview, he celebrates D’Amato’s role as an incubator of young talent such as his and contends that “everything said about him is probably all true and all false… a very complex and incomprehensible person… for me, a genius… one of the greatest cinema masters of all time!” Perversely enough, after enduring another screening of Absurd, I’m inclined to agree!

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Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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When Two Tribes Go To War… Calum Waddell’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Tome Reviewed

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Cannibal Holocaust by Calum Waddell: Auteur. ISBN paperback: 978-1-911325-11-6 ISBN ebook: 978-1-911325-12-3

When I interviewed Ruggero Deodato in the ’90s I mentioned the obvious (to me) affinities between his 1980 films Cannibal Holocaust and House On The Edge Of The Park, only for him to pointedly dismiss any such parallels. Well, I persisted, both films deal with a group of feral outsiders who are ultimately revealed to be less morally culpable than the “civilised” sophisticates whom they encounter… but the director was having none of it. Although both films had been lumbered with the moronic “video nasties” label in the philistine climate of early ’80s Britain, by the time I spoke to Deodato the reputation of his little anthropophagous epic had made the transition from international pariah to postmodern phenom worthy of serious critical – and even academic – attention. House On The Edge, in the meantime, has undergone no such re-evaluation (and admittedly, it’s nowhere near as good a film)… it remains, in the eyes of the world, an irredeemably tacky little knock off of a Wes Craven knockoff (I personally find much to “like” in HOTEOTP but this isn’t the place to go into that) and Deodato didn’t want anybody besmirching his suddenly respectable cause celebre with any comparisons to it. Have it your way, Ruggero…

From my earliest scribblings in Samhain, during the aforementioned video witch hunt, I was agitating for (and I hopefully contributed towards) a criticism that would fuse fannish enthusiasm for such genre films with an intelligent, analytical approach. Subsequently (blame me if you want to… I’ve frequently had the impression that I’m being shot by both sides) there have been comings together of the zine scenesters and the ISBN-totin’ academics, who’ve generally snarled at each other before withdrawing to their respective corners. One gathers there was a particularly mean-spirited poker game at one point but, as yet, nobody’s managed to find the found footage that documents this…

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Calum Waddell is not (and this won’t come as news to him) everybody’s cup of tea or bowl of monkey brain mush. He notably declared himself horrified by Cannibal Holocaust. Gore hounds, horrified by the fact that he was horrified by it, then alleged hypocrisy when he continued to write (very well) about it in genre publications and get paid (nothing like as well, believe me!) to do so, interviewed and befriended several of its principal creators, toured the festival circuit with them and collaborated on the film’s Blu-ray release in The States. But come on, guys… isn’t anyone who’s fascinated by this most notorious “video nasty” also appalled and repelled by it? Isn’t that the very essence of its ongoing “appeal”? Cannibal Holocaust isn’t Marmite (even if one of its most persistent chroniclers seemingly is.) Waddell’s proven track record of willingness to take a wider view, plus his extensive connection with the film’s creators (Carl Yorke – the hateful Yates himself – contributes a thoughtful and witty foreword) guarantee that anyone who picks up this latest entry in Auteur’s (Columbia University Press in the U.S. of A) ongoing Devil’s Advocates  series will find a lot to, er, get their teeth into… much food for thought in, e.g. his survey of which Italian cannibal movies got distributed in which Third World territories, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

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The author gives cursory treatment to Cannibal Holocaust’s seminal role in the aforementioned “nasties” hoo-hah and its roots in the “mondo” school of shockumentary, satisfied that enough has been written on both of these scores, elsewhere (not infrequently by myself.) My own particular interest in these films has always been the extent to which they represent a range of domestic reactions to the failure of Mussolini’s abortive (and ultimately absurd) attempt to refound some sort of Roman Empire. Waddell casts his net wider, framing his (persuasive) arguments in the wider context of The Cold War, which still had a decade or so to run when Deodato took his band of cinematic conquistadores up the Amazon. The proximate inspiration was no doubt Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), though Cannibal Holocaust makes a starker statement about the impact of imperialism on the bodies of “gooks” and “savages” than FFC’s bloated folly, with its relentless focus on the mindset of its American characters, could ever hope to achieve… if, indeed, it was ever interested in doing so. When Alan, Jack, Faye and Mark massacre the yanomami in their huts for the purposes of their tacky little mondo movie it is, as Waddell points out, the spectre of My Lai that haunts our screens…

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“A clump“?

… Cannibal Holocaust could as easily be read as an allegory of the 16th Century European (specifically Latin) conquest of South America and a much more finely nuanced one than, for example, Neil Young’s celebrated Cortes The Killer, which combines musical fireworks with a portrayal of life under Moctezuma and his warrior priests so naively sanitized as to amount to inverted racism. Trust Bernal Diaz, who was actually there with Cortes and whose account, in The Conquest Of New Spain, of brutal life and death in the Aztec empire is all the more trustworthy because he pulls absolutely no punches at all about what a bastard (and indeed a killer) his master was.

Similarly, it’s a moot point (and one made eloquently in the final section proper of Waddell’s book, “Patriarchy In Cannibal Holocaust”) whether the indigenous women here (not to mention Faye) suffer more at the hands of the mondo crew, casual rapists and killers as they are, or their own jealous menfolk, casual abortionists and honour killers that they are.

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Hip as he is to such moral relativism and the irony of an exploitation movie that’s exploiting its own expose of exploitation movies to put bums on cinema seats, Waddell can’t help but multiply rather than resolve the ethical ambiguities of Cannibal Holocaust… as would any self-respecting discussion of Deodato’s film, which remains a hall of distorting mirrors in which the moral high ground is impossible to locate, let alone claim. Nevertheless, those seeking a guide through the arterial byways of Deodato’s Heart Of Darkness (perhaps towards a verdict that will be – to paraphrase a line in another notorious “nasty” – one of self-incrimination) will wait in vain for a better one than this.

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With Apologies To Proudhon… Daria Nicolodi in Elio Petri’s PROPERTY IS NO LONGER A THEFT

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow Academy. 15.

“What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” – Bertolt Brecht.

“Money doesn’t smell!” – the emperor Vespasian, dismissing his son Titus’ qualms about a tax on piss collected from public urinals.

Some directors (as we shall shortly see) reacted to Italy’s “years of lead” (the pandemic criminal and political violence of the late ’60s and ’70s) by packing heavily moustached detectives and all manner of ballistic hardware into trench coats and unleashing them on the bad guys, whoever they were perceived to be that week. Elio Petri responded with darkly comic satires of the official corruption that had accompanied Italy’s “economic miracle” and was implicated, in ways not yet fully explained, with the turmoil that followed it. His films from this period (as suggested in the title of the 1973 offering under consideration here) also constitute an arch critique of the contemporary state of class consciousness and the Left’s fitness for purpose. Petri’s cinematic approach to these questions had less to do with the balletic bullet fests of Enzo Castellari than with such theatrical antecedents as Dario Fo’s celebrated Accidental Death Of An Anarchist and – as here – tends to be theatrically lit by Luigi Kuveiler. In Property Is No Longer A Theft he grants Shakespearian soliloquies to his principle cast members…

… and what a cast it is.Flavio Bucci (who made his screen debut in Petri’s 1971 effort The Working Class Goes To Heaven but will probably be more familiar as the blind pianist in Suspiria and one of the two murderous rapists on board Aldo Lado’s Late Night Trains) gives a superbly twitchy performance here as Total, a downtrodden bank teller who quits his job after developing a fixation on one of the bank’s clients, an affluent butcher identified simply as “The Butcher” (Italian comedy legend Ugo Tognazzi), whose wealth Total reckons (with some justification) to have been amassed via criminal means.

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Total resolves to steal The Butcher’s property, his reputation and his mistress Anita. The latter is played by another HOF Hall-of-Famer,  Daria Nicolodi, who emerges as a revelation when armed with a proper script and strong characterisation to sink her teeth into (and without the cruddy dubbing that have so often disfigured her screen performances.) There’s a gialloesque murder in a lift and a Diabolik gag or two thrown in for good measure as the blackly comic complications multiply, nicely complimented by one of Ennio Morricone’s quirkiest scores (though it’s not as flat-out bonkers as the one he contributed to Petri’s Investigation Of A Citizen Under Suspicion, 1970.)

Limited to the first pressing of this release, you also get an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Camilla Zamboni (upon which I can’t comment because I haven’t seen it.) The other bonus materials comprise interviews with make-up artist Pierantonio Mecacci, a knackered looking Flavio Bucci… who gets quite emotional talking about producer Claudio Mancini…

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… and Mancini himself, who restores the balance with some light-hearted, gossipy reminiscences. He pokes gentle fun at Petri (above) for being what British right-wing rags now call a “champagne socialist” (a charge they routinely level at any Lefty who doesn’t live in a mud hut) and recalls the perils of dealing with Maoist trades unions on location. Intriguingly, for such a cerebral effort, he attributes the box office success of PINLAT to the amount of prurient punters who wanted to see the sex scene in which Nicolodi takes the upper berth, a scene on account of which this film was originally banned (a decision promptly rescinded) by Italian censors. You might well want to check it out, too.

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Immoral Men… Walerian Borowczyk’s THE STORY OF SIN Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow Academy. 18.

I’ve been pondering the possibility of a Walerian Borowczyk Weekender for a while now but Arrow, still mopping up the treasures that didn’t make it onto their epic Camera Obscura box set, have forced my hand with this handsome release of the last feature he completed in Poland, a 1975 adaptation of Stefan Zeromski’s bodice-ripping literary classic, a kind of Slavic answer to Madame Bovary.
The film opens with pious but ironically named small town girl Ewa Probatynska (Grazyna Dlugolecka) being warned in the confessional that sin begins with the imagination and admonished not to look at erotic books or art… nor should she respond to the lustful looks that men might give her in the street. Of course the priest can’t resist checking her out as she leaves, setting the scene for a cautionary tale of one woman’s decline and fall at the hands of a series of variously vain, hypocritical, weak and unreliable, opportunistic and murderous men.

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First she falls, head over heels, for Lukasz Niepolomski (Jerzy Selnik), one of the lodgers that her respectable parents are obliged to take in to keep solvent. In a masterly touch, Borowczyk intercuts their initial flirtation in a park with shots of a little girl getting lost in the undergrowth. Lukasz tries to put Ewa off by telling her that he’s married and having difficulty in obtaining a divorce… but he’s not exactly fighting her off with a pointed stick. When her pulls the first of his signature disappearances she is devastated but word later reaches her that her beau has been wounded in a duel and she unquestioningly heads for the village where he’s recuperating to take a menial job as a seamstress and nurse him back to health. After recovering enough to impregnate her, Lukacs disappears to Rome in pursuit of that divorce. Alone, Ewa undergoes a traumatic delivery and immediately does away with her baby. Count Zygmunt Szczerbic (Olgierd Lukaszewicz), an associate of Lukacz (in fact, the guy who wounded him in that duel) informs Ewa that her lover has been incarcerated in Rome but when they get there he has already been released and disappeared again without notice. The Count (who clearly worships Ewa, though she only has eyes for Lukasz) shepherds her around Europe in a vain search until she learns by chance that Lukasz got his divorce and promptly married a rich woman with whom he has returned to Poland. Hitting rock bottom, Ewa falls in with a bunch of con men and cut throats who string her along with promises that they can reunite her with Lukacz. At their behest she takes the devoted Count to bed and is tricked into killing him so that they can make off with his worldly goods.

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Thereafter they pimp her out to all comers until a social reformer with a kinky interest in criminal women enrolls her in his utopian agricultural community. Her former cohorts lure her away from there with yet another promise that they’ll hook her up with Lukasz. Realising that they plan to rob and kill him too, she sacrifices her life to warn him. At the very moment of death, she finally receives some tenderness, some acknowledgement from the love of her life.

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Often misguidedly dismissed as some kind of sexist monster or “mere” pornographer, Borowczyk does a remarkable job here, telling his story from the point of view of a strong (albeit doomed) female character with whom he clearly identifies… and well he might. The opening clerical admonition about imagination and eroticism having no place in Polish society might well have been aimed at the director himself, who was about to leave his homeland to follow more faithfully the muse that he had begun to indulge in such French productions as Immoral Tales (1973) and its notorious off-shoot, The Beast (1975.) Had he been granted the gift of foresight, Borowczyk might conceivably have enjoyed a wry chuckle at the way his subsequent career curve was perceived to parallel that of Ewa, with the accusation that he was somehow “prostituting” his formidable talent… it didn’t exactly help, admittedly, that he ended up directing the likes of Emmanuelle 5 (1987.)
As a valediction to interdiction, Story Of Sin is an exceptionally strong sign off, built around a powerhouse central performance from Dlugolecka (a very feisty woman indeed, as her bonus interview here attests.) With it, Borowczyk waved goodbye to his reputation as a “serious” film maker but, more importantly for his creative integrity, to not one but two tyrannies. After 1975 he was no longer subject to the strictures of Soviet ideology, although of course the insidious shadow of the Vatican proved harder to shake off.

Is Ewa, in her rejection of society’s mores, experiencing “freedom” when she follows her obsession through degradation into annihilation… or is she just the slave of her ovaries? By the same token, did Borowczyk, in the ongoing pursuit of his erotomania, merely replace the tyranny of The New Testament with that of his own testosterone? Is l’amour fou literally “the drug” (manifested as “solicor” in WB’s Dr Jekyll Et Les Femmes, 1981)? Is this why Borowczyk routinely depicts inanimate objects as having more character than the people who move among them? Frankly, I don’t know but I’m going to have a long, hard think about it…

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Those familiar with Arrow’s previous Borowczyk releases won’t be surprised to learn that this 2K restoration from the original negative looks great (I’ve only seen the DVD but it’s reasonable to suppose that the Blu-ray looks even better) and is jam-packed with edifying bonus materials, over and above the aforementioned, riveting Dlugolecka interview. You also get an introduction to the film by poster designer Andrzej Klimowski plus new restorations of the WB shorts Once Upon a Time, Dom (both of those co-directed with Jan Lenica) and The School, with optional audio commentaries by the ubiquitous Daniel Bird and co. Bird also contributes a witty video essay, a sort of “how to do Borowczyk” guide. Various WB associates and intimates are interviewed and we are further treated to a documentary on Borowczyk documentaries and a very early one that he co-wrote on poster art, which contains the manifesto line: “In our times, objects take centre stage…”

… of course you get a trailer… and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Klimowski…
… but by far the jewel in this disc’s bonus crown is the audio commentary by Diabolique magazine’s Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger. Since my prehistoric first scribblings in the pages of Samhain, I’ve agitated for (and would like to think I’ve contributed towards) a criticism that is every bit as informed as it is passionate, enthusiastic and erudite in equal measure. That’s exactly what you get here. When Ellinger and Deighan aren’t rhapsodising about French saints masturbating with cucumbers they’re invoking Flaubert, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Hardy and Dostoevsky or reading passages from Baudelaire… marvellous stuff and quite possibly the best, most thought-provoking audio commentary I’ve yet encountered. Let’s hear it for the girls!

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– KONIEC –

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The 104 Minute Technicolor Nightmare… LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN on Blu-Ray

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Blu-ray. Region Free. Mondo Macabro. Unrated.

I’ve already commented elsewhere on this blog about how the reputation of various Lucio Fulci pictures have been salvaged by successively better proportioned and more complete releases in increasingly high definition. Take his 1971 giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971)… for a long time all we had to go on was VIP’s pre-cert VHS release, a washed out, panned-and scanned transfer of a print that had been significantly cut. Compared to the full throttle zombie stompers that were exercising the attention of the DPP at this time, it was easy to dismiss the film as of only marginal interest to the rapidly growing legion of Fulci devotes. Shriek Show began the film’s rehabilitation in the mid noughties with their much-anticipated, much delayed Region 1 double discer, which came with a useful selection of bonus interviews and a nifty repro of the U.S “Schizo” press book. Concern was expressed though that with its dual presentation of widescreen / cut and full screen / (allegedly) uncut versions, this edition rather fell between two stools. The label responded shortly afterwards with an “uncut” anamorphic 1.85:1 jobby (with 5.1 soundtrack option to boot) that contained inserts of varying picture quality (inevitably, in view of the tangled censorship history outlined in one of its bonus features) and was still, according to avid internet posters, missing a few minor bits of business here and there. The UK edition released by  Optimum Home Entertainment (Studiocanal) in 2010, looked and sounded rather lovely, was billed as “the longest version ever available” though (according to the internet diehards) it came in shorter still. Finally (well, about a year ago but – as previously mentioned – the wheels grind slowly here at The House Of Freudstein), LIAWS has made it, courtesy of Mondo Macabro, to region free Blu-ray where it looks absolutely stunning but (stop me if you’ve heard this before…)

It won’t have escaped your attention, you perceptive buggers, that much of what I’ve written so far has been heavily hedged around with qualifications… “alleged”, “people claim” and such weasel worded shit… truth is, I have neither the time, the attention span nor the sheer gluteal fortitude to sit, stopwatch in hand, glued to a succession of versions of the same film. There are plenty of people who pack all of those qualities in abundance and  as I say, their findings are on the internet, where you shouldn’t have too much trouble locating them. If you are the kind of consumer who wakes up in a cold sweat, suspecting that you might have missed a few frames of a minor character walking across a room, then you’ll find much there to divert you. Otherwise, the Mondo Macabro BD is LIAWS in excelcis… let’s wallow in it, people!

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Florinda Bolkan stars as Carole Hammond, pampered daughter of a high-flying barrister (Leo Genn). Her marriage to rising legal eagle Frank (Jean Sorel) isn’t in particularly good shape though, and the dullness of her family’s bourgeois existence is thrown into sharp relief by the loud, drug-crazed sex parties regularly thrown by their next door neighbour Julia Durer (silicon-stuffed Swedish giallo stalwart Anita Strindberg). Fulci makes great use of split screen to emphasise the gulf between the dreary life Carole leads and the edgy alternative that seems to repel and fascinate her in equal measures. She confides in her psychoanalyst that she is having erotic dreams about Durer which end in her stabbing the swinger to death (all rendered in gratifyingly sexy and psychedelic style by Fulci.) The doc interprets these apparent flights of fantasy in comfortingly cod Freudian terms but when Durer’s corpse is actually discovered in her flat, along with a shedload of clues that point to Carole as the perpetrator (including her own paper knife), things start getting really interesting… has Carole gone nuts? Did she really do it… or is she being set up?

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Enter Stanley Baker as Inspector Corvin, an irascible cop with barely suppressed fascistic tendencies (“Scour the city, Brandon… find anyone who has red hair and put the screws to him”) and an irritating habit of whistling Ennio Morricone’s (rather wonderful) theme music out of tune while pondering various suspects, their motives and opportunities. Fulci keeps us guessing through the convolutions of a plot which is considerably tighter than, e.g. that of its predecessor, 1969’s One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story, but not to the detriment of the director’s increasingly flamboyant visual style and way with a suspenseful sequence, as various family members are messily dispatched and Carole herself comes under threat from the more sinister elements among Julia Durer’s boho circle. There are tremendous cat and mouse scenes, amid the shabby gentility of the Alexandra Palace (which sequence features a bat attack that is much more convincing than the one in Fulci’s later The House By The Cemetery and, as Howard Berger has pointed out, seems to have exerted an influence over a very similar one in Argento’s Suspiria) and in the grounds of a sanatorium, where Carole’s attempts to escape the murderous attentions of improbably named killer hippy Hubert aka “Red” (Mike Kennedy, best known as the singer in “Black Is Black” combo Los Bravos) lead her to the notorious lab of vivisected dogs, a much cut scene which nearly landed Fulci in jail before Oscar-winning FX ace Carlo Rambaldi proved to the satisfaction of a judge that the unfortunate canines were actually animatronic constructions devised by himself (it has even been claimed that they were knocked up under the uncredited supervision of Mario Bava).

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Fulci has a ball packing the film with visual quotations from the likes of Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Francis Bacon’s screaming Popes, and although he always waxed cynical about the value of psychoanalysis (“Freud was a fraud who stole psychoanalysis from the Catholic confessional to finance his cocaine habit!” the director once told me) LIAWS employs fur coats, geese, and plenty of other symbolically charged objects in a style that Freud would have recognised only too well.

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When Hubert and his studio tanned girlfriend Jenny (Penny Brown) testify to the shocking truth (or at least, every cliché ever dreamed up in a tabloid) about LSD use, supplying this film with its enigmatic title in the process, it becomes apparent that the real culprit for Julia Durer’s murder has given themself away in an attempt to refute evidence that would never have stood up in court anyway. D’oh…

During my interview with Fulci, he rejected a comment I made along the lines of Lizard In A Woman Skin’s being “in the post-Blow Up tradition of swinging London gialli” (or some such flip formulation.) He didn’t perceive any such influence and, while acknowledging Antonioni’s stature, described Blow Up as “nothing special.” Well, I beg to differ on both counts. If Blow Up pokes beneath the surface and finds swinging London dead on arrival (which is precisely why its Metropolitan hipster detractors have always hated it so much), LIAWS returns to that scene a few years later to see what acid had added to (or subtracted from) what was already a cultural and spiritual void.

It has been suggested (notably and repeatedly in Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia) that Fulci was a reactionary stuffed shirt who bridled at any hint of social liberalism / permissiveness and punished it relentlessly in his films… and of course this is a narrative that ties in conveniently with the whole tired “misogyny” chestnut. But it’s clear in LIAWS that Carole Hammond’s simultaneous repulsion towards / fascination with the groovy goings on next door are actually projections of Fulci’s own mixed feelings towards such shenanigans. Nor does he present a particularly sympathetic portrait of the straight life, to the extent of depicting those involved in it as rotting corpses!

Some commentators have had a chuckle at the expense of Barbara Bouchet’s “marijuana dependent” character in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling…

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… and indeed, how we used to laugh at The Man’s attempts to harsh our mellow with dire warnings about addiction and reefer madness. Decades later, some of us look at the state of some of our mates and wonder if maybe The Man had a point. As for the advent of skunk… have you caught an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show recently? Suffice to say, Fulci was no babe in the wood on this score… indeed, it’s an open secret that he proved adept (albeit reluctantly so) at scoring for doomed junkie jazz trumpeter Chet Baker when nothing else would get his poorly chosen celebrity guest star back on the set of 1960’s Howlers In The Dock. There’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy, Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia…

Stephen Thrower traces Fulci’s indulgence (which was not entirely unmotivated, of course, by commercial considerations) at least as far back as his second directorial outing, Juke Box Boys (1959) and expands engagingly on the establishment’s ambivalent attitude towards the encroachment of an energetic ’60s counter culture in the appropriately named featurette When Worlds Collide… pop festivals at Woburn Abbey, beatnik poetry at the Royal Albert Hall (he might also have mentioned Keith Emerson burning The Stars And Stripes there) and The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at that bastion of establishment broadcasting, The Alexandra Palace…

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The Pink Floyd on stage at Ally Pally, 29.04.67

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Florinda Bolkan on the roof of Ally Pally, three years later.

In an interesting sidebar on the film’s title, Mr T mentions that for much of the project’s production schedule LIAWS was a mere subtitle, which supplanted original choice “The Cage” late in the day and, pointedly, in the wake of Dario Argento’s game changing giallo hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Apparently Argento was a bit peeved by the perceived opportunism of this retitling but it has to be said that, while The Cage is a perfectly fitting title for a tale of the torrid passions seething behind the facade of bourgeoise respectability (how apt that the film’s cast includes Anita Strindberg), Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is an even more appropriate handle on the notion of an eminently civilised character who’s ultimately undone by the eruption of basal, basilisk passions from their reptilian back brain… from this perspective, the title by which Fulci’s second giallo has become known couldn’t be further removed from such throwaway titlings as Riccardo Freda’s Iguana with a Tongue Of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Red Cats In A Glass Labyrinth or, dare I say it, Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails…

Thrower, who’s update of his already herculean Beyond Terror tome is almost upon us courtesy of FAB Press, also offers some interesting observations on why it has proved so difficult to assemble a “definitive” cut of LIAWS or even to decide on what such a thing might possibly look like.

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The audio commentary, by the redoubtable Pete Tombs and Kris Gavin, is well worth a listen… Gavin does go on rather a lot about his friendship with Florinda Bolkan and co but it would be rash of me to start slinging bricks around in this connection, the House Of Freudstein being so palpably constructed on foundations of glass. He and Tombs offer plenty of interesting insights into dialogue differences between the Italian and English soundtracks  and the attendant nuances of meaning. They also point out the few lines of a minor character that were dubbed by giallo icon Suzy Kendall and helpfully identify Fulci’s second wife amid the minor players.

“Shedding the Skin” is a documentary pinched from the first Shriek Show release, hosted by Penny Brown (who looks just great) and including additional interviews with Bolkan, “Mike Kennedy” (the stereotypical Irishman turns out to be a German), Carlo Rambaldi and the (also rather well-preserved) Jean Sorel. Curiously, you get the option to watch this while listening to more of Gavin’s reminiscences.

There’s also an interview with Tony Adams… yes, Crossroads fans, it’s “Adam Chance”… here playing a rookie cop whose rough treatment at the hands of Baker’s character is apparently pretty faithful to their actual on set relationship.

You get the expected original trailers and radio spots but the real jewel in the crown, bonus wise, is Dr Lucio Fulci’s Day For Night, an interview by Antonietta De Lillo in which the director, no doubt with an eye to posterity, offers the closest glimpse we’ll probably ever get of that elusive essence, “the real Lucio Fulci” (I was aware, when interviewing him, that I was barely scratching the surface.) This is an extra that really warrants a review of its own and I intend to post one on this blog at some point in the near future (but please bear in mind that constant caveat about wheels grinding slowly here at THOF.)

A sublime release… now, when are we going to see Don’t Torture A Duckling on Blu-ray? At an affordable price? The bank manager refused my application for a second mortgage so that German mediabook is out of the question…

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“Hey, how d’you like our new dado rail?”

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Two Fat Ladies… A Round Up Of Elusive 88 FILMS BD RELEASES

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… elusive to me, anyway, as I haven’t had much luck getting review copies out of 88 Films. That is, of course, their prerogative, but I did think they might have sent me the promised copy of their Burial Ground disc, for which Calum Waddell and I supplied the commentary track. As it is I had to wait to catch up with that and other of their releases until Fopp started unloading them dirt cheap, at which point I left said store clutching the following load (god, my right arm hasn’t ached so much since I got that Cindy Crawford workout video)…

Burial Ground (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Blastfighter (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Deep River Savages (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Spasmo (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 15.)

So, something approaching three years after actually recording it, I finally got to hear my commentary track on Burial Ground. I’d been worrying that it would make me sound like a total dickhead, so it was quite a relief to discover that I only came out of it sounding like a bit of a dickhead. Some of those who’ve enjoyed / endured this commentary question why I spent so much of it talking about myself and my involvement in the ’80s / ’90s fanzine scene rather than the film in question. The simple answer is that these were the subjects which Calum was asking me about. I’m not going to say much about the film here, either, having recently reviewed Severin’s BD edition of Burial Ground elsewhere on this blog. The Severin jobby looks sharper and boasts better extras (apart from the above mentioned boy genius commentary track) but there’s some good stuff here, too.

Mikel J. Koven, esteemed author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, an academic with an obvious penchant for sleaze, gives an overview of Andrea Bianchi’s career with special focus on the prevalence in it of less than subtley handled incest motifs which causes him to exclaim “What The Fuck?” so many times that this expression becomes the actual title of his featurette. Having pondered his C.V. long and hard, Koven concludes that Bianchi is either a genre satirist (when I watch that J&B placement shot, I could almost believe it), (possibly) a Marxist or maybe “just not a very good director.” It’s over to you, readers…

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Peter Bark, yesterday…

You also get the “35mm Grindhouse version”, should you want to watch such a knackered-looking thing and 10 minutes of “mute” deleted scenes (dialogueless but synched up to soundtrack music)… if only we could hear what they’re saying to each other in these resurrected sequences, maybe the added context would have established Burial Ground as some kind of avant garde masterpiece. Michael even gets an “alas, poor Yorick!” moment… alas, I’d love to have heard his soliloquy while contemplating that skull and learn if he found it to be worse smelling than that cloth which smelled of Death. Plus reversible sleeve, trailers for Burial Ground and Zombi Holocaust and so on…

Among several other aliases (a death cloth by any name would smell as bad), this monstrosity was known as Zombi 3… as were several other pictures, notably the Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei 1987 mess, er, collaboration now released by 88 as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, a title that could have been specifically coined to underline the degree to which Fulci’s fortunes and output had declined since he poked out Mrs Menard’s eyeball less than a decade earlier. Indeed, Fulci only directed a few scenes in this one before failing health, among other factors, obliged him to bail and leave the film for producer Mattei to “finish off”… in every sense of that phrase.

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Bacteriological weaponry and international espionage here supplant perverse medical science as the root of the zombie scourge, when a bungled attempt to burgle a canister of “Death 1” leads to bubonic infestation for the thief and everybody else in the hotel where he was staying. The inevitable ABC-suited SWAT Team arrives to shut down the hotel and liquidate all its residents. The film’s debt to George Romero’s Day Of The Dead (1985) immediately becomes evident in the ongoing squabble between scientists and the military over how to contain this outbreak. Ignoring scientific advice, the soldiers cremate the first batch of victims and – before you can say Return Of The Living Dead – a busload of sex-crazed girls is being buzzed by a flock of zombie seagulls (makes a change from Mattei’s usual rat fixation, I suppose.)

The increasingly ridiculous narrative unfolds to the Greek chorus accompaniment of “Blueheart”, a right-on radio DJ whose infuriating, interminable eco-babble provokes one imminent zombie victim to complain” “I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint sometimes and every so often I like to piss on a bush, OK?” As the crisis escalates, Blueheart’s bulletins are periodically punctuated by lists of emergency hospitals, read out by a guy glorifying in the name of Vince Raven… like, right on Vince baby! Pass on our regards to your brother Mike, celebrated elsewhere on this blog during our Crucible Of Terror review.

“Plot” is pretty soon reduced to an ever decreasing number of survivors running around in ever decreasing circles, a succession of run-ins with zombies and “decontamination squads” blowing away anything that moves. Of course the “unexpected” shooting of a heroic male lead is duly trotted out. Yep, he fell for the oldest trick in the book of the dead! Assorted other “highlights” include the moment when a character with the munchies opens a fridge, only to be attacked by an even hungrier zombie head that flies out at him, on obvious wires, from behind the McCain oven chips. Look out also for the Caesarian birth of an undead baby that immediately sets about gnoshing on the midwife who delivered it. The surviving human characters fly off in  a Romero-esque chopper, vowing: “We’re coming back… to win! Otherwise, humanity’s done for!”

Mattei’s crowning idiocy apes the unforgettable voice-over outro of Zombie Flesh Eaters, with Blue-heart revealed as a badly made up zombie, broadcasting immortal vibes: “New horizons have opened up… this is now the New World, Year Zero, so there’s lots of work to be done. I’ll dedicate the next record to all of the undead across the world…” Zombietastic, great mate!

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DJ Blueheart, before and after ingestion of Death 1… just say no, kids!zombie-dj.jpg

88’s BD transfer looks just fine (as fine as it’s ever going to look, given Riccardo Grassetti’s bog standard cinematography) and sounds OK (special mention for the awful, albeit infectious shrieky hair rock anthem that plays over the credits.) Bonus materials include interviews with Claudio Fragasso (sporting interesting ethnic headwear) and prolific zombie movie star Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, from each of whom you’ll get a few new pointers on exactly who directed what in this troubled production. The Catriona MacColl interview is of dubious relevance but it’s always great to see her and hear what she has to say about working with Fulci (she has plenty to say on that and many other subjects in our Catriona MacColl interview, elsewhere on this blog.) Female lead Beatrice Ring reads her answers to a bunch of questions over a series of stills of her gurning in the movie. She expresses bewilderment that any actor would have anything nice to say about working with Fulci and charts her progress from a vacuous bimbo who only got into movies because she had run up a big debt buying designer clothes, to a spiritually aware person who works for the end of racism and war. Bless her. She also provides some further clues as which bits were directed by whom.

All I could get out of Fulci on the direction of Zombi 3, when interviewing him on the occasion of Eurofest 1994, was: “That one was finished by Bruno Mattei because the producers were very strange people… I had to escape from there on an aeroplane!” Perennially prone to standing up producers, Fulci was signed to direct the original version of Blastfighter, an adventure yarn focussing on futuristic weaponry which mutated, after his secession from the project, into a fusion of First Blood (1982) and Deliverance (1972.) Hard to see why it needed four extra writers (including eventual director Lamberto Bava) to fashion Dardano Sacchetti’s original concept into this.

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Like his father before him, Lamberto Bava came up with a belting horror effort (Macabre, 1980) for his directorial debut, before turning his hand to whatever genre was currently packing them in at Italian cinemas. He didn’t execute his genre hopping anything like as skilfully as the great Mario managed, nevertheless cranking out some satisfying efforts en route to TV movie mediocrity. Blastfighter (signed off under Bava’s pseudonymous paraphrase of his dad’s former glories, “John Old Jr” in 1984) is undoubtedly one of them though to rate it (as Quentin Tarantino did to me) as Bava Jr’s best picture is surely hyperbolic.

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“Head for the canoe, quick… I hear banjos!”

Jake “Tiger” Sharp (Michael Sopkiw) is a former cop who went all Charles Bronson on the ass of the slimeball who killed both his wife and his partner. Coming out of chokey, he considers bumping off the killer’s lawyer with a high-powered assault rifle that one of his friends acquired for him (basically this thing will launch anything short of nukes) but opts instead to renounce any further violence and lose / find himself in the backwards back woods of Georgia where he grew up (though the irritatingly catchy theme song, which sounds like a Starland Vocal Band B-side but turns out to be a Bee Gees number, keeps name-checking Arizona.) Wherever the fuck he is, our boy Tiger is looking for a bit of contemplative peace and quite. Fat chance… slack jawed yeehawing yokels are soon taking the piss and though he laughs that off, his Zen-like mellow is irretrievably harshed when he discovers their cruel trade in wounded live animals for the Chinese medicine market. Like a before-his-time Steven Seagal, Tiger dispenses some serious ass kicking (admittedly without such signature Seagal moves as breaking people’s arms, throwing them through plate glass or kicking them in the testicles till they stagger around groaning “my balls… my balls!”)

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Things start looking up when his estranged daughter Connie (Valentina Forte) introduces herself but take another pronounced downward turn when the inbred hill-billies take it upon themselves to kill her, her boyfriend (Michele Soavi) and yet another cop who made the mistake of being one of Tiger’s old colleagues. Breaking out his big gun, Tiger zaps them all to yokel Hell before the climactic confrontation with his old nemesis, Tom (our old pal “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori.) Bava makes exemplary use of his beautiful rural locations and has a serious message for us, to wit: “There’ll never be an answer to violence!” As if to ram home this very point, his next cinematic outing was the eye-wateringly OTT splatterfest Demons (1985.)

American actor Michael Sopkiw parlayed a passing resemblance to Franco Nero into a mid-80s Italian acting career that took in all of four films – this and Bava Jr’s oddball Jaws variant from the same year, Devouring Waves, topped and tailed with Sergio Martino’s entertaining entry in the post-Apocalyptic stakes, 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s awful last gasp cannibal effort, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985.) All of this is small beer compared to Sopkiw’s real life adventures, which include a year’s imprisonment for smuggling Marijuana into the US… so his role in Blastfighter as an ex-jailbird wasn’t too much of a (sorry!) stretch, then. He now spends his time promoting the use of “natural healing remedies.” Hmm…

Apart from a nice looking transfer of Blastfighter, 88’s release includes an interview with DP Gianlorenzo Battaglia, various trailers and of course you get a reversible sleeve.

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“George Eastman”, who actually puts in a pretty good performance in Blastfighter, appeared in any amount of Joe D’Amato outrages, though he’s conspicuous by his massive absence from D’Amato’s Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals aka Trap Them And Kill Them (1976.) This represents Joe’s second, third or possibly fourth (who can say, he was churning out several titles a year by this point) “Black Emanuelle” effort after he’d hi-jacked the franchise from Adalberto Albertini and is a co-production with Fabrizio De Angelis for their company Fulvia Cinematografica, though the partnership survived only one more film (1978’s Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade.)

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E&TLC claims to be “a true story, reported by Jennifer O’Sullivan”… sure thing, you guys! Gemser’s Emanuelle is an investigative reporter, which apparently 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, 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 real-life husband and frequent screen partner Gabriele Tinti… I often wonder if that’s how he wooed her in real life!

They abscond to The Amazon (actually an Italian park) to hook up with Donald 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. “… and you’re an IMPOTENT!” she spits back, cuttingly albeit ungrammatically.) Their soap operatic distractions are put firmly into perspective when the cannibals turn up to dismember and eat them and various camp followers, all recorded in excruciatingly dull detail by D’Amato amid a plethora of unconvincing, not-so-special FX and to the accompaniment of an original sound track that sounds like some demented, retarded ancestor of Groovejet. Of course, various people take time out from dodging cannibals to have sex and at one point a chimpanzee savours a fine cigar while watching them at it… only in a Joe D’Amato film!

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The climax is a real hoot, with Gemser and Tinti looking on from the bushes, calmly swapping anthropological observations as their friends are done away with (O’Brien torn limb from limb, inconvincingly, in a tug-o-war). Eventually she’s moved to discard her clothes and impersonate a water goddess, a spectacle that has to be seen to be disbelieved, likewise Gemser’s closing speech, delivered as though she’s in the throes of a major stroke. Last Cannibals enjoyed a theatrical release (minus all the gore) over here, playing to packed houses of old guys in dirty macs.

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88’s release does seem, as promised, to be 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. Sometimes with these HD upgrades you wonder why they bothered, but E&TLC does look really good, significantly better than 88’s release of its companion piece Zombi Holocaust, 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 they say “We’ll wait until dawn” with the sun beating down on them!) Although I’ve criticised the acting in this film on many occasions, on reflection those who dubbed it must take their share of the blame, though I still think Gemser’s got to carry the  can for that lumpen closing soliloquy (“Maggie and Donald with their…” what, now?) No significant extras beyond the obvious.

I’m told that Ruggero Deodato got really pissed off, when he watched Calum Waddell’s Eaten Alive documentary, at my suggestion that D’Amato pre-empted his Cannibal Holocaust here with his use of fim-within-a-film and by setting the action of E&TLC in South America (even though the crew never got anywhere near there)… no disrespect intended, Ruggero, but hey… facts is facts! There can’t be any dispute though, that all these Italian cannibal capers (and most of their terminally non-PC) tropes) kicked off with Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 effort Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (“In The Land Of Savage Sex”)… hang on, I seem to recall Deodato disputing that, too!

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Among its many other aliases this one is also known as Sacrifice! (in the US) and Mondo Cannibale (in Europe),  but made it to pre-cert  UK VHS as Deep River Savages, courtesy of Derann. The guy who wrote the liner notes for that release sure hit a purple patch of prose: “A story of raw savagery, tribal torture and one man’s courageous fight for survival, respect and the delicate and fragile love of a beautiful native girl… a compelling film in which character relationships are brilliantly developed and a richness of human emotions are played out against the bizarre and tortuous rituals of the primitive world.” The DPP wasn’t fooled and nor should you be, for signature Lenzi sleaze is lurking, not far beneath the surface of all this hearts and flowers stuff. No matter how compelling, courageous and brilliant its depiction of delicate, fragile love and rich human emotions, Deep River Savages was also heavy on those bizarre and tortuous rituals, not to mention cannibalism and the mistreatment of animals, which in March 1984 (the height of the home video witch hunt) meant that it found its way onto the official “nasties” list, where it stayed for about a year and a half. Now, shorn of a couple of minutes of man’s inhumanity to animals (a snake being flayed, a pig gutted, a mongoose forced into a life-or-death struggle with a cobra, et al), 88 have brought it to Blu-ray in the UK as Man From Deep River.

Ivan Rassimov, on the lam after killing a native at a Thai boxing match, surveys the steamy interior and pronounces: “I’m sick to death of this trip … I wish I was at home drinking a pint”. Though we’re only scant minutes into the film, viewers will find themselves in sympathy with this verdict, as all their least favourite pieces of stock footage are trotted out yet again (if I see those bloody storks in that tree one more time…) When the cannibals roll up, Ivan tries the diplomatic approach (“Leave me alone, you bloody savages!”) but they drag him back to their village, where the first thing he witnesses is a guy getting his tongue cut out … Blood Feast has a lot to answer for! Rassimov, on the other hand, after a tricky bedding-in period, is treated to the life of Riley after he has proven his worth in fighting against neighbouring tribes and saved the chief’s son from choking to death with an impromptu tracheotomy. Most memorably, he is allowed to take part in a ritual during which the men of the village file past a hut and put their hands through a hole in the wall. The aptly named Me Me Lai (Lay, by some accounts) sits blindfolded on the other side while the men take turns squeezing her breasts and feeling between her legs.

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The budget wouldn’t stretch to a Man Called Horse-type ritual for Rassimov’s formal initiation into the tribe, so instead he is lashed to a vertical rotisserie which turns slowly as the villagers aim their blow-pipes at him through cubby-holes reminiscent of the set up in a Soho peep-show.

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This formality dispensed with, Rassimov gets down to bringing up a family with Me Me, but those neighbouring tribesmen – their faces liberally daubed with boot polish – are soon viewing her as lunch. She escapes, but one of her friends is not so fortunate, and when Rassimov catches the intruders red handed / mouthed (to the accompaniment of jolly music, as is often the way in these things) he shows how thin the veneer of civilization is by doling out summary tongue removals. Thus it comes as no surprise that even when Me Me dies of some tropical disease or other, he elects to turn his back on civilization and stay with the tribe that adopted him.

The most notorious scene of excised animal baiting here is the brutal bit of monkey business by which some unfortunate simian has the top of its head lopped off, boiled-egg style, so the tribe can snack on its warm brains for supper. A similar scene was faked up in fellow “nasty” Faces Of Death (1978) but the notoriously stingy Lenzi no doubt figured it was much less bother and expense to just chop off the unfortunate creature’s bonce and be done with it. He clearly did have resort to prosthetics when restaging this scene on a human (well, John Morghen’s) cranium during his altogether more notorious foray into cannibal country, Cannibal Ferox (1981) though further animal outrages in that one proved the rock on which personal and professional relationship between the splatter star and his terminally irascible director foundered.

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“Whaddya mean, ‘What’s my fucking motivation?’?”

Bonus materials include the expected trailers and reversible sleeve options (including the Derann “nasty” artwork) plus the short Inferno Of Innards in which Eli Roth (director of Lenzi / Deodato hommage The Green Inferno) enthuses about all things Italian and anthropophagic.  More substantial extras include Me Me Lai Bites Back, the ace Naomi Holwill documentary portrait which I review elsewhere on this blog and Calum Wadell’s commentary track. The latter certainly constitutes VFM for both Calum’s admirers and his troll following, being charactersically incessant, informative and opinionated. Travellers seeking information on how to track down many of the film’s locations will find it particularly useful. My own interest in these films centres on the specifically Italian experience of Mussolini’s frustrated neo-colonialism but it’s interesting to hear Calum rehearse the Cold War context arguments that will apparently inform his upcoming book on Cannibal Holocaust.

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Ever a busy boy, Calum also contributes a Lenzi interview that was conducted at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester (which I attended myself after something like a twenty year absence!) Mischievous as ever, Lenzi says that he’s now buried the hatchet with Deodato but can’t resist taking a few crafty digs at him. He wriggles around all over the place when any attempt is made to pin him down on the vexed question of animal abuse, contending that the decapitated money had to be killed because of an illness that it could have communicated to humans (best way to reduce the risk was to spray its brains all over the set, I guess!) Obviously mellowing in his old age, the director reveals that he no longer slams the phone down on people who ask him about Nightmare City or Cannibal Ferox (this is no mere rhetorical flourish either, he once did exactly that to me!) Yep, he still despises the latter title but after realising how much money it’s made him over the years, he’s cynically prepared to concede that it’s “a masterpiece.”

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It’s difficult to imagine any circumstances under which that appellation could be levelled at Lenzi’s Spasmo (1974.) Since I last encountered this title as a Diplomat (Videoform) VHS release much water has passed under the bridge and many Freudstein brain cells have clearly crinkled up and died, for me to have been labouring under the misapprehension that this one was (just about) worth six quid of my money… on reflection, six pence would probably be pushing it!

Mario Bava effectively invented the giallo in 1962 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and set many of its conventions with “Six Women For The Murderer” aka Blood And Black Lace (1964) but things were still pretty fluid within the genre and by the turn of the decade Bava himself was still experimenting with its possibilities in the likes of the psycho case-study Hatchet For The Honeymoon, the stylised body count effort 5 Dolls For An August Moon  (both 1970) and the grand guignol of Bay Of Blood (1971.) In the meantime Lenzi was staking out a nice little giallo niche for himself with sexually charged soapy pot boilers like Paranoia, So Sweet… So Perverse (both 1969), A Quiet Place To Kill (1970) and Oasis Of Fear (1971.) When The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, directed by Dario Argento (whom Lenzi likes to portray as a protegé of his) became a surprise international hit in 1970, however, it changed the game viz-a-viz what was expected of a giallo. Lenzi’s producer Luciano Martino transferred his patronage to his own younger bother Sergio, who effortlessly managed (with the likes of  The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key) a more contemporary and feisty overhaul of the melodramatic bonkathons that had been Lenzi’s stock-in-trade.

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Lenzi’s subsequent gialli have the feeling of a man flailing around, attempting in vain to reassert a grip on a genre that has moved on without him, thank you very much. Knife Of Ice and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (both from the same year in which Lenzi churned out Deep River Savages) are, respectively, a thinly disguised remake of Robert Siodmak’s classic The Spiral Staircase (1946) and an Italian / German co-production falling back on the latter territory’s ongoing fondness for Edgar Wallace adaptations (both genuine and bogus) with a pinch of Cornell Woolrich and added gore thrown in. 1975’s Eyeball (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) was an amusingly deranged stab at the body count format whereas Spasmo (1974)? Hmm… Spasmo is  an ill-advised attempt to do some kind of metaphysical giallo… a bit of Blow Up here, a sprinkle of Lisa And The Devil there… a suggestion of Death Laid An Egg (“Hey, you remind me of a dying chicken!” to quote one scintillating line of dialogue.) More than anything else, Spasmo brings to mind one of those swinging ’60s pictures Jesus Franco made for Harry Allan Towers, but without any of Franco’s willingness to experiment, either in visually or narrative terms.

Louche characters slip in and out of bed with each other… star Robert Hoffman might or might not have killed somebody… his brother Ivan Rassimov might or might not share the gene that drove him bonkers… but who’s been draping the woods with hanged mannequins? And does anybody who actually stays awake until the end of this thing give a flying fuck? Lenzi even manages to make genre goddess Suzy Kendall look frumpy and unalluring… a cardinal sin!

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Good points? The whole thing is dignified with a Morricone soundtrack it doesn’t really deserve (ditto the nice transfer 88 have afforded it here) and there’s a truly hysterical  trailer which will probably cause any immature schoolboys who see it to go round the playground shouting “Spasmo!” at each other… which, from a PC standpoint, isn’t very good at all, so let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

Bonus materials include the expected postcard, reversible sleeve, trailer, Italian titles and credits… but it’s the Q&A session with Lenzi from the aforementioned Manchester bash, mediated by Calum Waddell that probably makes this disc just about worthy of your attention. Lenzi had just lunched with Barbara Bouchet, a contingency which would have left me in a very good mood indeed, nevertheless he goes out of his way to justify his rep as a grumpy old man. Translator Nick Frame suffers more than anyone on account of this long-winded answers. Nevertheless, among familiar gripes, we learn such interesting stuff as how filming of The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) was complicated by an ongoing feud between stars Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli. Lenzi refuses point-blank to talk about namby-pamby animal lover John Morghen.

If you haven’t seen Spasmo and still want to after reading this review, that’s fair enough, but don’t say you weren’t warned. As I often find myself telling Kid Freudstein: “I went through this shit so you wouldn’t have to.” Caveat emptor.

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So there you go… six 88 releases… I tracked ’em down, I trapped ’em and I only killed one of them. One general bugbear, though… why do 88 discs always default right back to the starting menu when you stop them, rather than to the point where you left off?

In honour of all you Irene Miracle devotees out there, of whom there are thousands if the stats of this site are anything to go by, I’ll shortly be taking a look at the 88 Blu-ray release of Aldo Lado’s notorious Night Train Murders.

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What Did You Axe Santa For? SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT Reviewed.

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“Silent Night Has Turned Into A Night Of Fear” (Roy Wood)

DVD. Region 2. Arrow. 18.

“What are we coming to, what sort of people are we… to make, or see, or seem to want a film like this? The sickest and filthiest film… Children’s terror used as entertainment, atrocious cruelty put on the screen for fun.”

Isabel Quigley’s review of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom in The Spectator, 15.04.60.

Santaphobia aka Clausophobia, is an irrational fear of Father Christmas, closely associated with (deep breath) Christougenniatikophobia, an irrational fear of the festival itself, not to mention Pogonophobia, an irrational fear of beards (sufferers of which are living through particularly tough times right now, given that every hipster toss pot on the block is currently cultivating ridiculous chin foliage.)

Although it’s entirely possible that youthful viewings of Charles E. Sellier Jr’s Silent Night, Deadly Night (aka Slayride, 1984) could induce such phobias in nervous Nellies, there’s nothing irrational at all about its protagonist Billy’s fear of the guy in the big red duffel coat. When he was a kid (as portrayed by Jonathan Best), Billy and family spent one Xmas Eve visiting his senile grandpa (Will Hare) in a rest home for the viciously addled.

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While Dad and Mom (Tara Buckman from several subsequent soft core Joe D’Amato atrocities) were in the director’s office sorting out some paper work, the miserable old cunt snapped out of his catatonic state long enough to warn little Billy that Santa spends the night before Christmas looking for bad children to punish. Presumably Billy would have been able to laugh all this off as the demented ravings of a pyjama pants-pissing window licker, but for an unfortunate incident that befell the family on their way home and tended to reinforce Grampy’s downbeat interpretation of the Festive Period. A stick up man in a Santa suit, on the lam from a messy heist, flagged their car down, shot Dad in the head and cut Mom’s throat as she resisted being raped by him. Billy witnessed all of this from the ditch he was hiding in. From this point on, the regular recurrence of December 25th gives Billy considerably more to angst over than the issue of whether or not he’s going to get the latest Pokemon game in his sack.

Billy (now played by Danny Wagner) and kid brother Ricky (who was mercifully too young to register the massacre of his parents) are farmed out to St Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children, a Utah Orphanage run by nuns (I thought everyone in Utah was a Mormon?) whose Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) was obviously trained in the Eric Bristow school of PTSD counselling. She insists that Billy take part in Christmas celebrations like all the other kids (pity they didn’t put him in a home run by Jehovah’s Witnesses) despite the fact that it’s obviously freaking him out. When he demurs he gets tied to his bed and whupped. He’s also beaten after spying through the keyhole on a couple making out (gotta be loads of them in Utah’s Catholic orphanages, right?)  When forced to sit on Santa’s knee he responds by chinning Mr Claus and boy, does he gets a whuppin’ for that, during which his tormentor assures him that “Punishment is good”… just like Grampy used to say!  “You’ll see my methods work” Mother Superior assures Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick), though the latter has her doubts. She’s the only one in this joint, probably in the whole picture, who treats Billy with any sympathy or humanity…

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… possibly not with total understanding, though, as when Billy has grown up (in the hunky shape of Robert Brian Wilson) and it’s time for him to seek gainful employment, Sister Margaret secures him a job in Ira’s toys store (they’ve had to diversify a bit since the terrorism thing petered out.) Everything’s fine, Billy’s a model employee and even attracts the admiring attention of sexy colleague Pamela (Toni Nero) but then, sure as shit, the Christmas season rolls around…

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… and Billy is obliged (what were the odds on this?) to stand… er, sit in for the store’s no-show Santa. After a day of being wound up by foul children and unwisely plied with alcohol by his stupid boss, Billy is just about ready to blow. When he finds Pamela making out with a boorish co-worker in the stock room, our boy (still in full Santa drag) proceeds to slaughter everybody in the shop with box cutters, bow-and-arrow and an axe (precisely what some of these murderous implements were doing in a toy shop is something you’d have to ask script writers Paul Ciami and Michael Hickey.) Clutching that axe, Billy  heads into town to continues what he sees as his Santarly duties. Among those of whom he makes mincemeat is “a well-known Scream Queen” who’s been making out with a guy on a pool table… and that’s naughty. Dishing out poetic justice in the Christmas spirit, Billy impales her on the horns of a mounted reindeer head… deck the halls with Linnea Quigley!

One cute little Munchkin wisely insists, when challenged, that she’s been nice rather than naughty, thereby saving herself. Billy chops up everybody else he encounters, all the while screaming “punish… PUNISH!” Personal favourite? The town bully who’s imprudent enough to pilot his stolen sledge within axe-swinging distance of Billy and arrives at the bottom of his run significantly shorter than he was at the crest of it. Billy rocks up at The Orphanage to settle accounts with Mother Superior, only to be gunned down by the Sheriff. His axe falls at the feet of kid brother Ricky (Alex Burton), whose nutzoid stare and muttered “Naughty!” suggests, in that laziest of wrap-up clichés, that he will grow up to take on Billy’s murderous red and white-trimmed mantel. I’m reliably informed that he did in at least one of the film’s interminable sequels, but I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself so desperate for something to do that I’ve watched any of them.

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Christmas themed horror flicks were an established sub-genre well before Mr Sellier Jr turned his directorial hand to this monstrosity. 1972 yielded Theodore Gershuny’s Silent Night, Bloody Night and Freddie Francis’s portmanteau effort Tales From The Crypt, in one episode of which Joan Collins fell foul of a Santa-outfitted strangler. Bob Clark’s gialloesque Black Christmas (1974) is probably better than the rest of the X-cert Xmas epics put together. 1980 brought us another brace of the bloody things, Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil and To All A Goodnight, directed by David Hess (yes, that David Hess…) The real impetus for a flood of Satanic Santa sagas, though was when John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) took the laurel for biggest grossing independent movie of all time (an accolade it hung on to until surpassed by one of the dopier Elm Street Sequels) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday The 13th (1980) made a similar box office impact, at which point horror film producers left no significant calendar date untouched in their lust for filthy festive lucre. Christmas proved a particularly fertile furrow for them to plough, yay, even unto Charles Band’s immortal Gingerdead Man vs Evil Bong (2013.)

Silent Night, Deadly Night stands out from the pack, however, in terms of sheer tastelessness, insensitivity, misanthropy and mean spirit… its writers have contrived a series of life events for poor l’il Billy that rank right up there with the successive misfortunes suffered by any De Sade heroine and Sellier wallows every bit as gleefully in the catastrophic consequences of child abuse as Joseph Ellison does in his equally reprehensible Don’t Go In The House (1979), a title I promise / threaten to examine on this blog some time in 2017.

Given the general tackiness of the whole endeavour, one wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the various picketing, protests and press campaigns launched against SN,DN by various concerned citizens / parents, media morals watch committees and what have you were actually orchestrated by the film’s publicists.

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“31 bucks? Merry Fucking Christmas!!!”

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A Penny For Guy’s Thoughts… The GUY PHELPS (BBFC) Interview

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Alongside the splat pack luminaries on the star-studded guest list for The Scala’s Splatter Fest (24.02.90) and among its rabidly anti-censorship attendees, BBFC examiner Guy Phelps might understandably have felt like Daniel entering The Lion’s Den. But he was cool in every sense of the word and happy to discuss the censors’ doings with us. There was a sense even then (still under the purview of James Ferman) that the Board and social mores were gradually loosening up… though we could scarcely have foreseen then that the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Straw Dogs, Death Wish, Salo, Last House On The Left, et al (not to mention such Johnny-come-latelies as Baise Moi, Hostel and the Saw series) would be freely available in the UK in the 21st Century.

Guy, you’re aware of the strong passions aroused on each side of the censorship debate. How do you feel for example, when the BBFC certificate comes up at an event like this and the audience starts booing?

Well, you’re talking about very different situations with film and video. Most of the kind of stuff you’re interested in comes to us on video because so few horror and low-budget films get a cinema release these days. I think at the cinema a very specialised audience come to see this particular sort of film in a very particular way, whereas the same images released on video are going to have a different life in front of a different sort of audience. The whole way they are going to be seen will be totally different.

When an ‘18’ tape is taken home, anyone can see it, because the Video Recordings Act only operates at the point of supply. They also see it within their own home and the interpretation seems to be that seeing it at home gives a very different meaning to something. It’s one thing to go to the cinema – partly it’s a matter that you’ve gone out and chosen, made a very deliberate choice to see a film – whereas getting a video is nearer to broadcast TV, where it just comes straight into the home and there is less deliberate choice. Also, you’re seeing it in a situation at home where things look different to how they do in the cinema, or even in the office, in our case. We often find that if we take a tape home and watch it, it looks different than when watching it in the clinical surroundings of an office. So it’s very difficult to go from the position of a film screened at the cinema to a video released widely through the rest of the country, I don’t think one can draw any conclusions from one event to the other.

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Weren’t there particular problems with one of the films being screened here today… Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?

A few. But I felt it was a very good film, and it would have been even better had it continued to investigate the more interesting psychology it discusses earlier on. On the whole, I think it’s an interesting account of a bizarre case. I didn’t find it exploitative, I think it was interested in the psychology of the character and the extremely depressing life-style he was leading. Some of the scenes were problematical but I don’t think the film as a whole was exploiting its material in a way that one could find unacceptable, in the same way as we didn’t think Cold Light of Day was doing that. (*)

This ‘tone’ thing is reminiscent of the BBFC’s feelings about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

I would have thought that Henry and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were very different cases, personally. Henry has more of a documentary style, though it isn’t an actual documentary, as the film-maker very clearly says in person and on film, whereas Chainsaw Massacre is very much a “chasing around and screaming” film, though with Chainsaw Massacre you never get quite what you think you’re going to get, curiously. But Henry is a kind of cold, beady stare at a curious individual, it doesn’t have any of the chasing around, menacing scenes. The scenes of violence, on the whole, are fairly brief and they vary in a way that they are presented, but a lot of them are not particularly visual at all.

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Still on the subject of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, can you give us a definitive answer as to what happened to the sequels? Because everyone’s got a different version of the story…

The second one came to us on film from the distribution company and as far as we were concerned, we were looking for a “soft” version that we could consider passing. Then the whole distribution network collapsed, for various reasons, the departments fell out. The company appeared to lose interest in it at that point. It was a film that didn’t do very well in America, and the third one didn’t do well either. Most of the films that don’t do well in America never reach this country.

Are you under instruction not to talk about specific cases you’ve worked on? An ex-member of the Board gave me that impression.

It’s difficult to talk about specific cases because we’re a monopoly. The companies have to come to us and we deal with their material… it’s not necessarily anyone else’s business what goes on between us. It doesn’t mean I can’t talk about individual cases at all, but there is a slight constraint, especially with something that one has worked on very recently. I can’t really go into too much detail about business relations between us and a company.

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The same ex-member told me an interesting anecdote about Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper being kicked out by the Board because its distributors submitted it without any cuts at all, hinting that if they had taken the trouble to approach you with, as you say, a ‘soft’ version, the Board would have considered passing it, possibly subject to further cuts.

I’m not sure. There were a lot of problems running through that film. (GP had opined in a previous interview that “…with people like Fulci, certainly, when the movie comes up one gulps slightly and reaches for the sick bag” – Bob.) Violence towards women is something that we’re increasingly worried about. It’s an area where there’s a great deal of research which suggests that the media really do have an input on the way that men think and behave towards women.

But isn’t there also the experience of Japan which has little regulation of horror movies, nor indeed of ultra-violent pornography, and yet has a negligible incidence of sex offences.

I think it’s very difficult to make comparisons across different cultures. Japan is a shame culture whereas ours is a guilt culture. Their whole attitude towards things like that is quite different, so I think one’s got to get into quite profound cultural studies before one can start wondering why certain things are more worrying to us than to the Japanese. We were very worried about violence against women in a way that the Board wasn’t twenty years ago So we continually find that when we’re were watching material on video, certain stuff that was cut back in the ’60s for instance doesn’t worry us at all now, whereas scenes of violence towards women which worried nobody back in the ’60s, apparently, we are now concerned about. That’s something about censorship generally, that it changes all the time, and I think one’s always going to look foolish in twenty years time, whatever one’s stance.

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Yeah … Mondo Cane was considered absolutely mortifying in its day, but now it looks ridiculously tame.

I can’t say I’ve seen it.

It contains stuff like Rossanno Brazzi having his shirt ripped off by frenzied female fans…

(Laughs) Well, that sounds absolutely disgusting to me!

No cheap thrills at all , there…

I’m sorry to hear it. But going back to The New York Ripper, it contained a scene where a broken bottle was used as a weapon, and there is a tendency to find something like that a bit more worrying in that in a moment of anger one’s unlikely to lay one’s hands on an axe, but one could pick up something like a bottle.

Does the Board have a list of unallowable “trigger images”, or is that just a myth?

Nothing’s ever as simple as that, no. It’s always context, treatment, why it’s being done… Film cutting is a delicate job!

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Jose Mojica Marins cocks the trigger in Embodiment Of Evil (2008)

Blood on breasts has often been cited as precisely such  a ‘trigger image’.

That’s certainly something that we would tend to worry about, but once again it would depend on whose blood and why it’s there. We would have to look at it from the point of view of what the director was trying to say with that image, which is as important as the image itself. One of the reasons that we have no book of rules is because there’s no reason why one particular shot shouldn’t be used. It’s how and why it’s used, the purpose to which that shot is put, that’s so important. For example, a shot in a horror film will have a quite different function and appearance to the same shot used in a documentary about a horror film, so it’s really the how and why that counts as much as the content.

How can you possibly justify passing some of the extreme stuff that was in Peter Greenaway’s Art-house movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, including cannibalism and the protracted torture of a child? Scenes like that just wouldn’t be allowed in a horror film. Doesn’t this reflect the elitist, class-bound attitude that is at the heart of the British censorship system?

Well again, I think that was more to do with the power of the film-making. Good, clever film-makers can get away with more because they know how to do it. In the Greenaway film you didn’t actually see very much and I gather he shot more – which is always the case – but what was actually shown on the screen was a lot less than the impact it had. That’s the way that a clever director can create an enormous impact without showing very much, that’s the important thing. Inferior film-makers, in my view, have to show the blood and guts because that’s all they can do. They don’t know about structuring a scene and creating an impact without all the splatter. I think that is one of the problems with the modern horror film, there are too many directors reduced to that kind of level because their imaginations don’t allow them to get any further. This is very much my personal view.

To paraphrase a notorious observation by one of your predecessors at the Board, there is a class judgment, isn’t there, in saying that a factory worker in Manchester, for instance, would be depraved and corrupted by seeing Andy Warhol’s Trash but a sophisticated, middle-class Londoner like yourself could handle it with ease?

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Not necessarily, no. We watch the films in a certain way. We distance ourselves from them through the way we watch them, to some extent. One watches them in a sort of academic manner, looking to see what the film is doing, how people are going to see it and deal with it. So one is, all the time, debriefing oneself from the experience. At the same time one is trying to see it in the way that other people will see it when they watch it – it’s a hopeless exercise if, through the debriefing, you don’t get the experience at all. So it’s actually a very difficult matter of trying to do two totally different things at the same time. But I think the fact that one is sitting at a desk, writing away, makes quite a difference, obviously, to the way you see it and one sees a lot of films. We will have a particular expertise brought from other experiences which gives us different ways of looking at the films. So we would hope that there is enough between us and the material we see, which is occasionally very unpleasant, to make sure that we’re not depraved and corrupted too quickly (Laughs).

What do you think about the whole “video nasties” hysteria in retrospect? Wasn’t the whole thing blown out of all proportion?

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1984-5 was obviously a very difficult period. There were a small number of video nasties, not many, and in the years before there was any regulation at all there was genuine concern that young people in particular were seeing material that they were probably not able to cope with. Whatever one might think of “video nasties”, so called, or other horror films, the thought of young children watching them in particular is, I think, fairly horrifying. It’s easy enough to make the case that there was a certain media and public panic that got slightly out of proportion to what was actually happening, but since regulation, to which there was so little public opposition – perhaps surprisingly – at the time, I think that the situation has sorted itself out, on the whole, to the satisfaction of most people. I think the government is more concerned with the look and presentation in video stores now than with what is being released and certainly the video industry is much happier – in this country it’s grown very much faster since regulation, whereas in many other countries where there is no regulation, there has been much less growth. This may or may not be a good thing, whether the industry grows or not may not be relevant, but certainly the industry is happy with regulation and I think there are plenty of sound reasons for supporting some form of it.

There was a perception at one point, not so long back, that perhaps the Board was loosening up a bit, with the likes of Society and Bad Taste being passed un-cut…

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We try and draw a line between horror that is fantastical and horror that’s inciting the audience to take pleasure in the spectacle of pain and enjoy the pain of the person who is suffering on screen. Films like the ones you mentioned, those are good examples of films that are pure fantasy. I don’t think anyone could extrapolate from them to real situations. That’s the main plank of our policy really. But there are particular problems with horror due to its history during the period of un-regulated video and the fact that the Video Recordings Act was brought in specifically to control horror films. As you know, before the VRA a lot of horror films were convicted under the obscenity legislation. This is something we can’t ignore – were not above the law and if the courts have judged that certain material is legally obscene, we can’t say: “We’re going to disregard this, we know better than the law”. We’re not allowed to know better than the law. We have to take account of these decisions.

In fact, we don’t see that many horror films at the moment. The genre seems to be in a bit of a trough, I would say. Not so many horror film are being made. We don’t actually see that much obscene material, most countries have some kind of idea of the standards we apply – presumably if there is that much material we don’t get to see it, or too much of it anyway.

There’s been a feeling for a while in America, which has been going through its own censorship travails, that the BBFC is now in some ways more liberal than its own MPAA.

I hope that’s right – the MPAA has a problem in that their cinema categories are entirely voluntary. Over there, apart from the ‘X’ and ‘NC-17’, their normal cinema categories exclude nobody. One of the advantages of our system of legal regulation by age is that we have a pretty firm idea of what the audience is, whereas they don’t – they can pass something ‘R’ and anyone can go in, as long as they’re accompanied by an adult, so that gives us a lot more flexibility – although ours seems a more rigid system, the end result is in fact greater flexibility, in that respect.

We sometimes hear about left-wing journalists who are supposedly working at such right-wing rags as “The Daily Mail”… is there any sort of contingent acting as anti-censorship “moles” within the BBFC?

Well, there’s no one consensus of opinion within any body, or even between any two people. Virtually everyone has a bottom line of what they would allow or not allow, so to that extent everyone is pro-censorship. Everyone would draw the line somewhere, and above that there’s a great level of disagreement over where the line should be drawn. The strength of our organisation has been employing a number of very different people who have different ideas and one argues constantly as a result, but I think that’s a positive rather than a negative thing.

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(*) When Henry was finally released in the UK shortly after this interview, it was only because its distributors had agreed to a version that had been personally re-edited by James Ferman, himself a failed film maker, to get certification…. out-fucking-rageous!

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McNaughton Rules… JOHN McNAUGHTON & STEVE JONES Interviewed

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Deep in the bowels of The Scala, I taped several great interviews at the star-spangled Splatter Fest in February 1990, including a cracker with Brian Yuzna, the transcription of which seems to have gone AWOL from The House Of Freudstein archives. Sometime in the distant future when I’ve located that or had the time to undertake a fresh transcription, I’ll post it on this site. In the meantime here’s another memorable Splatter Fest encounter, with director John McNaughton and producer Steve Jones, whose Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer was starting to generate much interest and controversy in the UK.

The ending of Henry is a real kick in the teeth…

SJ) We didn’t want to end it by having Henry removed by the police or put in jail or something, we didn’t want to let anyone off the hook that way. Henry goes off into the distance and he’s the one person who’s still out there and we thought that would add more to the horror of the business.

JM) Well again, the real Henry claimed to have murdered… was it 36o people? I forget… over a 7-9 year period in which the police pretty much never had any idea who this character was. I do find it a bit strange that people like Freddy are becoming mass heroes, but it’s usually the bad guys who are the interesting characters to me, y’know?

People find H:POASK so hard to take because watching it, they find themselves identifying with Henry…

JM) That’s the idea…

Yeah, but to me it was as though you kept dangling the idea that this guy could somehow be redeemed and then you snatched it away at the ending… I felt that ultimately he remained inaccessible.

SJ) I don’t think there’s any redemption…

JM) I think that all of us are capable… we’re all connected to The Beast in some way or other and some of us are born or formed along our lines of development in such an unfortunate way… again, I think the traditional way to deal with somebody like Henry is to say: “Look how bad this person is! He shouldn’t have done it, he’s bad and he should have just said no and not done this…” I think that’s kinda silly. I think there are those who are born so malformed… maybe they get pressure put on their skulls when they are born or something, nobody knows… but there will be another Charles Manson, there will be another Henry Lee Lucas… somewhere, somehow. I think as long as there are human beings there are going to be disturbed ones who are somehow missing that mechanism which stops them, when their anger rises, from reaching out and slaughtering someone.

I do think Henry had a code. Some people have a problem with drugs and can’t control themselves and it might even cause someone to die, it might cause someone in their family to die, it might cause them to lose control of an automobile… it might not, but that’s something that is compulsive and which they cannot control and in a person whose compulsive, uncontrollable behaviour happens to be incapability of stopping themselves from killing… well, it’s his problem but I also think we try and point out that there’s a difference between him and Otis, who just lets go, totally, to The Beast. With Henry it was like… “I can’t help myself from doing this… but this, this and this are wrong!”

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Henry Lee Lucas & Ottis Toole

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So what was Henry’s problem?

JM) We did a fair amount of research… oh, it was his mother, a line here and a line there were taken from actual quotes and woven into the dialogue but, y’know, I read Henry giving his life history to ten different reporters, printed in ten different newspapers and the basis of the story was always the same but the details were always different. Henry was diagnosed as a pathological liar, so I don’t think he knows himself exactly what he did. He has now recanted and says that he didn’t murder anyone – including his mother , for whom he served a nine year jail sentence.

SJ) They have hard evidence on a few of his murders, which is why he’s in jail, He claimed many more, in a lot of ways to get better treatment in jail – he just kept admitting to murders and police would come in from all over the United States and say: “Did you do this one?” and he said yeah, it just helped them out, cleaned their slates of unsolved murders and so when he got up towards 400 murders, he just recanted and said: “No, I didn’t do it!”

JM) To me, in many ways the more interesting story is what happened to Henry after he was captured, which we talked about doing as a picture, subtitled Superstar Of Crime, because you take a man who’s from such a deprived background and who’s so low on the social scale in every way and now he’s arrested for murder and every time he starts opening his mouth and confessing to another one he becomes more popular with the press and he also becomes the police’s buddy because each police jurisdiction has a book of unsolved murders, So they just call Henry up and they say we’ll blame it on him and cross it off the books and Henry went on TV, they were writing about him…

SJ) He’s got a phone in his cell…

JM) … right, they’re flying him around the country, various police jurisdictions and then he starts making demands, y’know… I must have a fresh carton of pall mall cigarettes, I must have a hot thermos of coffee… I won’t eat hamburgers any more, I must have steak and I want a VCR in my cell at all times… so it’s very strange that it was in many ways the best thing that ever happened to him.

It’s like the situation we have over here with The Moors Murderers, who sexually tortured and killed kids back in the ’60s and ever since they’ve been in jail milking it for all they can, hinting that they might reveal the burial sites of some of the victims and so on and the media has turned them into… well, as you say, “Superstars”…

SJ) It keeps people off Death Row in the USA also, y’know, as long as they can come up with a new crime to solve every now and then, most of them get away with it.

Given Henry’s tie-in with real life events, is there any litigation going on at the moment?

JM) There was never anything. We did some legal research, very little… enough to establish that what Henry can come after us for is basically defamation of character, but I mean… he’s convicted!

SJ) our lawyers, in typical lawyer fashion, had preconceived ideas about what could happen so we had to adjust to those things. That’s why there’s a disclaimer at the front of the thing.

JM) Right, in terms of our deal with Vestron, they were concerned about possible litigation.

SJ) You’re talking about the victims’ families…

How did  you feel about that? Were you concerned about the feeling of the bereaved?

JM) Well, because none of the killings in the film are based on the actual killings at all, no.

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You’ve talked about setting out to re-define Horror in the most extreme way possible with Henry and the quasi-documentary way that you did set about that task reminds me of The Last House On The Left, which was not a slaughter fest but instead focussed sharply on a few ghastly events and their aftermath… was that an important film for you?

JM) I didn’t see it until it came out on video and by that time I felt it was a little bit dated but again it was the grittiness, the reality of it… the forest preserve scene, if you remember that, was very, very effective. It think the score aged very poorly, it really hurt the film for me, took my attention away and made me think how dated this music sounded on this picture…

… and there were ill-advised comic sequences that just shouldn’t have been in there…

JM) Yeah. Again, to me, you have to be very careful. I mean, there’s Horror which is fantasy, where you can be comic and it’s great, but when you get into reality… we didn’t have the money to make Henry horrible through special FX so we made it horrifying by making it real. Pull the fantasy out and then you can’t run from it and when you do that you have to be very careful about humour… it can’t be gag-type humour, where they turn around and say a gag to the person next to them… to me that really takes you out of the story.

SJ) John’s original idea was to do a documentary-style depiction of a week in the life of a serial killer. By staying with the idea of being documentary-style, I think that’s what makes it as mean as it is. . There’s no frills – we didn’t have any money for frills – but we used it to our advantage for once.

So how would you compare and contrast that with the very flashy style they used in a film with a similar subject, Michael Mann’s Manhunter?

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JM) I can comment on that because I read the book, Red Dragon, about four times… thought it was the best mystery, thriller, psychological thriller… I don’t know how to genrify it, exactly. I thought that book was wonderful and I formulated the script in my mind and y’know, it’s hard enough to make a film and I don’t want to talk bad about other film makers but I didn’t care for the film at all. I really think it was a TV treatment of an incredibly rich book, so I didn’t care for it. I don’t like Silence Of The Lambs as a book as much as I like Red Dragon, because it focussed more on the good person and I find the good people usually lead boring lives. I’m looking forward to seeing what Demme does with the movie because I really rate him as a director.

I got the impression in your movie that Henry didn’t even get off on what he was doing, he just had to do it.

JM) That probably came from Michael, the way he chose to play it. It was very, very low key.

How did you set about getting all those glowing testimonials from people like Richard Pryor?

SJ) That was kinda second hand… we didn’t have it in writing.

JM) We had it in writing from John Waters, who is a big fan of the picture and sent me a few postcards praising it and I sent him a few back. He seems like a great guy.

He’s been itching to play a serial killer for some time… has he sounded you guys out about that?

JM) He’s got a great face and a great look and I’ve always loved his pictures, they’re hilarious… more power to John Waters for what he’s done.

You got an amazing quote from Stuart Gordon…

JM) Steve worked  with Stuart Gordon in The Organic Theatre, he did video stuff for two of their plays. The Organic Theatre is like, I dunno if you’re familiar with The Living Theatre, they were like the wild men and women of the theatre in their era and Chicago theatre, which is incredibly wild and wonderful and produces an incredible amount of excellent actors and actresses… The Organic Theatre was kind of like these wild dogs, y’know, they did the crazy stuff and Tom Towles came out of their, as did Richard Fire, Joey Montaigne and a whole bunch of other people who’ve become famous and successful. They were quite a crew.

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Gordon said something along the lines of: “Makes what I’ve achieved on far bigger budgets look pitiful!”

SJ) Yeah, that’s what he told me. Right after we got done with Henry, he saw one of the original cassettes and he said that for five times the budget they weren’t getting as good movies out there and that we should be working immediately…. and three years later, we finally got another job!

JM) Henry’s original budget was $100,ooo and it went over budget to the tune of of about $111,000, but that was before it was blown up. With the blow up, legal fees, etc… I dunno what it is but the finished product was $111,ooo. The Borrower was 2 million… it was easier for us to make a movie for $120,000 in Chicago than it was to make one for two million in Hollywood!

SJ) We had really dedicated people for Henry…

JM) … nobody looking over your shoulder and saying: (whines) “Well I dunno, shoot it from another angle, get a covering shot for that, do this, do that, etc…” When you work in an entertainment corporation, it’s like working in the advertising business, you’ve got a lot of people looking over your shoulder… do this, do that, everything costs more, everything’s more complicated.

Does all this make you reluctant to work the Hollywood system?

JM) N-o-o-o! I’ve already shot my mouth off and put my foot in it in print and I’m hoping not to do it again, because Hollywood is where the deals are made…

SJ) … that’s where the money is.

JM) $5 million to make a picture… try and raise it from your friends and family and see  how far you get!

SJ) On Henry, the fact that there was no money at all meant that the people who worked on it just wanted to do a good job. The Borrower was done more in the studio way of doing things and the people who worked on it, that was their job and that was what they did week-by-week. It was not…

… a labour of love…

SJ) … by any means. That meant some people were good at their job, like in any job and some people were lousy at their job but would get another job and continue to work and earn their living and feed themselves and their families. On Henry there wasn’t any money.

JM) Nobody fed their families on Henry, believe me!

SJ) Unless they had real small families…

JM) … like a family of gerbils or something.

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I was wondering if Michael Rooker, now that he’s got “respectable” credits under this belt, has shown any signs of trying to distance himself from Henry…

JM) No, Michael is in a kind of position where Hollywood is typing him a little bit in bad guy roles, I don’t know when Hollywood is  going to get hip to the fact that he can be a very effective leading man… today Henry is his only leading role.

SJ) He also turned up at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and basically made friends with the entire town and the entire film community. Y’know, they see him in this horrible picture and then they meet Michael Rooker, who’s this gentle bear of a guy… he did a great job.

What happened with The Borrower?

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SJ) The Borrower was a logistical nightmare. We started in Chicago, ended up doing it in L.A., three different regimes of executives came and went before the picture got done, the company that we were doing the picture for went bankrupt… it’s kind of a miracle that the picture ever got completed and now it is, we just have to let it go until they finally decide to release it.

JM) In some ways that turmoil and strife worked to our advantage because all  the executive teams kept leaving, due to the collapsing nature of Atlantic entertainment. Consequently we had no interference during post production and editing, so it’s pretty much untouched. I mean, its director’s cut is the cut that’s going to go out, unless whoever buys it decides to recut it, which is certainly a possibility given the history of the film but so far each time they would try and have us alter the film, they would leave the company within a week or so… it worked out for us in that respect, at any rate.

But there were so many problems you came up against while you were making it, up to and including forest fires… earthquakes…

JM) It was not a blessed project!

SJ) We had a pretty big earthquake…

JM) There were a lot of problems. It was the first Hollywood production for both of us and we really got … it was like waking up every morning and getting punched in the face until you went to bed again at night, basically. Making that picture took about two years, start to finish. We were always skin-of-out-teeth, one micron away from disaster but we managed to complete the picture. It’s got a totally different tone to Henry and the more I’ve seen it, the more I’d have to call it a Horror Comedy although it’s very tongue in cheek, not gag humour.

SJ) It’s much more of a fantasy, also.

JM) You’re right, much more of a traditional sci-fi fantasy…

SJ) … more palatable to audiences generally while it’s a fantasy. All these heads get ripped off… it’s nothing like Henry, not as real…

JM) … but again, Tommy Towles opens the picture and Tommy’s original training in Chicago was with the Second City Company. If you’ve ever seen Saturday Night Live, that’s basically what Second City have been doing on stage for years… skit comedy. Tommy came out of this improvisational comedy school and he’s quite a comic, quite a funny guy and he’s great in The Borrower, it’s pretty funny, it’s more of a rock’n’roll movie for teenagers rather than something that makes you think or affects you very deeply.

In the projects that you’re working on now, which of those strands are you going to develop?

JM) We’ve got two or three things… we’re hopefully about to conclude negotiations to buy a William Burroughs book called The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz, Dutch Schultz being an American gangster of the 1930s and I think that when we get back on Monday we’re going to take a ride out to Lawrence, Kansas and talk to Mr Burroughs. Unfortunately, Mr Burroughs doesn’t own the book. If he did, I think he would have made a deal months ago.

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That property has been around a long time, hasn’t it? I seem to recall that at one point Keith Richards was being touted to play Dutch…

JM) I talked to a producer in L.A. and he told me that Keith Richards had optioned it or has tried to option it or had talked about optioning it at one point… another time, Elliot Gould was going to do it. Yes, it has been round for some time. Richard Fire (who co-wrote Henry) and myself have just finished a script, last Friday, called Step Right Up, which is about a young man whose life falls apart then he joins a travelling carnival.

This is from your own personal experience, isn’t it?

JM) Yes, this is an autobiographical piece and I just bought a book, optioned a book, called Carney Kill which isn’t horror, it’s more of a noir, murder-mystery thing  that takes place in a carnival in 1961 and there’s a screenplay on that which is out.

Can you tell us something about your own experience with carneys?

JM) They run games and have freaks and rides – crazy rides – so it’s great fun, y’know, there are a lot of people in the carnival who are pretty disreputable, but that core of people I hung out with in the carnival that I traveled with were some of the most trustworthy and solid people in terms of people you could count on in a fix or a scrape. The rest of the world might not see them perhaps as the best of citizens but there were some really top-notch folks in the  carnival I was with. I was running a game called the glass pitch. I was also taking pictures while I was there so I have a series of photographs of that which we are going to use in our next rewrite of the script.

Have you seen Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, a film largely set in what I would imagine is a similar milieu?

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JM) I didn’t buy into it the way I did with El Topo… but someone always comes along in the horror genre with a new picture, a Chainsaw Massacre or  A Day Of The Dead and blows it wide open again. I think it’s like film in general or literature or the music business, there are landmark works that blow it open, then the imitators come along and it kind of peters out for a while. I don’t know what to think of Horror now because the MPAA has so castrated the genre. Again, when I read Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 – which at one point there was the possibility of me directing – The Borrower is like a fairy tale compared to that and it came to me round about the time we were on our fourth ‘X’ rating for The Borrower. Fortunately The Borrower was not damaged badly by the MPAA… a little bit, but not badly. They were sort of lenient with us, in a way.

Is this because you personally sought out Richard Heffner, the chairman of the MPAA?

JM) We had to, because we were in a bind but he was pretty fair with us, in my opinion.  But really the Texas 3 script, it’s like, New Line have been in the business for a while now and I couldn’t see why they wanted to shoot it because it was quite obvious that none of that stuff was going to make it onto the screen and this was indeed the case. I haven’t seen it but I’ve talked to the writers and, from what I understood, they’ve cut everything.

SJ) I think that technically, they can do anything now, as far as showing you anything, they can show you heads coming off realistically… bodies being ripped apart realistically, so maybe it’s time for the imagination to take over again and the stories to get a little better. Horror doesn’t just come from seeing that kind of stuff. I think everyone’s going to get immune to all this blood and gore. I think what’s really horrifying is what’s in your mind and what people do to each other as opposed to see what you see just splashed on the screen.

JM) Yeah, but I guess there is something about just delving into blood and guts and revelling in it that is just… part of being a human being!

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McNaughton & Rooker yock it up on the Henry set…

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