Posts Tagged With: Censorship

Desperate DANIELA! The Indestructible Ms DORIA Remembers Her Time As Fulci’s Favourite Victim…

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The first time she set foot in the House Of Freudstein (during the prelude to that gothic meisterwerk The House By The Cemetery, 1981) Daniela Doria had a knife rammed through the back of her skull by the demented zombie doctor residing in the cellar… way to spoil a furtive bit of hanky panky there, Doc! If you’re reading this blog, you probably won’t need me to enumerate the unspeakably grisly demises that this beautiful and charming actress has suffered at the hideous hands of lucio fulci. To mark her birthday, we’re posting these selected highlights from an interview conducted in 2018. Thanks for the murderous memories, Daniela!

Daniela, when did you realise the extent of the ongoing cult following for these films that you made all those years ago? Did it come as a surprise to you?

Yes, it was a great and wonderful surprise for me to find out how many admirers and followers they have, especially Fulci’s films. When I was appearing in them I knew I was working with a great teacher and a great professional but I didn’t realise that this genre had so many fans. I’m really happy that his films have been seen by so many people, people all over the world.

How did your working relationship with Fulci begin?

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My first film for Lucio Fulci was City Of The Living Dead (1980). When I attended the audition I was very tense and nervous because I’d been told that although Fulci was a top director, he did not have a good character. The moment I met him he put my mind at ease and after a few days he let me know that he had chosen me. After our first collaboration, he would call me for every film he was starting and ask: “Are you ready to die again? I’ve got a new way of killing you that you’ll like…” He was a very witty and intelligent person with a great sense of irony.

Fulci arouses strong reactions in people. It’s said that he would get very mean and angry on set. He is often accused of misogyny. What was your experience of working with him over four films?

If a person made a bad impression on him, that was it, he would always be unpleasant with them. He never hid his dislike of people. If he did have a misogynistic streak, it would have been because of love affairs that had ended badly, but he never showed this side to me. I admired him very much, we got on very well and I looked forward to breaks in the shooting when we would talk and he’d relate many anecdotes to me. With me he was always very sweet and gentle, but he was a perfectionist and when things were going wrong on the set, he would get angry and start screaming.

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Were you aware of the tension on The Black Cat between Fulci and Patrick Magee?

There was no good relationship between Patrick Magee and Fulci. Right from the start, Magee wanted to do his own thing and struggled to follow Fulci’s instructions. So Lucio treated him very badly, especially since all the hours we spent in make up meant that we could not afford too many retakes.

You’ve spent a lot of time being made up by Fulci’s FX men, notably the De Rossis…

Giannetto De Rossi was an artist and a fantastic person! He was a reassuring presence during the strongest scenes and when I had anxieties about the effects. Wearing all that plaster on your face to make a mask is not the most comfortable experience.

As with his make-up men, Fulci kept calling on such key, behind-the-camera collaborators as Sergio Salvati, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Massimo Lentini…

Fulci had an incredible love and esteem for all of these people. Between them there was a very strong harmony and mutual trust. They would communicate things to each other with a glance and Fulci was always very satisfied with their contributions. I don’t recall him criticising anything they did, they were present in all of his films and like a second family for him…. collaborators and great friends. I remember the cinematographer Sergio Salvati with great affection, he was very sweet and kind to me, during breaks in shooting he would always give me advice on how to look my best for the camera.

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Let’s discuss some of these famous death scenes… in City Of The Living Dead you’ve got this fake blood getting in your eyes and notoriously, you had to stuff your mouth with animal offal and spit it out…

The special effects in Fulci’s films were great and became their strongest selling point. For the blood that comes out of my eyes in City Of The Living Dead, I had two little tubes at the corners of my eyes, connected to a pump. Somebody on the back seat of the jeep operated a pump to blow the blood out. Those pipes were merely irritating but having all that raw offal in my mouth was absolutely disgusting. If I think too hard about it, I feel like vomiting!

Just before that you were making out with Michele Soavi, who also came to a sticky end. Where you surprised when he went on to become a respected director in his own right?

It was a very pleasant surprise to find out that this shy blond boy had become a famous director. I must say that, apart from our passionate kiss, I did not share much with Michele because on Fulci’s set you were not allowed to chat… absolute silence reigned.

Did you become friends with or register any lasting impression of any of your co-stars in the Fulci films?

The one who struck me most was Giovanni Lombardo Radice… for his acting, for the strong scenes he had to make, for his strong personality… I’ve always remembered this and held him in high esteem. Unfortunately, when I returned to Milan I lost contact with everybody, I did not maintain any friendships in the film world.

Giovanni was your male equivalent in these films, always suffering some horrible death. In The Black Cat you suffocate and are eaten by rats. It looks as though a lot of effects were applied to your “corpse”… or was that a mannequin?

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No, there was no dummy to replace me. After my “death” I was subjected to hours and hours of make up to get that result. It was the same when we were turned into zombies for City Of The Living Dead… hours and hours to create face moulds, in plaster, which we had to wear.

It’s obvious from watching The Black Cat that you actually went on location to the UK rather than shooting everything on some Roman sound stage…

We did go to England and we were there for a long time. On a day when there was a break in my shooting schedule, I went to a breeding farm in London to buy an Airedale Terrier puppy. When Lucio saw it he fell in love with him and sent me out to buy one for him too, so I took my puppy’s sister. I called mine Trevor and Fulci called his Violetta. I kept the two of them together in my room, in breach of the hotel’s rules. They were pests and within a very short time, had destroyed the room. Then I returned to Italy with them and when Fulci had finished filming, he came to my house to take Violetta. It was very painful for me, difficult to give her up because I had grown so fond of her.

Your scenes in the other Fulci films were a mixture of location and sound stage work…

Yes, we shot some scenes in Roman studios but there were also location visits to get the exteriors. When we went to Savannah, Georgia to do City Of The Living Dead we shot for several days in a cemetery. At first it was quite unsettling to be there in the middle of all these graves but after a few days we hardly noticed and would sit among them during the break, eating our lunches.

You’re disposed of quite quickly at the beginning of The House By The Cemetery… any memories of that one?

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The house where we shot that scene was really eerie and I remember being nervous in there, also that it was very difficult to set up that knife going into the back of my head.

Fulci reserved your most horrible, drawn out death for The New York Ripper… obviously the mutilation is all done via prosthetics but again it looks like you’re getting stage blood in your eye…

My death in that one was very strong and had a big impact. When my mother went to the cinema to see the film, she kept her eyes closed throughout that bit. For me there was just the discomfort of laying still while all these effects were applied to me.

I know that Jack Hedley subsequently disowned the picture… how did you get on with him?

It was a little embarrassing to find myself in bed, half naked with a stranger. I didn’t speak English so it was impossible to make much of a connection with Jack.

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Were you aware of the censorship problems that Fulci’s films suffered, especially in the UK?

Fulci was one of the most controversial and most censored filmmakers, but he didn’t worry about things like that… on the contrary, he was always trying to come up with new and more gruesome things.

How do you feel now about violent movies? I don’t know if you have kids but if you do, would you let them watch such films?

If I had children and they liked watching horror films, I would let them do it, absolutely. I have two beautiful sisters whom I love dearly and they will only watch horror and the more bloody and shocking it is, the happier they are. Such films have too much of an effect on me, though. I close my eyes through the bits I don’t like so it seems pointless to be watching the film at all…

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Have your sisters watched your performances in this genre? What did they think?

They adore Fulci. They don’t like to see my characters beings badly tortured, but they are very proud that I worked for such an extraordinary master. When Fulci started making Manhattan Baby he called me, as always, but on that occasion I had to say no, unfortunately. I had finished with the film world for personal reasons. It was a short adventure but a great one!

Daniela, please tell us something about how you are living now and what you get up to these days…

I’ve been working in a dental practice for a few years now, I enjoy it and get on well with my colleagues. The office is located in the most fashionable street of Milan so I’m always looking in the gorgeous windows of the top designers and I often run into actors and people from the entertainment world.

Do people ever stop you in the street and ask: “Hey, aren’t you the girl from…?”

Sometimes they ask me if I’m an actress because they saw me in some movies, but they can never remember which ones! These days I am known as Daniela Cormio. My husband and I share a passion for motorcycles which we indulge as often as we can. Every year we travel around Europe for the whole month of August it’s fantastic! I love reading, especially thrillers and I love watching TV series, for example Gomorrah on Netflix but sorry, like I said before, I cannot watch horror films!

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Blow & Arrows… Psychedelic Stone Age Sword & Sorcery In Lucio Fulci’s Completely Crackers CONQUEST.

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DVD. Region Free. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

A long time ago (or some time in the future), in a galaxy far, far removed from any traditional notion of narrative coherence…

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As anecdotes of decadent rock star lubriciousness go, there are few fruitier than the one involving Marianne Faithful and a fast-melting Mars bar, though for me even that is topped by the rumour that at the height of Fleetwood Mac mania, Stevie Nicks retained the services of an assistant whose sole duty comprised blowing cocaine through a straw and up her bum (imagine the feverish response, down at your local DWP premises, to the news that Stevie Nicks was handing out blow jobs!)

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“Break out that tit tape Pablo, it’s the new Lucio Fulci film!”

Both ladies have wearily denied said stories and I bet if you asked Ocron  (as portrayed in the film under consideration here by Sabrina Siani) whether she deployed members of her werewolf entourage to blow cocaine through her metal mask and up her nose she’d deny that too, though irrefutable evidence to the contrary is clear for all to see in lucio fulci‘s completely crackers Conquest (1983), where we also find her sucking the brains out of severed heads (“I shall open his temple of secrets”), writhing around ecstatically while wrapped up in her pet python and ordering her minions (those werewolves, augmented by a troupe of Village People rejects) to seek out and destroy the heroic Ilias (the New York Ripper himself, Andrea Occhipinti) who’s on some ill defined quest to clean up her mystical realm.

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Flushed by an Indian summer of career success after his ultra-violent horror / giallo collaborations with Fabrizio De Angelis but irked by the latter’s increasingly parsimonious production style, Fulci jumped at a two picture deal being waved by Giovanni Di Clemente, the fruits of which where this picture (co-written by Clemente) and (hardly a novel experience for Fulci) another contractual dispute.

16665350_10211026433731202_7271214655543610993_oConquest is an object lesson in how “high concept” drove spaghetti exploitation films of this period and how those concepts themselves were ransacked from whatever movies had recently done well at Italian box offices. John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian (1982) had been a predictable success, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) a rather less predictable one. Conan… Quest… put ’em together (follow me closely here) and what have you got? Conquest! But what about a story to live up to this toweringly high concept? Well, the film is an Italo-Spanish-Mexican co-production and one could be forgiven for thinking that maybe Fulci, Di Clemente and the other writers chewed a few peyote buttons (second review in a row where I’ve mentioned mescaline) while dreaming up its narrative. God only knows what DP Alejandro Ulloa (who had already lit Perversion Story and on whom Fulci would call again for The Devil’s Honey) was on when he came up with the look of Conquest, i.e. washed out colours viewed through a haze of smoke and a lens liberally daubed in vaseline. Claudio Simonetti’s Techno OST only compounds the confusion of the bewildered audient.

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Sorry, where were we? Trying to capture the elusive storyline of Conquest? Well, Ilias is dispatched from the primordial arse end of nowhere on his equally elusive mission by tribal elders who equip him with a magic bow (which seems to shoot sun rays) and pack him off to the opposite arse cheek of this smoky, vaselined dimension, where he hooks up with the extravagantly muscled Mace (Jorge Rivero), who’s built like a brick shithouse, is an early adopter of animal rights consciousness (Conan the Vegetarian?), boasts an Eibon tattoo on his craggy forehead and is a dab hand with stone age nunchuks… good job really, because Occhipinti’s Ilias is a bit of a weed in comparison (I’m lovin’ that heavy Bronx accent, though).

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Together they take on those coke-snorting werewolves and their fetish clad mates, mummies, jelly tot like zombies (Fulci hedging his bets, there) who crucify Mace and throw him off a cliff into the sea (don’t worry, he’s rescued by friendly dolphins)… Mace even gets into a nunchuk duel with an evil version of herself, who turns out to be the dreaded Zora (Conrado San Martin), some kind of demon dude in a terracotta warrior outfit who’s been summoned up by Ocron. She also broils her underachieving werewolf lieutenant and other random “highlights” include cave chicks being ripped limb from limb and some of the most nauseating “weeping bubo” make ups in screen history. Much of this was excised by those killjoys at the BBFC for Conquest’s video releases on the Apex and Merlin labels, but this Anchor Bay edition is completely unexpurgated. You have been warned. A closing caption advises us that “any reference to persons of events is purely coincidental”. Yeah, no foolin’…

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Considered a disappointment on its release – when none us could have guessed just how bad things were going to get for Fulci – Conquest now looks like one of his last consistently entertaining films. It’s a crowded field, but in the competition for loopy Lucio’s most breath-takingly bonkers offering, I’ve got this one dead heating with A Cat In The Brain. What’s not to like?

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The Decline Of Western Civilisation, Part IV… WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Signature Entertainment. 15.

Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come, when you do call for them? Henry IV, Part 1: Act 3 by William Shakespeare.

“Summon demons? I have a hard enough time summoning myself out of fucking bed every morning!” Ozzy Osbourne.

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The coronavirus lockdown has had minimal effect on life here at Oak Mansion, given that we hardly ever go out anyway. Here’s another reason to be grateful for the fact that I haven’t been invited to any wild parties since some time during the middle of the last Century, in the shape of Marc Meyers’ We Summon The Darkness (2019).

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A trio of Little Mix lookalike rock sluts (Alessandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth) drive around Hicksville USA (actually Winnipeg in Canada) en route to a “Soldiers For Satan” gig in the late 1990s, which means that mobile phones can’t necessarily be relied upon to rescue them from any kind of jam they night get into. Cute girls have been getting into trouble going to shock rock gigs ever since Phyllis and Mari’s ill advised trip to see Bloodlust in 1972 but this trio seem oblivious to the mounting radio and TV reports of recent ritual slayings (“a Satanic cult burning its way through America’s heartland” according to media evangelist Johnny Knoxville). They even ignore the warnings of the “Crazy Ralph” type guy in the convenience store (below), who tells them that they “seem like nice girls”. Yeah, whatever…

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At the gig, the girls are picked up by a seemingly amiable bunch of Beavis & Butthead types (Keean Johnson, Logan Miller and Austin Swift) and everybody adjourns back to Daddario’s parents’ place for a bit of alcohol and drug-enhanced hows-your-father (“… a night that we’re going to remember for years!”) The big twisteroo kicks in at about the half hour mark, though if you’d been paying sufficient attention to the clues accumulating in the film’s dialogue, you probably saw it coming. The revelation of the bad guys’ motives scores a satirical point or two while making nary a lick of narrative sense. Alan Trezza’s screenplay oscillates uneasily between Horror and Comedy but Meyers keeps the improbable action rolling along engagingly enough. It’s beautifully shot by Tarin Anderson (whose work would look even better on BD release, though there’s no sign of that) and the leads are sufficiently photogenic to hold your attention.

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Daddario just has to unleash those big peepers and… well, “the dreams of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime”, to quote the lyrics of an obscure Pink Floyd track. I’m always quoting the lyrics of obscure Prog Rock tracks, a personality trait that’s probably not entirely unconnected with the fact that I don’t get invited to parties anymore. It would be a fine thing indeed to reconnect with the lithe limbed, loose livin’ lovelies of one’s youth… but will they come, when we do call for them? Nah, didn’t think so…

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Extras: None that I’m currently aware of. But you might find the following instructive…

 

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Thrilling To Gilling … Swashbuckling Matinee Madness On INDICATOR’S FIFTH HAMMER BD BOX SET

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Hammer Volume 5: Death & Deceit.
BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

VISA TO CANTON (Michael Carreras, 1961) World BD premiere.
THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (John Gilling, 1962) UK BD premiere.
THE SCARLET BLADE (John Gilling, 1963) World BD premiere.
THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (John Gilling, 1965) World BD premiere.

Although he’s better remembered for his Hammer Horror credits (notably the superior 1966 brace The Reptile and Plague Of The Zombies, less notably for the following year’s lack-lustre The Mummy’s Shroud or 1961’s The Shadow Of The Cat… though the latter is regarded as something of an underrated gem by Hammer aficionados) John Gilling directed a similar amount of Hammer’s swashbuckling adventure yarns (stirring tales of derring-do for boys of all ages), including the lion’s share of this latest limited edition Hammer box from Indicator, which easily maintains the high standards set by its predecessors.

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… and we’ll just gloss gently over Gilling’s Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1952)

It’s received wisdom, in certain quarters, that Hammer kept the UK film industry afloat during the 1960s with its “lavish productions”, but anything more rigorous than a cursory squint at these films themselves  (never mind the cheese-paring anecdotes related in the supplementary materials here) reveals a modus operandi not too far removed from that of Jess Franco himself, with stock footage of crowd and battle scenes cheerfully filched from other pictures.

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Notoriously, the sea dogs in Gilling’s The Pirates Of Blood River (and I guess the clue was right there in that title) don’t even have a ship from which to fly their Jolly Roger, unless you count the stock footage galleon floating around under the film’s titles or a conspicuous model thereof, briefly glimpsed later in the picture. Instead, the dubiously accented Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, fresh off of Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World but, four years after Dracula, still billed beneath Kerwin Mathews and TV actor Glenn Corbett) leads his posse of pretty and not so pretty boys through waterways populated by ravenous piranhas (for the purposes of the story) and (in real life) raw human sewage! Tall, dark and gruesome, Lee managed to keep his head above the scum line but if you study the relevant sequences diligently, you might be able to work out the precise moment at which Oliver Reed (as LaRoche’s sidekick Brocaire) contracted an eye infection.

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The Pirates of Poo Pond…

By all accounts Gilling was a martinet with little interest in endearing himself to his actors and about as much regard for Health & Safety as the people who put that cladding on Grenfell Tower. In The Scarlet (Crimson, States-side) Blade, we learn, only the threat of a walk out by the crew dissuaded him from staging a hanging stunt in such a way that the actor involved was in very real peril of asphyxiation. It’s interesting to see Michael Ripper (generously basted in Bisto as gypsy Pablo) in that film, “riding a horse” (but quite clearly not) against a blatant back projection, having witnessed another thespian coming an equestrian cropper under Gilling’s direction. Ripper, incidentally, gets much meatier roles in many of these adventure yarns than he could ever have hoped for in Hammer’s more celebrated Gothic Horrors… he’s also great as knife throwing Pirate Mack (get it?) in Blood River.

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While he was never going to be voted humanitarian of the year by his collaborators, Gilling was that rarest of commodities in early ’60s British Cinema, a writer / director and one with a real knack for moral ambivalence and character development. In POBR Mathews’ Jonathan Standing finds his good standing in an island community of stuffy Huguenots seriously undermined when his affair with another man’s wife is discovered. She tries to elude her shame by running into a piranha infested river (with predictable results) while he’s sentenced by a jury of elders (chaired by his emotionally torn father) to a spell in a particularly brutish labour camp. Liberated from this hell hole by those pirates, Standing throws his lot in with them, on condition that they treat the rest of the islanders (including a pre-pubescent Dennis Waterman) with clemency. When they laughingly renege on this undertaking, Standing has to reconsider his position all over again…

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Hammer never saddled up for any ostensible oaters but Pirates and its companion pieces are clearly crypto-Westerns. The obvious literary model, meanwhile, is the story of Coriolanus, as evoked by Shakespeare via Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s The Lives Of The Noble Grecians And Romans. Gilling continues to plunder this palimpsest with further not so simple minded thrills and spills in the aforementioned Scarlet Blade, wherein Olly Reed’s Roundhead Capt. Tom Sylvester oscillates between careerism (masquerading as the call of duty and devotion to Lionel Jeffries’ Col. Judd) and lust (masquerading as love) for Judd’s Royalist sympathising daughter Clare (June Thorburn) who secretly supports the fifth column activities of the Zorro-like title character, Edward Beverley, played by Jack Hedley. Maybe if I’d opened my pitch for a Hedley interview with this one rather than the scarlet blades he encountered in lucio fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982), I might have got somewhere…

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The film is simple-mindedly pro-Cavalier and freighted with anachronisms and inaccuracies but Gilling is clearly less interested in such stuff than he is in individual conscience and its attendant dilemmas. In distinct contrast to Reed’s character’s death in Pirates (“Ooh mama”, indeed!) Sylvester’s character contradictions ultimately explode in one of the the most scenery-chewing death scenes ever committed to celluloid.

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There’s more of the same in The Brigand Of Kandahar, with half-caste (as he would have been referred to in those days) British officer Case (Ronald Lewis) again falling from grace on account of an illicit affair (his peers disapproval here compounded by considerations of class and the taboo of miscegenation). He takes up arms against the British Empire with the dreaded Eli Khan (Reed getting to wear the boot blacking on his face this time) before the latter’s duplicity and casual cruelty make for second thoughts… further complicated bt the erotic attentions of Yvonne Romain’s “Ratina” (!?) Stay tuned for a “lust in the dust” styled denoument and plenty of other stuff subsequently lampooned in Carry On Up The Khyber (1968).

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Gilling went on to direct episodes of such iconic ITC television series as The Saint, The Champions and Department S and… after relocating to Spain (where he died in 1984), Cross Of The Devil, (1975)… a semi-canonical entry in the Blind Dead / Templars cycle.

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Michael Carreras’s Visa To Canton (“Passport To China” for the American market) is a significantly less sophisticated proposition than any of the above, in fact you could comfortably dismiss it as a pale Bond knock off… until you check your dates! Ian Fleming’s greatest creation first saw the light of the silver screen in Terence Young’s Dr. No, two years after Richard Basehart’s Don Benton used his Far East travel agency as a front to foil some fiendish Oriental insurgency (Hammer’s track record in this area doesn’t hold up well to PC scrutiny… Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs was made back to back with Visa To Canton but Red Communism was clearly supplanting inscrutable supervillains as the “Yellow Peril”), wooing the dangerously glamorous Lisa Gastoni while doing so. It would be overstepping the mark to claim 007 as a Benton clone (Visa To Canton looks like it’s striving to set up a few sequels but presumably those were deemed surplus to requirement after international audiences had bonded with Bond) but the music’s another matter and it’s here that David Huckvale’s diverting bonus discourses on the OSTs to the films in this box proves most telling, pointing out the influence on Monty Norman’s 007 theme from the ostinatos that Edwin Astley (Pete Townshend’s father-in-law, BTW) fashioned for Visa To Canton.

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As on Indicator’s previous Hammer sets, this one is stuffed with extras. Horror author Stephen Laws provides well informed but pleasantly fannish introductions to each film, female critics profile their leading actresses (here it’s Josephine Botting on June Thornburn, Melanie Williams on Yvonne Romain and Virginie Sélavy on Lisa Gastoni, while Kat Ellinger handles  Marla Landi (great to learn that she became Lady Dashwood after marrying Sir Francis, whose namesake ancestor founded the Hellfire Club!) Audio commentaries come courtesy of Vic Pratt, Kevin Lyons and (for Pirates) screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye and Hammer historian Marcus Hearn. You get the expected trailers, image galleries all and the “Collectors Booklet” stuff I never set eyes on.

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Strewn among the remaining extras, we find such treats as Stephen Laws interviewing Andrew Keir (who found Quatermass And The Pit director Roy Ward Baker about as likeable as everybody else here found John Gilling) at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in 1993; Jonathan Rigby’s extensive personal reminiscences of top Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster; appraisals of Gilling from Kim Newman and Neil Sinyard,  the latter likening him to Val Lewton, no less. Yes, We Have No Piranhas is an exhaustive video essay on Pirates of Blood River’s censorship travails, with split screen comparisons detailing every excised piranha bite. We also learn that the BBFC (whose John Trevelyan remembered TPOBR as the only film he ever busted down from an ‘X’ certificate to a ‘U’) insisted on the volume of whip cracks being reduced!

The Gilling stuff has been beautifully remastered and Visa To Canton looks OK. This is another cracking box set limited to 6,000 numbered units, so what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a piece of the action, right now…

 

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Women Seem Wicked, When You’re Unwanted… Dennis Potter’s SECRET FRIENDS Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Indicator. 15.

Dennis Potter (1935-1994) was a prolific, idiosyncratic TV writer from 1960 onwards and a gratifyingly ongoing irritant to the Daily Mail tendency. The BBC production of his Brimstone And Treacle (directed by Barry Davis and broadcast in 1976) raised hackles by suggesting the therapeutic benefits of rape (by The Devil, no less). Despite bearing the unmistakable, er, influence of two 1968 films (Pasolini’s Theorem and a certain Roman Polanski effort), Brimstone was cited by supporters as definitive proof of Potter’s ferocious originality though one imagines that, in the post #MeToo era, it (and Richard Loncraine’s 1982 feature remake, in which the execrable Sting replaced Michael Kitchen as the demon lover) would invoke more hostility than ever.

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Potter peaked in 1978 with Piers Haggard’s six part BBC adaptation of his Pennies From Heaven, a narrative tour de force in which song and dance numbers are mimed at apposite points. It didn’t exactly hurt that a perfectly cast (as a romantically inclined but ill-fated sheet music salesman) Bob Hoskins was on superb form (when was he ever not on superb form?) throughout.

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13p?!? Pennies indeed…

“Ferociously original” as he may have been, Potter was never above recycling good ideas that had previously seemed to go over OK. His Blue Remembered Hills (directed by Brian Gibson as part of the Beeb’s Play For Today strand in 1979) revived the “children played by adult actors” gag he first tentatively deployed for Keith Barron’s character in Stand Up, Nigel Barton (a Wednesday Play, directed in 1965 by Gareth Davis). Sometimes, though, the revival of such devices was to distinctly diminishing returns…

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The Singing Detective (1986) shoe-horned Pennies From Heaven’s brilliant narrative conceit into a (rather dull, self-pitying) story where it didn’t really belong. The best thing about this one is that Mary Whitehouse proposed an ingenious, totally baseless theory about Potter’s inspiration for such “dirty” material, a proposal which resulted in her being successfully sued for libel by Dennis’s Mum… oh, how we laughed! Despite Mary’s moral and my aesthetic objections, The Singing Detective became a substantial success. Potter put his first foot seriously wrong, though, with the 1989 four parter Blackeyes, another racy BBC serial for which he insisted on directing his own script.

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Casting my mind back half a life time ago, I can’t pretend (not very convincingly, anyway) that I didn’t enjoy the spectacle of Gina Bellman (who had supplanted Joanne Whalley in the pantheon of Potter’s sexual obsessions) mincing around in various states of undress, but DP’s direction proved embarassingly ham-fisted and (for a writer who habitually took an oblique, allusive tack) sometimes shockingly on the nose.

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Monkeys about to be spanked on a pedestal in Dennis Potter’s Pantheon (caveat emptor, this is NOT a scene from any of the films discussed here)…

Potter’s sophomore and final stab at directing was Secret Friends (1991), a feature adaptation of his 1986 novel Ticket To Ride. Much of its action is set on a train (because it’s a journey of self realisation, right?), bringing to mind (“ferocious originality” notwithstanding) Return To Waterloo (1984), in which similarly over reaching director Ray Davies blotted his brilliant career escutcheon and its brightest adornment.

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Half way through dining on fish in First class, illustrator John (Alan Bates) finds himself in the throes of a profound amnesia attack. “As memories, fantasies and psychotic visions collide” (to quote the blurb), two straight edge businessmen sitting opposite John are drawn into his attempts to get a grip on his shifting “reality”, which notably involves them excitedly goggling at his assignation with an eye-scorchingly glamorous prostitute (Bellman) who, we eventually discover, is John’s wife (nudge, nudge) Helen. John can only, er, “function” in the context of this role-playing scenario but the fantasy is taking over and gradually killing their marriage. John’s whore / Madonna complex seems to stem from his father’s contempt for his mother. It’s also suggested that Dad might have sexually abused young John. Make of all this what you will…

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Limited, like most of the Indicator releases I get to see, to 3,000 copies, Secret Friends is looking good for its UK BD premiere in this HD remaster. Bonus materials include an appreciation of the film by Graham Fuller, the editor of Potter On Potter and a short interview with Ian McNeice, who plays one of those bewildered businessmen. You get the expected trailer and image gallery, plus a 36-page booklet (which I haven’t seen) including interviews with Potter, a new essay by Jeff Billington, full film credits and contemporary reviews. Gina Bellman, who (despite not reciprocating her director’s openly declared erotic fixation on her) has always previously spoken positively about her working relationship with Potter, is not interviewed here. Whether, in the fulness of time and the current climate, she decides that she was exploited, objectified or whatever by him, remains to be seen.

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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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