Posts Tagged With: Christine Galbo

“Build Me A Woman”… THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED Reviewed

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“Schooldays… the happiest days of your life”?

DVD. Region Free. Shoarma Digital. Unrated.

If Enrique López Eguiluz’ La Marca del Hombre Lobo (the inaugural outing for Paul Naschy’s ongoing “tragic wolfman character, Count Waldemar Daninsky) represents the first significant flowering of an Iberian horror sensibility in 1968, the first truly great Spanish horror opus has to be Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia (aka The House That Screamed / House Of Evil / The Finishing School / The Boarding School, 1970.) Whereas Eguiluz (and subsequently Naschy and other directors) gleefully mined the Universal and Hammer Horror cycles, maniacally mix-and-matching their conventions  in an orgy of schlock surrealism, Nacho dips into the Hammer legacy with taste and restraint (an impression ably enhanced by the lush orchestral score of Waldo De Los Rios) to come up with a  well constructed, riveting and suspensful narrative en route to a genuinely surprising twist ending, mounting in the process an allegorical critique (i.e. the only kind he could get away with) of the ossification and morbidity of Spanish society under General Franco.

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The film opens with Theresa (Cristina Galbo from Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, What Have you Done To Solange, et al) arriving at a fin-de-siecle French finishing school for, er, challenging pupils. Madam Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs this Dothegirls Hall along the lines of harsh discipline and stifling routine in an attempt to turn her charges into compliant prospective wives. Ballet lessons are designed to distract them from “morbid” (as in “sexual”) thoughts and Fourneau tries to divert her voyeuristically inclined son Luis (John Moulder Brown) from similarly impure musings by banging on about the unworthiness of her pupils, to wit: “None of these girls are any good… in time you’ll find the right girl… you need a woman like me!” (If you ask me, these Oedipal relationships can get a bit incestuous…)

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Needless to say, it’s not too difficult to detect desire seething away not far beneath this hypocritical veneer of propriety. Helping Madam enforce order are an inner circle of collaborators led by the scary Irene (Mary Maude), who takes all-too-obvious sexual pleasure in dishing out the beatings and humiliation. She even controls the rota for conjugal visits to Henry the randy wood chopper, cue hysterical scenes in sewing class as the girls bite their lips and frantically thread their needles in the most overt display of Freudian symbolism since Tom Jones. “Most of the girls here are on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, Theresa is told and no wonder so many of them are running away… or are they? Serrador skillfully steers our attention away from the real story that’s going on and our sympathies in altogether the wrong direction. Just before (and I’m doing my best here to minimise the “spoiler” effect, here) unexpected early death of a sympathetic character (shades of that ultimate Oedipal horror, Hitchcock’s Psycho) the director abruptly freeze frames the action, giving you an opportunity to shout your objection at the screen, suffer the disappointment of being ignored as the grisly action resumes and register just how far you’ve been drawn into this dark fairy tale.

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Lucio Fulci, who seems to have been a bit of a Spanish Horror buff, was generally very guarded (to the point of testiness) about admitting his influences, but amazed me when I interviewed him by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery from La Residencia. Perhaps Argento was similarly influenced by its female environment, oppressive school atmosphere and brutal ballet lessons for Suspiria?

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The edition under review here, courtesy of the Australian Shoarma label (which released a bunch of interesting stuff on the early crest of the DVD wave and promptly disappeared), seems to be somewhat expurgated. There are references to surreptitious trysts between Theresa and Luis that we don’t get to see and while it’s possible that such scenes were never included in the film, there’s a blatant jump cut that was obviously made to obfuscate the lesbian  overtones of Fourneau tending to the wounds of a girl she’s just had beaten. There are no extras and the the feautre is presented in a none too sharp, distinctly none-anamorphic  transfer wherein vertical lines visibly warp at either side of the screen, all of which lends credence to rumours that Shoarma’s releases were “grey market” at best… strewth, Bruce!

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Stop Press: Scream Factory have just announced an upcoming kosher BD release of this one… something to scream about!

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“I Never Laid A Finger on her, Guv!”… WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

Massimo Dallamano (Born in Milan, 17.04.17) crowned a prolific and distinguished career as DP with the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s monumental Dollars trilogy,  A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965). Thereafter his compositional sense graced a series of his own directoral efforts. Although none of these are as celebrated as the films he lit for Leone and undoubtedly rank as journeyman stuff, just about all of them (bar a couple of soft core sex romps) repay serious scrutiny, emerging as a solid and satisfying body of B-movie work. Dallamano the director made a point of dabbling in most genres, in all of which he displayed a pronounced penchant for sleazy subject matter. His most memorable contribution to the canon of spaghetti exploitation is a not-quite-completed-trilogy of gialli, kicking off with 1972’s Cosa Avete Fatto A Solgnage? (“What Have You Done To Solange?“) in which recurrent plot points include the sexual exploitation of schoolgirls, conspiracy, cover-up and murder.

His very first giallo, A Black Veil For Lisa (1968), is the kind of noiresque pot-boiler that typified the genre (Umberto Lenzi directed several similar efforts) before it was revitalised and reinvented by the international crossover success of Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970.) Here Inspector Bulon (John Mills) gives syndicate hitman Max Lindt (Robert Hoffman) a get-out-of-jail card on condition that he bumps off the bent copper’s faithless spouse Lisa (erstwhile Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi.) But Lindt falls for her instead, at which point the plot twists start proliferating thick and fast. After interestingly idiosyncratic screen adaptations of Sacher-Masoch (Venus In Furs, 1969) and Wilde (The Secret Of Dorian Gray, 1970) Dallamano got into his full giallo stride with the cracking item under consideration here.

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Directing Dorian Gray in 1970

Filthy Fabio Testi is Enrico Rossini, a lecherous lecturer who likes nothing better than bedding his beautiful young students at St Mary’s College, an upper-crust finishing school for Catholic crumpet (I was schooled at a St Mary’s College too, but the closest thing to crumpet we ever got was… nah, better not name him.) Fabio’s messing about in a boat on the river with one such conquest, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo, a hall-of-famer who also appeared in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, The Killer Is Obliged To Kill Again, The House That Screamed, Riot In A Woman’s Prison and the immortal Suffer, You Prick) when she spots Hilda, one of her classmates being repeatedly stabbed in the bush in the bushes by a maniac in priestly garb… yep, those anti-clerical giallo auteurs are bashing their bishops again!

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“What is that priest doing to Hilda?”

Because he can’t be in two places at one time, we know that randy Professor Rossini isn’t the culprit, but he can hardly offer his dalliance with Elizabeth as an alibi… relations with his severe Teutonic wife Herta (krimi stalwart Karin Baal) are already bad enough, not to mention the small matter of losing his job. As more girls are fatally stabbed between the legs, his attempts to cover up his extra-curricular activities only increase the suspicions of Inspector Barth (Joachim “Blackie” Fuchsberger, another krimi refugee), who seems to delight in showing parents post-mortem photographs and X rays of their murdered daughters with knives penetrating their private parts (“It’s a necessary formality!”) Then Elizabeth makes the mistake of announcing to a roomful of the dodgiest-looking, slobering peeping toms ever rounded up in a Catholic girls’ school that she thinks the river-bank slasher was wearing a cassock. Glug glug glug, she gets drowned in the tub…

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… and things are now looking very bad indeed for our pal the priapismic prof. But every stabbed schoolgirl has a silver lining and Enrico’s efforts to clear his name coincide with the patching up of his relationship with the increasingly sexy looking (and unfeasibly accommodating) Herta. So far, so good… but no Solange. You won’t be asking what they’ve done to her so much as who the hell is she, because this character (played by Camille Keaton of subsequent I Spit On Your Grave infamy) only turns up towards the end of the final reel, trailing in her traumatised wake the key to the whole crotch-stabbing conundrum.

A stylishly sleazy concoction topped off with a tasty Ennio Morricone score, What Have You Dome To Solange? is an unusually police-tinged giallo that points the way to Dallamano’s later immersion in full blown polizioteschi. The mists and mellow fruitfulness of its equally atypical English locations (not to mention the peculiarly multi-hued barnet of Fusberger) are beautifully rendered by Dallamano’s (wisely) chosen cinematographer, one Aristide Massaccesi (yep, Joe D’Amato himself, who you’ll spot him cameoing as a copper during an, er, abortive stake-out.)

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Remastering WHYDTS? for Blu-ray from its original camera negative, David Mackenzie has captured this visual treat magnificently. Michael Mackenzie (any relation?) contributes one of those visual essays that are becomingly increasingly familiar among Arrow extras. As I said about an earlier one, some of it will make you think, some of it will have you saying: “I’ve always thought that” to yourself and some of it will have you shouting “No mate, you’re talking bollocks!” at the screen. Other specs include a trailer… the now customary reversible sleeve, one of whose options is some newly commissioned nifty artwork by Malleus… the usual sort of glossy, illustrated booklet in which Howard Hughes surveys Morricone’s giallo scores and Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent Magazine profiles Camille Keaton… and three interviews. Karin Baal offers a scathing memoir of what she obviously regards as a thoroughly insalubrious production, slagging off  Fabio Testi and criticising Dallamano for his alleged bullying of Keaton. Then to restore the balance Testi gets to speak for himself and comes across as a much more agreeable figure than the one described by his former co-star. Finally there’s a brief conversation with producer Fulvio Lucisano, an interesting and engaging character who’s got a lot to say about how the Italian film industry has “changed” (i.e. just about died!)

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The commentary track reunites Alan Jones and Kim Newman from Arrow’s celebrated Zombie Flesh Eaters BD. Newman kicks off the proceedings by stating that he’s going to be playing second fiddle because of his colleague’s undoubted expertise in the field of Italian exploitation cinema but in fact Newman’s inclusion is more than justified by the breadth of his knowledge concerning just about every other area of world cinema. His contributions are particularly useful in explaining the debt gialli owe to earlier “krimi” (German screen adaptations of thriller novels by Edgar Wallace), especially pertinent to this Italo-German co-production which has often been linked (with precious little justification) to the Wallace yarn The Clue Of The New Pin. He also sketches out the chronology that links Dallamano’s picture to an apocryphal tabloid expose via Robert Hartford- Davis’s The Yellow Teddy Bears (1963.) Informative and witty stuff from the Jones / Newman double act then, though when they speculate that the Vera Drake character is of East European origin they do squander a golden opportunity to crack the ever popular “cancelled Czech” gag…

While an oligopoly of four (Argento, Bava, Fulci and Martino) were responsible for most of the truly great gialli, other directors did manage to turn out the occasional classic… Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly Of The Tarantula, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? and Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Is Obliged To Kill Again spring to mind.) So what are we to make of Jones’s claim that WHYDTS? is one of the top ten achievements in this genre? Possibly it it is and, if not, it comes so damn close as to demand a place on the shelf of any self-respecting Italian thriller buff.

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“What shall we do today, then?”

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“Oh… that!”

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