Posts Tagged With: Censorship

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.

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Do You Like Pina Colada? LADY FRANKENSTEIN Restored on Nucleus BD.

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BD. Nucleus. Region B. 15.

Legend has it that a woman once took out a Lonely Hearts ad, seeking “a man with the brain of Leonard Cohen and the body of Iggy Pop”. An assignation was duly arranged and when she arrived at the predetermined rendezvous, who should be there waiting for her, but… Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop! And no doubt a fun time was had by all. It’s an apocryphal story which I rather wish was true (Cohen himself attested to its veracity)… it certainly packs a better punch line than Rupert Hine’s Escape (The Pina Colada Song).

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“If you’re not into yoga / If you have half a brain…”

In Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein 1971, Rosalba Neri’s title character (who also answers to the name of Tania) has a similar vision of her dream man, radical ideas about how to  transform him into fleshy reality and the family know-how required to pull it off. She transplants the brilliant brain of her father’s homely looking, crippled assistant Charles (Paul Muller, from a million Jess Franco flicks) into the hunky body of the family’s retarded servant Tom (Marino Masé) to make “the kind of man (she) could really love!” Tom’s contribution to the plan is entirely involuntary (Charles smothers him with a pillow while Lady F is astride him… more on this later) but Charles himself is an all-too-willing participant (in my favourite line, he informs Tania, while she’s preparing to transplant his brain into Tom, that she “can’t change (her) mind”!) The operation proves a resounding success and scarcely hours after its completion, Charles-in-Tom is giving her Ladyship a vigorous seeing too.

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Unfortunately, they’re not left to enjoy their erotic idyll for long. Tanya’s illustrious father (Joseph Cotten, inaugurating an Italian run that would also see him starring in Mario Bava’s Baron Blood, 1972 and Umberto Lenzi’s Syndicate Sadists, 1975) has already been killed by one of his less successful creations and now that monster (Peter Whiteman in a crude Carlo Rambaldi make up job that makes his head look like a septic bell end) is on the rampage in the local countryside, offing the grave-diggers (including career Eurocreep Herbert Fux) who resurrected its various bodily parts, interrupting moments of al-fresco coitus and throwing random naked chicks into rivers… he’s kind to children, though. The ineffectual investigations of Police Chief Harris (Mickey Hargitay) leading nowhere, a crowd of firebrand and pitchfork-clutching yokels is soon besieging Castle Frankenstein, none of which stops Lady F and her toy-boy creation from fornicating away happily as the flames gather all around them, until our over sexed anti-heroine gets her just desserts in an unexpected and rather abrupt denouement.

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Ever since James Whale’s Bride Of Frankenstein (1935), various members of that cursed clan have been seeking to mate their monsters. Udo Kier’s Baron (who could also call on the services of Carlo Rambaldi) had something like this in mind for his “zarmbies” in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein (1973) but couldn’t resist molesting them himself (with hil-arious consequences!) Rosalba Neri’s Tania Frankenstein  beat Udo to it by two years and never, er, made any bones about the ultimate amorous aim of her surgical exploits. Billed, as she was in many of her Italian productions as Sara / Sarah Bay (on the grounds that this would allegedly put more bums on domestic cinema seats… but who in their right mind wouldn’t want to watch her, under any name?), Neri proves here, as she did in Joe D’Amato / Luigi’s Full Moon Of The Virgins (1973) that she could, when given a role to get her teeth into, be so much more than “the poor man’s Edwige Fenech”.

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“Behind every great man…”

Nucleus’ Marc Morris and Jake West are themselves Frankenstein figures, in their own kind of way… men on an obsessive mission to bring you beautiful uncut restorations of films that have, since VHS / “video nasty” / fanzine days, only been available in the UK as shortened theatrical prints and crummy looking, similarly incomplete, nth generation video dubs. I recall watching Lady Frankenstein in (I think) 16mm during a memorable Manchester Fantastic Films Society all-niter entitled Terror Among The Tombs in the late ’80s (actually I don’t remember very much at all about that night, throughout which inadvisable quantities of Wild Turkey were quaffed). But here we are in 2018. Sceptics said it couldn’t be done… moralists said it shouldn’t... now here it is, Lady Frankenstein as a gorgeous looking limited edition in Nucleus’ “European Cult Cinema Collection”…

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This lush-looking 2k scan from the original negative shows exactly how much bang Welles and his DP Riccardo Pallottini got for their buck from Castello Piccolomini, Balsorano. When confined to De Paolis studio… well, Masé will have recognised that staircase set when he encountered it again, suitably redressed, in Lugi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980). Sharp-eyed viewers might also remember it from films as diverse in quality as Argento’s Inferno (also 1980) and Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981).

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Amid the bonus materials on offer here you get the predictable selection of trailers, TV and radio spots, home video sleeves and image galleries… all well and good, but whereas some distributors would leave it at that, Nucleus pile on the goodies. New World’s theatrical cut, reduced to 84 minutes so that Roger Corman could slot it onto more double bills, has been as lovingly restored as the 99 minute Director’s Cut. There’s an audio commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman, a reproduction of the contemporary Photo Novel that appeared in Italy’s Bigfilm magazine and three excellent featurettes. The Truth About Lady Frankenstein is a 2007 German TV Special featuring interviews with director Welles, star Neri and Herbert Fux, who reacts to his first ever viewing of the film. We learn more about the astonishing life and career of Mel Welles from his posthumous contribution to Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein, an all new doc presented by Julian Grainger. The Lady and The Orgy is a short but revelatory investigation of Welles’ activities in Australia, where he (under the guise of “Satan’s Prime Minister”) presented Lady Frankenstein as the centre piece of a multi-media grand guignol “Spook Show” review.

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I particularly enjoyed the breakdown of the BBFC’s demands for cuts to the film’s 1972 theatrical run in the UK. The chopping off of Monster #1’s arm had to go and two scenes juxtaposing death with sexual desire were cut to the bone, namely the film’s frenzied, fiery finale and Tom’s fatal coupling with Lady F. The latter, which the BBFC have now sanctioned in all its gaudy glory, is one of the kinkiest set-ups in exploitation film history, with Tom’s death throes pushing Her Ladyship over the orgasmic edge while Charles, busy suffocating Tom, can scarcely conceal his jealous torment over the unfolding spectacle. (*) Amazing stuff in an astounding release that could have been a shoe-in for our “Top Disc Of 2018” accolade, were it not for the fact that its companion piece in that Cult Cinema Collection, Giulio Questi’s 1968 anti-giallo Death Laid An Egg (review coming to these pages imminently) is, improbably, even better!

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(*) The BBFC, often accused of applying double standards for the industry big boys and small-fry exploitation distributors, have played admirably fair in this regard. Twenty-four years after their exposure to Lady Frankenstein, The Board insisted on diluting Famke Janssen’s comparably mantis-like take on the mating game in the Bond flick Goldeneye.

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“Spirits Of The Vilest Roman Emperors”… Jess Franco’s SADIST OF NOTRE DAME and SINFONIA EROTICA On Severin BD.

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Director / star Jess Franco ponders a knotty moral issue in The Sadist Of Notre Dame…

The Sadist Of Notre Dame. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Sinfonia Erotica. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

During the darkest days of “video nasty” witch-hunting, I was often required to debate the subject on TV chat shows (Kilroy… John Stapleton… Right To Reply… I’ve done ’em all) which pitted me, on more than one occasion, against a certain holy-rolling side-kick of the dreaded Mary Whitehouse. During one such exchange I pointed out to her that significantly more serial killers claimed inspiration for their misdeeds from The Bible (it’s usually The Book Of Revelation) than from horror films. “Oh, that old cliché!” she blustered. “That’s a mealy-mouthed way of admitting that it’s a fact!” I shouted at her, as the mic was yanked away from me and pointed at another concerned worthy.

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Jess Franco’s The Sadist Of Notre Dame (1979) follows the murderous career of precisely one such bible-bashing nutcase, in the slabbering shape of… Jess Franco! Yes, this is Franco’s A Cat In The Brain, though actually preceding that notorious cinematic car crash by 11 years. While Lucio Fulci’s flick faces few serious contenders in the “unintentional comedy” stakes, TSOND is undeniably a much better film. Stick a frame around that last sentence because I’m not going to be making a habit of comparing Lucio Fulci unfavourably to Franco. As well as starring their own directors, both titles incorporate large chunks of films each had already made, though Sadist is content to raids Franco’s Exorcism (1974) in contrast with the several films Fulci cannibalised for A Cat In The Brain, some of them not even directed by him in the first place.

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Exorcism stars JF as the disturbed Mathis Vogel, who mistakes the Grand Guignol performance of a Satanic mass for the real thing and is moved to avenge its “victims” by killing the performers. The rise of legal porno cinema rendered this kind of picture pretty much redundant at the time and Exorcism went largely unreleased. Parisian producers Eurocine tried to recoup some of their losses by enlisting Franco to shoot hard-core scenes (in which he enthusiastically participated) to be added to 25 minutes of the original footage and released as Sexorcismes. Franco’s original footage was also reworked, without the benefit of porno material, as Exorcism And Black Masses… none of this to any significant commercial success. Exorcism and Sadist (sometimes “Ripper”) Of Notre Dame have both been released as “Demoniac” (Redemption attempted to release the Sadist variant… I think… under that title on VHS in the UK during the 90’s, kicking off a real shit storm. Black House Films have now released a UK blu-ray of Demoniac, though I haven’t seen it and can’t vouch for its contents). Still with me?

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By 1979 Franco and his new muse Lina Romay had returned to Spain, after years of exile, to take advantage of the rapid liberalisation that followed the death of our hero’s namesake, the Generalissimo. Still trying to retrieve something from the Exorcism debacle, Eurocine (in co-production cahoots with Spanish company Triton) requested another reworking of its footage, which Franco saw as the ideal opportunity to vent his fury at Catholic hypocrisy, now that he was free to express himself freely on this and any other subject that took his fancy.

The Sadist Of Notre Dame begins with new footage in which the Vogel character (still played by Franco but now named Mathis Laforge) is incarcerated among a bunch of winos and deadbeats in a Swiss Sanitorium. Escaping in (appropriately enough) a garbage compactor, he arrives in Paris and naturally enough, for a defrocked cleric, he gravitates towards the eponymous cathedral, stabbing to death the first prostitute who fastens onto him (“The Court of The High Inquisition sentences you to death!”) before extending his range to the killing of women who arouse his libido by indulging in such sinful activities as… (ulp!)… disco dancing!

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Not wishing to hide his light under a bushel, Laforge pens a fictionalised account of his murderous moral crusade (entitled “The Return Of The Grand Inquisitor”) and visits the offices of Venus Editions to see if editor Pierre De Franval (Pierre Taylou) will publish it in his flagship quasi-literary bongo mag The Dagger In The Garter (“We specialise in erotic bondage drama stories…”) Having been fobbed off, Laforge is leaving the office when he overhears De Franval and his secretary Anne (Romay) mocking him… more significantly, he learns that she and her flat mate Maria (Monica Swinn) are organising a sex show and orgy at a deconsecrated church for a couple of kinky aristocrats and their swinging pals, news which stokes Laforge’s self-righteous ire and reconnects us with the original  narrative of Exorcism and its tragic conclusion.

The protagonist’s interrogation of his victims, his tormented self-interrogations and his confessional exchanges with former seminary class-mate Relmo (Antonio De Cabot), now an officiating prelate at the Cathedral, make for a more bleakly compelling experience than Fulci wandering around muttering about Nazism and sadism, although TSOND does have its moments of unintentional comedy, e.g. the aforementioned and seemingly endless disco dancing sequence and the one in which some old Count (Claude Sendron) gets his masochistic rocks off as one of Anne’s pals walks all over him. I’m sure he’s having the time of his life but such pursuits, however ardently enjoyed, invariably come across as ridiculous to non-participating observers and are consequently best kept private, a point underlined by another scene of pale, flabby individuals involved in a half-hearted daisy chain.

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Severin have done the usual stalwart job with this 4k scan of the best available elements, discovered (I always love this bit) “in the crawlspace of a Montparnasse nunnery” and the bonus materials won’t disappoint, either. There’s a short interview with the doyen of French B-movie critics Alain Petit… a mini video essay from Robert Monell, curator of the inimitably named “I’m in a Jess Franco State Of Mind” blog… and who better than Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions and The Flowers Of Perversion) on familiar passionate, informative and insightful form, to talk us through the labyrinth of alternative versions and discuss whether TSOND is a variation on Exorcism or a new film in its own right? Best of all though is the eye-opening, fly-opening featurette The Gory Days Of Le Brady, covering that legendary sleaze cinema (pictured below) and its neighbours in the Parisian equivalent of New York City’s The Deuce. Sample quote: “If you slipped on some sperm and fell over, everybody would just laugh”. A word of advice, dear readers… such floor deposits will probably be frowned upon down at your local multiplex.

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Meanwhile, “transferred in 4k from an uncut 35mm print donated by The Institutuo De La Sexualidad Humana in Madrid” (sure thing, boys), Severin present Franco’s Sinfonia Erotica (1980). If Sadist Of Notre Dame was a somewhat misleading title for a film whose title character agonises over his killings rather than wallowing in them and in which the naming of another character as De Franval is nothing more than a throwaway, Sinfonia Erotica is authentically one of Franco’s many muted adaptations of “the divine Marquis” (Thrower concedes in one of the extras on this disc that any truly faithful adaptation of De Sade’s literary excesses would be unreleasable in any market), specifically an amplification of the De Bressac interlude from Justine Or The Misfortunes Of Virtue.

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Is it just me or does the bottom of that engraving resemble a VHS tape?

Martine De Bressac (Romay, hiding behind her Candice Costa alias) is driven back to her family estate by Doctor Louys (Albino Graziani) after her husband’s libertine antics have driven her to a nervous breakdown. What she discovers on her return is hardly conducive to recuperation. Her husband the Marquis (Armando Borges) is embroiled in a gay affair with a dissolute young nobleman named Flor (Mel Rodrigo). As if this wasn’t sufficient complication, on the very day she returns, the runaway nun Norma (Susan Hemingway) is discovered unconscious on their grounds, apparently having been raped.

Under threat of return to the hated convent, Norma reluctantly agrees to join the Marquis and Flor in their bed, also in a plot to drive Martine completely insane and murder her. Amid the expected soft core bonkathon (including, uniquely in Franco’s filmography, man-on-man action) sub-plots (in every sense of the term) emerge and it becomes a, er, toss-up as to who’ll do away with whom first. Perversely, the more Martine learns of the Marquis’ murderous intentions towards her, the hotter she seems to get for him (spending much of the film frantically masturbating) and when (SPOILER ALERT!) she emerges as the only survivor of the menage a quatre, it  transpires that this is the culmination of a vengeful masterplan by Doctor Louys, rather than the fulfilment of her own desires. Like Norma, she’s escaped from the frying pan only to find herself in the patriarchal fire.

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Franco delivers this perhaps unexpected feminist message with a thoroughly characteristic disregard for the rules of “well made cinema”, to the strains of Franz Liszt, to boot. My recent reviews of the prolific director’s films have increasingly featured a line to the effect that “this is one of his more watchable efforts”… but have I been lucky enough to keep getting progressively “more watchable” Franco flicks? Or is true, as is often asserted (“You can’t say you’ve really watched any Franco film until you’ve watched all of them”, in the formulation of Tim Lucas) that you more you watch, the more you get it?

Again, Severin have effected the best looking version of Sinfonia Erotica that’s currently possible. Special features include another excerpt from the long last interview session that JF ever gave (to Sev’s David Gregory), featuring his reflections on his doomed relationship with first wife Nicole Guettard, plus another audience with Stephen Thrower, who traces the development of Franco’s De Sade obsession through the course of his career. I’ve never made any secret of my long-running Franco-scepticism and he’s never going to supplant Fulci  in my heart, but Thrower’s thoughtful commentaries and a succession of excellent Severin releases are, slowly but surely, converting me to the cause.

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

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Yes Johnny, he gets off on ecology,

BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“What cannibalism?”

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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