Posts Tagged With: Dario Argento

Ringing Down The Curtain On The Golden Age Of Giallo… THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS And OPERA Reviewed

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The charnel house at Parma: Opera

BD/DVD Combi Edition. Cultfilms. Region B. 18.

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Edwige Fenech’s Garden Of Love: The Case Of The Bloody Iris

BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

Now I like mechanical, by the numbers spaghetti slashers… but I like barking mad, auteurist gothic cross-over gialli, too. So which is better? There’s only one way to find out…

A timely brace of releases from sister labels Shameless and CultFilms affords us the opportunity for a “compare and contrast” exercise that might shed some light on certain aspects of the giallo phenomenon. Failing that, at least we’ve got a pretext to run yet more alluring photos of Edwige Fenech…

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The Case Of The Bloody Iris (an unassuming little handle compared to the film’s original Italian title, which translates as “Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?”) was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo (masquerading as “Anthony Ascott”) during 1972, quite possibly the giallo’s annus mirabilis in purely quantitative terms, when every journey man who could work a camera seemed to be churning ’em out. Qualitatively, Argento took the genre to its zenith in 1975 with Deep Red and while others slackened off, his reputation / connections / family fortune enabled him to carry on obsessively reworking his favourite giallo themes with the likes of 1977’s Suspiria (you heard me!), Tenebrae (1982) and Phenomena (1985), before contributing one of the final two worthwhile entries (Opera… the other was his protegé Michele Soavi’s Stagefright) to the now moribund cycle in 1987.

Sergio Martino spent 1972 tweaking the giallo template, adding supernatural overtones with All The Colours Of Darkness and injecting a little Poe into his Les Diaboliques variant Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key (before kick-starting the stalk’n’slash wave with the following year’s Torso). All very well but in the meantime big brother / producer Luciano, craving another “Martinoesque” thriller to cash in on Sergio’s 1971 successes The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale, roped in reliable jobbing director Carnimeo to collaborate with scripting stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi, plus returning stars Fenech and George Hilton and ubiquitous OST composer Bruno Nicolai to knock out this very passable facsimile.

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TCOTBI packs a string of nubile psycho fodder (in all their funky ’70s finery) plus a veritable shoal of red herrings onto photo model Jennifer (Fenech)’s floor of a swish Genoan apartment building. Who’s cutting this collection of cuties off in their respective primes? Difficult to say, given the culprit’s standard issue black leather trench coat, broad-brimmed hat and stocking mask, but the cast of candidates comprises suspiciously smooth architect Hilton; a predatory lipstick lesbian (Lana Del Rey lookalike Annabella Incontrera) who’s predictably hot for Fenech’s bod; her disapproving, grumpy father; a nosey-parker old crone who’s keeping tabs on everybody else in the building; and her secret, scarred son, who is presented as obvious psycho-killer material because of his addiction to lurid horror comics (an imprudent tack to take in a lurid slasher film, one might have thought… ) Dodgiest of all is Jennifer’s ex Adam (Ben Carra), who’s stalking her, sending her irises and generally trying to lure her back into her former drug-crazed swinging lifestyle.  ”I’ll tear you as I tore the petals of the iris…” he rants: “You’re an object and you belong to me… since our celestial marriage you’ve belonged to me!” (shades of the overheated fruit loop played by Ivan Rassimov in Strange Vice).

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All of this understandably reduces Fenech to a nervous wreck, though her fellow photo model Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) is keener to attribute her agitated state to sexual frustration. “You made a big mistake, going from group sex to chastity” she advises, urging Jennifer to let her hair down a little, not to mention her drawers. The mandatory clueless cops (an inspector who’s more interested in collecting stamps than cracking the case, and his long-suffering side-kick, who seems to have wandered in from a Sexy-Comedy) persuade the reluctant Jennifer and Marilyn to stay in their apartment in a high risk strategy designed to flush out the killer (leaving them with the helpful advice: “Don’t trust any of your neighbours!”) as the bodies and improbable plot convolutions proliferate all around them.

One memorably barmy scene involves the night-club act of athletic black chick Mizar (Carla Brait) which involves her challenging horny audience members to get her clothes off in three minutes, while she’s beating them up (no, really!) This character’s later bath-tub demise is modelled upon one in the mother of all “imperilled models” gialli, Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964). Elsewhere an attack on a girl while she’s pulling a garment over her head and a public stabbing in broad daylight anticipate sequences in Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), and an elevator slashing is every bit as clearly the inspiration for one in Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980) as the power-tool slaying in Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Orchids Stained In Red (1972) was for the one in De Palma’s Body Double (1984)… what is it about Italian slasher directors and bloody petals, anyway?

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Carnimeo adroitly keeps the viewer’s suspicion alternating around his collection of ne’er do wells, with Hilton ostentatiously flagged as prime suspect, despite his professed haemophobia. Predictably, things are even more complicated than they appear, the true culprit’s puritanical motivation getting the customary curt airing before his / her equally obligatory dispatch by being chucked down a stair well. Gastaldi also manages to work a Spellbound-type cathartic liberation for one of the main characters into this boffo denouement. DP Stelvio Massi and sound track composer Bruno Nicolai perform their respective chores with the customary panache and although TCOTBI is nowhere near as adventurous, inventive or influential as Sergio Martino’s several stabs at giallo, suspend your disbelief to enjoy one of the genre’s most pleasantly time passing guilty pleasures.

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The second release under consideration here is another balaclava-load of bubbling brains altogether, the final refinement of its director’s patented giallo mix before a precipitous slide into self-parody (if you’ve never seen Argento’s on-the-nose 1998 Phantom Of The Opera remake… well, do yourself a favour and keep it that way). So, there’s a primal (and decidedly sadistic) scene that’s left an indelible mark on one of the main characters, a leading lady struggling to make sense of something she’s witnessed (or possibly just dreamed), an ineffectual police investigation that obliges another character to turn amateur sleuth… pepper all this with state-of-the-art camera technology in the service of vaulting directorial ambition and fiendish Sergio Stivaletti splatter FX and what do you get? Dario Argento’s Opera, that’s what!

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Thrown into the spotlight on the opening night of a controversial production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, young diva Betty (Cristina Marsillach) promptly feels the full force attendant on the proverbial “Curse of The Scottish Play”. Trussed up by a mysterious masked stalker who tapes needles under her eyelids, she is forced to witness her nearest and dearest being stabbed in the gizzard and butchered before her unblinking eyes (an ordeal exacerbated by outbreaks of terrible heavy metal music on the soundtrack!)

So who’s giving her the needle… her dictatorial director Marco? A disgruntled diva? Urbano Barberini’s drippy, star-struck investigating officer? If Marco was a controversial pick to direct opera then Dario Argento, in the light of such operatic horrors as Suspira, Inferno and Phenomena, was a natural to direct Opera… indeed, it’s unlikely that anybody but him could have dreamed up (in conjunction with Franco Ferrini) this extreme twist on Gaston Leroux’s source novel). To render his OTT vision, Argento roped in DP Ronnie Taylor (*), with whom he’d previously shot some cutting edge car commercials, to collaborate on such startling moments as Betty’s agent Myra (Daria Nicolodi) being shot in the face through a keyhole, or the climactic attack of pouncing, vengeful ravens, viewed from the birds’ aerial POVs. Things are ultimately wound up with an ending that’s so very left-field, even by Argento’s standards, that Marsillach’s space cadet soliloquy / lizard rescuing routine were cut from export prints for many years (you get to see it all here, though you won’t necessarily believe it).

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Opera is baroque, beautiful and downright berserk enough (Nicolodi’s death scene holds it own in comparison with anything else in Argento’s extraordinary canon) to secure its place in the director’s matchless golden era (on which it rings down the curtain in appropriately flamboyant style) although it’s no Suspiria. Accordingly, it’s been given a mere 2k restoration (half the ‘k’s of CultFilms’ eye-searing Suspiria restoration) and looks mighty fine for it, with the revelation of pastel tendencies that recall the job Arrow recently did on Deep Red restoration. Argento supervised this one personally, with reference to his own favoured cinema print which, we learn in the lengthy bonus interview on this disc, he stole! Among the other extras we are given a split screen look at the restoration process plus extensive behind-the-scenes “making of” footage… I’ve seen various permutations of this stuff in previous featurettes and documentaries but what we have here appears to be the motherlode.

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Shameless have managed a sharp BD transfer of Carnimeo’s film with little grain to distract you from your contemplation of the onscreen carnage, though some might find the colour palate of this particular Bloody Iris a tad dull and overly green compared to, e.g. (my handiest reference point) the DVD on Anchor Bay’s 2002 “Giallo Collection” box set. Bonus wise, you get Interviews with Paola Quattrini and George Hilton. Quattrini is mystified that people would still want to ask her about this film 45 after the event, but muses that this tale of misogynistic murder might have renewed relevance in the age of #metoo. George “I know I’m handsome” Hilton reminisces about his many love scenes with Edwige Fenech… well, it’s a tough job but some jammy bastard’s gotta do it!

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(*) Mr Taylor took his wife to see Opera for the first time when it played at The Scala in 1991, as part of the launch event for Maitland McDonagh’s book Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds, with Argento in attendance. I was privy to her reaction. “Not impressed” would be a serious understatement…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avanti Avati! The PUPI AVATI Interview

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Feted and decorated at Cannes, Berlin and Venice for such Arthouse efforts as Bix, Il Cuore Altrove and Il Papà Di Giovanni, Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati has pursued a parallel career in Freudsteinian film. In this archive interview from 1996 he reveals the full extent of his hidden Horror history, over and above such self-directed classics as The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and Zeder (1983), taking in collaborations with Mario and Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Signor Avati, many horror fans are frustrated that you have chosen to limit your participation in that genre…

I am not aware of being able to count on fans in the gothic genre. I know that The House With Laughing Windows is quite well known in some countries, and also certain other of my works. I don’t know if I could work exclusively in this genre without paying a price in originality and the kind of stimuli which are necessary for me to return to film-making with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

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I believe your horror spoof Tutti Defunti… Tranne I Morti was made with the specific intention of frustrating attempts to type-cast you as “a horror director”…

Yes it’s true, I made Tutti Defunti specifically to avoid having that label stuck on me.

Please tell us something about your early experience working as assistant director on films like Piero Vivarelli’s Satanik…

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It was a modest experience, in fact my role was actually that of second assistant… Piero Vivarelli was not a great director, but he was an able technician, from whom I learned the importance of organising a shoot properly, how to put together a troupe, the relationship between a script and a shoot, between the directors and his actors… a little of everything which I then developed on my own account.

What are your memories of working with Lamberto Bava on Macabro?

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Good memories! Lamberto has no ambitions to become a great auteur, but he is a tremendous professional. He loves the whole business of making a film, of using effects, music, actors, the script… the whole machinery. He had already worked as my assistant director, which was when I discovered that he is very gifted.

That film proceeds with the restrained menace that is characteristic of your own pictures… until that abrupt final twist with the head attacking the blind man!

My recollection of Macabro is rather hazy. Frankly, it’s a film that I haven’t watched again. I like the idea of the head being kept in the fridge, then taken to bed. It both amuses and terrifies me… the right mix, wouldn’t you agree?

Please tell us about working with Mario Bava on Bordella…

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He only worked on the realisation of the “invisible man” sequence towards the end of the film. After many false starts with other so-called effects men, Bava resolved the technical difficulties with ease. Looking back, the effect seems pretty infantile now.

What would you say are the respective talents of Bava Sr and Bava Jr?

Mario belonged represents a cinema with more convictions, with less irony… to a dark cinema which believed in itself. These films were directed at a more naive public, who would willingly go along with a story. Lamberto has had great success with fairy-tales, in a milieu of absolute unreality. What links them is their desire to astonish their audience.

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Tell us about collaborating with Pasolini and Sergio Citti on the script of Salò… what was your input?

Pasolini had never even read De Sade. We wrote the film with Citti, who was going to direct it. Then the company that was supposed to produce the film went bankrupt. One evening I met with Pasolini and proposed to him that he should direct the picture himself. He accepted my suggestion, and that’s what happened. Screen-writing with Pasolini was conducted on a basis of mutual respect and close collaboration, I have never been keen on collaborating with others, but I did enjoy my collaboration with Pier Paolo.

How do you remember Pasolini the man?

He was the mildest and perhaps the most sensitive man I have ever known. To work with him was simplicity itself, because he knew exactly what he wanted from you.

Although it is not generally known, I believe you collaborated on an early draft of Profondo Rosso… how do you remember your collaboration with Dario Argento?

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I only worked on the film for a few days. Dario had been sick, and was recovering in hospital. We came up with the film’s opening, without even writing a line. I believe something of that remains in the film, a seance I seem to recall. But Dario Argento, who I know very well, was already an established film-maker. He’s a centraliser, who doesn’t like to concede any control to anyone else. I’m the same… and two cocks in the same hen-house isn’t a good recipe for artistic collaboration.

What about Lucio Fulci, with whom you collaborated on the satire Dracula In Brianza? Did you find him as “difficult” a man as he has been painted?

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Fulci always comported himself very well with me. I wrote a script that he thought was perfect, then he made a complete about turn and rewrote everything. I completely lost track. It was not easy to capture exactly what he wanted. I think that ultimately, little of what I contributed ended up on the screen. Anyway the film’s star, Lando Buzzanca, had a big say on what went into the script.

You have always operated as an independent and stayed loyal to your regional base of Emilia Romagna… what has the region contributed to your artistic vision – particularly to your macabre sensibility?

The peasant culture in which I grew up is still very strong in Emilia Romagna… I was brought up on terrifying fairy tales and a religiosity which always emphasised the terrible penalties for sin. I was brought up in a state of fear, and these fears are acknowledged in my work. They have shaped my imagination.

You’ve made several movies in the U.S. but – true to your independent philosophy – in Iowa rather than Hollywood. Tell us about the affinities you see between this state and the Emilia Romagna…

They are two very similar regions with wide plains, farming land and the kind of people who are bred by that culture: a little restricted, a little conservative, deeply versed in tradition but also open to the future… a singular mix in each instance.

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Although you love the Emilia Romagna, your film The House With Laughing Windows (above) portrays it as place of degeneracy and decay…

I have tried to portray the dark side of my homeland. The secret side, which doesn’t appear in the tourist brochures. It was in Zeder that I best captured this unofficial side of “the Riviera Romagnola”.

You based the character of Paolo Zeder on Fulcanelli… are you aware of the way this character has also been used in Guillermo Del Torro’s Cronos and Michele Soavi’s La Chiesa?

Many people have been fascinated by Fulcanelli. I certainly was. Recently however, a document has come to light in France that proves he never existed, except as a literary invention.

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An unsettling moment from Avati’s Zeder (1983)

Is it true that L’Arcano Incantatore is based on another allegedly “real-life” alchemist…

Another real-life figure, yes, but not an alchemist… he was a student of necromantic texts, named Achille Ropa Sanuti and he was another Bolognese. He stayed in my city halfway through the eighth Century. Excommunicated for his studies, he took the esoteric name “Arcane Enchanter”.

Would you agree that Zeder has influenced Soavi’s more recent effort Dellamorte Dellamore (not to mention Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary)?

I couldn’t comment, because I haven’t seen either of those films.

Your female lead in Zeder was the gorgeous Anne Canovas, an actress who I haven’t seen much of anywhere else…

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I don’t know how Anne Canovas was chosen. She was very good in a TV film by my friend Giacomo Battiato, perhaps I saw her there.

Isn’t it true that you like to work more closely with your actors than is generally the case in Italian horror cinema?

Yes. In Italian horror cinema (which is considered unworthy by everybody, particularly by actors) the director’s rapport with the cast tends to be non-existent. This isn’t exactly the best way to get good performances! I always approach a dark film in exactly the same way as I would approach a realistic one.

I believe though that Zeder, the only one of your horror films to get a proper release in the US was shot in the English language… Gabriele Lavia has said that this made it a difficult film for him to work on… what are your recollections of this?

I didn’t manage to achieve much of a rapport with Lavia. Because the film was shot in English, it was difficult to devote as much attention to the nuances of his performance as he would have liked.

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I was told that The House With Laughing Windows was originally shot in the dialect of Emilia Romagna… is this why it has never received the distribution that it deserves?

It wasn’t shot in any dialect and it received excellent distribution in Italy, where the film was a great success. It didn’t get much overseas distribution because of the inadequacy of our organisation then… our fault, entirely.

Rumours persist that you are planning an English-language remake of House With Laughing Windows… aren’t you discouraged by the poor results when other classic European films have been remade in America?

It’s true, we’re studying the feasibility of doing an American remake. There are many small towns over there that remind me very much of Comacchio… with rivers, uninhabited houses, old churches… I think it would be a fantastic film.

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Is it true that you wanted Alec Guiness to star in the original?

Yes, we made a rather naive attempt to sign him up.

Do you see any affinity between the paranoid sensibility of a film like The House With Laughing Windows and films like Francesco Barilli’s Perfume Of The Lady In Black, Aldo Lado’s Short Night Of The Glass Dolls and Gianfranco Giagni’s Il Nido Del Ragno?

Of these films, I’ve only actually seen Perfume Of The Lady (below). There are affinities, probably because Barilli originates from the same region as myself. Also, we shot these films during the same period.

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In connection with this paranoid ambiance, I’m told that you once worked as an investigative reporter…

I’ve never been an investigative reporter, though I have worked as a researcher of historical documents, which is a rather different field.

Bologna is noted as a centre of left-wing intellectualism, and I believe that you took a degree in political science… do you consider yourself in any way a political film-maker?

I’ve tried to avoid any possibility of being defined as a political film-maker. I’m not happy to be tied to any one party. I have never felt that anyone could represent me, apart from myself. I can’t delegate anything, and for that reason I’m a loner. Perhaps an outsider. In this aspect, I’m an atypical Bolognese.

Looking back, how satisfied are you with an early effort like Balsamus?

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Balsamus was my first film. It was the culmination of 30 years of life, of waiting. It was 1968 and I wanted to put everything into it. Too much. It has too much energy, too much invention, not enough communication… very little heart.

Do you agree that your film Thomes… The Possessed in many ways foreshadows Peter Greenaway’s subsequent, more famous film, The Baby Of Macon?

I don’t know, I haven’t seen Greenaway’s film.

How do you remember working with actor / writer / director Luigi Montefiori (“George Eastman”) in films like Regalo Di Natale and (below, right) Bordella?

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He’s an actor with a very wide background in films of every genre: westerns, Italian thrillers, and so on… he’s written many scripts. It was a pleasure to work with him, because he was so familiar with every aspect of film-making.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a producer who is also your brother?

With my brother Antonio there have been only advantages. He protects me from everything, from all the difficulties that can plague a director. And he counsels me… he’s the only person I’ll take advice from.

Do you enjoy your role of producing for other directors?

It’s my brother who is mostly occupied with these new young directors. I’m rarely involved in the choice. At times I’ll collaborate in the writing or editing, but I never set foot on their sets.

Why do you feel that the Italian industry in general is in such a poor state? Are you optimistic about the prospects of a revival?

Italian cinema has been suffocated. It is afraid of telling impossible stories. It has made a fatal pact with reality, with time, with politics, that has stifled it and restricted its growth.

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Please tell us a little about the films you’ve produced in the USA, such as Maurizio Zaccaro’s Dove Comincia La Notte and Fabrizio Laurenti’s La Stanza Accanto…

Dove Comincia La Notte is based on one of my stories, a story I really like. La Stanza Accanto is based on other stories and perhaps is less direct. But they are both honourable efforts. The first met with some success, though the second didn’t.

Can you tell us how your love of jazz structures in music translates into the way you structure a film?

Improvisation is at the heart of jazz. Certain sequences in my films have been saved by improvisation. Sometimes you have to go with the flow of your imagination, to rely on it, to trust it to provide you with what you need. Often you wait in silence, as though pregnant, then something just happens.

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Does the success of L’Arcano Incantatore (above) mean that we can look forward to more fantasy / horror films from Pupi Avati in the future?

Of all my fantastic films L’Arcano Incantatore is dearest to me, because of what it doesn’t contain, because of what it leaves unexplained. Stories that connect you with extraordinary, disturbing co-incidences… this is what I like. I myself do not thoroughly understand the stories I tell. The mystery remains.

Signor Avati… thanks for your time and your kind attention.

You’re welcome. I’m delighted by your profound knowledge of my work.

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That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles… XYY-Rated Suspense From Dario Argento in THE CAT O’NINE TAILS

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

Due to his enhanced sense of hearing, blind crossword compiler Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) finds himself eaves-dropping on attempted blackmail while walking past a car with his niece / ward Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) outside the Terzi genetic institute in Turin. Later the same night there’s a break-in at the institute and shortly after that one of its leading scientific lights is crushed under a train at the city’s rail terminus. An Argento-patented obsessive amateur sleuth, Arno recruits newspaperman Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) to his ongoing investigation into what the hell is going on at the institute, as the killings rapidly multiply and skeletons start to slide from the closets of its eminently respectable staff, including the director’s glamorous daughter Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak), though Giordani’s suspicions don’t deter him from his amorous pursuit of her. When his and Arno’s investigation gets too close to the killer for comfort, Lori is kidnapped, setting up a spectacular denouement on the institute’s roof top…

The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) was, for a considerable time, Dario Argento’s second hardest-to-see feature-length thriller, behind only the disappeared-for-decades Four Flies On Grey Velvet (made, coincidentally, in the same year). It got a Saturday late-night screening on BBC1 during the early ’80s and tapes of that were all we had to go on for another ten years or so until Warner released it on VHS, followed by various DVD editions. Now its time has come for the 4K restoration treatment on Arrow BD, an ideal opportunity for us to re-evaluate the film hyped on its original US theatrical release as “nine times more suspenseful than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage”…

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In fact CO9T is a rather less suspenseful affair than Argento’s debut, not on account of any deficiencies in its conception or execution, rather due to its director’s impatience with the limitations of the “Italian Hitchcock” tag he’d been landed with and keenness to establish his own auteurist identity. There are suspenseful scenes here, for sure (Giordano trapped alone in a tomb after Arno has wandered off into the cemetery… poisoned milk that Giordano and Anna might or might not drink… that climactic roof top drama) but Argento signals his flagging enthusiasm for the “whodunnit” format via this film’s title (clumsily conceived to tie it in with its predecessor), by the anticlimactic, lazy unmasking of a minor character as the culprit (“We used to do that all the time”, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti admitted to me) and in the resolution of Lori’s fate (if, indeed, that is ever satisfactorily resolved) by means of an overdubbed afterthought.

Throughout, Argento is more interested in staging set piece spectacles (a body mangled under a train after head-on close up impact, the killer’s hands smoking as they attempt in vain to arrest their descent down a lift shaft by clutching cables…) and composing mannered visuals (is that our first sighting of the mythical “green puke” as Giordano’s photographer friend gets garroted in his dark room?) …

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… that are consistently complimented by an Ennio Morricone score – all staccato bass, chiming percussion and snarling trumpet – which suggests that il Maestro had been spending time checking out Miles Davis’s recent fusion explorations.

One thing that always strikes me about CO9T is its all-pervasive sense of (hetero)sexual unease bordering on disgust. The nuclear family seems to have broken down… Lori comes without parents and the marriage contract is reduced to a financial transaction for the elite, prefaced by a mandatory act of masturbation (“bim, bam!”) in the sterile confines of the Terzi institute. Has there ever been a colder “love scene” than the one between Giordano and Anna? (Things would warm up considerably, scant months later, between Michael Brandon and Francine Racette during a genuinely tender tryst in Four Flies). Argento explores an alternative gay lifestyle and examines it sympathetically, aided and abetted by the tolerant albeit slightly embarrassed way Franciscus plays his scene at the Saint Peter’s club. That scene unfolds very differently in Paul J. Gillette’s American novelisation of the film, wherein Giordano evinces a brand of petit bourgeois  homophobia that Gillette presumably believed would chime with his readers. He also novelised Play Misty For Me though I strongly suspect this is not the same Paul J. Gillette who translated the complete works of De Sade.

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Is it any wonder that Giordani and Anna go about making the beast with two backs so gingerly, given the film’s endorsement of the (once popular, now discredited) thesis that a predisposition to violent criminality can be chromosomally conveyed via the putative XYY triad? Argento plays this plot point with considerable, multi-faceted irony, presenting us with a character who champions the XYY hypothesis (indeed, their career has been based on work in this field) but feels “unfairly” treated on discovering that they conform to the suspect genetic profile. Once the gene genie is out of the sample bottle, they take the “rational” decision to dispose of those in a position to discover this damning secret, the killer merely confirming the psychopathic destiny written into their biology (and of course losing it completely during the denouement). Argento would revisit “rational” killers (or are they? Clue – check the pile of bodies at the end of Tenebrae) and Sergio Martino would subsequently make great use of this device (at one point in his kinky classic The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, there are no less than four, variously motivated killers in operation) but the giallo which shares the most interesting affinities with CO9T in this regard, at least to these jaundiced eyes, is another 1971 effort, Fernando Di Leo’s characteristically brutal La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (known under several AKAs but the literal translation “The Beast Kills In Cold Blood” is surely most apposite here). In this one a “rational” killer stages a messy kill spree in order to distract police attention from his commonplace motivation for bumping off the one victim that really matters to him, though in the film’s truly delirious closing minutes it’s revealed that the culprit’s accelerating disinhibition in matters of murder has actually reduced him to a sweating, drooling, bloodthirsty maniac.

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My screener copy arrived minus the booklet (featuring new writing by Barry Forshaw Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes, illustrated by Matt Griffin), double-sided fold out poster and four lobby card reproductions which will accompany street copies. Prominent among the significant bonus materials I did get to see were new interviews with Argento, production manager Angelo Iacono and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, who spills the beans on his late ’60s student activism. Sounds like this stood him in good stead for his later dealings with the Argento family, whom Sacchetti suggests he had to threaten with physical violence to secure his screen writing credit for CO9T. Entertaining as it is, I could have done without Sacchetti’s interview being repeated on my screener copy at the expense of the promised conversation with Cinzia De Carolis. It would be interesting to see what she looks like these days and hear her memories of appearing in this film and some of the roles she undertook in adulthood, e.g. in Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and such oddities as Raniero di Giovanbattista’s Libidine (1979). No doubt this oversight will be rectified by the time this limited edition hits the shelves.

Argento buffs will be particularly fascinated by a bonus reconstruction of the film’s original – and rather corny – ending, the only existing image from which is on the German lobby card below (and a slight variation on which is mentioned in the inevitable Jones / Newman commentary track).

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

Murder, He Wrote… An Exclusive Interview With DARDANO SACCHETTI

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The interviews that appear on this Blog have been drawn from our extensive archives here at The House Of Freudstein, comprising conversations with film makers that have taken place at various times over the last thirty-odd (some of them very odd) years, many of which have already appeared in miscellaneous film publications. It’s a real pleasure to debut here the transcript of our audience with the most prolific screenwriter on the Italian genre scene, which took place in November 2017. How very fresh of us…

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Signor Sacchetti, could you kindly tell us a little about your life these days… are you currently working on any projects?

I’m still writing. There is little work in Italy at this time, but I’ve just finished a screenplay.

I know that your preference is to write in seclusion, then hand your script over to the producer, rather than to have endless collaborative sessions with other writers… but how do you divide up the work when collaborating with your wife Elisa Briganti?

With my wife the job is simple: I usually write, she reads, offers her opinion… we discuss everything, we make amendments. During my most creative moments I’m almost always alone because my best ideas often come to me during the night.

Your screen writing career began at the very top, with Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails (1971)… is it fair to say that the climactic revelation of the killer’s identity in that one is a bit of a “cheat”,  given that the guilty character had only played a very minor role up to that point?

That’s right but then in those days, especially in Italy, we were always doing that.

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Your work on that Argento film got you the job of writing a highly influential Mario Bava picture known under a multitude of titles… Bloodbath, Bay Of Blood, Twitch Of The Death Nerve…

I wrote it as Reazione A Catena (“Chain Reaction”). Although only my second film, written when I was very young and knew nothing about cinema, that’s the movie I’m most fond of… my masterpiece.

There’s that big twist at the end involving the children… much has been said about the use of children in Fulci’s films but they’ve featured in so many that you’ve written for other directors, it’s tempting to conclude that these characters are down to you…

I’ve always had child characters in my movies, the use of such characters is part of my imaginary world. Lucio wasn’t bothered about investigating child psychology, in fact he didn’t like having children around on his sets.

It’s a pity you couldn’t put your “trademark” on the plot of Reazione A Catena, considering how many highly successful American films subsequently took so much from it…

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Yes, it would have made me a very rich man!

Speaking of American film makers, Quentin Tarantino has talked at various times about remaking Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero… has he ever talked to you about this? Are we likely to see such a remake on the screen?

Absolutely not! The most recent major to take an interest in this remake was SONY. They contacted us through an Italian law firm, acting on their behalf, with an outrageous offer, for which I personally told them to go to hell. Americans want to take Italians for fools. They often copy our ideas, sometimes whole movies, but they do not want to pay us for it. They treat us like a colony, full of illiterate, indigenous people. Tarantino was mentioned but also Steven Soderbergh and Bryan Singer. They wanted to make the movie with one of these three directors and they were suggesting a free option for two years then to pay $15,000 for the total rights… ridiculous!

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You’ve been quoted as saying that you rarely watch the films you’ve written, but you did watch Sette Note In Nero… should we conclude from this that you are more comfortable with the idea of giallo than with horror?

I’ve been misquoted there, in fact I always watch the films that are made from my scripts. Sette Note in Nero is a film born out of an abortive project that Fulci and his writer Gianviti had been working on for six months. De Laurentiis then called me to help out. Fulci and I immediately argued. I proposed that we ditch the original project, which was called Deadly Therapy and suggested the basic idea that became Sette Note In Nero. I’m comfortable with giallo, with horror, also police or dramatic stories… I’ve written 177 scripts of all kinds. Basically, I’m a writer.

Fulci himself was very ambivalent about his status as a cult Horror director, wasn’t he?

When I first met Fulci he loved Agatha Christie-type mysteries but he didn’t like the thriller genre and had never seen a horror movie nor even read a horror novel. Fulci’s background was in comedy and musical films. He was, in every respect, a “classic” Italian director of those times. After the extraordinary commercial success of Zombi 2 he read Lovecraft for the first time and this is very apparent in his second horror film, City Of The Living Dead…

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I know that foreign distributors and therefore Italian producers demanded more zombies, whereas Fulci had originally not wanted them to be in either City Of The Living Dead or The Beyond…

Yes, the Germans asked for more zombies and Fulci took this on board. In fact it was me who really didn’t want to use more zombies. My screenplay for The Beyond provided for a different finale, set in an amusement park…

That’s fantastic… I’ve got a UK press kit for The Beyond which contains a synopsis that varies wildly from what actually happens in the film. I’ve always suspected that it was drawn from an abandoned early version of your script and what you’ve just said would seem to confirm this.

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The scene was too expensive and producer Fabrizio De Angelis – who always had an eye on the money – decided to cut it and asked me for a zombie finale like the one you see now. His big priority was always cutting the budget.

Can you tell us about the changes that he imposed on Manhattan Baby?

He made just one change, he introduced the bullshit about the medallion, shot in Egypt. The only reason of this was again the economic one because back then there wasn’t much tax control over money going abroad from Italy.

What opinion did you form of Fulci’s relationship with De Angelis?

Fulci always had to put up with the fact that De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks. There was a period of a few years there where De Angelis was the only guy producing Italian horror films and Fulci was the only guy directing them. When things were going well, De Angelis should have been investing more money on projects, instead he kept on cutting the budgets, not realising that after American films like The Exorcist, with those great special effects, it was no longer feasible to do horror on the cheap.

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Going back to you and Fulci’s first collaboration for De Angelis, why did Elisa get all the credit for Zombi 2, when you had co-written it? Was Argento’s antipathy towards the project a factor in this?

I didn’t sign Zombi 2 because while I was writing it my father died and partly out of superstition, partly out of respect for him, I decided not to sign the script. Dario Argento had nothing to do with it. Zombi 2 was written a year before it was released and under another title. Dario knew nothing about Zombi 2 until it was released in Italy, shortly before the film he made with Romero. He felt then that the new title, which was the idea of producer Ugo Tucci, would damage their business.

Apart from Zombi 2, there are various other films you didn’t sign… Amityville II, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley, Hands Of Steel, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?… are there any notable ones that you’d now like the world to know about?

I signed all the films that I wanted to sign, as for the ones I didn’t… I’ll mention just one so you’ll understand the kind of thing that happens. Deliria (Stagefright), as Michele Soavi well knows, is a film that I worked on but it was as a favour to a great friend who needed to compare his ideas with mine. It was a friendship thing that I do not regret and for which I do not claim any credit. On the other hand, I have also signed films that are not mine: two examples are the Umberto Lenzi comedy Pierino La Peste Alla Riscossa (for which De Angelis paid me to take a credit, on administrative grounds) and Aldo Grimaldi’s La Cameriera Seduce I Villeggianti, a film which I quickly abandoned because they did not pay me, after which it was changed from a giallo into an erotic film. Unfortunately my signature remained attached to it.

As somebody who’s worked with “The Big Three“ of Italian Horror and Thriller… Bava, Argento and Fulci…

Yes, I have…

… what  professional and personal impressions did you take from working with each of them?

Mario Bava was simply a genius… a legendary figure, respected by everyone.

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I know from my own conversations with Fulci how much he revered Bava…

Working with Bava was a real pleasure and I learned so many things. He didn’t have any hand in the screenplay, that was not his job, but once he had read it he erupted with ideas for special effects and how to realise them. Dario, on the other hand, loves to work on the screenplay, so collaborating with him is a real torment. You know when it’s started but you never know when it will end. Dario often changes his mind within the course of a day and throws away great things to start all over again. Writing with him is always very tense and clashes are inevitable. Every project ended with a fight and sometimes we would have no contact for years, then there was peace and everything started again, but always ending with another fight. Dario is tormented by the idea of perfection, so he’s never satisfied. Fulci never originated a script, he was at home waiting for me to deliver the job. He was very into the “strong” scenes but always waited for the opinion of the producers before expressing his. He always went along with the requirements of the production.

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The disappointment I’ve often felt on seeing the movies made from my scripts is usually down to production shortcomings rather than the way they’ve been shot. I prefer to see them alone and when they’ve been out for a while. I have a very bad character, as everyone knows and I’ve often clashed with producers. There’s often been disharmony with directors, too… actually my relationship with Fulci was exemplary in this respect. I recognise that Lucio was an excellent professional with good technique, more so than Argento but Argento took things to a level that Lucio never attained. Dario was a visionary who could really bring nightmares to the screen. Fulci was a hard working professional but he never managed to transcend that status.

Any memories of any of the other celebrated Italian genre directors you wrote for? Say, Sergio Martino or Antonio Margheriti?

I don’t remember much about writing for Martino. We didn’t get on and never really connected. I helped out the production company Dania (which was by run by Sergio’s brother Luciano) a couple of times, but that was about it.

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I have good memories of Margheriti, even if he did not always “get” what I was doing. We collaborated on a good movie called Apocalypse Tomorrow, a bad title imposed by the producer to suggest a link with the Coppola movie (and released in anglophone markets as Cannibal Apocalypse, of course – BF) then a Vietnam War movie, The Last Hunter… another exploitive title. We worked well together, though I recall that Antonio paid little attention to the screenplays and was always in a hurry to get on set, where he would be able to fix any problems… he was a typical “on set” kind of guy.

Please tell us about writing Il Diabolo Sulle Colline, the last film of the great Cottofavi…

It originated from a casual meeting, arranged by the producer Pescarolo. We worked together for about three months on the adaptation of a difficult novel by Cesare Pavese. The work was edgy. Vittorio Cottafavi was a great director but very bourgeois, without great ambitions, a gentleman who was already satisfied with his life. He didn’t want to take any risks, he felt safe within a certain classic tradition. He was very good technically but had a very old-fashioned mentality. The film’s theme was the sexual restlessness of a young married woman and the developing sexuality of three students… a “rites of passage” kind of thing. Cottafavi was very “cerebral” in way he handled this theme but it turned into one of the best films I’ve worked one, one of my personal favourites.

Was it a different thing, for instance, to write a cop film for Lenzi than it was to write one for, say, Stelvio Massi?

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Yes, with Lenzi there was more of chance than there was when working with some of the others to achieve something worth while, he was more professional and had more of a “movie culture”. Massi was a really good man but he did not have too much ambition, he was content to work without stretching himself.

From my meetings with Fulci and Lenzi it seemed to me that the former was acting up to his reputation as “difficult” and “eccentric” but that Lenzi really was a very difficult man…

Lenzi was always a very good collaborator (at least, with me) but on the set he acted up a lot. He had an abrasive character and very abrupt ways. I had a much harder time with Fulci, actually, because he was so suspicious. He was regarded as an intimidating man but he was essentially a shy one, hiding behind this mask of aggression. He delivered these ugly outbursts at the cast and crew but it was all part of an act, he was well known for it. That was a bad habit that occurred throughout the Italian cinemas of the ‘50s and ‘60s onwards, it was a period of great cynicism.

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Lucio was a good man, brought down by fate. He had problems with his health, with his family, with work but he was a professional, a great professional. His big flaw was suspiciousness. He didn’t trust anyone, always feared betrayal and being ambushed. This tendency complicated all of his relationships. When I was called by De Laurentiis to work on Sette Note In Nero, Fulci started calling me “the producers’ spy”, as if my role was to take control. I didn’t like this and here is where our mutual antipathy originated.

As well as the many personal problems Fulci suffered, it has  been suggested that he was blacklisted after some of his films (e.g. … All’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne) offended the Christian Democrat establishment… do you know if there was any truth to this?

Fulci’s career took a dip but I cannot tell you whether the thing you describe was a factor in this. The truth is that in those years there was terrorism in Italy… these were the infamous “years of lead”. Nobody went out to the movies anymore, movie production collapsed and revenue declined. It was a black era, people didn’t want to watch comedies while there was gunfire on the streets. That’s why the horror films did so well. Zombi 2 was released at the end of 1979 when the worst had passed, but those events had left this trail of blood…

Different fllms that you wrote for three different directors… Bava, Fulci and Margheriti… were banned in the UK as “video nasties”. Do you have any thoughts on this?

No, I don’t know anything about what happened.

A moral panic is what happened… Fulci’s most notorious film in the UK and other territories was The New York Ripper. Early drafts of the screenplay allegedly featured a killer suffering from progeria, an idea later recycled in Deodato’s Un Delitto Poco Comune…

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I wasn’t too involved in this movie. Fulci wanted to work with some other scriptwriters, Clerici and Mannino, who delivered a screenplay based on progeria. The killer suffered from accelerating ageing so he could escape the police, who were  looking for a young man. Ten days before shooting began, De Angelis and (especially) Fulci looked at the screenplay they had and were worried that it was going to make for a weak film. They called me and in four or five days I came up with a more traditional kind of plot about this killer of prostitutes. Fulci very much liked the idea of prostitutes being killed in the style of the historical Jack The Ripper but it’s not a movie of which I’m very fond, nor do I consider it as my own.

It’s been claimed, though I’ve never managed to spot you, that you play a member of the lynch mob in the prologue to The Beyond…

No, it wasn’t me.

Another myth debunked…

Yeah (laughs), the time comes when you have to stop believing in Santa Claus…

I’ve also been told… and hopefully this is actually correct… that you rarely visited the shoots of films you had written.

I didn’t go on film sets because the shoots tended to be short and badly organised. There was always a climate of tension and my presence would have been more of a nuisance than anything else.

Knowing what you knew about both of them, what did you think when you heard that Argento was going to produce a Fulci film?

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Do you want to know what really happened? That was a very crafty move on Dario’s part. All three of us were together for the final evening of Fantafestival at the Barberini cinema in Rome. This was the first time that Argento and Fulci were together on the same stage. There was applause for Argento, obviously, but when they presented Lucio there was a real ovation because the fans had begun to seriously love him. Dario, who is very attentive to these things, immediately turned the situation in his favour. He got up and announced, to general surprise, that he would produce Fulci’s next movie, with me writing it. As if they were hearing about the coming together of a “holy trinity”, the audience burst into frantic applause. From that moment on, Dario totally lost interest in the matter, leaving me and Fulci a free hand. Fulci wanted to make a new Mummy movie. I wrote a beautiful treatment that we sent to Los Angeles, where Dario was preparing his next movie. He hated it, flew into a rage and fired me over the phone. Lucio then began working with another writer on a House Of Wax remake but died shortly afterwards and the film was ultimately directed by Sergio Stivaletti. The irony was that two years later the Americans remade The Mummy and coincidentally, the first part of that movie was identical to my story.

When Dario was producing other directors like Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi, do you think he dominated their work in the same way that Spielberg did with Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist?

That was certainly the case with Lamberto and he tried it with Soavi too, though with less success… Soavi had his own ideas about what he wanted to do.

How much of your original work remains onscreen in La Chiesa?

This is another of those films which I did not sign. I don’t know… I just wrote a first draft of the script, then I had the usual fight with Dario. I did not see the movie so I can’t tell you what the differences are and how much of my script remains.

After several years of successful collaboration, you and Fulci fell out over the project Per Sempre…

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Per Sempre was a real bone of contention between us. We hadn’t seen each other for some time when he called me because with he was working, with Gianviti, on an incoherent project involving sex and Nazi zombies, which he eventually shot years later (This would be1988’s The Ghosts Of Sodom – BF). I wrote Per Sempre, he found a producer who never made the film and I wasn’t paid. The script remained my property and later I sold it as part a TV series, directed by Lamberto Bava. Fulci, who was going through the darkest period of his life and hadn’t worked for some time, made a big scene with the producers claiming that the property was in some way his. He loved Per Sempre and would certainly have made a better job of it than Lamberto Bava, whose direction was too “cold”. The producers offered a tiny settlement, which Fulci accepted. We made our peace a few years later but never talked again about Per Sempre.

Any final memories of Lucio Fulci and the part he played in your life and career?

Lucio and I never had a great personal relationship. We didn’t go to parties together… outside of work we saw very little of each other. We had our ups and downs, but that’s quite normal. We never really got to know each other properly but he did give me a dog – Apollo – and that’s a gesture which I remember with great fondness. In conclusion, I regarded Fulci as an excellent professional, if not exactly the greatest teacher.

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You worked with Mario Bava again, towards the end of his career, on Shock… was this kind of subtle, suggestive Horror more to his taste than the gory stuff?

Shock was conceived under another title: Al 33  Di Via Orologio Fa Sempre Freddo (“It’s Always Cold At 33 Clock Street”). Mario told me that he hated dealing with actors and joked that he would be happier working as a furniture maker so I wrote him a story about furniture possessed by the spirit of a child (my eternal theme, which I reused yet again in Per Sempre). Shock had a troubled history, the producer went out of business and it was only made five or six years later.

Is it true that Lamberto Bava collaborated on the direction of Shock?

Mario wanted to launch Lamberto as a director and so gave him credit for directing some of that film.

Can you please tell us something about the project that you and Mario Bava were working on when he died?

It was called Anomaly and was going to be produced by Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff from the American side and Lucisano in Italy. My idea was that at the edge of the Universe there was a long, tall wall dividing light from darkness, good from evil, etc… like a Gothic cathedral, the wall was covered with demonic figures, all the evils in the world were carved and animated on it. A ship arrives at the wall to look for the survivors of an accident. They walk through the only opening in the wall, an immense door and find themselves in the dark. Before them is a black river on which an “Egyptian” boat sails… essentially, this was Stargate before Stargate.

Every several years the Italian film industry manages something which reminds us of the challenging material that it regularly presented in the ’70s and early ’80s, e.g. Lamberto Bava’s The Torturer or Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa (both of which you wrote)… is it conceivable that these films could ever start to be produced in Italy again in significant numbers?

I had problems with both of those directors. Lamberto didn’t understand my screenplay, which was a kind of satire about the risks that these girls will take in search of fame and celebrity. He handed it over to two young writers who simplified it to an extent with which he was comfortable. As for Tulpa, Zampaglione emphasised its erotic aspects to the detriment of its thriller elements. Neither of these films lived up to their potential and they didn’t register with their target audiences. On the evidence of those experiences, the answer to your question is… no, I don’t think so.

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Tulpa (top)… Zampaglione and Sacchetti (above)

– Fine –

The suggestion, from somebody who worked so closely with him, that Lucio Fulci had no interest or involvement in Horror before getting the Zombi 2 gig (for which he was, let it be remembered, third choice) might disappoint some Fulci fanatics but it does support what has so often been said about his ability to adapt with ease to any genre in which he was required to work. When you consider that this Horror novice made his Pasta Paura debut with that eye-popping classic and within the space of three years had clocked up another masterpiece (The Beyond) alongside such strong contenders as City Of The Living Dead, House By The Cemetery and The New York Ripper (a giallo, for sure, but one with strong Horror overtones) as well as such underrated oddities as The Black Cat and Manhattan Baby… the mind fair boggles!

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Stop Making Sense… TLE’s 4K Restoration Of SUSPIRIA on CultFilms Blu-ray, Reviewed (No “Green Puke”… Guaranteed)

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Cultfilms. 18.

Synapse have been trailering their Suspiria restoration for something like four years but TLE’s rendition kind of crept up on the rails to emerge in a dead heat with it. Before most people have enjoyed the opportunity to watch even one of these efforts (let alone both) there has already been a lot of online argy-bargy, involving screen grab comparisons, about the relative merits of each, not all of which has been politely conducted. Indeed, more heat has been generated than light, along with a certain amount of alleged “green puke”. I’ve already blogged about TLE’s version on the big screen. Suffice to say, I detected no green puke whatsoever and I’m speaking as one who’s intimately acquainted with the sight, smell and yes, the taste of verdant vomit, given that we’re still cleaning up the Doc’s basement here after last year’s House Of Freudstein office party. Now’s our chance to evaluate how well TLE’s big screen triumph has translated to little silver discs, courtesy of CultFilms…

… but first, a warning from the director himself: “I am Dario Argento. Welcome! You are about to see Suspiria, a film in full Dario Argento style. It’s full of emotions, fright and fear. I hope you are ready to receive all of this”. Bring it on, my sinister-looking, half-Brazilian pal…

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… and a hundred or so minutes later, to nobody’s great surprise, we’ve watched the release of the year, beating off such strong competition as Arrow’s own Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Phenomena and Don’t Torture A Duckling sets, a series of Sergio Martino gialli on BD from Shameless and any amount of tawdry Severin treasures. Suspiria will light up your TV to truly gob-smacking effect and sounds even better than it did at the Mayhem Festival back in October… if you’ve invested in a 5.1 set up you’ll be able to join Suzy (Jessica Harper) and Sarah (Stefania Casini) in following the footsteps of Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and co as they clunk around the hidden recesses of the Tanz Akademie, doing God knows what.

A few random thoughts that occurred while my senses were being battered “in full Argento style”. Doesn’t Pat Hingle (Eva Axén) have an… er, unusual walking / running style? Why does everyone make such a big deal out of her being so spectacularly murdered during the film’s most celebrated set piece without ever mentioning her friend, who was simultaneously bisected by falling glass and masonry? And does Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) really believe that such grotesque carnage can be attributed to “questionable friendships”?

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“Nothing to see here, move along…”

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Joan Bennett in her Holywwod pomp.

Although people often moan about the alleged plotting implausibilities of Argento’s subsequent Phenomena, does the plot of Suspiria actually sustain serious scrutiny? The notion that a coven of witches could operate under God-fearing society’s radar by operating a dance school where they kill and possibly also (it is strongly suggested) eat the students makes about as much sense as Anton Diffring’s fugitive plastic surgeon opening a circus then shagging and killing all of his glamorous female performers in Circus Of Horrors (1960). Fortunately, the oneiric impact of Horror cinema has never turned on the dictates of logic or the banalities of “common sense”. Stop trying to make sense of it and just celebrate the arrival of Argento’s masterpiece in a format that befits its status as arguably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. At the same time, we are served a saddening reminder of how very far the director’s stock has slipped in the meantime. One very much doubts that, forty years after their original releases, fans are going to be buzzing over the prospect of e.g. Phantom Of The Opera, Giallo, Dracula in 3-D or, more pointedly, Mother Of Tears being revived and restored.

One question continues to nag at me, though… if it ever came to a knock-down, drag-out scrap, who would emerge victorious from a playground showdown between Suspiria’s knickerbockered Little Albert and Bob Boyle from House by The Cemetery? Readers views are welcomed…

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You calling my pint a puff, like?

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Is one talking to me or chewing a brick?

Extras wise, we get a couple of Cine-Excess featurettes that you’ll already be familiar with if you bought Nouveaux’s previous UK Blu-ray release of Suspiria, ditto the Jones / Newman commentary track. The original bonus materials comprise a 27 minute interview with the director and a fascinating hour(ish) long featurette on the actual restoration process.

In the interview, Argento sticks steadfastly to one of the taller tales he’s ever spun, the one about the uncredited actress playing Helena Markos requiring no make-up because she actually looked like that in the first place (sure thing, Dario!) While we can dismiss this as a mischievous bit of whimsy, it’s harder to forgive the way that Daria Nicolodi has, once again, been written out of history vis-a-vis the writing of Suspiria, reversing the trend in previous editions (notably Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary 3 disc DVD set) to increasingly acknowledge her input.

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“… she even came with that skewer through her neck!”

In the riveting restoration featurette, TLE’s Torsten Kaiser talks us through “before”, “during” and “after” samples from key (in the technical rather than narrative sense) scenes from the movie, giving us the merest glimpse of what a Herculean labour it was to render such cinematic beauty from what was a pretty ropey bunch of elements. Throughout Herr Kaiser talks about what was done without giving too much away about how it was actually done. Maybe’s he overestimating the degree of technical savvy  at which the average viewer (certainly I) is (am) operating. Perhaps he calculates (correctly, in my case) that the average viewer is incapable of getting his head around such technical stuff. There could also be an understandable desire to keep the more sophisticated tricks of his trade to himself…

… whatever, for further invaluable insights from Torsten, check out the upcoming interview with him in Dark Side magazine. One of the things we discuss there, of which there is no mention in this featurette, is the magic moment at about 1:17:24 of Suspiria (in this presentation) where Professor Milius (Rudolf Schündler) tells Suzy that you can destroy a coven by severing its head, cue the spectacle of Dario Argento’s face, popping up in a window reflection as he directs the scene. Very noticeable in the previous Nouveaux Blu-ray, its been significantly “dialled down” this time around… and I kinda miss it!

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SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?

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Suspiria, 1977. Directed by Dario ArgentoProduced by Claudio Argento and Salvatore Argento. Story by Daria NicoldiScreenplay by Dario Argento and Daria NicolodiCinematography by Luciano TovoliEdited by Franco Fraticelli. Production Design by Giuseppe Bassan. Musiby Goblin. SFX by Germano Natali. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.

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… you wait forty years for a 4k restoration of Suspiria then two turn up at the same time! Over in The States, Synapse’s Don May has been struggling manfully with his for something like a tenth of that period but CultFilms have stealthily beaten him to the punch with their European release of TLE’s take on the most visually beautiful of all Horror Films. Before either of them had aired in public there was much internet discussion and comparing of screen grabs with the intention of establishing which version would prove most successful in correcting the technical errors (too fiendishly complicated to go into here) that have marred previous releases. May’s strongest hand all along has been that Luciano Tovoli, the film’s cinematographer, has supervised his Suspiria… then again the CultFilms / TLE rendering was overseen by Dario Argento himself, who’s presumably entitled to a view on how the film should look and sound.

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Ultimately we’ll all have to pay our money / take our choice and as long as each version is only viewable in its own territory, one of the first things we Europeans (semi-detached and otherwise) will have to go on is this October and November’s Cultfilms UK mini-tour.  After its premiere at the BFI during the London Film Festival on 06/10/17, the TLE Suspiria rolled into Nottingham on the 14th October for a centrepiece Saturday late night screening at the Broadway Cinema’s peerless Mayhem Film Fest (full Festival report now active on this Blog).

Kudos to Festival co-curators Chris Cooke (who had previously told me that presenting such a restoration was a personal dream come true) and Steve Sheil, who introduced “Argento’s masterpiece” by asking how many audience members had never seen the film before. As it happened, a significant proportion of the audience admitted to being “Suspiria virgins”…

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… and what a way to lose their cherries! If the Synapse version is going to look any better than this, we’ve surely got to be talking infinitesimal degrees of cinematic lusciousness. Miraculously, considering the extent of the repairs that were reportedly needed, not a hair nor a scratch now sullies the candy coloured phantasmagoria of Argento’s vision. As for those much called-for corrections to the film’s pallet… suffice to say, you’ll feel an overpowering urge to lean into the screen and lick the marzipan walls of the Tanz Akademie, hopefully grabbing a kiss from Jessica Harper before returning to your seat and getting beaten up by the ushers.

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Soundwise, the film (not least Goblin’s celebrated score) is every bit as loud and frantic as you knew it was going to be… if a little flat. Was there something up with The Broadway’s speakers? Nope, various films of varying quality (none better than Suspiria) made effective use of the venue’s surround sound speakers throughout the Festival. Is it just that Suspiria was conceived, reasonably enough, without reference to the state of audio technology 40 year’s hence? Was there a problem with the relevant elements? With the sonic aspect of this restoration? With my ears? Will the Synapse jobby sound a little punchier? Watch (or should I say listen to?) this space…

Don’t get me wrong… it doesn’t sound crappy, it’s just not quite the outright audio assault for which Suspiria is famed. No matter, I didn’t begrudge one iota of the expense required to get me home after leaving this particular late, late show with those virgins’ applause ringing in my ears. They now knew what they’d been missing and I was reminded, after years of video / DVD / BD over-familiarity, that Suspiria is quite possibly The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. I don’t imagine too many visitors of this Blog are going to give me to much of an argument on that one.

Now for the contentious bit…

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What constitutes a giallo?  Various definitions have been offered. From the get-go we’ll dismiss the philistine broad stroke one that encompasses virtually any Italian exploitation picture. We’re talking here about those thrillers, descended in equal parts from the yellow (“giallo”) covered paper backs published by Mondadori and co, German krimis and Hitchcock, whose rule book was developed by Mario Bava during the ’60s and upgraded by Argento throughout the following decade.

So if we were to have a, er, stab, at definition, it would look something like this. A  killer is at large (usually in an urban Italian setting) and the viewer is challenged to work out his / her identity. His / her motivation can be madness, sexual sadism, an inheritance… it scarcely matters (and the motives revealed, even in some of the genre’s classier entries, are frequently risible nonsense) because the style and severity with which the crimes are perpetrated and filmed are more important than who is killing whom and why. Subjective shots from the killer’s point of view will keep you guessing, anyway, as flashy visuals continue to be prioritised over narrative coherence. The cops generally take a powder in these films, leaving the sleuthing to some obsessive amateur who, more often than not, has half-glimpsed an all important clue but is struggling to make sense of it. Just in case this recipe isn’t already sufficiently un-PC, among the bloodily dispatched victims we will typically find a disproportionate compliment of attractive young women.

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You don’t have to honour every one of these rules to qualify as a giallo. Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987) throws the whodunnit element right out of the window (we’re aware of the killer’s identity even before he inaugurates the movie’s sequence of killings) yet is frequently cited as one of the genre’s last great entries. Some gialli do admit cops, e.g.  Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (tellingly also known as The Police Require Assistance, 1974), Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975) and Alberto De Martino’s Strange Shadows In An Empty Room / Blazing Magnum (1976). Some of the grubbier gialli substitute smut for style (most notoriously in Mario Landi’s unpalatable Giallo In Venice, 1979) and setting their events outside of the Italian urban milieu has not discounted Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Womans Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Umberto Lenzi’s totally barmy Eyeball (1975) or just about all of Sergio Martino’s powerful entries in the genre… so why should its Bavarian setting disqualify Suspiria, a film which in every other way adheres to the genre’s golden rules?!?

So it’s not contentious at all, actually… It’s a no-brainer. It makes no difference that the question “Who’s the killer?” is answered with a shrieked “Witch!” I always get slagged off for arguing this and no doubt will be again, but if it looks like a giallo, struts like a giallo and cuts its way through its victims like a giallo, then it’s probably a giallo… and Suspiria is a giallo. Yes, it’s a turbo charged giallo with heavy Horror overtones, supernatural schtick and cinematic style to burn. But hey, let’s try not to hold that against it, eh?

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40,000 Flies On 4K… Arrow’s PHENOMENA Upgrade Reviewed

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BD/CD Combi. Region B. Arrow. 18.

I’ve always loved Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985), ever since I first saw it (cut down to “Creepers”) at the long-defunct 123 Cinema (*) in Liverpool (above… now and then-ish), supported by The Evil Dead in its theatrical follow-up run. Support film? Ask your granddad. But wait, I hear you say… if you like Phenomena so much, Herr Freudstein, how come it’s taken you so long to review Arrow’s 4K restoration of it on this blog? Well, here’s the thing… significant chunks of my time are taken up, regrettably, with matters completely unconnected to watching and writing about films. When I am writing about films, I’m obliged (not least by Frau Freudstein) to prioritise assignments that are going to bring in some money (i.e. not this blog) and when that’s been taken care of, I feel duty bound to concentrate on releases for which somebody has bothered to furnish me with review copies. Stuff I’ve had to shell out for myself goes straight to the back of the queue, whatever its manifest, manifold merits. As with Arrow’s Phenomena, so it goes for their recent(ish) Bird With The Crystal Plumage set, which I might or might not get round to reviewing in the coming weeks and months.

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Anyway, Phenomena… I’ve always loved it and indeed, what’s not to love? A sleep walking schizophrenic schoolgirl uses her telepathic understanding with insects and friendship with a razor wielding chimpanzee to hunt down the butt-ugly deformed, demented dwarf who has been, with the connivance of his psychotic mother, dismembering and collecting the body parts of her classmates. If that synopsis doesn’t appeal to you, you’re probably reading the wrong blog… and you’re definitely following the wrong director. Yet there are those, even among the more Argento inclined demographic (who presumably accepted Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Deep Red and even Inferno as models of kitchen sink linear narrative) who’ve dismissed Argento’s ninth feature on account of its “bizarre plotting”. Such criticisms reappear regularly among the bonus materials  in this Arrow box set,  which makes you wonder why they’ve expended so much effort over it…

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… to impressive effect, it has to be said. What we have here are four discs (three BD and one compact) containing three variant versions of the film plus its original soundtrack. “The Italian / Integral Version” (i.e. Argento’s original directorial vision) runs at 116 minutes. Six minutes of trims to scenes yielded “The International Version” which, it was felt, might slip by a little more comfortably for international viewers. More drastic excisions (and the “Creepers” rebranding) were felt necessary for English language territories, where cinema goers had to be content with a mere 83 minutes of maggots-versus-mutant mayhem. Of course in mid-80s Britain, the BBFC insisted on further butchery for the film’s video release by Palace, though there’s no room for that particular cut (and good riddance to it) on this set. Every incarnation of the film included here looks as marvellous as you’d expect and Arrow have worked particular wonders compiling audio crap-free sound tracks for each from the available elements. The English soundtrack for the 110 minute version comes in lossless stereo and the necessarily hybrid soundtrack to the integral version also offers you the option of glorious 5.1 surround sound.

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As for extras, The Three Sarcophagi, another of those “visual essays” by Michael Mackenzie, compares the three versions and examines the painstaking process of rendering each in the spankiest shape it has ever been seen in for this release. There’s more information about that in the accompanying 60 page limited booklet, which also includes three essays – “The Poetry Of The Gross-Out” by the always interesting Mikel J. Koven, “Argento, Armani And The Fashions Of Phenomena” from my antisocial media pal Rachael Nisbet (the fashion clock stopped somewhere in the mid ’70s… 1870s… here at the House Of Freudstein, but Rachael’s stuff is invariably a pleasure to read) and Leonard Jacobs’ Phenomena As A Key To Unlocking Opera, which takes several pages to arrive at the conclusion which is expressed far more succinctly by the director himself in an Argento interview elsewhere on this site,  i.e. “Opera ends where Phenomena begins, even if I made Phenomena first…. it doesn’t really matter which order you watch the videos in, does it?”

Troy Howarth contributes a characteristically sure-footed commentary track and maintains an admirable balance between saluting the genius of early Argento and deploring how he subsequently sank into sterile self-celebration. Similarly, he’s critical of  Daria Nicolodi’s performance in Phenomena but reminds us how well she performed in plenty of previous pictures (for Argento and plenty of others) and acknowledges how her director (and disgruntled ex lover) hung her out to dry in this one.

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Nicolodi gets to have her own say in the feature-length documentary Of Flies and Maggots, as do plenty of others, including Argento, his daughter Fiore (whose severed head is thrown out of a window during the film’s memorable opening sequence), Davide Marotta (the defenestrating dwarf himself), co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, makeup FX ace Sergio Stivaletti, underwater photographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia, musicians Claudio Simonetti and Simon Boswell and just about everybody else you’d expect to hear from plus some you possibly wouldn’t, e.g. actress Fiorenza Tessari (daughter of Duccio).

No Donald Pleasence of course, but it’s a pity that Connelly (who had the presence of mind to star for two of my favourite directors in her first two feature outings) declined to take part in this doc. Possibly aware of the words of one contemporary critic who opined that she had ruined Phenomena and should stick to modelling

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“Cheeky bastard said WHAT?!?”

(I imagine that she recalls these wise words every time she polishes her Oscar) she will be further discomforted to hear Battaglia’s catty comments about the size of her feet (considering how many crazy elements Argento manages to pack into Phenomena, I guess there’s room for a Sasquatch subplot). Cozzi talks about the strained relationship between Connelly’s protective Dad and the production, Jacono refers to his agonising attempts to reconcile Dario with everyone from whom he’d become estranged – his father Salvatore, brother Claudio and Nicolodi. We also learn that Jack Sholder (Alone In The Dark, Nightmare On Elm Street 2, The Hidden) was responsible for the Creepers cut. Perhaps he could usefully have been assigned to Of Flies And Maggots, which at over two hours will probably prove a bit much for general viewers. The again, it’s unlikely that they would buy such a lavish celebration of one film and the doc is a real treasure trove for those who love Phenomena…

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… did I already mention that I love Phenomena? We are constantly told (on this set and in general film discourse) that no critics have got any time for the film, from which I and others who do can only infer the sub-text “no critics worth a light” have got any time for it. Well, it’s good to learn your place in the scheme of things but one can’t help but be tickled at the spectacle of Argentophiles who turn their noses up at Phenomena, only to devote hundreds of breathless column inches to the worthless likes of Phantom Of The Opera, Giallo and Dracula 3-D. Does anybody imagine that any of those will be appearing as multi-disc collectors’ box sets in years to come? Nah…

Supplementary materials are rounded out by the expected trailers, a cheesy promotional clip for Simonetti’s exhilarating “Jennifer” theme that Argento threw together with the composer, Connelly and a demented looking bint named Elena Pompei (who also appeared in Deodato’s Body Count, Cozzi’s Paganini Horror and DA’s lame ’80s TV series Night Shift), and pages from the characteristically lush Japanese pressbook. Candice Tripp is responsible for the box’s artwork, about which I’m still making up my mind.

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Nice to know after viewing the doc that excrement was used to wrangle the flies… this is one set that must have smelled just delightful! One recalls that honey was used to make them behave on Once Upon A Time In The West, the Sergio Leone epic on which Argento got his writing break… reminds me of Sheldon’s best line in The Big Bang Theory and also seems emblematic of the shift from a Golden Age of Italian popular cinema to one of Silver (= “Argento”) en route to the distinctly Brown patch of the late ’80’s – early ’90s with which the cycle wound down.

More extreme means were used to control other animal actors. Albani seems to find it a hoot that the chimp was beaten to make it co-operate. I don’t and nor, hopefully, do you.

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Try that one more time, pal…

It’s not only WRONG but totally out of whack with the MDMA-style “getting down with nature” blabberings that litter Phenomena and are developed to dismaying effect in Opera.

Nevertheless, I’ll continue to champion Argento’s grand guignol paean to Gaia. I’ve always fought its corner, whenever nay sayers have… er, said nay about it. In fact (boring historical sidebar alert!) when Alan Jones rubbished Phenomena in Starburst I sent a dissenting response to him and Shock X-Press, the editor of which declined to run it but hooked me up “with a guy who’s trying to start a fanzine”. The guy was John Gullidge, the fanzine became Samhain and how you feel about that publication and the whole UK fanzine renaissance it kicked off might confirm you in whatever positive or negative feelings you have ever entertained towards Phenomena. Me, I’ve always loved it. I think this is where you came in…

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(*) I also caught Re-animator, Demons 2 and a shitload of Russ Meyer films (among many others) there… The 123 was ground zero for Liverpool’s shabby raincoat brigade. In fact I’ll never shake the memory of seeing somebody jack off to the “severed head menaces Barbara Crampton” scene in Re-animator, no matter how hard I try.

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“I Made A Film With George Peppard, you know!” The Extremely Grumpy UMBERTO LENZI Interview

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It was 20 years ago (and then some), in May 1997 that the boy Freudstein interviewed Umberto Lenzi. I’d been avidly anticipating our encounter and surely all those warnings about what a hard-ass he was were, for the most part, hyperbole? Read on and weep…

Signor Lenzi, I was speaking to Sage Stallone and his partner Bob Murawski recently, about their definitive laser disc release of Cannibal Ferox… are you surprised that these films still have a large international cult following, so many years after their release?

In the case of Cannibal Ferox, yes, because for me that one is a very minor movie. I don’t like it so much… in my opinion, I made other movies that were much better. I like Paranoia very much, with Carroll Baker, and also some of the action movies that I made were better movies, like Violent Naples and Roma A Mano Armata… my war movies too, like Contro Quattro Badiere, Il Grande Attaco and La Legione Dei Dannati. For me the cannibal movies are not so important, so I am very surprised, yes, that they have enjoyed international success for all these years.

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Were you surprised to learn that somebody like Tarantino is very familiar with your films?

No, I’m not surprised because I know that before he started directing, he worked in a video store and was a big fan of European movies. So it’s no surprise… in fact, nothing surprises me any more, because the motion picture audience is strange, really strange… but you know the thriller movies I made, yes?

The gialli? Sure I do… I’m very interested in the way that European films, particularly Italian films, have had this unacknowledged influence on American films…

Yes… in the 70’s we had a thriving industry producing thrillers, westerns, cop films and so on, but now the Italian industry is completely dead. Twenty years ago we had good directors like Sergio Leone, Corbucci, many horror directors, and Italian genre pictures were very successful. These days… in my opinion, it’s the emphasis on special effects that has killed the fantasy and the talent of the directors. Three days ago I saw the famous American success The Rock, starring Sean Connery, and I thought it was a very bad movie, because the story was a very stupid, Rambo-like story, with many effects, explosions, crashes… I’d seen it all before. For me there have been only two great American films in recent years, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I don’t like all these stupid special effects as in Independence Day and Waterworld… these films are just stupid. You remember Make Them Die Slowly?

Cannibal Ferox?

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Cannibal Ferox, yes, it was made with hardly any money, about $100,000 because we shot this movie with a crew of about 10-12 people in the jungle without any resources but with a very important idea in there. The motion picture industry in America right now is effects, effects, effects, and that means money, money, money…

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

Of course, it’s impossible for us to compete.

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

The Italian industry is now finished for action and spectacular movies, because the Italian producers and the directors make only intimate, small stories. Argento can do it, but even for him it’s very difficult. The others have all disappeared…. me, Castellari, Valerii… and Fulci is now dead, of course. Corbucci, too…

I was going to ask you for your memories of Lucio Fulci…

We were friends because we both started off in the 50’s and I was assistant director on a movie with him. He was a good director, made something like a hundred pictures in every genre, but he died a poor man…. very poor.

Another of your former collaborators, Massaccesi, only keeps working by churning out pornos now…

Massaccesi is a very strange person… I’d rather not talk about him, OK?

OK… is it true that early on in your career you worked on an Esther Williams movie?

Yes, Wind In Eden…

That’s something you’ve got in common with Fidel Castro, then!

I started as assistant director to Mr Richard Wilson, he was a very close friend of Orson Welles. He produced Welles’ Macbeth and he was in the cast of Citizen Kane. I was very happy to begin my working life with him. He died last year. All of this happened 40 years ago, of course, when I was in my twenties. Two days ago I watched the film on video with my wife, because it is the first experience of my cinematic life. The film was shot in my home-town…

In Tuscany?

On the Tuscan coast, yes, and I scouted the locations for Mr Wilson.

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You must have had a knack for scouting talent too, because I believe you discovered Ornella Muti…

Yes, when she was only 16 she made her first or maybe her second film appearance in my film…

A Quiet Place To Kill?

Yes, Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere. It wasn’t a good movie. I made a mistake, because I wanted to make a movie like Easy Rider, a post-1968 movie…

… for the youth market…

… for the youth market, yes, but the producer was saying to me: “Umberto, your film with Carroll Baker, Paranoia, has been a big success in The States, so you must try to repeat the formula”. So by adding the thriller aspect, the movie ended up as a strange mix between Easy Rider and Paranoia, which did not really work.

The movies with Carroll Baker, and other gialli made by your colleagues in Italy have been very influential on the international thriller scene…

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Maybe…

You can see the influence in US blockbusters like Basic Instinct.

Yes, other journalists have claimed that my movies like Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse have influenced American movies… maybe, but these three movies starring Carroll Baker – and Spasmo, which I made later – are intelligent exploitations of human craziness, because we have the situation of a protagonist who is not good but is not all bad… the innocent and guilty people are the same, because for me in those movies the important thing was to demonstrate that the human mind is capable of both good and evil, you understand?

Sure. How would you compare and contrast your giallo films with those of say, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino?

Look, these three movies I made with Carroll are crazy, and just a little sexy, with stories about protagonists who are morally ambiguous. They are completely different from the movies of Dario Argento, because Argento is more concerned with serial killers and blood. My movie Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso… I don’t know the English title…

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

Yes, that one is nearer to the Argento way of filming, but the sexy thrillers starring Carroll Baker are completely different. Sergio Martino’s films are more similar to my movies, because he worked as production manager on some of mine, and took many ideas from them. After Argento changed the rules of the genre, many producers and directors made movies in his style, with the blood and the serial killers and the strange murders by the figure in black… I made one too, Sette Orchidee , but this is completely different from my earlier films Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse…

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

There’s a power-tool killing in Brian De Palma’s Body Double that many viewers find suspiciously similar to Marisa Mell’s death scene in Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso…

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Maybe, I can’t say because I’m a director rather than a critic. I will say that for me, Brian De Palma is one of the best movie directors in the world. I love his work very much, but in the history of motion pictures, every director has learned something from others, directly or indirectly. I love Hitchcock very much and many times, maybe unintentionally, I show that influence. In many people’s movies we see again the shower scene from Psycho. Maybe indirectly I have taken things from other directors, for example I love very much some directors from the 40’s, like Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak. When I made my final movie with Carroll Baker, Il Coltello Di Ghiaccio / The Dagger Of Ice, I was unconsciously influenced by Siodmak’s film…

The Spiral Staircase…

…The Spiral Staircase, yes, but not intentionally, because the situation is different. Instead of being the victim, Carroll is the murderer.

Another giallo you made was Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro…

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

It’s quite a confused little film, and I heard that you never actually met the writer and producer, Felix Tussell…

Felix Tussell, yes, but that isn’t so unusual. It was an Italo-Spanish co-production, you know, and in these circumstances you don’t always meet all the people involved in making the picture. That’s another one which was more in the Argento style…

Argento co-wrote your 1969 film Legion Of The Damned, and I gather that he hung around the set and picked up quite a lot from you…

I think so… we worked together for two months, but after it came out I lost touch with him. 20 or 25 years later, I saw him in Rome at Lucio’s funeral. Dario is a big director, a very good director, but he doesn’t love me, I think, because he has never spoken of me in any of his interviews, and although he is a producer of other directors, he has never called me to direct a picture. I don’t know why, because when we met at the funeral he was saying: “Umberto, come here, how are you?” and all of this.

He’s reputedly a very difficult man to get close to.

Maybe… a strange man. But when we met in ‘69 we worked together for two months, he was very young and he loved me, but then we lost contact with each other.

You have this ongoing dispute with Ruggero Deodato over which of you is the originator of the Italian cannibal movie…

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(Animatedly) I don’t want to discuss this foolish dispute, because if you know my movies, it is perfectly clear that I started these films with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale, two years before he made his first cannibal film… and he only got to make that because I refused to do the sequel, Mondo Cannibale 2, so the producers hired Deodato instead. That’s the story… the first cannibal film in the Italian cinema was Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale or The Man From Deep River.

Are you aware of the censorship problems with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (as Deep River Savages) and Cannibal Ferox in the UK, where they were dubbed “video nasties”?

All I can say is to repeat that for me, these films are not very important, so I have not followed their censorship problems in other countries. Some people have told me of some strange situations abroad, where the films cannot be distributed, but in Italy I have never had any problems with them.

I thought you might be amused to hear that here in the UK, there are crazy politicians and journalists who believe that people were really eaten in these films!

(Tut-tutting) No… no… look, for me, I think the interest shown in these movies is not about love of motion pictures, rather about cynicism and sadism. I made many good movies… like Il Grand Attaco with Henry Fonda and John Huston, why has nobody ever interviewed me about this movie? Or From Hell To Victory, a very good movie starring George Peppard… but people just keep asking me about Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive, two small movies without actors… without anything! It’s very strange…

You consider these minor movies, yet a film like Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio has definitely exerted an influence, shall we say, over big-budgeted American productions like John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest…

Maybe… again I say that a lot of people see each other’s movies – Italian, American -and the influences go backwards and forwards. That’s only normal…

Early in your career you made many costume dramas like Catherine The Great and action / adventure movies like Il Trionfo Di Robin Hood and Zorro Vs Maciste…

Well I was very young, these were my first movies…

 … Sandokan…

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Sandokan is a good movie, it was made for MGM and it was the first Italian adventure movie shot completely in India.

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

My movie Sandokan influenced Italian directors so much that thirty years later, they have shot another Sandokan movie in India using the same locations…

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

I don’t know, I didn’t see it… why should I be interested when I already did it thirty years ago?

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

Yeah, recently on a German satellite channel. It’s like an “Indiana Jones” picture before its time…

Yes, many people have said that to me. For me that is one of my best movies, I love it very, very much. It’s more important than Cannibal Ferox, because we shot it in Indian locations in an ironic style, you understand, like they did twenty years later in Indiana Jones, but without any money for special effects. I remember that we had a crew of about 15 people and we were shooting with many, many difficulties. All the Indian actors were not really actors, but real-life people. It was not so easy in the 60’s to shoot such fantasy pictures in these kind of locations, so I’m very proud of films like La Montagna Di Luce and I Tre Sergenti Del Bengala, my last movie in India…

After that you specialised in spy films for a while, and adaptations of fumetti comic strips like Kriminal…

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Yes, for me Kriminal was an intelligent attempt to mix comic books with motion-pictures, in the same way that Montana Di Luce was action-adventure shot in an ironic context. I have made about 63 movies… I have no time to talk about all my movies… I am tired.

What about a movie you didn’t get to make… The Invisible Man?

I wrote the screenplay for that one but the producer refused to make it because it would have cost a lot. Round about this time another Italian director, Alberto De Martino, made a movie in London called Puma Man, which was a big box-office flop, so then the producer was afraid to finance my movie.

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When you made Black Demons in Brazil, you filmed an actual voodoo ceremony… did this lead to any brushes with the supernatural?

Well maybe, because from then till now only bad things have happened to me! I prefer not to speak about it. Like I say, I am tired… (Abruptly) I’m going now. Please send me a copy of your interview with Tarantino.

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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And that was it. My audience was abruptly terminated and my questions about Lenzi’s Crime Slime epics, among many other aspects of his career, had been prepared in vain. The next time I ran into him, at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 2013, we got along much better (as the above photo hopefully indicates). It probably helped that I wasn’t there to interview him, though in fact I very much doubt that he remembered our previous interaction. Anyway, he’d just dined with Barbara Bouchet so I suspect that he had rather more pleasant things on his mind.

P.S. As I was posting this interview I heard from friends that Umberto Lenzi, now aged 86, is currently in hospital. I’m sure that all readers and supporters of The House Of Freudstein will join me in wishing him a speedy return to full and feisty good health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Pink Floyd on stage at Ally Pally, 29.04.67

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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