Posts Tagged With: Censorship

JD Sports… COSH BOY Reviewed.

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“Boys like you are bad, through and through…”

BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 12.

Starting Big School is a challenge at the best of times, but I remember my first few weeks of Secondary Education (circa 1970) being haunted by spectres considerably more troubling than such run-of-the-mill anxieties as making new friends and keeping on the right side of teachers given to doling out beatings as readily as snarky put downs. Playground gossip played up the constant threat we were under from… The Green Jackets! The desperadoes in question were a gang of disaffected black youths (though I imagine they were referred to by a more politically incorrect collective noun back in those days) who would swoop on random unsuspecting schools (especially those considered a bit posh) and form a double line outside the gates at kicking out time. One by one, hapless school kids were forced to run a gauntlet of blows and insults from green jacketed assailants until they reached the end of the line, where a leading proponent of verdant violence would ask them… if their Mum could sew. When a kid replied in the affirmative he’d be dismissed, his face carved with a Stanley knife, to ask her to “sew that up, then!” Those who denied any such needle and thread expertise on the part of their maternal relatives fared no better… they too got slashed up a treat and advised to “get her to practise on that, then!” History doesn’t record whether those who professed ignorance of their Mum’s tailoring skills escaped, or what fate befell anyone sassy enough to question The Green Jackets’ right to pry into their family’s domestic arrangements. Probably just as well…

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You’d better believe we were paralysed by fear of them Green Jackets, despite the complete absence of any corroborative reportage in local TV, radio or print news. Nor did we stop to ask ourselves why no staff members at any of these educational establishments had ever intervened or why the police were so tardy in arriving to break up the alleged gauntlets and subsequent Q&A sessions, allowing the culprits to repair back to whatever urban sink hole they hailed from and plot new outrages. Clearly The Green Jackets were a particularly colourful urban legend, an especially f*cked up figment of somebody’s fevered imagination and you’re probably thinking my peers and I were dopes to fall for it. C’mon, we were 11 years old! Furthermore successive, allegedly more savvy generations have continued to fall for this kind of baloney and social media, in supplanting playground chit-chat, has only made matters worse. It’s not so long, I seem to recall, since we endured a mass panic about killer clowns planning school yard massacres… The extent to which such grass roots memes influence or are influenced by mass media is an argument that will go on long after we’re all dead (slashed to ribbons by Green Jackets or massacred by Killer Clowns, only time will tell). Suffice to say, cinematic exploitation of juvenile delinquency (the JD genre) has never let any sense of perspective hamper the depiction of yoof running wild as box office bait.

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Groovy Juvies have regularly wrecked havoc in Hollywood, ever since the first zoot-suited reefer addict flipped out, daddyo. Marlin Brando rebelled against anything you got, James Dean tore himself apart and bikers rioted on Sunset Strip, anticipating more recent offenders such as the perpetrators of the Purge phenom.

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Here in Blighty, ill informed moral panic over youth cults has been reflected and indeed festered in, e.g. the bizarre depiction of Teddy Boys in Joe Losey’s (These Are) The Damned (1962) and Nicky Henson‘s plastic Angels, dabbling with the occult in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973, above). The depiction of edgy youth in Michael Reeves’ (otherwise excellent) The Sorcerers (1967) has to be seen to be believed. Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979) celebrated the spiritually uplifitng aspect of Mods and Rockers kicking the shit out of each other on Brighton beach. More recently, the prospect of machete mayhem at screenings of Andrew Onwubolu’s gang saga Blue Story have had tabloid editors drooling, while the intolerable TV twaddle of Peaky Blinders continues to exercise its mystifying grip on the nation’s imagination.

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Occasioning even more outrage and unease among the habitually concerned than John Clowes’ universally reviled No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948), Lewis Gilbert’s Cosh Boy (1953)  was one of the first British productions deemed worthy an ‘X’ Certificate, a device first introduced something like two years previously. Adapted from Bruce Walker’s orginal stage play Master Crook (which had enjoyed a successful run in the West End), Gilbert’s film reaped the bonus publicity / censorship hassles attendant on its release coinciding with the notorious real life Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley murder case. In response and underlining the film’s moralistic (and arguably cop out conclusion), producer Daniel M.Angel appended a rolling prologue caption deploring  “the post war tragedy of juvenile delinquency”, expressing the pious hope that Cosh Boy could do its little bit to help stamp out “this social evil”. Unimpressed, several local authorities ignored the BBFC’s ‘X’ and banned screenings of the film in their bailiwicks.

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“Roy Walsh” and “Alfie Collins” (played respectively by James Kenney and Ian Whittaker, the only cast holdovers from the story’s stage incarnation) do indeed present eerie parallels with (respectively) Craig and the doomed Bentley. The latter in each coupling is a mentally underdeveloped loser, easily manipulated by his sawn-off psychopathic “mate”. The film opens with Walshy slipping a cosh to Alfie and sending him to beat some money out of an unfortunate old biddy, staggering home, blind drunk from the pub.

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Anticipating the way Malcolm McDowell controls his “droogs” in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971), this guy likes to load the bullets for others to fire (literally, by the time his petty crime spree has escalated to armed robbery). It’s easy to see how he could control the half-witted Alfie, but what about the rest of his gang (at least one of whom seems conspicuously too old for this JD lark)? Walshy’s about as charismatic as a piece of plasticine, nevertheless he manages to lure the succulent Rene (Joan Collins, on loan from Rank) away from her goody two shoes boyfriend, knock her up and abandon her. Will she go for a risky back street abortion or is she doomed to continue the cycle of delinquent degeneracy with yet another latch key kid?

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Throughout the film, authority figures are presented as powerless to curb Roy’s amoral roving, relying on the improving effects of youth clubs and credulously swallowing his vows to mend his ways. The police struggle to pin anything on him and when he is nabbed, magistrates hand out laughable sanctions. HIs weak, well-meaning mother Elsie (Betty Ann Davies) buries her head in the sand and there’s no moderating paternal influence (perhaps Dad was lost in the War). When the rozzers finally finally arrive to collar Walsh for murder, his new stepfather Bob Stevens (Robert Ayres) pleads for time out to whip off his belt and give the kid a good leathering (a gag revived in Robert A. Endelson’s 1977 “video nasty”, Fight For Your Life)… and no matter how Woke you consider yourself, it’s hard to begrudge Roy this long postponed reckoning.

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“Beat him step-daddy, eight to the bar!”

The expected compliment of interesting extras on this BFI Flipside release includes Johnny On The Run, a 68 minute Children’s Film Foundation production that Gilbert directed in the same year as Cosh Boy. In this charming effort, orphaned Polish refugee Janek (Eugeniusz Chylek) gets up to all sorts of adventures in the Scottish Highlands after finding himself not welcome in Edinburgh. Speaking of which, I wonder if – in the absence of those ludicrous Brexit bongs – the Tories will dig up Gilbert’s Harmony Lane (also on this set) for their sad assed Festival Of Brexit. Originally filmed in 3D and screened at the Festival Of Britain in 1951, this 24 minutes (it seems longer) collision of variety acts includes the Beverley Sisters, assorted hoofers, trick skaters, fire-eaters and a performing dog, alongside the comedy stylings of Max Bygraves (don’t worry, Deck Of Cards is conspicuous by its absence). Anybody mourning the death of Variety should be forced to sit down and actually watch this thing. Gilbert’s illustrious career kicked off even earlier and more obscurely than this, with the likes of The Ten Year Plan (1945), a Public Information Film announcing postwar plans to end homelessness, which are even less convincing than ace reporter Charles Hawtrey’s asides about trying to get some lovin’ out of his girlfriend. Sure thing, Charlie! Stranger in the City (1961) is Robert Hartford-Davis’s 22 minute guided tour through the tawdry glamour of 1960s Soho… could that be a young Paul Gadd (= “Gary Glitter”) caught loitering at one point? Looks horribly like him… Teddy Boys is a short excerpt from a 1956 episode of ITV’s current affairs strand This Week (from a time when ITV involved itself with more elevated material than glorified talent shows and relentless ropey “reality” programming) that actually manages to elicits a little pathos from its gormless subject. Speaking of gormless, There’s a brief 2019 interview with Ian “Alfie” Whittaker, reflecting on his participation in the film (no mention of his subsequent success as a set-dresser on films as varied Alien and Under A Cherry Moon… four times Oscar-nominated, he actually won one for Howard’s End in 1992). You also get the US opening sequence (as “The Slasher”), with a more explicit rendering of the baboochka’s coshing and, in the first pressing only, a fully illustrated glossy booklet stuffed with new writing about the film, its troubled time at the BBFC, Teddy Boy fashion, the contemporary Soho jazz scene and full film credits.

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Dunno about you, but I’m bricking it…

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“The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect”… FEAR, The Autobiography Of DARIO ARGENTO, Reviewed.

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FAB PRESS. H/B. 279 Pages. ISBN: 978-1-913051-05-1
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Picture the scene… Winter, 1976 and Dario Argento is stopping at the Hotel Flora on Via Veneto. Having proved the industry doubters wrong by scoring an international hit with his debut feature The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (transforming the giallo genre into box office gold in the process) and earning comparisons with Hitchcock on account of that and his follow up thrillers, Argento is putting the final touches to his masterpiece, Suspiria (1977). You might think he’d be feeling upbeat, but no… wounded by the recent defection of Daria Nicolodi with their infant daughter Asia, he’s seriously considering throwing himself out of the window.

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Must be the grit in life’s oyster that yields these pasta paura pearls. Lucio Fulci, of course, had a biblically miserable time of it and Mario Bava, despite his witty, urbane facade, was reportedly an unhappy and deeply neurotic man… quite the Pollyanna, though, when compared to Dario Argento, who confesses in his long-awaited autobiography to anorexia, gluten / lactose intolerance, paranoia, pharmaceutical and sexual excesses, drug busts, bankruptcy and a plethora of phobias including a fear of other people touching his hair, for which reason he’s always cut it himself (who’d have thunk it?) “The foreigner theme to me is fundamental…” sez DA: “I know what it means to be different to others because I’ve lived it”. Growing up, he was taunted by other kids due to his skinniness and no doubt his exotic physiognomy, traceable to his Brazilian mother, the noted fashion photographer Elsa Luxardo.

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Argento’s precocious discovery of Edgar Allan Poe (“In the blink of an eye, without interruption, I went from masturbation to the cult of horror and mystery”) afforded him both a refuge and a pointer to future glories. Despite his family’s film biz lineage, Argento’s was no easy passage to success in the Italian industry. Bird With The Crystal Plumage, now an acknowledged game changer, was made in the face of opposition from hostile executives (“Is it a giallo?” asked the horrified Titanus boss, Goffredo Lombardo) and a cast / crew who were initially unsympathetic to Argento’s technical orientation. His solution? To treat them like the Scout troop he had led in his boyhood. Then began the ceaseless skirmishes with censorship…

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Argento’s unusual life and remarkable Art have always reflected each other, sometimes in ways not immediately apparent to the director himself… he relates that he was mortified when friends pointed out how closely the destructive relationship between Michael Brandon and Mimsy Farmer’s characters in Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971) paralleled that between himself and his wife Marisa Casale, to whom Farmer allegedly bears a close physical relationship. We learn precious little about Marisa but Argento is more candid about e.g. his torrid affair with Marilù Tolo. More importantly, he finally gives something like proper credit to Daria Nicolodi for the influence she has exerted over his life and career. He obviously makes much of their daughter Asia’s successful acting career, nor are we left in any doubt how much he dotes on his first daughter Fiore.

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Most readers will probably be more interested in the inside information and anecdotes from the making of Argento’s films and Fear delivers all that in spades, also taking in side projects, non realised (including opera) productions and such career missteps as 1973’s The Five Days Of Milan (just think, if that had one been a success, this book might well have been titled Historical Drama – The Autobiography). Dario admits towards the end of Fear that his more recent efforts are nowhere near as highly regarded by fans and critics, a fact that he’s already acknowledged by condensing coverage of the sequence from Trauma (1993) to Dracula In 3D (2012) into 35 of the book’s 279 pages. We’ve all speculated on the reasons for this drop off, but anyone searching for a clue might care to ponder Dario’s observation that he made The Card Player (2004) in accordance with the Dogme principle that “special lighting is not acceptable”? Just imagine if he’d taken that principle on board before shooting Suspiria, eh?

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Dogme, my arse…

Ah well, this is a time to praise Argento for his incomparable heyday rather than quibble about his career coda. Given that this is a Fab Press publication, it goes without saying that the production values and presentation are, er, fab and the text is accompanied by personally selected photos from il maestro’s private archive. Fear is a fascinating and disarmingly frank memoir which I concluded in one avid sitting. One minor grouch, I would have liked to hear a lot more about his working relationships with Sergio Leone, Mario Bava and lucio fulci. Maybe in an expanded second edition?

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Sex Dwarf, Isn’t It Nasty? THE BEAST IN HEAT Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
(“The World Blu-Ray Premiere Of The Most Bizarre Nazisploitation Shocker Ever!”, no less…)

“Don’t spit on the plate from which you eat your dinner”, John Morghen once told me and while that’s eminently sensible advice vis-a-vis basic culinary hygiene, he was actually responding to my enquiry as to how he felt about being typecast as a series of mentally unstable grotesques. Somebody else who probably thanked God for typecasting (if possibly for very little else) was Salvatore Baccaro (1932-1984). Talent spotted outside a Roman film studio, working as a fruit and veg vendor (a role he plays, fleetingly, in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, 1975), Sal was never likely to be nominated for a Rondo award, unless it was one for the closest physical resemblance to Rondo Hatton (both suffered from the disfiguring condition acromegaly). Baccaro’s brutish features and sawn-off, barrel-like physique earned him 65 roles, many of which turned on the old “beauty and the beast” chestnut, either with gently ironic intent (he beds the exquisite Edwige Fenech in Sergio Martino’s 1976 portmanteau effort Sex With A Smile) or to rather more sinister effect…

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After appearances in, among others, Argento’s Five Days In Milan (1973), the 1974 Dick Randall monstrosity Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks (credited as “Boris Lugosi”, our boy played Ook The Neanderthal Man, above) then Jacopetti & Prosperi’s Mondo Candido (1975), Salvatore found his career-defining (though uncredited) role in Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty (1976). Ramming home, with characteristic lack of subtlety, his message that the Nazis’ obsession with racial superiority made them infinitely more bestial than the “üntermensch” they so despised, Brass shows hookers for Hitler proving their loyalty to the Fuhrer by coupling with non-Aryan, disabled, deformed and otherwise “undesirable” prisoners. Sal features prominently as a randy retard. When I caught up with Salon Kitty courtesy of a University film society in the late ’70s, I counted more walk outs during this scene than for any other public screening of any film I’ve ever attended (though David Cronenberg’s Shivers ran it close).

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Not everybody was so turned off, though. In 1977 (a proper annus mirabilis for Signor Baccaro, who also appeared in Luigi Zampa’s The Monster, Luciano Martino’s Erotic Exploits Of A Sexy Seducer and Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America), Sal was called upon to briefly rehash that Salon Kitty role in Bruno Mattei’s xerox of the Brass film, SS Girls. Later in the year producer Roberto Pérez Moreno decided, for reasons over which we can only speculate, to expand the spectacle of Sal as mutant Nazi sex machine to feature length in Luigi Batzella (as “Ivan Kathansky”)’s once-seen-never-forgotten “The Beast In Heat – Horrifing (Sic) Experiments Of SS Final Days”. Well, half feature length, anyway…

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… footage from When The Bell Tolls, a partisan saga Batzella had directed (as “Paolo Solvay”) in 1970 was stitched in to provide some kind of context against which Salvatore (as “Sal Boris”… are you getting all this? I’ll be asking questions later) can spend the balance of the picture doing his inimitable thing, bonking any women unfortunate enough to be thrown into his cage (and sometimes eating their pubic hair), hamming it up in a Cosmo Smallpiece-like caricature of lust, mugging and smacking his lips into Batzella’s on-rushing zoom lens while all around him other overacting captives are sexually humiliated, tortured, castrated and fed to ravenous gerbils and guinea pigs, all of this presided over by sexy, mega-aphrodisiac wielding SS doctor Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall, who’s also in Mattei’s SS Girls, not to mention Ken Dixon’s The Erotic Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, 1975).

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Dr K seems very, er, enthusiastic about her work. Whereas Sal’s role in the Brass and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Mattei films seemed to be to blur the lines between the supposed “subhumans” and the übermensch who were stealing themselves to have it off with them, here he seems to be Doc’s pride and joy, an… er, end in himself, though it’s difficult to see exactly how his retarded rutting is supposed to further the cause of  Aryan racial supremacy. Clearly, Fraulein Kratsch has taken her eye off the prize. As Bruce Lee advises a kung fu novice during the opening scenes of Enter The Dragon: “It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon… don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory”. Dr Kratsch is missing out on a shitload of heavenly glory here, though she appears to be having a whale of a time, all the same.

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When Batzella (who also edited this thing) finally manages to stitch the old and new footage together into some semblance of a climax, those partisans have very definite views on the Doc’s conduct. Not trusting in a malpractice hearing, they stuff her into Bonking Boris’ cage, exactly where we all knew she’d end up. Unfortunately the kill-joy guerillas shoot them both before the full measure of poetic justice can be meted out.

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Severin’s mission to rehabilitate as many official “video nasties” as possible continues unabated. They’ve done a characteristically splendid job on The Beast In Heat, a movie that’s rarely been topped for tastelessness but whose almost palpable absurdity would make it very difficult for anyone to take too much offence at it, aside from opportunistic muck rakers trying to start moral panics during the early ’80.

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In the featurette Nasty Nazi, Stephen Thrower, a dependably articulate commentator, struggles (as would anyone) to convey the tawdry ridiculousness of the whole affair and wonders how a dapper, urbane character such as Luigi Batzella (pictured above, right) could have been roped into it. I guess the answer is that he had bills to pay like everybody else. No doubt the same was true for The Beast’s OST composer Giuliano Sorgini, previously responsible for the sublime score to Jorge Grau’s masterly Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974). Thrower suggests that TBIH was as much “inspired” by the dishonourable tradition of OTT Italian horror comics (“fumetti”) as by any cinematic antecedents which sets up an interesting feedback loop, given that such comic book fodder (see for instance the controversial case of IPC’s Action comic in the UK) often exists to feed a demand for rite of passage forbidden thrills from kids too young to sneak in and see adult-certified films.

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Of course you get a (French) trailer, plus Naomi Holwill’s exhaustive, alternately informative and amusing feature length SadicoNazista doc, Fascism On A Thread – The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema. The aforementioned Giuliani Sorgini opens proceedings by declaring these films”the lowest of the low”. Other genre luminaries interviewed include directors Bruno Mattei, Sergio Garrone (SS Experiment Camp), Mario Caiano (Nazi Love Camp 27), Rino Di Silvestro (Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) and Liliana Cavani (who reveals that what worried Italian censors most about The Night Porter was the spectacle of Charlotte Rampling on top during sex). Night Porter writer Italo Moscati and Sergio D’Offizi (DP on Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) also have their say, along with actresses Melissa Longo (Salon Kitty and various French stabs at SadicoNazista) and Dyane Thorne (Ilsa herself… now an ordained minister!) plus her husband and collaborator Howard Maurer, along with commentators and academics including Mike Hostench from the Sitges Film Festival, Mikel J. Koven, Russ Hunter, Anthony Page, Kim Newman, Allan Bryce and the inevitable John Martin. Yep, it’s another winner from High Rising Productions.

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“Oh, the subhumanity!”

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Brain Salad Surgery… DEATH WARMED UP, Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“We’ve got an emergency here… a break out of psycho patients!”

Mad scientists…. a crazy bunch of bastards! Am I right or am I right? From Frankenstein to Moreau, Butcher to Dolittle, they’ve actually done very little to improve the human condition (which is generally their professed intention), more often than not opening up unprecedented vistas of dystopian degradation while trying. To be fair to Dr D, inter-species communication has proved to be a real boon but there’s always an exception to prove the rule and the rule, reasserted in spades in David Blyth’s Kiwisploitation epic Death Warmed Up (1984), is that disregard of medical ethics, no matter how lofty the reasoning behind it, bears catastrophic fruit, often in the form of psychotic survivors of speculative brain surgery running amok…

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Here, self proclaimed medical messiah Dr Howell (Gary Day) has decided to extend his surgical experiments on rats’ brains to human beings, confident that he can “make Death obsolete”. Pointing out the worrying side effects of these procedures (which will become all too painfully obvious as the plot unwinds), his colleague Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) demurs. Incensed by such lily-livered shilly-shallying, Howell brainwashes Tucker’s son Michael (Michael Hurst), by unspecified means, into going home and blasting Mom and Dad away with a shotgun (just as they were settling down to an agreeable spot of middle aged-nookie… he could at least have let Mom and Dad finish, out of simple courtesy!)

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Several years later Michael is released from the high security booby hatch to which he had, not unreasonably, been confined. He seems to have picked up the pieces of his life admirably well. While he looked even sillier than Angus Young as a schoolboy assassin, the grown up, bleached blond Michael more closely resembles Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner… quite the cool dude. He’s got a foxy girlfriend, Sandy (Margaret Umbers, whose swimwear stylings will interest all serious students of bactrian podiatry) and two great mates, Lucas (William Upjohn) and Jeannie (Norelle Scott). Together they embark on a happy-go-lucky holiday trip to a remote island but instead of sun, sand and sex, his friends are in for death, destruction and dismemberment… Michael forgot to mention that their destination is the location of Dr Howell’s Institute for Trans Cranial Applications, where he’s heading with vengeance uppermost in his damaged brain. As “luck” would have it, the Doc’s pissed-off patients start kicking off just as they arrive and Michael must fight his way through a horde of mutilation-bent mutants –  led by the relentless Spider (David Letch) – en route to the climactic confrontation with his Nemesis…

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“I’ll get you, you bastards!”

Over the Tasman Sea, Australian censors did’t get this film’s punk rock / comic book aesthetic of OTT outrage and Death Warmed Up found itself banned on the grounds of “excessive violence” (nowadays they’d probably be more worried about its stereotypical “comic” depiction of a Sub-Continental convenience store propreitor). Whatever, Peter Jackson obviously managed a squint at it, as cursory examination of his early gore trilogy eloquently testifies (thankfully David Blythe never made the jump to mega-budgeted muppet monstrosities). On account of this obvious influence, DWU has latterly been hailed as some kind of trailblazer for Antipodean atrocity, though it obviously owes its own debt to George Miller’s Mad Max I and II. Its sub-Blake’s 7 production design also brings to mind (to my twisted mind, anyway) that 1979 Lee Cooper commercial with the Gary Numan music…

… and of course Blyth’s cautionary tale of medical missteps would make for a tasty double bill viewed alongside Anthony Balch’s uproarious Horror Hospital (1973, below).

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Extras include interviews with David “Spider” Letch (who comes across as a benign, avuncular figure now that his eyebrows have grown back) and a double header with director Blyth and writer Michael Heath. Those two also provide optional audio commentaries to the main feature and also a reel of (sometimes mysteriously) deleted footage. As well as the expected trailers and TV spots, you can also watch original NZ 4×3 VHS cut, should you choose to do so. My copy came in an attractive slip case featuring the original poster art work by King of Quad, Graham Humphreys.

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The main feature is a bit grainy and there are some sonic imperfections but what do you expect, given the provenance of this picture… I mean, how slick do you want your Punk Rock, anyway?

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

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Who shivs ya, baby?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dagmar… the Nancy Allen of her day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BD. Region Free. 88 Films. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pro Boner Publico… Derek Jarman’s SEBASTIANE Reviewed.

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“One hundred and eighty!”

BD. BFI. Region B. 18.

Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio) is a senior officer in the Praetorian Guard, in fact you could say (if you’re one of those people who endlessly recite Monty Python routines) that he wanks as high as any in Wome. Unfortunately the Emperor Diocletian (Robert Medley), whom we see enjoying a bukkake dance performance from Lindsay Kemp in the company of an anachronistically clad Jordan (the punk rock one, not the “glamour model”) takes a dim view of Seb’s recent conversion to Christianity and exiles him to a remote desert outpost to serve under the aptly named Commander Severus (Barney James), alongside several resolutely gay squaddies and Max (Neil Kennedy), a homophobic brute with no nose. How (I hear you ask) does Max smell? “Terrible!” is the stock music hall answer but Max probably smells pretty good, spending as much time as he does in the bath house with his butch buddies. Severus develops a serious case of the hots for Sebastiane, who rejects his lustful pagan advances. Using Seb’s pacifism as a pretext, Severus subjects him to ongoing torments and humiliations, which seem to be equally enjoyed on each side of the SM equation. Ultimately Severus orders the guys to string Seb up and dispatch him with arrows, an order with which they eagerly comply… after all, you can’t beat a bit of Bully!

Unfortunately, Jarman chose not to depict the sequel to these sad events in which, according to hagiographical tradition, Sebastiane was miraculously revived by Saint Irene and returned to the court of Diocletian to plead with him to change his Christian-bashing ways. Instead, Diocletian had him cudgelled to death (for good this time) and chucked into Rome’s main sewer (depicted below in the 1612 painting by Lodovico Carracci). We also gather that Sebastian’s cranium turned up, silver coated, in Ebersberg, Germany during the tenth Century, and was used to dispense Communion wine to the faithful on the Saint’s birthday. His various relics are, moreover, reckoned proof against outbreaks of plague and pestilence.

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Aside from the reverence in which he is held in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the figure of Sebastian has long been regarded as a gay icon if not, er, pin-up boy. In Richard A. Kaye’s words: “Contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case.” Artists as diverse as Andrea Mantegna and Yukio Mishima have tapped into this myth…

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The BFI’s press blurb describes Sebastiane as “a glorious hymn to the very real, living and breathing male body”. Indeed, Jarman and Peter Middleton (responsible for this film’s truly ravishing cinematography) dwell lovingly on the body in question and its workings, to the point where I found myself shouting: “Careful mate, you’ll have somebody’s eye out with that!” at the screen several times (and I wasn’t always talking about the arrows!) As such, Jarman’s uncostumed drama, which grafts bits of Melville’s Billy Budd and Laurens van der Post’s The Seed And The Sower (filmed by Nagisa Oshima as Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence in 1983) onto Christian tradition, enjoyed a brief success de scandale before much of its Roman romp thunder was stolen by Bob Guccione’s Caligula (1979). By having the dialogue spoken in archaic Latin, Jarman was presumably deploying and / or lampooning the convention by which you can get away with more in “Art” films, though I gather that he was originally planning (before distributors put their collective foot down) to have Sebastiane screened without benefit of subtitles. You can take anti commercialism too far, you know…

The male body, however real, living or breathing (they left out “arse-winking”), has never held any erotic fascination for me (frankly, on the cusp of my sixth and seventh decades, even the female body agitates me significantly less than it used to) but I enjoyed this opportunity to see Sebastiane again for three reasons. 1) It’s not Jarman’s excruciating Jubliee (1978), whose “punk rock” pretensions date it more horribly than any of The third Century shenanigans depicted here. 2) House Of Freudstein Hall-Of-Famer David Warbeck once told me that he’d put up much of the film’s finance. 3) Having suffered a Catholic education myself, I’m always glad to see the iconography of repressive religion subverted to the ends of irrepressible Desire.

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The Ecstasy Of St Teresa. Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 1647-52.

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Sebastiane. Derek Jarman. 1976.

Extras wise, you get Jazz Calendar (1968), 36 minutes of the Royal Ballet in rehearsal with the scenery and costumes by Jarman that impressed Ken Russell sufficiently to appoint him production designer on The Devils (1971) and set designer on Savage Messiah (1972)… film maker John Scarlett-Davis remembering how he was roped into the proceedings and subsequently mortified to see himself and his boyfriend snogging away on the cover of Time Out… and 62 minutes of an incomplete, black and white, un-subtitled work-in-progress cut, featuring different music from Brian Eno’s ambient noddlings as heard in the released version.

One thing that neither this disc’s bonus materials nor its fully illustrated booklet (featuring liner notes by William Fowler) shed any light upon is the role of long forgotten one-shot co-director (and editor) Paul Humfress (who also co-wrote Leslie Magahey’s BBC 1979 adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Schalcken The Painter). It would be interesting to learn how he and Jarman divided the work between them.

The behind-the-scenes Super 8 short The Making of Sebastiane, shot by Jarman and  sound assistant Hugh Smith… or at least that part of its 25 minutes not taken up with footage of Sardinian mountain roads shot through the window of a moving car… capture a singular historical moment, in which a repressed minority were starting to flex their muscles, joyously. Who could have known that another pestilence was coming, one against which saintly skulls would afford scant protection?

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Bringing Up Baby… ABSURD, ANTHROPOPHAGOUS Antics On Severin BD.

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Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast (1980) and Absurd (1981).

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“Respectable” journalists and media outlets seem to spend most of their time, these days, angsting about “fake news” and its potentially pernicious effects on gullible schmoes like you… which is pretty ripe considering the constant stream of bullshit these jokers have themselves been pumping out at us over so many years. UK readers of a certain age might well recall tuning into News At Ten during the early 1980s only to find themselves being leered at by Luigi Montefiori as he stuffed his hand up a pregnant lady’s skirt, pulled out a skinned rabbit and started chowing down on it. This, we were earnestly informed by the stern-faced newsreader, was “a scene from a snuff movie”! Get a fucking brain, pal…

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“Video  Nasties” hysteria has, fortunately, abated to the point where that alleged foetus-eating feast, Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast (1980), is (alongside most of the other “nasties” on the DPP’s dreaded list) readily available and uncut on the shelves of legitimate retail outlets over the full length and breadth of these sceptred isles. 88 Films released it here on Blu-ray in 2015, rapidly followed by a “remastered special edition” boasting a previously deleted scene. Unwilling to splash out more of the readies to witness what might, for all I know, amount to no more than six seconds of Mr Montefiori walking across a beach, gurning, I’m unfamiliar with that edition.

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What I am clutching in my sweaty little hands though is a Severin box set comprising their releases of Anthropophagous and its sort of sequel, the following year’s Absurd. The original film, as you’re probably already only too well aware, alternates passages of unrelenting tedium (as an ill-matched party of tourists wander around the Greek islands waiting for something to happen… then wish it hadn’t) with sporadic outbursts of ultra-violent, inventively gory action every time our heroes (Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, “Vanessa Steiger” / Serena Grandi, et al) cross paths with hulking cannibal Klaus Wortmann (or Nikos Karamanlis, depending on which print you’re watching), who got the taste for human flesh after several days adrift on an open boat obliged him to eat his wife and child. Less, er, visionary Horror directors than D’Amato would have contented themselves with that, the foetus eating and a rather grisly scalping, but Joe could always be relied on to go that extra exploitive mile and Mr Beast tops all of it (and arguably anything else in the truly wild annals of Italian splatter cinema) at the climax of this picture… disembowelled with a pick-axe, he pulls out yards of his unravelling intestines and (still gurning madly) starts stuffing his face with them.

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Severin have commemorated this unforgettable (try as you might) movie milestone in the plush doll pictured above and a host of other man-eating merch available on their website.

While much of Marcello Giombini’s synth OST still sounds (appropriately enough, perhaps) like an acute attack of IBS, Severin’s 2k scan from the original 16mm negative will come as a revelation to anyone who’s heard about Uncle Joe’s reputation as a DP but suffered previous VHD and DVD editions. Don’t get me wrong (we’re not talking Days Of fucking Heaven, here) but relative to those, the cinematography (officially credited to Enrico Biribicchi, which might or might not be yet another D’Amato alias) is pretty good.

A predictable profusion of bonus interviews are chock full of hot gossip from the inner circle of pasta splateratti. Monterfiori rates Anthropophagous as”shit” and who’s going to argue with the big guy? In fact he rewrote the script only on condition that he wouldn’t be “credited” for having done so and attributes the film’s cult success to the fact that “there are a lot of weirdos out there” (guilty as charged, eh readers?)

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Everybody agrees that working on a D’Amato set was always a laugh riot (FX man Pietro Tenoglio recalls a lot of bantering back and forth during the scene that freaked out our man at News At Ten) and nobody has a bad word to say about Tisa Farrow. Zora Kerova (looking fab, despite her countless cinematic tribulations) disputes the oft-repeated story about Farrow having one eye and gives us the lowdown on who was romancing whom. Several interviewees comment on the emergence of Margaret Mazzantini as one of Italy’s leading literary figures… who could have extrapolated that from her show stopping turn in Anthropophagous (above), jumping out of a barrel clutching a big knife, arm pit hair akimbo?!? Editor Bruno Micheli recalls how the cutting of  D’Amato’s films devolved to him because his sister jumped ship when Joe started steering a porno course and Saverio Vallone finally gets the credit he deserves for skewering Montefiori’s duodenum on that pick axe.

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Whatever guts Montefiori’s character still packed after Anthrophophagous are unpacked on a spiky railing at the commencement of the aptly named Absurd, when he’s attempting to evade Edmund Purdom’s obsessive priest (“I serve God with biochemistry rather than ritual”). Needless to say, this doesn’t cramp his style re menacing a houseload of children (Katya and Kasimir Berger… yes, they’re William Berger’s kids) and their baby sitter (Annie Belle). John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) seems as salient an antecedent here as Anthropophagous and Montefiori’s monstrous dude (boasting a much clearer complexion last time out) doesn’t actually eat anybody (he even resists the urge to consume his own intestines when they put in their inevitable appearance) though he does hang Michele Soavi’s juvenile delinquent upside down from a tree, bake Ms Belle’s bonce in an oven and penetrate the heads of various other dudes with axes, black’n’deckers and bandsaws. This predisposition towards the ol’ ultraviolence is on account of a genetic mutation (a scientifically induced one, the script darkly hints) that also, as (bad) luck would have it, renders him virtually indestructible. 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 couldn’t be arsed to answer) and proves beyond any shadow of a doubt 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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Extras on the Absurd disc include the alternative Italian cut (as Rosso Sangue), with optional English subtitles and a trailer. You’ve possibly also seen the interviews with Michel Soavi and Joe D’Amato on other releases. In the latter, the genial director explains yet again (possibly for the benefit of News At 10 journalists) that he never actually killed anyone in any of his films, i.e. that there are these things called “special effects” (even if they’re not always all that special). Montefiori talks some more about his working relationship and friendship with D’Amato and of his often anonymous work as a script doctor (well, despite his best efforts, the scripts often died on their ass!) Evaluating the development of his Klaus over the two films, he sagely offers: “My character doesn’t have any lines… he just rasps and whines!” Indeed.

My copy came with the limited edition accompanying soundtrack CD but there was no sign of the T-shirt. Still, bloggers can’t be choosers… and anyway, I could never carry it off as jauntily as Darrell Buxton does.

With this / these release/s the Severin boys strike another retrospective blow against the “nasty” witch hunters who contrived to spoil their fun in the 1980s… and you’ve gotta love ’em for it!

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“Bong!”

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

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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… and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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Calum Waddell’s presence at Manchester’s 29th Festival Of Fantastic Films (introducing and conducting stage interviews with some of its star guests) afforded us the opportunity to hook up and shoot some stuff that will hopefully be appearing in featurettes for several releases you might be enjoying in the near future. During my flying visit on Saturday 27th October it was a pleasure to catch up with some old (and getting older) mates, say hi to Luigi Cozzi and finally meet Aldo Lado, who has directed some of the darkest, most troubling and subversive entries in the Italian B-movie tradition. Thanks are due to Gil Lane Young for graciously allowing me to attend the director’s Q&A session, during which we managed the following brief exchange…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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… I think so, too. Again, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Gil and all the folks from Manchester’s ever-fabulous Festival Of Fantastic Films, for letting me in… to Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill, whose Lado documentary I’m eagerly anticipating… and to Nick Frame, for stalwart translation services. It was good to see so many friends. 

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Aldo Lado + High Rising team = essential doc in the making.

Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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