Posts Tagged With: Dario Argento

When Italian FX Aces Turn Director… WAX MASK / KILLER CROCODILE 1 & 2 Reviewed.

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Wax Mask. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
Killer Crocodile / Killer Crocodile 2. BD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

By the early 1980s Italy ruled the ‘B’ movie waves, churning out over three hundred titles per year to fuel an insatiable international appetite for horror, action and exploitation all’Italiana… a Roman empire the extent of which Trajan himself could scarcely have dreamed. By the end of that decade, however, the Italian film landscape was as bleak as any depicted in the post-Apocalyptic epics that constituted its final filone

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It doesn’t take an Edward Gibbon to trace the causes of this spectacular fall from grace. Tightening censorship in key European markets meant that enevelope-pushing outrages like Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) were now out of the question. Along with the consequent blanding out of Italian genre efforts, there was increased leisure buck competition from the deregulation of domestic TV under Silvio Berlusconi and increasing incursions into exploitive subject matter by the US Majors whose budgets Spaghetti exploitation mavens could never hope to match.  Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote more films than anybody else during the industry’s most lucrative years, identifies the short-term thinking and profit-taking priorities of Italian producers as a crucially detrimental factor. If they’d invested instead of constantly cutting budgets, by this account, pasta paura could have become as big a deal as the spaghetti western… and Sacchetti didn’t shy away from identifying the poster boy for this myopic modus operandi as Fabrizio De Angelis, for whom he and Lucio Fulci collaborated on several low budget classics in the late ’70s, early ’80s. “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”, Sacchetti told me. “He’s a cheap-skate…” chipped in Fred Williamson, alluding to FDA’s later tactic of ditching seasoned pro directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari to direct his own pictures (as “Larry Ludman”):  “…. it has nothing to do with creativity. He doesn’t want to pay people to do something he thinks he can do, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well“. When I interviewed De Angelis, he defended himself from such charges as follows: “I’ve always given other directors bigger budgets than I give myself. I pay as much as anybody else and many of the people who complained came back to work for me again, so I can’t be that bad”.

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Sure enough, Sacchetti was back on board (as “David Parker Jr”) to co-write Killer Crocodile (1989)… not that it took much writing, emerging as a transposition of a certain Stephen Spielberg film (and ultimately Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, if you want to get pedantic about it) from Amity Island to the swamps of the Dominican Republic. Just in case anybody missed the Jaws allusions (or the fact that this whole film is one big Jaws allusion), Riz Ortolani’s score reverberates with all the obvious John Williams pinches.

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Environmentalist Kevin (Anthony… son of Richard… Crenna) and his crew discover that the Dominican waterways are clogged with something way worse than plastic bags and bottles. Irresponsible radioactive dumping, facilitated by a corrupt local Judge (Hollywood heavyweight Van Johnson in one of his final screen credits) has produced the eponymous super-sized saurian, impressively rendered (when you consider the likely budget) by Italy’s FX supremo Giannetto De Rossi, despite his words to the contrary (“It’s a laughing stock!”) in one of the bonus featurettes on this set. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi completes a quartet of holdovers from the gory, glory days of Lucio Fulci.

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With all that talent on hand and everything De Angelis had osmosed from his proximity to the likes of Fulci and Castellari (whose brother Enio Girolami steals the show as Captain Ahab-like crocodile hunter Joe), it’s no surprise that Killer Crocodile emerges as an efficient, satisfying piece of throwaway entertainment, smoothly shot by Federico Del Zoppo in the American TV movie style that was becoming increasingly prevalent at this time. If all that sounds a bit too blandly slick for your tastes, rest assured (and here comes the SPOILER ALERT!) that De Angelis winds things up (things notably including the title creature’s leathery ol’ head) with a revival of the classic “outboard motor” gag from Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), another picture he produced back in the golden age… but what kind of egg is that hatching on the banks of the bayou?

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Laser focussed on the bottom line, FDA arranged the simultaneous shooting of Killer Crocodile 2 (1990) and detailed its direction to Giannetto De Rossi. History doesn’t record whether he was instructed to “make it snappy” but presumably De Rossi got the job on the grounds that he could be paid even less than the producer would pay “Larry Ludman”! Otherwise the crew’s pretty much the same (Giovanni Bergamini replaces Del Zoppo as DP) and so is the story. Corrupt corporate types are still dumping radioactive waste in that river, still with the connivance of scumbag politicians, one of whom is planning to open a leisure complex on a particularly hideously polluted stretch. Investigative journalist Liza (“Debra Karr”, would you believe?) is on the case but it’s not a particularly compelling one. Looks like they didn’t shoot enough footage of the crocodile to fall back on before it was definitively destroyed at the end of Part 1. There’s a great bit where it crashes through the side of a hut to snack on some low level bad dudes but such moments are few and far between. De Rossi is obliged to pad things out with a bunch of flashbacks to the original’s “greatest hits” and mucho over-baked exposition, though admittedly Ms Karr does look distractingly good, wandering around the jungle in a wet sports bra after her guide tried to rape her and was promptly eaten by the croc. Kevin and Joe arrive halfway through the picture to try and rescue her but blink and you’ll miss Joe. Having delivered the brazen line: “We’ve got to get a bigger boat”, Kevin is left to contrive the coup de gras, in the absence of any handy outboard motors, via a fistful of dynamite.

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Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t really live up to its predecessor (how many sequels do?) but I was glad to be reacquainted with this brace, my VHS copies of which (sourced from German satellite channels) disappeared many moons ago down the ravenous collecting maw of leathery old Darrell Buxton. Severin present the films with their customary panache and  a slew of of tasty extras, notably Naomi Holwill’s fine feature length De Rossi doc The Prince Of Plasma, featuring contributions from the man himself, plus collaborators Luigi Cozzi, Massimo Vanni and Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, also pundits Allan Bryce, Calum Waddell, Rachael Nisbet and Russ Hunter. In his standalone interview featurette, De Rossi is engagingly self deprecating regarding his work on these films. DP Federico Del Zoppo also has his say. The recollections of Anthony Crenna (now identifying as Richard Anthony Crenna) chime with those of many a non-Italian actor regarding his bemusement at being required to act sans direct sound and the virtually non-existent Health & Safety culture. Pietro Genuardi develops this theme further, claiming that a local drowned when operating the croc maquette underwater before detailing his own colourful experiences on location and attempting to return to Rome from it. You also get trailers and a few deleted sequences from the sequel. Nice.

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Wax Mask (1997), although it evolved into another (and rather more effective) FX-man-turned-director effort, was originally conceived as an attempt to revive the flagging Italian Horror tradition via another means, i.e. by assembling the dream team of Dario Argento (producing), Lucio Fulci (directing) and that man Sacchetti, writing (the latter has some very interesting things to say about the genesis of this project and the motivations behind it in our interview elsewhere on this blog). Of course Sacchetti was subsequently sacked (and replaced by Daniele Stroppa) when his proposed Mummy vehicle failed to find favour with Argento, whose enthusiasm for all things Gaston Leroux (below, left) at this point (which would attain its abysmal fruition in DA’s Phantom Of The Opera, 1997) re-routed the project in the direction of Leroux’s Waxwork Museum Mystery and its various cinematic offshoots. Tragically, after putting much work into that, Fulci died shortly before shooting was due to commence. Having been turned down by Fulci’s preferred successor, Claudio Fragasso (who collaborated with Lucio on the certifiably insane Zombi 3, 1988), Argento promoted long time FX man Sergio Stivaletti to make his directorial debut, resulting in the artefact under consideration here.

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Reflecting its convoluted origins, Wax Mask incorporates various strands of the Italian Horror / Thriller tradition, notably Gothic and Giallo, emerging as an attempt (no doubt Argento’s) to propel the two geriatric genres over the line into the 21st Century. Its action commences in Paris at the beginning of the 20th (“31st. December 1900” says the caption, but surely that’s a mistake?) where a little girl witnesses her parents being butchered by a masked figure with a robotic hand. Years later, two bravos partying in a Roman brothel strike a bet about whether one of them is brave enough to spend a night in a spooky wax museum (shades of Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabra). The designated dude duly dies of fright when confronted with a Medusa tableau. Was he the world’s biggest girl’s blouse or did something altogether more sinister occur? While we’re pondering that one, Sonia Lafont (Romina Mondello) turns up at the wax museum looking for a job and becomes obsessed with the contents of proprietor Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein)’s gloves. Turns out she was the little girl who survived the film’s brutal prologue… how sensitive of Volkoff, after taking her on, to open a new display which recreates that crime in suspiciously accurate detail. And why do the new wax figures always look so much like people who’ve recently disappeared from the streets?

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Wax Mask looks quite ravishing due in no small part, one imagines, to the participation of Fulci stalwarts Sergio Salvati (DP) and Massimo Antonello Geleng (production design). Maurizio Abeni’s lush music vindicates the decision to go with an orchestral score rather than Simonetti-style synth rock and the surround sound option on this disc will give your home cinema setup quite a workout. As you’d expect from a Stivaletti film (and with the sterling support of the ill-fated Benoit Lestang) the FX are pretty impressive and the director continues to explore the possibilities of CGI, which he’d first tackled in Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), not least with the startling eruption of a Terminator-like animated death’s head figure during the film’s denouement.

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The question inevitably arises (as it previously did with the likes of Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi) as to how much of the film Stivaletti actually directed, considering that Argento spent so much time on set (and apparently Hossein, a director in his own right, wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forward with advice). It’s a question that’s thoroughly addressed in this edition’s plentiful bonus materials, interviews with several of the creative principals throwing much light on Wax Mask’s protean progress from the drawing board to the screen and providing fascinating insights into the proverbial “personal and professional differences” with which the Italian film scene is freighted. Argento talks of how his attitude towards Fulci developed from mistrust into “love” and opines that if he had lived, Wax Mask secondo Fulci would have been “wild”.  Anyone who was puzzled by Alan Jones’s critical volte face on Fulci after the early ’80s will find Jones’s comments here interesting. We also get some clues as to what a Fulci-directed Wax Mask might have looked like and Stivaletti rues the stick he got from the ol’ Goremeister’s fans (and allegedly his daughter Antonella) for coming up with something different. Not, perhaps, the most reasonable of criticisms. There’s also a trio of “behind the scenes” featurettes that you might have seen on previous DVD editions. If not, all the better.

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Two interesting facts about Robert Hossein (above) emerge from the supplementary materials assembled here. Firstly, that he actually appeared in productions of Pigalle’s legendary Theatre Du Grand Guignol and also that he is (at least by Argento’s reckoning) a total fanny magnet! David Gregory moderates a commentary track from Stivaletti and his son Michelangelo, who’s there to help Dad out with his English and point out his own, intra-uterine film debut.

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I’d dispute Severin’s billing of Wax Mask as “the last great Italian gore film of the 20th Century” but it’s a consistently watchable and entertaining one and the compelling extras on this disc, constituting a revelatory delight for the cognoscenti of pasta paura, turn it into an indispensible purchase. My copy came with a bonus CD of Abeni’s OST.

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The two FX men-turned-directors are pictured below during their triumphant recent appearances at Manchester’s ever wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films.

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Hope I Choke On A Chicken Bone Before I Get Old… THE LEGACY On Indicator Blu-ray.

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The Poles sure have a way with these things…

BD. Indicator. Region Free. 18.
Released 29/07/19.

By the mid-70s Roger Daltrey had missed out on joining The 27 Club and – contrary to the iconic line he spat out during My Generation – was facing the serious prospect of growing old before he died. In search of new challenges he took up a movie career… but how far would it take him? A starring role in Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975) was the most obvious shoo-in ever and his next eponymous turn, in cuddly Ken’s Lisztomania (the same year) could have been written off as just another spasm of wilfully provocative casting (the same film features Paul Nicholas as Richard Wagner, Ringo Starr as the Pope and Rick Wakeman as – who else? – Thor…)

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For God’s sake Rog, put it away…

How to make the jump to big(ish) budgeted international pictures? Well, Daltrey was ideally placed to lend the producers of The Legacy (1978) his impressive country manor to shoot in, on the proviso that they award him a prominent part in the picture. Noblesse oblige and all that…

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Given how well this fitted in with the producers’ Omen-copying brief of American money, picturesque UK locations, a strong cast and a series of spectacularly violent designer deaths (all whipped into something approaching a coherent script by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster), they bit Daltrey’s arm off. Actually, they choked him on a migrant chicken bone but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

58882.jpgThe Legacy is best viewed as a quintessentially batty American fantasy about how arcane aristocratic interest groups in little old England manipulate money and power to control the world. David Icke probably watched it before dreaming up some of his more florid conspiracy theories. Decent Americans Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) and her partner Pete (Sam Elliott) fly from LA to England on the strength of some ill-defined job offer and end up enjoying (but not a lot) the hospitality of Ravenhurst Manor after their motorbike has been “accidentally” run off the road by mysterious toff Jason Mountolive (John Standing). Five other guests arrive at the same time, all of them affluent but distinctly shady characters. All of them wear distinctive gothic rings and Maggie gets one too, after an abrupt encounter with a decrepit old geezer concealed behind a surgical curtain. Ominously, she can’t pull it off (as the actress said to the bishop…)

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When swimming ace Maria Gabrielli (Olympic swimmer turned glamour model and briefly actress Marianne Broome) drowns in the Manor’s swimming pool (her remains and all the subsequent ones are neatly disposed of by Nurse Adams, a show stealing performance by Margaret Tyzack), Maggie and Pete decide to bail, only to discover that all roads lead back to Ravenhurst, where the supernatural game of Ten Little whatevers now begins in earnest.

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Clive, the music biz big knob (I thought I told you to put it away, Rog!) chokes on a chicken bone (strangely enough, as he was eating ham) and expires while Nurse Adams is improvising a gory tracheotomy on him… seems a darkly ironic way to do away with a singer. Karl (Charles Gray), having shown Maggie a portrait of Elizabethan witch Margaret Walshingham that’s a dead ringer for her, is consumed by a backdraft from an open fire and his charred corpse fed to the hounds. Barbara Kirstenburg (Hildegard Neil) is punctured by multiple shards of glass from an exploding mirror, which leaves Jacques Grandier (Lee Montague) to shoot it out with Maggie and Pete for acquition of the dying Jason Mountolive’s Satanic legacy. There’s a nice ambiguity to the closing scene, which was never ruined by any clumsy sequels…

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… which suggests that The Legacy underperformed at the box office. No matter, here’s the film’s UK BD debut, in a characteristically spiffing Indicator limited edition (3,000 copies), just crying out for rediscovery and reassessment. Sangster does a great job of passing the nonsensical plot off as vaguely plausible, the photography (split between Dick Bush,  Alan Hume and – for the underwater stuff – Michel Gemmell) and camera operation (courtesy of Ian Henderson) are exemplary and former documentarian Richard Marquand handles the action with a facility that foreshadows his later direction of The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and reinforces the impression that somebody had just seen and been very impressed by Dario Argento’s then-recent Suspiria (1977). I mean… decrepit bed-ridden Satanists in forbidding mansions, lingering overhead shots of swimming  women, people punctured by shards of mirrors and climactic death falls through ornate glass panels… where have we seen those before? Pity Marquand didn’t have access to The Goblins, Michael J. Lewis’s score being a bit by-the-numbers “scary”.

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Speaking of legacies, Ross and Elliot met on set, romance blossomed (slowly… see how chastely they kiss) and are still married today.

legs_post_cat_2.jpgAs you’d expect from an Indicator release, the main feature looks and sounds just fab (in a choice of standard definition UK theatrical cut and HD, marginally tightened US variant… you also get a “compare and contrast” featurette) and is loaded with extras. Kevin Lyons provides the well-researched audio commentary (must have a good collection of books about horror cinema) and award-winning editor (the recently deceased) Anne V. Coates recalls her work on The Legacy, for which she also directed some uncredited second unit stuff. Second unit director of record Joe Marks recalls his contributions, moans about the stuff that he didn’t get credit for and opines that he doesn’t regard Roger Daltrey as a musician (this must be why they run those disclaimers about the opinions of contributors not being endorsed by the label and its affiliates). Robin Grantham discusses the many make-up creations he came up with for the film. You also get the expected trailer and image gallery but, most interestingly, 27 minutes of Between The Anvil And The Hammer (1973), a “day in the life of the Liverpool police force” effort directed by Marquand for the much missed Central Office of Information.

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Richard Marquand (1937-87) and friends…

I haven’t had the chance to scrutinise the 40-page booklet that will accompany this release but am reliably informed that it comprises a new essay by Julian Upton, an archival location report, Jimmy Sangster on The Legacy, extracts from the novelisation, an overview of critical responses, an introduction to Between the Anvil and the Hammer and film credits… choke on ’em!

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Beating The Bishop… MAGDALENA – POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL Reviewed

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West Germany, 1974) aka Beyond The Darkness / Devil’s Female. Directed by “Michael Walter”.

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Just another Winter’s Tale…

We’ve already surveyed Spaghetti Exorcist clones, but Italians were by no means the only ones trying to join the post-Blatty box office bonanza during the 1970s, Catholic countries proving to be predictably fertile soil for the Devil’s cinematic seeds. In Spain, Jess Franco did his bit with Lorna The Exorcist (1974) … Paul Naschy took on Father Karras’ mantle in the 1975 Juan Bosch effort Exorcismo… and Templars director Amando De Ossorio pitched in with Demon Witch Child the following year. In 1978 the long overdue French release of Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling adopted the title Long Night Of Exorcism. Must try harder, France. By that point, Catholic southern Germany had already contributed an absolute cracker to the cycle with “Michael Walter”s Magdalena – Vom Teufel Besessen (1974).

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Walter, better known to his Mutti as Walter Boos, had hitherto laboured in that particular German specialty genre, the cautionary tale of curious German college girls (generally played by actresses… and I use the term advisedly… in their 20s and 30s) and their sexual misadventures. The title of Boos’ own What Parents Should Know (1973) tells you all you should know about the News Of The Screws-style cod moralising that justified these films’ shagtastic shenanigans. MPBTD represents a welcome respite from all this tit-and-ass tedium by throwing demonic possession into the sexploitive mix and true to form, the engaging Dagmar Hedrich was nearly forty (making Stockard Channing in Grease look positively pubertal) when she essayed the title role of troubled schoolgirl soul Magdalena Winter.

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The film kicks off in the wee small hours of a beery Bavarian night before, at the end of which a hooker (her ensemble pitched somewhere between Pussy Cat Doll and New York Doll) discovers some hapless guy crucified on his own front door. The MO of his demise and tattoos found on him suggest that he was a Satanist who fell foul of like minded evil dudes. As he stirs on the mortuary slab, his grand daughter Magdalena starts undergoing seizures at her boarding school (each signalled by flies buzzing on the soundtrack), writhing around in agony and / or sexual ecstasy, foaming at the mouth and spitting out the expected blasphemous obscenities (though there’s a conspicuous absence of pea soup… very disappointing for a film with the word “Vom” in its original German title). Alfie the dog (he’s no Dickie but you can’t have everything) begins cowering and growling in her presence and up in the attic, there’s more rickety furniture flying around than at an MFI clearance sale (I know I’ve used that gag before but it’s one of my favourites… apologies to any readers who are too young to remember the shambles that was MFI). After a particularly epic mong attack during which Magdalena kicks in a sturdy door with her bare feet, a doctor is called in but says that none of this is anything to worry about. He changes his tune the next day, after she’s been told about her grandfather’s death and responds with the announcement that she “despises” the dead, before shinning up a wall and running away. Thumbing a lift, Magdalena breaks the arm of a driver who tries it on with her… which will, ironically, make him more rather than less likely to pester women for hand-jobs in future. Concerned teachers take her to see kindly old village priest Father Conrad (Rudolf Schundler from Suspiria!) to whom she expresses a desire to take Communion “but not in my mouth… down here in my pussy!” More tea, vicar?

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Professor Falk (Werner Bruhns) and Dr Stone (Michael Hinz) spirit Magdalena away to a country retreat, from which she’s soon absconding for more unbridled rumpy-pumpy. Attracted to a beer hall knees-up by flatulent oompah music (conclusive proof that the Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes) she prick teases two burly brothers until one stabs the other to death then adds insult to injury by disappearing (literally) before the winner can claim his prize. She’s soon trying the same tactics on the Prof and Dr Stone. “Surely you don’t believe in The Devil?” gasp Falk when Fr Conrad suggests exorcism. Damn silly question, really… I mean, is The Pope a Catholic?

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Falk is finally persuaded after Magdalena (having seemingly been fucked by some invisible entity or other) tries to stab him, bursts out of strait jacket, set a fire and starts threatening people with an axe. The “climactic” exorcism turns out to be a pretty light touch affair. Magdalena is browbeaten into reciting The Lord’s Prayer, at which point a joke shop snake jumps out of her mouth, is stamped on and disappears. “There are things between Heaven and Earth” pronounces the Prof, sagely as Magdalen and Doctor Stone wander off, arm in arm. That’s all, folks.

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Dagmar Hedrich goes for it full throttle throughout and if there was any justice, she really would have got an Oscar for her performance as Magdalena. Instead, she never made another film. Perhaps she figured she’d be able to get by just fine on her old age pension….

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This is arguably the best among the legion of Exorcist clones and a superb exploitation film, full stop. How often do you find yourself watching one of these things and fast-forwarding through bothersome bits of exposition to get to the next outrage? There’s really never a dull moment in M-PBTD, it just flies by. Maybe it’s been cut? The version I saw clocked in at around the 90 minute mark but the packaging for this Super 8 release suggests a two hour (!) running time. How accurately were such listings, Super 8 collectors?

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Let’s get one little thing straight (as the actress said to the bishop): a boarding school girl in Germany with an affinity for supernatural Phenomena and a strange connection with insects… and at one point she even has EEG wires strapped on her head? Makes you wonder if Dario Argento ever donned a shabby raincoat and went to see Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil.

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Death Stalks On Five Yellow Discs… Severin’s Monumental ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK / ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO Box Set Reviewed.

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All The Colors Of The Dark. BD / CD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

All The Colors Of Giallo. BD / CD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Severin have always been generous with their bonus materials but here, like that ambassador dishing out the ferrero rocher at his embassy reception – possibly the very one attended by Edwige Fenech’s Julie Wardh in Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971) –  they are positively spoiling us! Their “All The Colours” sets, available singly at the links above and as a (getting rarer by the minute) box set, were only issued in January but, taken together, constitute what can already be confidently acknowledged as the release of 2019 (and if I’m wrong, cool, because it means that something very special is on its way during the next several months…)

You’re already going to be familiar with the plot of All The Colors Of The Dark (1972) from earlier editions of it that have been reviewed on this blog… and if not, why not?!? If you do need to get up to speed though, take a look here and / or here). Suffice to say, Martino’s third giallo is a bewitching fusion of that genre’s conventions and Rosemary’s Baby-patented Satanic panic, which consistently undercuts audience (and indeed, at the death, its own) expectations… with the divine Edwige Fenech fulfilling her quota of soapy shower scenes, for good measure.

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ATCOTD now looks and sounds every bit as good as you’d expect from a Severin release, though I’m still longing for a surround sound mix of Bruno Nicolai’s memorable score, particularly that Sabbat theme, which the Marketing-Film DVD (as “Die Farben Der Nacht”) only offers on its German language track, necessitating more viewer fidgeting than during Fenech’s ablutions. Bonus materials include a somewhat less pristine looking print of the alternative US cut, retitled They’re Coming To Get You and shorn of several minutes so that distributors Independent-International (whom we’ll shortly be looking at in connection with Severin’s comparably nifty Blood Island Collection) could more easily shoehorn it into grindhouse and drive in double bills. This they managed by substituting a short passage of lame “spooky” graphics for the original’s “long day’s journey into night” intro and 99% of Martino’s subsequent carefully contrived, surrealistically nightmarish sequence. Needless to say, Fenech’s post-nightmare trip to the bathroom is present and politically incorrect…

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There’s a nice bonus interview with director Martino, who renders a comprehensive A-Z of ATCOTD… a real “soup to nuts” job. He also reflects on Fenech’s long-standing reticence in talking about these movies (“For a woman, it’s embarrassing to admit that she was exploited for the public. Today, she’s a lady”) and expresses a particular fondness for All The Colors, on account of his second daughter being conceived during location scouting for it. He pays sad tribute to his late producer brother Luciano (“I was the mind and he was the arm”) and talks fondly of his prolific favoured screenwriter, Ernesto Gastaldi: “Now that we are both old, we lick the wounds of our old age together”.

In his interview, Gastaldi returns the compliments to Martino (“We are the last of the Mohicans!”) while suggesting that Martino had more mixed feelings about working for his brother than he generally lets on. As for Gastaldi’s own relationship with the producer: “Luciano was a strange friend… he never paid me much!”

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Gastaldi states that his intention with ATCOTD was to debunk the supernatural (though the finished film concludes a lot more ambiguously than that) and complains that he never wrote any of the shower scenes with which Fenech’s films are littered. He found the Queen of Giallo “cold… I’m not saying I wouldn’t have touched her with a stick or anything!” The interview is also noteworthy for Gastaldi’s touching tribute to the memory of Antonio Margheriti.

Fenech’s frequent leading man, George Hilton, is also interviewed, with useful interjections from Italy’s top home-grown genre pundit, Antonio Tentori. Kat Ellinger (author of All The Colors of Sergio Martino) supplies a commentary track to the main feature which, she admits, is anything but unbiased. There’s never any dead air on an Ellinger commentary.

You get a bunch of trailers and TV spots too, plus (if you bag one of the first 2,500 copies) a very welcome CD of Bruno Nicolai’s score, which I’ve coveted for so long that I think it’s one of the things you’re admonished not to covet in The Ten Commandments.

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If that little lot has got you in a yellow mood, prepare yourself for the second sub-set in this box, All The Colors Of Giallo. On disc 1, a new feature-length documentary of that title by Federico Caddeo gives a domestic perspective on this most enduring of Italian exports via a plethora of interviews… some of them recent, some that you’ll be familiar with from previous releases. The big five giallo directors are covered by interviews with Argento (who talks about how close The Bird With The Crystal Plumage came to box office oblivion on its original Italian release), Lamberto Bava (representing and remembering his father Mario), Martino (who claims to have experienced no sexual frisson from his frequent proximity to the naked Edwige Fenech… if you say so, Sergio), the ever-pugnacious Umberto Lenzi and (in an audio interview, on predictably coruscating form), Lucio Fulci. Luciano Ercoli also gets his say, alongside the most prolific giallo scripter of all, the indefatigable Ernesto Gastaldi. There are contributions from staple actor George Hilton (who describes the longevity of these movies as “a beautiful surprise”) and some of the genre’s glamorous female stars, including Edwige Fenech (during the short-lived period when Quentin Tarantino’s endorsements emboldened her to talk about her exploitation credits), Barbara Bouchet, Daria Nicolodi and Nieves Navarro / “Susan Scott”.

Tied together with the observations of film historian Fabio Melelli (“The Argento of today is a very different director from the one he once was”… no foolin’, Fabio!), this doc takes a bit of a scatter gun approach, though often hitting the target square on. I mean, do you really want to hear Bouchet dishing the dirt on who shagged whom during the making of Don’t Torture A Duckling? “Is a bear a Catholic?”, I can almost hear my incredulous readers shouting at their screens: “Does The Pope shit in the woods?!?”

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In an interesting sideline, Melelli suggests that Italian censors couldn’t be too strict on gialli / horror after the stuff that they’d permitted Pasolini as “a serious artist” … a double standard the British establishment has never had any problems sustaining.

Before you’ve had a chance to catch your breath (or don a pair of shades to protect your eyes from his Op Art shirt), erstwhile Giallo Pages editor John Martin is presenting a 20 minute overview of the genre in which he doesn’t come across as too much of a dick. Kudos to editor Zach Carter for that. David Flint directs.

The ensuing Giallothon comprises 4 hours (I kid you not!) of trailers for Italian slashers… the 82 coming attractions, of varying provenance and spankiness, might provoke debate about what should have been in there and what could comfortably have been left out, but that’s half the genre-defining beauty of it. You might even discover a couple of titles you’ve yet to catch up with.

Kat Ellinger pops up again, here deploying her extensive knowledge of the genre to rattle off a sustained series of capsule commentaries on each of the titles represented in this collection. Why is it that Italian giallo trailers are invariably more psychedelic than trailers for Italian acid movies? The one which compares Curse Of The Scorpion’s Tail, another Martino effort, to Bunuel, Eisenstein, et al, is a strong contender for the most enjoyably wacky selection here but that for Silvio Amadio’s Amuck is another bona fide hoot. Then, of course, there’s Lenzi’s “Spasmo… SPASMO… SPASMO!!!

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Disc 2 takes us over the Alps into Germany for film historian Marcus Stiglegger’s investigation of that country’s krimi genre and its mutually influential relationship with its little Latin cousin, the giallo. This sets up another trailerthon in the shape of Kriminal!, 90 minutes of coming attractions for the cinematic offspring of Edgar Wallace’s interminable scribblings.

If your interest is sufficiently piqued by that, you might well want to seek out Universum Film’s gargantuan 33 krimi DVD box set. If, on the other hand, your eyes are bleeding after taking in all these yellow visuals, you might prefer to sit back in your grooviest chair, freshen your tumbler of J&B, slip those headphones on and enjoy The Strange Sounds Of The Bloodstained Films, a CD selection of musical highlights from the likes of Morricone, Ortolani, Orlandi, Alessandroni, Cipriani, De Massi et al, compiled and remastered from the archives of Beat Records by Alfonso Carillo and Claudio Fuiano. Go on, you’ve earned it…

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And if you really feel like splashing out…

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Yellow Telly: Italy’s Hitchcock Opens THE DOOR INTO DARKNESS

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DVD. Region Free. Dragon Film Entertainment. Unrated.

Over the years, Dario Argento has blown hot and cold over the “Italian Hitchcock” label that’s so often attached to him (and frankly, the worst of his post-Opera output makes comparisons with Ed Wood seem more appropriate) but his high media profile in Italy is largely down to four hour-long TV movies that he presented under the “La Porta Sul Buio” banner on RAI (the Italian equivalent of the BBC) in 1973, a clear attempt to emulate Universal’s iconic “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, which ran between 1957 and 1962 in The States (and syndicated world-wide).

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The enormous domestic viewing figures (in the region of 30 million) racked up by Argento’s mini-series are often contextualised with the observation that Italy only had two TV channels (RAI Uno and Rai Due) at the time, but in fact the playing field was even more uneven than that, as Rai Due had only recently started broadcasting and still couldn’t be picked up by more than 50% of the Italian population.

The captive audience digesting their Cena in front of the first episode on a September evening in 1973 were greeted by the spectacle of Argento, in a fetching ’70s pullover, fretting over his dead car. Aldo Reggiani (one of the doctors in Four Flies On Grey Velvet) and Laura Belli offer him a lift and after a desultory bit of conversation (Argento compliments them on the cuteness of their baby) our master of ceremonies alights and waves them off into the first episode…

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“The Neighbour”

That young couple are off to spend their first night in the seaside apartment that will be their new home. It seems improbable that Belli’s character would put up with this ramshackle property, sight unseen. Even more so that Reggiani could sit up to watch a Frankenstein film when much has already been made of the fact that the apartment’s electricity is off. As for the killer upstairs, who goes out to dig a grave for his wife, whom he’s just drowned in the bath, oblivious to what the new neighbours might think of such shenanigans… well!

Despite the deficiencies in Luigi Cozzi’s script, his competent direction keeps this zero budget variation on Rear Window (whose themes Cozzi would expand into the rather excellent giallo The Killer Must Kill Again later in the same year) just about watchable, right up to a climax that’s taken straight out of the Edgar Allan Poe playbook. For anyone who didn’t spot the Hitchcock allusion, the killer is played by Spagwest heavy Mimmo Palmara (who also supervised the series’ post production sound-synching), conspicuously greyed up to look like Raymond Burr.

Il Vicino Di Casa was the second episode shot and originally planned as the broadcast follow-up to its predecessor in the shooting schedule…

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… but at the last minute this order was reversed. Argento wrote and edited The Tram utilising the pseudonym “Sirio Bernadotte”, because after three theatrical features it was felt that TV directing might be construed as a retrograde step in his career. “Sirio” introduces this episode with a bit of inconsequential waffle and by bringing on Commisioner Giordani (Enzo Cerusico, who would star in Argento’s non-giallo feature Five Days In Milan the same year). The mystery facing this guy is how a woman could be stabbed to death and stuffed under the seat of a busy tram without anybody noticing. To crack it, the obsessively finger-snapping cop restages that fatal tram ride with the participation of as many of her fellow passengers as the police can trace. The solution isn’t that hard to work out (and with it, the killer’s identity) but Argento’s polished direction of The Tram makes for a more consistently engaging ride than Il Vicino Di Casa, right up to a half-assed ending which pays lip service to the suggestion that white collar criminals regularly commit worse crimes and get away with them, a theme explored with more conviction and clarity by, among others, Aldo Lado in any number of his films.

RAI’s ambivalence about the whole project, in which their desire for new cutting edge material rubbed up against their conservative instincts, is nowhere better illustrated than in their veto of any depiction of knives in the climactic stalking of Giordani’s girlfriend Giulia played by Paola Tedesco (whose blonde locks in this one make her a bit of a Barbara Bouchet looky-likey)… so instead she’s stalked with a (presumably more politically correct) meat hook! If this character’s name hasn’t already clued you in, the whole episode is an expansion of a scene cut from the screenplay for The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Likewise…

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… the third episode (whose introductory section, in which Argento quizzes a fat cop about the most colourful cases he’s ever conducted, suggests it was originally conceived as the series closer) is a stripped down version of plot and themes from the recently wrapped Four Flies On Grey Velvet. Argento rewarded his long-term assistant Roberto Pariante with the direction of The Eye Witness but the dailies apparently revealed that he had been promoted beyond his competence and after a few days Argento enlisted Cozzi (his co-writer on this section) to reshoot Pariante’s existing footage while he handled the remaining scenes. In the finished article (still officially credited to Pariante), Liz Taylor clone Marilù Tolo (with whom Argento promptly embarked upon a two-year affair) is driving home late one night when a stabbed woman staggers out in front of her car. Our heroine calls the cops but by the time they arrive, there is no sign of the corpse. Is Marilù losing the plot or is somebody (maybe her apparently devoted husband?) trying to drive her bonkers? Anyone who’s seen Four Flies On Grey Velvet will have little difficulty in supplying the answer…

RAI insider Mario Foglietti (who co-wrote Four Flies with Argento and Cozzi) was given a rare chance to direct on the final  episode to be broadcast, which he co-wrote with Marcella Elsberger…

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The Doll

This one kicks off with a dangerous schizo absconding from a medical unit, all rendered via the nutcase’s POV. In fact throughout, Foglietti deploys techniques from Argento’s bag of visual tricks in the service of a bloodless thriller (the murder of genre icon Erika Blanc in an iconic fashion house setting plays out as a disappointingly stylised, anaemic affair) that runs more on existential angst than violence. This depressing giallo tendency would reach its nadir in Umberto Lenzi’s Spasmo the following year and anyone who’s ever suffered through that one will break out in a cold sweat when they clock the presence here of its star Robert Hoffman, stalking Mara Venier with apparent psychotic intent, though you’d have to be pretty slow on the uptake not to spot the climactic narrative switcheroo coming. I particularly cherished the deployment of police resources in this episode, i.e. the chief investigating officer is driven up and down the high street observing pedestrians in the hope that he’ll spot his quarry!

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Giorgio Gaslini scores all the episodes with Morricone-esque suspenseful flurries and for the main series theme, stabbing, Emersonesque piano passages. Each instalment is passably presented (the original elements having long disappeared) on this 2004 double disc set from German outfit Dragon. Interviews with Luigi Cozzi give the background to the series and introduce each episode individually. For the authentic experience, he requests that the viewer watch La Porta Sul Buio in black and white, as broadcast, rather than colour (as shot and presented here).

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Possibly conceived as a goodbye to the giallo (before the failure of Argento’s projected breakout feature Five Days In Milan sent him back to the genre, with Deep Red and Tenebrae to come), La Porta Sul Buio is a historically interesting but compromised affair, part of whose historical interest resides in the very compromises that it had to make. Its episodes are a lot more watchable (on every level barring that of kitschy trash) than the vignettes Argento (and Lamberto Bava) contributed to RAI’s short-lived (October 1987 to January ’88) TV game show Giallo.

Devised and hosted by veteran presenter Enzo Tortora (coming back after his acquittal in a notorious drugs case) and broadcast in a much more heterogeneous and competitive, post-Berlusconi Italian TV environment, Giallo was an indigestible concoction of game show (contestants had to guess the killer) and chat show (a surviving clip shows Dario interviewing a tangibly listless post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd), with glamorous hostesses thrown in for good measure but regrettably no sign of Dusty Bin.

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No “Sirio Bernadotte” subterfuge, this time out, for a director whose career after Opera would consist of nothing but retrograde steps…

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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.

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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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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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