Posts Tagged With: Dario Argento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Cheeky bastard said WHAT?!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Try that one more time, pal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibal Ferox?

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

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

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

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Wind In Eden…

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

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

In Tuscany?

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

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

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

A Quiet Place To Kill?

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

… for the youth market…

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

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

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Maybe…

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

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

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

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

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

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

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

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

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

The Spiral Staircase…

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

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

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 … Sandokan…

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

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

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

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

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

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Pink Floyd on stage at Ally Pally, 29.04.67

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On The Horns Of House And Hip Hop… PROFONDO ROSSO By The SIMONETTI HORROR PROJECT Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Exempt from classification.

Claudio Simonetti (along with his avatar, the late, great Keith Emerson) represents a point on the graph where two of my main obsessions (’70s Prog Rock and ’70s/80s Italian genre cinema) coincide. It’s the Proggier stuff that Simonetti essayed with Goblin which holds a special place in my heart (their debut album – released when the band were still known as Cherry Five – sounds more like Yes in their pomp than Yes themselves have sounded at any time in the last forty years) but, like the Italian exploitation film makers with whom he collaborated so memorably, Simonetti’s output and his presentation of the jewels in his musical crown have changed to reflect perceived shifts in public taste. In recent years, for example, his band (whether branded Daemonia or Goblin) has affected a quasi-Goth image with vague suggestions of Death Metal.

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In the early ’80s Simonetti took a disco direction (signalled as early as the four-to-the-floor main theme he contributed to Argento’s Tenebrae in ’82) and the tape under consideration here, issued by DiscoMagic to promote the LP Simonetti Horror Project in 1990, finds him on the cusp of Hair Rock, House and Hip Hop.

Crammed onto the stage of a small theatre in Siena, Simonetti and his core band of gurning, shape throwing, fright-coiffed, leather jacketed and ripped jeaned desperadoes (Giacomo Castellano, gtr; Maurizio Colori, bs; Giulio Sirci, dr) mime their way energetically through the album tracks, augmented at various points by rapper Dr. Felix and “Mad DJ” Luca “The Scratcher” Cucchetti, the back of whose leather jacket is adorned with one of those unfortunate “smiley” images… is he on one, matey? Further musical (but mainly visual) distraction is provided in the buxom shape of one Andrea Simonetti, shaking her Titian tresses and ample booty impressively in a lycra jump shoot… whoever she is, it’s probably a safe bet that Andrea is not Claudio’s granny! Also competing for your attention are a human skeleton and several silly plush toys. The proceedings are regularly punctuated by clips from Argento’s movies and a brief one of the director himself emerging from between a pair of thick red curtains. The directorial duties for this 45 minute promo were divided between Simonetti and Dr. Felix who between them have obviously enjoyed Led Zep’s Song Remains The Same and its overuse of split screen mosaics, which are deployed to alarming effect on, e.g. the murder of Ania Pieroni in Tenebrae .

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As for the music,  things kicks off with Craws (sic)… 1987’s Opera is, by general assent, the final film in Argento’s imperial period but I’ve never been too crazy about Simonetti’s music for it. Does he look like he cares, posing away with his keytar? Swimming against the tide of this general dance music tone, the Tenebrae theme unfolds in rockier style than on the film itself… a pretty exhilarating reading. The previously exhilirating Phenomena, on the other hand, has mutated into sub-Cerrone mush, appropriately enough, I guess, given the film’s notoriously odd “Supernature” storyline. Demons provides one of the tape’s standout moment. Now underpinned by the ubiquitous “Funky Drummer” James Brown sample, Simonetti embellishes the original with satisfying flights of synthesiser fancy while Sergio Stivaletti’s screen creations do The Lambeth Walk and CS himself, decked out in his finest Byronic frills, discovers a dusty manuscript whose music converts him into a demon when he play it. Riotous stuff! Andrea, The Scratcher and Dr. Felix take centre stage (with the band doing hand jive behind them!) as the doc raps sacreligiously over the canonical Profondo Rosso theme. While you’re getting over the shock of that, Simonetti slips in a less radical albeit thoroughly underwhelming Suspiria make-over which neither incongruous guitar histrionics nor the return of Andrea, mincing around in a tutu, can redeem. She’s back again, ineptly miming the aria from Opera, for a romantic scene with Claudio. Two unfamiliar tracks, Elucubration and Ozone Free, feature original Goblin drummer Walter Martino on drums (though he doesn’t appear on screen.) As if to mollify disgruntled conservatives, Simonetti (in Jack The Ripper hat and cape) closes the proceedings with Profondo Rosso – Rock Version, which unfortunately equates to tacking on further sub-Van Halen guitar tedium. Simonetti leaps into the air, flicking his mullet, the frame freezes and we’re done… undoubtedly not soon enough for some, but you’d have to be a terminally po-faced purist not to find something entertaining and / or amusing in this uneven collection, much of which is available on Youtube.

Click here for Claudio Simonetti interview, elsewhere on this blog.

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Stork And Slash… The Shameless BD Of Michele Soavi’s THE SECT Reviewed

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The Sect. BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Shameless’s UK disc debut of Michele Soavi’s 1991 effort The Sect (in both DVD and BD formats) follows hot on the hooves of the similar service they recently rendered to Soavi’s The Church (1989.) In my review of that one, elsewhere on this site, I recanted my long-held conviction that its many splendid visual set pieces could not compensate for a narrative that oscillates between risible and non-existent. On relection, this verdict was difficult to square with my oft-professed love for the likes of Inferno, The Beyond and City Of The Living Dead. I’ve performed a similar critical volte face after watching The Sect on Blu-ray, though it’s probably the lesser of the two films Soavi directed with Dario Argento as producer. Both of them kick in like gangbusters, only to lose momentum as bravura visuals alternate with wilfully obscure exposition through their overlong running time (The Sect clocks in just shy of two hours) en route to unsatisfying denouements. No accident, perhaps, that this one was released in the US as The Devil’s Daughter, possibly with the baffling conclusion to Hammer’s To The Devil A Daughter (1976) in mind.

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If anything, The Sect’s opening is even stronger than that of The Church, slapping the viewer upside his/her head with a 1-2 sucker punch. First we witness the end of the ’60s dream as members of a Californian hippy colony are slaughtered at the behest of Damon (Church alumnus Tomas Arana), a wild-eyed mystic with a penchant for discerning profundities in the lyrics of classic rock songs (remind you of anyone?) before crossing Continents and decades to “present day” Frankfurt, where John Morghen blows his own brains out in a metro station after police discover that he’s been taking the words of the Tony Basil song Stop That Man (“He’s getting away with my heart in his hand”) rather too literally. Reassuring stuff, given that Morghen (the perennial super-masochist / martyr of pasta paura cinema) died such a disappointing death in The Church.

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Frankfurt magistrate John Ford (just one of several, vaguely irritating, buffish character names) issues doomy pronouncements about the activities of sinister Satanic outfits. He’s particularly concerned about “The notorious Faceless Sect operating in the US during the ’70s”, a  cult founded by the mysterious Moebius Kelly. The briefly glimpsed Ford is played by Donald O’Brien, who’s certainly got form in this field, having run a Kito cult in his role as Doctor Butcher M.D. in the Marino Girolami film of that title.

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Before we can work out what the hell is going on, elementary schoolteacher Miriam (Kelly Curtis, Jamie Lee’s prettier big sister) runs over a jay-walking hobo (Moebius Kelly himself, played by Herbert Lom) and takes him back to her place to recuperate. The old geezer’s got a funny way of showing his gratitude – he bungs a dung beetle up Miriam’s nose while she’s asleep and Celtic imagery begins to invade her dreams, which apparently signifies that she’s now ripe to be knocked up with the devil’s spawn. As the film proceeds, it becomes clear that many of the people around her are conniving at precisely this aim. Shades of Val Lewton and Mark Robson’s The Seventh Victim (1943)…

… and indeed, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) whose demonic insemination scene was restaged at the climax of The Church. This time out the titular sect contrive to get Miriam raped by a stork that jumps out of the submerged well in her basement… a submerged basement well of which she was previously unaware … did I already mention that this film’s plotting isn’t exactly its strong point?

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Just as The Church proceeded  from a vague Dario Argento diktat (“My brief to Michele was to explore the feelings I had about life in contemporary Germany beginning a new Middle Ages”), so Argento stipulated certain of The Sect’s salient imagery, including the Satanists’ full moon face ripping ceremony which (with the aid of Pino Donaggio’s spellbinding main theme) works rather well, plus some stuff that really doesn’t, e.g. the ongoing shenanigans concerning a kind of anti-Shroud Of Turin which, we learn, smothers some people but brings others (whom you’d prefer to be dead) back to life. What I really want to know about this flying snot rag, though, is… does it smell of death? And one of its victims, Kathryn, is ideally placed to comment on this, played as she is by Maria Angela Giordano of Burial Ground infamy.

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Struggling to impose some of his own identity amid all of this Argentiana, Soavi seems more intent on stuffing every available frame with arcane symbolism and cryptic allusions than he is with pulling all of these disparate strands of material together in a way that makes some kind of narrative sense. At one point he offers us a channel-hopping bunny which tunes into footage of the director himself doing conjuring tricks on TV! You’ll like it… but not a lot!

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“Who hid the remote in the cellar?”

It would be unfair to dismiss Kelly Curtis as just another sorry sibling recruited by the spaghetti exploitation industry solely on account of kid sister Jamie Lee’s scream queen exploits (in much the same way that Italian producers made a minor star out of Tisa Farrow and even attempted to do so with Neil Connery, before he forsook international espionage and returned to working as a milkman)… she already had a decent acting pedigree quite independently of JLC, who was born the same year that Kelly appeared as a little girl in Mom and Dad’s The Vikings (1958.) Plus, she’s actually rather good, here, ably personifying the anxieties suffered by pregnant women in a film that deals with such concerns rather more subtly than e.g. Alien (1979) or Humanoids From The Deep (1980), if considerably less so than Polanski’s picture. No doubt Herbert Lom later pleaded ignorance of any violent scenes that take place in The Sect…

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Having moaned in my review of The Church that I was only sent the DVD version, I’m happy to report that they sent me The Sect on Blu-ray and it looks just great. Given the two audio options available, I chose the Italian language one (with English subtitles) because it’s in 5.1 Surround. The mix proved strangely unadventurous and I didn’t notice any significant benefit until the outbreak of Pino Donaggio’s gorgeous main theme during the moon lit face removal ceremony… that one always gets the hairs standing up on the back of my neck to an extent only bettered by Fabio Frizzi’s Voci Dall Nulla at the climax of The Beyond.

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Extras include trailers for this and other Shameless releases plus the continuation of the Soavi interview from their Church disc, this instalment entitled Beauty And Terror.” Hardly surprisingly, he talks up his collaborations with the likes of Argento and Terry Gilliam but it’s gratifying to hear the director acknowledging his debts to Fulci and D’Amato (“This man had an energy not human!”), too. His “compare and contrast” reports on the various directors’ personalities, working methods and the atmospheres on their respective sets are most enlightening. Soavi also reveals that Tarantino offered him the direction of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), which he now regrets turning down.

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Given her grisly former glories, it’s interesting to hear Soavi detailing the way in which the demise of Maria Angela Giordano’s character was cut, having been deemed too gruesome. We also learn that the Sergio Stivaletti special effect by which a bug climbs up Kelly’s nose was shot with a camera that was formally Mario Bava’s.

The Sect is an uneven film, no question, but it’s probably better than anything Argento himself has managed since 1987 and only a terminally hard-to-please pasta paura buff could fail to find something to enjoy herein, if only the first screen teaming (ish… they don’t actually share a scene) of Italian Horror’s “Mr & Mrs Most Mutilated”, Morghen and Giordano. Perhaps some sinister Satanists can arrange for him to impregnate her… or perhaps even they would find the probable results of that coupling just too daunting to contemplate!

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Altared States… Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH and Robert Eggers’ THE WITCH Reviewed

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The Church. DVD. Region 2. Shameless. 18.

The Witch. BD. Region B. Universal. 15.

The wheels grind slowly here at The House Of Freudstein. Maybe it’s something to do with that split in the space / time continuum we’ve got going on down in the basement… one minute a badly dubbed Italian brat is running away from a shambling mosaic of putrescent human flesh, the next he’s popping up in a fin-de-siecle parallel universe. Makes my fucking head spin, I don’t mind telling you! Anyway, the wheels grind slowly…

… case in point, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, a film released in 2015. When I interviewed Harvey Fenton at Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival that year, for a piece which ultimately appeared in Dark Side magazine, he raved to me about this film, citing scenes such as the one in which a child dies in the throes of religious ecstasy

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and enthusing about its possessed goat. “What… better than the possessed goat in Drag Me to Hell?” I asked. “Better than that!”, he assured me. So I promised him I’d watch it. A year went by and finding myself on the winning team at Mayhem 2016’s Flinterrogation quiz (yeah, I do bang on rather a lot about this but what you going to do about it?) I grabbed a couple of BDs as my share of the winners’ swag bag, one of them being The Witch. A month or so after that I finally watched it… and now I’ve got my shit together sufficiently to review it!

The final poke that stirred me from my default state of inertia was the arrival on my in tray of Michele Soavi’s The Church (1981), debuting on UK disc courtesy of Shameless. The striking parallels between the two films strongly suggested to me that they should be considered together. I mean, both of them offer a simplistic, Manichaeist world view in which the principal characters’ loss of faith is precipitated by and / or precipitates an inexorable paradigm shift into a new and malign reality… the other stuff they share in common being caprine capers (or, if you will, hircine horrors) by which the ram Black Phillip eviscerates Ralph Ineson in Eggers’ picture and (a much smarter day’s work, in my estimation) a Rosemary’s Baby reject bonks the beautiful Barbara Cupisti in the bowels of a cathedral crypt during Soavi’s… Country File was never like this!

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Eggers’ New-England Folk Tale (as the film’s subtitle has it) plays out in the 1630s and concerns a family of Puritans (the ever excellent Ineson as patriarch William, Kate Dickie as his wife Catherine and Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, the oldest of several children) who leave their settlement on account of some obscure doctrinal dispute and set up in a small holding in the wilderness, throwing themselves on the bounty and mercy of God…

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… but darker Gods are at work in the woods.

When their infant son is abducted (and a murky, impressionistic Blair Witch-style sequence suggests that he is indeed ritually sacrificed by some hovel-dwelling hag) the family turns in on itself amid mutual suspicions of Satanic involvement. Thomasin becomes prime suspect after searching secretly in the woods, with her brother, for the missing baby but returning alone. Suspicions are not exactly allayed when the boy reappears, only to die in the aforementioned religious ecstasy. As paranoia peaks, recrimination turns into physical confrontation. Black Phillip lends a hand (hoof?) in the ensuing bloody carnage which leaves just one family member standing and ready to throw in their lot with The Dark Side for a truly delirious conclusion.

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The above makes The Witch sound like a pedal-to-the-metal Evil Deadalike but in fact it’s a suspenseful, satisfying, slow burn of a movie with ravishing cinematography (courtesy of Jarin Blaschke) and sound design. Hats off to Harvey (though for me, Black Phillip’s not a patch on the possessed goat in Drag Me To Hell.) You keep expecting a rational explanation or at least an upturn in the family’s miserable fortunes until the penny finally drops, the shock realisation that this just ain’t gonna happen… reminded me of the point in Blow Up where you twig that the mystery is never going to be solved… of watching Match Of The Day pundits acknowledging, long after everybody else had sussed it, that Leicester City were not going to blow their 2015-16 title challenge… and going to bed on the 9th of November when it was obvious that Trump was going to win, while the TV talking heads were still blathering about how Hillary’s best wards were yet to be counted and she was going to turn it around.

Writer / director Eggers plundered the archives of 17th Century witchcraft testimony to mount The Witch as a realistic story and the events in it are real, if only in the minds of its religiously fanatical participants. “Buddha says…” as we were so helpfully reminded in the title sequence to every episode of Monkey: “… that with our thoughts we make the world.” The paranoid Puritan mindset made The USA and the ongoing story of how it, in turn, makes over The World in its own image is, one suspects, going to take a significant twist or two over the next couple of years. One also suspects that we will see, over a similar period, Ms Taylor-Joy emerging as “the new Christina Ricci”…

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Anya Taylor-Joy, emerging as “the new Christina Ricci”… yesterday.

Universal’s BD edition of The Witch looks and sounds quiet beautiful and comes with the bonus of Digital HD Ultraviolet, though I’m too much of a Luddite to have anything more than the vaguest of ideas what that actually means… not such a technophobe thought that I don’t feel justified in having a moan about the clunky interface and slow response of the menus on this disc, problems I’ve encountered on various other Universal releases. It’s a bit short on supplementary features too, boasting precisely… none…. not a sausage… barer than William and Catherine’s family food cupboard!

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Shameless’s Soavi disc is somewhat better apportioned in terms of extras. Alongside the mandatory clutch of trailers for the label’s other releases, you get the featurette Cathedral Of Fear in which the director (still looking cool, if a touch grey and grizzled around the edges) talks about his sophomore feature effort and how it emerged from the remnants of Lamberto Bava’s abandoned Demons 3. He acknowledges that Argento was a generous producer who scrupulously avoided stepping on his toes, while admitting that he found  it difficult to see The Church and his follow-up effort The Sect (1991) marketed as “Argento productions.” Soavi also concedes that he, Argento and Franco Ferrini struggled to come up with an effective ending (no foolin’) and remembers trying to coax the enigmatic smile required for the film’s closing shot out of Asia Argento, whom he describes as “handsome, attractive and talentish.” “Now everyone has gone their own way…” concludes MS “… but it was a very beautiful period of my life.” Nice.

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And what of The Church itself? On its release, almost (cripes!) thirty years ago, I reviewed the film with something less than whole-hearted enthusiasm… “style over substance” was the burden of my complaint against it. With hindsight and in the light of my previous championing of such comparably amorphous entities as Argento’s Inferno and Fulci’s The Beyond, that verdict does seem rather a perverse one. It was arrived at in the context of my expectations following Soavi’s stunning directorial debut Stagefright (1987), a cracking giallo (arguably the last worthwhile offering in that genre) that packed more than its fair share of visual flair but proceeded, nevertheless, along the ruthlessly logical lines of Luigi Montefiori’s script and producer Joe D’Amato’s commercial demands. At this remove, having very much enjoyed this Shameless release, I’m more inclined to celebrate Soavi’s wayward pictorial sense than to question it, especially in view of the Pasta Paura drought that we’ve suffered in recent decades.

The Church couldn’t be further removed from ruthless logic, opening with a posse of Teutonic Knights galloping through a lush forest at daybreak to the accompaniment of Keith Emerson’s infernal fugue (the film’s score, by Emerson, Philip Glass and Goblin – which at this point was effectively Fabio Pignatelli – is one aspect of The Church with which I’ve never had any issues). Acting on a hot tip-off from an over acting village idiot (Gianfranco De Grassi, “Curlie” from Aldo Lado’s notorious Night Train Murders), the knights storm the cave HQ of some devil worshipping peasants and put them to the sword.

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This sequence features a memorable cross-shaped P-O-V shot through a knight’s helmet visor, suggesting again a world shaped by a narrow world view. After the witches have been buried in a communal grave and the site marked with a huge cross, an epic steadicam shot brings us to the present day and to the cathedral which has been erected on this spot, where one of the presiding prelates is spaghetti splatter legend and Stagefright alumnus Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen.

Yuppie dark ages buff Tomas Arana arrives at the church to assist Barbara Cupisti (another Stagefright alumnus and Soavi’s real life main squeeze while this movie was being made) in the restoration of a demonic mural (shades of Pupi Avati’s masterly The House With Laughing Windows), while scowling Father Feodor Chaliapin (Name Of The Rose, Inferno) sermonises endlessly about the ever-present threat of demons. Apparently the ghosts of those Teutonic knights are also hanging around the place, because somebody in the foley department is working overtime banging coconut shells together to render the signature hoof tattoos of their spectral mounts. Arana, who has already displaced a marked tendency towards flakiness with his preference for the perusal of medieval inscriptions over the charms of Cupisti, is possessed by evil spirits while prying into the basement pit of souls. We know that he’s possessed because he stops combing his hair, sits at a typewriter endlessly tapping out the legend “666” (yes, we’ve seen The Shining too) and starts foaming at the mouth over Asia Argento’s ankle socks. More spectacularly, Arana is later seen in a telephone box – not changing into a superhero costume, as you might think, but tearing out his own heart and offering the still pumping organ to a boiling blood-red sky.

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When the church warden skewers himself to the basement cross with a pneumatic drill he activates an intricate system of cogs and levers (just think of Howard Hawks’ Land Of The Pharaohs, and if you haven’t seen that try the board game “Mousetrap”) that seal our hapless protagonists (now including a party of school children, models and fashion photographers on a location shoot, and assorted tourists) off from the outside world. In connection with this the characters explicitly reference Fulcanelli, whose “Mysteries of The Cathedrals” tome also inspired Pupi Avatis’ The Arcane Enchanter, 1996 (though it was Avati himself who subsequently told me that Fulcanelli was a mythical rather than historical figure.)

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At this point the plot, which was already as creaky as one of those Medieval ratchet devices, flies out of the stained glass window as the increasingly bemused looking participants are left to wander around the cathedral confines, rapidly losing their marbles. Antonella Vitale, who for most of the film has little to do except flounce around looking gorgeous, is nearly squeezed to death by a wedding dress she’s modelling at one point, but the fact that Argento can manage such an arch comment on the state of his relationship with this actress can only have encouraged the above mentioned doubts about the authorship of La Chiesa. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the only other memorable scene involving La Vitale (a ludicrous one in which she pulls her face off) has been crudely cribbed from Poltergeist, a film on which producer Stephen Spielberg reputedly called more shots than nominal director Tobe Hooper.

Soavi swears that Argento was no back seat director but here has been charged with cooking up something from an Argento outline so half-baked that it could probably induce listeria poisoning (“My brief to Michele was to explore the feelings I had about life in contemporary Germany beginning a new Middle Ages.”) The viewer will have to make up his / her own mind about the exact working relationship between director Soavi and the man who “presented” his second and third feature films.

Elsewhere a castor mounted demon is wheeled in to spirit a girl off into a cloister; two bikers tunnel their way out of the church, only to discover that the light at the end of the tunnel really is an oncoming train; an old buffer’s face literally rings a bell after his wife has decapitated him (off camera, regrettably, likewise the eagerly awaited demise of John Morghen) and a risible rubber fish monster leaps out of the font to clamp its latex jaws around an unfortunate bystander’s head. Stivaletti’s attempted show stopper is an Archimboldo demon head that finally bursts through the floor of the cathedral and reminded me of nothing so much as the climax to Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass And The Pit.

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The mounting confusion is hardly mitigated by the fact that various characters don’t let their deaths discourage them from returning to participate further in the escalating surreal shenanigans and in a heart warming cast reunion where they witness Arana (now in full Devil Rides Out billy-goat drag) and Cupisti restaging the devil impregnation scene from a certain Roman Polanski movie… and then that unconvincing coda.

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He’s so horny… horny, horny, horny…

The Shameless DVD looks OK but the music and sound effects seem to have been mixed kinda low. I wish they’d included a 5.1 audio option (when I saw La Chiesa in Rome on the big screen with a nice sound system, it proved to be a pretty immersive experience.) In fact I’d really like to have seen their (near) simultaneous Blu-ray release but you know what they say… bloggers can’t be choosers!

This release also comes with reversible sleeve options and for once I prefer the “newly commissioned art work” to the “classic” imagery on the flip… though I’m not sure they would have gotten away with it back in the heyday of the Video Packaging Review Committee… those pesky kids!

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Magic Flounders All Around Us… Dario Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Optimum. 18.

After a quarter of a Century’s teasing, here it is… the “thought you’d never live to see it” conclusion to Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy kicked off by the audio-visual assault dished out to viewers in Suspiria (1976) and continued in the stylishly enigmatic Inferno (1980.) The first of those dealt with the Mother Of Sighs (running a ballet school in Friburg as a front for her malevolent coven) while its successor concerned the Mother Of Darkness, up to God-knows-what in an apartment block built for her by the alchemically-inclined author and architect Varelli. Inferno gave us a preview glimpse of the Third Mother (in the succulently pouting form of Ania Pieroni) but Argento cooled on the idea of completing the trilogy, perhaps because the second instalment (despite its ongoing cult following) did pretty much zip commercially and possibly on account of his estrangement from former muse Daria Nicolodi, who maintained a creative and financial stake in the franchise. Every so often, Argento would express an interest in reviving the project (invoking such intriguing prospects as Jennifer Connelly playing the weep inducing witch) though one always suspected that these announcements amounted to little more than ploys intended to prop up interest in a directorial career that was going rapidly off the boil, reaching its stone cold nadir with the cinematic triptych (Trauma / Stendhal Syndrome / Phantom Of The Opera) that was intended to launch the acting career of his and Daria’s daughter, Asia.

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Meanwhile Nicolodi and Argento acolyte Luigi Cozzi collaborated on the latter’s
De Profondis aka The Black Cat (1989), a typically confused and confusing Cozzi effort which starts as an unofficial and uninvited conclusion to Argento’s occult odyssey before mutating (at the insistence of paymasters Cannon) into one of the countless Poe adaptations that were littering contemporary screens, with a squirt of Philip K. Dick introduced, a propos of nothing, at the death (which it effectively was for Cozzi’s directorial career.) That oddity notwithstanding, the trilogy has lacked a proper crowning piece… until now.

So why now? (where “now” = 2007) Perhaps John Moore’s 2006 Omen remake was a particularly big hit in Italy (certainly should have been, featuring as it does the godlike thespian genius of our old pal “John Morghen” / Giovanni Lombardo Radice). Whatever… does Mother Of Tears pass its MOT test? Surely there must be more substance to it than to Cozzi’s undoubtedly entertaining but ultimately shambolic concoction? Well no, not really, though of course a senseless schlock-fest from Dario Argento is always going to be an altogether more polished and up market proposition than one by his erstwhile assistant.

The action (and boy, there’s a lot of it) kicks off with the exhumation of a monk and a sealed casket covered in occult runes during the development of a piece of land outside Rome.  At the Eternal City’s antiquities museum, professor Giselle Mares (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni from Opera and Demons 2) and her assistant Sarah Mandy (Aaargh, it’s Asia again) open the casket but soon wish they hadn’t. The former is disembowelled and strangled with her own chitlins by cultists who want the contents of the box (a red, rune-covered robe, a fuck off ceremonial knife and several grotesque fetish figures) to facilitate the revival of Mater Lachrymarum’s  dark powers. As Rome descends into violent chaos, Sarah is obliged to confront the oncoming Apocalypse with the aid of her own rapidly awakening magic powers and the advice and encouragement she receives from pop-up blurry visions of her dead mother (Nicolodi, looking in every respect a shadow of her former self).

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“Hey, did you ever see that film, The Beyond?” “Never mind that… you can see our house from here!”

From here on in, up to the film’s arbitrary anticlimax, Argento packs in plenty of mortifying violence. Taking its cue from Hostel and its ilk, also following on from his own contributions to the Masters Of Horror cable TV series, this is hands down il Maestro’s goriest offering yet and also establishes another personal record with unprecedented levels of female nudity…. very nice, too. Characterisation is as flimsy as ever… Sarah’s lover Adam James and cop Cristian Solimeno could easily be cut straight out of the picture without anybody noticing the difference. Unfortunately the same could be said for Udo Kier, his presence here a token attempt to invoke the glories of Suspiria. As Father Johannes he also gets to mouth lines from Inferno, when not ranting  about the onset of “The Second Age Of Witches” (sorry, the first one appears to have passed me by.) To be fair, Kier’s grisly demise (in a picture that’s not exactly short of them) does provide Mother Of Tears with one of its most memorable moments. Discovering his possessed housekeeper tucking into the corpse of her infant son, he registers his dismay at this turn of events and is promptly dismembered on the staircase with an opportunely placed axe, neatly referencing another classic moment of Spaghetti Splatter hysteria, his death scene in Margheriti and Morrissey’s Blood For Dracula, 1973 (commemorated below.)

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Mind the doors!

Sarah develops a similarly summary and cavalier attitude towards human life (a witch glares at our heroine on a train so Sarah squashes her head to pulp in a door… when her boyfriend expresses some vaguely pro-witch sentiments she sets fire to him!) as The Eternal City descends into the thrall of Evil,though this process is not rendered particularly convincingly.

Italian exploitation directors, God bless ’em, have always struggled to portray the onset of The Apocalypse in a believable manner… remember the climax of Fulci’s marvellous Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), where a frenzied voice over attempt to convince us that New York is going into meltdown doesn’t quite gel with the closing visuals, in which shit faced deadsters stagger over the Brooklyn bridge while traffic proceeds in a perfectly orderly fashion beneath them? And what of Enzo Castellari’s New Barbarians (1982) and its post nuclear ilk… don’t start me! Similarly, Argento’s vision of “the second fall of Rome” comprises people scuffling on street corners as Asia walks down the road, and heavily made-up sluts in Goth gear shouting drunken abuse at passers-by… Dario, if I took you for a drink down my local high street next Saturday night you’d see far worse, mate!

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Girl Power spirals out of control in Mother Of Tears…

When Sarah seeks help from two of her mother’s spooky friends, a couple of lesbian witches, one has eyes gouged out and the other is fucked to death with a harpoon! Sarah must rely on her own burgeoning paranormal powers to locate the ongoing Sabbat in Rome’s catacombs that is responsible for all of this nonsense. In fact, all she has to do is follow a bunch of Hell’s Harpies then wade through showers of shit and pools of human offal (Jennifer Connelly did all of this and more for Argento in Phenomena and eventually won an Oscar, so maybe it’ll do the trick for Asia too) before witnessing the Satanic knees-up in question, which comprises mainly Hostel-style dismemberment plus some far out and, for the most part, physically impossible sexual unions (this stuff looking like out takes from Bran Yuzna’s Society) presided over by Ma Waterworks herself, in the sumptuous form of Israeli model / actress Moran Atias. “Who wants to eat the girl?” she asks her followers, indicating Sarah’s prone form (I’ll pass on Asia, who looks a bit sinewy, but would happily accept an invitation to a fish supper from Ms Atias anytime) before the good guys snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in improbable fashion.

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Mama Mia!

OK, let’s run down some of the problems with this picture… the misconceived fumetti inserts stick out like septic thumbs, the pointless outbreaks of CGI look more than ever as though they’ve been included just to keep FX man Sergio Stivaletti happy, DP Frederic Fasano’s attempts to invoke the cinematography of Suspiria and Inferno come across as distinctly half-assed and Claudio Simonetti’s “Original” Sound Track is similarly regurgitative of former glories. Once again Argento moves his camera around in disappointingly pedestrian style… no abseiling over the Konigsplatze here! As an unexpected plus point though, Asia didn’t grate on my nerves anything like as much as usual!

Does MOT make any kind of “sense”? Clearly not, though exactly same charge could be levelled at its highly rated predecessors. Does it employ everything but the kitchen sink (and that’ll probably turn up in some future “director’s cut”) en route to a finale that fizzles out like a wet fart? Sure, but again that’s entirely consistent with the first two-thirds of the series. In its general tone, is Mother Of Tears “like” Suspiria and Inferno? No (in fact there are closer parallels with the La Chiesa / La Setta brace that Argento produced for Michele Soavi in the early ‘90s) but then Suspiria and Inferno were hardly “like” each other, where they?

As I post this review, Luca Guadagnino is directing an Argento-approved reboot of Suspiria intended for release forty years after the original. I seriously doubt that anybody will consider it worth their while to remake Mother Of Tears in 2047.

MOT is crisply transferred in its original screen ratio (2.35:1) for Optimum’s DVD release. Bonus material is restricted to a theatrical trailer.

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Don’t like the look of yours much…

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Blood, Shit & Sperm… The DARIO ARGENTO Interview

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“Where’s Sperm?”

Dario Argento visited The Scala in 1991 for the launch of Maitland McDonagh’s Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds tome (first published in the UK by Sun Tavern Fields.) I got the job of showing him around and introducing him to various folks. If you remember how people gawped, gobsmacked, at The Fab Four in the 1966 concert film Beatles At Shea Stadium (or indeed at Adolf Hitler in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will, 1935) then you’ll have some idea of how they reacted to the presence of Dario Argento. I was virtually foaming at the mouth myself… bear in mind, though, that this was 1991.

While Inferno or Opera or whatever was screening I taped the following interview with Argento. The interview was also filmed, with some pretty nifty Suspiria-esque lighting. My subsequent efforts to turn this footage into a documentary met with enough fuck-ups, fuck overs and rip-offs to themselves fill a book… not exactly Jodorowksy’s Dune or Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote, but a missed opportunity nonetheless and one that I very much regret. 

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The interview appeared shortly after it took place, in radically abridged form, as The Blood, Shit And Sperm Of Dario Argento in issue #1 of Andrew Featherstone’s short lived fanzine Blood & Black Lace, on which I served as an associate editor (whatever that means.) The full version subsequently appeared under the title Profondo Argento in the 1993 debut issue of my own fanzine, Giallo Pages.

Thanks to Mariano Baino who put me up for the weekend, acted as interpreter and even threw in a few crafty questions of his own. Probable credit for some of the Scala photos used here should go to Andy Bark, no relation (as far as I know) to Peter Bark. Thanks, Andy.

But hey, enough of my yackin’. Here’s (ta-da!) the Dario Argento interview

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Ah, there you are, Sperm…

Your big career break was on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West with Bernardo Bertolucci… How was the collaboration between three such giants of the Italian cinema worked out?

Well, Leone brought me and Bertolucci together, we already knew each other, we were friends, but it was Leone who enabled us to work together. It was wonderful! I got to spend many months working on a Western, a genre that I had always loved but never dreamed that I would actually get to work in. The first thing we did was watch Johnny Guitar six or seven times and The Searchers with John Wayne, we also watched that several times, and then we started writing. I bought a gun, a colt…

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A real one?

Yes, a real one! I needed to feel the weight. So, alone in my house I would play with the gun, turning it around and around in my hands. I bought a cowboy’s hat too, and I used to wear it in front of a mirror. It was all done to try and get into the spirit of the thing, and it worked very well, in fact the opening, you know all the stuff with the fly, that was my idea. It came from studying the gun and the hat.

Could you tell us something about the influence Mario Bava has exerted over your career?

I knew Mario Bava since I was a small child, and I also know his son Lamberto very well… he’s been my assistant on three films. Mario was a technical genius, a real master who discovered many tricks – in the use of lenses, camera movements, and so on – that nobody else could do. His father was a cinematographer at the time of the silent films, and he taught Mario many tricks. It was a family tradition of tricks, special effects – underwater effects, fire effects, etc – it was a wonderful experience working with him on Inferno. For instance, he would say: Do you want to make a film where there are 50,000 people killed in a battle? I’ll do it for you, give me a week and I’ll do it for you, and he would draw them. He was a master of the mirror effect, a technique widely used in films but difficult to master, and he knew it perfectly. He could make things appear using glass panes. The glass is transparent, but when the light strikes it at a certain angle, it becomes like a mirror and you can reflect things into it but you’ve got to find the right angle. And sometimes he would draw on these panes of glass… he would draw little cities and he’d build it up and you’d have an actor in close-up and a city behind him, alive with lights and movement… he was a marvellous man!

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While we’re on the subject of such hi-tech trickery, what were the difficulties involved in shooting the slow motion car crash decapitation that closes Four Flies On Grey Velvet?

Well, it took a long time, I used this camera from… Dresden University, the department of engineering. It’s called Pentaset. This camera reaches a speed… I don’t remember now, I think it’s about 25,000 frames per second. It’s unique, radically different from another camera, otherwise the film, at that speed, would burn, it would disintegrate immediately. I think the film is travelling at something like 400 KM per hour. But in this camera the film is immersed in an oil-bath, and there isn’t an ordinary shutter… it’s got prisms, glass prisms that can reproduce the same image 25 times. The prism rotates at an incredible speed, and so does the film. It’s a very complex piece of equipment but it was the only way to get that extreme slow-motion.

Are technical innovations always at the forefront of your mind when writing a screenplay?

Yes, in the script I put lengthy technical notes, and also musical annotations… it’s a very complete screenplay, as I’m writing it for myself… I’m not going to hand the screenplay over to somebody else, so I write down everything that comes into my mind… the colours, the costumes… everything!

Is there any scene that you would like to have shot differently, but couldn’t, for want of the proper equipment at the time?

There have been so many… so many times I’ve had to abandon some good idea because the right equipment wasn’t available. In my next film there’s a segment shot from an animal’s point-of view… not the whole film, just a small segment of it is from the animal’s point of view… the point of view of a lizard. I did have a project to be shot entirely from an animal’s POV, but it would have posed far too many problems, technically.

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On Opera you came up with several novel camera effects, and to achieve them you worked for the first time with a non-ltalian director of photography…

Yes, RonnieTaylor… I met him when I shot a commercial in Australia, a car commercial for Fiat. He was the DP on this commercial, which was shot in the Australian desert. We worked together for two or three weeks, quite a long job. We got to know each other and I discovered he was a fantastic man. When we finished the commercial, I started shooting Opera straight away and I asked him to work on it. We became great friends… a great friendship was born there.

Opera, particularly the end of the film, seems to reiterate the themes of its predecessor, Phenomena…

No, in fact I think that Opera ends where Phenomena begins, even if I made Phenomena first. Opera is the story of a director who leaves the theatre to make a film about insects in Switzerland… that’s how Opera ends. In reality the director does make the film Phenomena! The order in which I made them is not important – it doesn’t really matter which order you watch the videos in, does it?

Phenomena, your least well-received film, is the most personal of them all…

Yes, the story of Phenomena is the story of this girl’s spiritual odyssey, but in reality it’s my own odyssey… it was me… I’ve told it through the story of a 13 year old girl, but I wanted to tell my story… I was coming out of a certain period in my life… nobody understood it.

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Is this because your films are often viewed purely from a technical standpoint by true critics, completely disregarding their substance and subtext?

When the critics are confronted by a different way of making cinema, one that changes the rules a bit, they are puzzled and don’t understand what they’re experiencing. All the critic sees is the surface… he sees the surface of the water, which we could call the technique, the style… but he doesn’t go under the water’s surface to discover what lies there… and there’s a lot! It’s deep… there’s politics, there are symbols… for example I had the idea, for Phenomena, that reality was not what it is today, but a different reality: I imagined that, at the end of World War II, the Germans had won, not the English and the Americans, and that a new order had been established… a sinister order, in which people are reduced to nothing more than children, and teachers who behave as if in an S.S. camp.

Does it worry you that your fascination with the dark side of the psyche could end up consuming you, as in the case of your inspiration for Two Evil Eyes, Edgar Allan Poe?

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That’s something that has always worried me… not only Edgar Allan Poe, but also Cornell Woolrich… he had a tormented life… and others… Lovecraft… nobody knows where he’s buried. That’s because they… it was a different age, you know. It was the times, I think. Today it wouldn’t happen… and of course Poe probably had this tendency towards self-destruction… whereas when I finished Opera, for example, I was so shattered… my soul was shattered… that I had to go to India for two months. I went to Katmandu, then I toured India…

Alone?

Yes, it was very important for me to do it… otherwise I would have gone mad! It wasn’t exactly a holiday, more a pilgrimage, a self-renewal. But when I’d done it, I felt able to get out and socialise again. I’m not some kind of recluse. I love to meet my fans. I travel around a lot, in fact I’m a globe-trotter! Wherever one of my films is released, I go… always! I love people… they interest me.

You have such a tremendous cult following among young people… do you make any special effort to appeal to this young audience?

No… it just happens. I tell my dreams, and if that’s the way my dreams come out… (shrugs). But I am devoted to my public. It is because I need to have this dialogue with my fans, and for that reason only, that I am prepared to make some compromises. You have to accept compromise if you want to make films: cinema is the art of compromise… especially today.

Is it difficult for you to accept these compromises?

I don’t accept all of them, more often I find that I have to fight the system… that’s why I keep saying we should abolish censorship and set the directors free.

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Those who criticize you for the violence in your films take particular exception to the violence you direct against women, they accuse you of misogny… and yet your films are full of strong female characters…

It’s true that there are killings in my films, and women often get killed… but plenty of men do too! Apart from anything else, of course, you have to remember that it’s not real… it’s fantasy. But these women aren’t just poor victims anyway… think of Phenomena: the two female characters, the teacher and the girl – the girl has got these supernatural powers and the teacher is a ‘fury’…

Suspiria, too…

Suspiria, as well. I think it’s a perceptual error… a small one.

Do you think that increasing international censorship is to blame for the poor shape that the horror genre currently finds itself in?

Yes, I think that’s the case… especially in America, where horror films have disappeared. A year ago… no, three years ago, let’s say… there were lots of American horror films being produced. This year? Nothing! And certainly, censorship has played a part in all of this. That’s why I say that censorship must be stopped. It’s absurd!

Isn’t the Italian horror scene in an even worse state than the American one?

In Italy, horror cinema has virtually disappeared. There’s only me and my small ‘factory’ now… Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi, special effects man Sergio Sivaletti… a few script-writers. There’s just a handful of us left doing it.

Are you comfortable in your role as a producer? Do you find it hard, for example, to walk onto Michele Soavi’s set and see somebody else direct the picture?

No, no, I find it very easy. We know each other well. I’m comfortable with them, and they’re at ease with me. I go on Soavi’s set without any problems… but he makes his film, not my film… he makes it and I produce it. Otherwise I would direct it myself, I show him that respect.

It’s said though that you don’t have much respect for actors…

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No… maybe it’s my attitude. Some directors who make… (pause)… comedies or other kinds of films, have a very complex and deep relationship with the actors, they practically live in symbiosis during the making of the film. But my films are very mathematical and the actors have got to do what’s required of them exactly, without deviating. They have to do what’s been written and drawn for them. I haven’t got such a close relationship with the actors, I tell them what they’ve got to do, explain things, and then it’s everyone to their own devices. So they think I despise them… but I don’t. Hitchcock used to, but not me.

Did you experience any problems with Harvey Keitel, given his ‘method’ approach, on Two Evil Eyes ?

No, not at all! Everybody told me I was going to have problems with him, but I didn’t. One actor who did give me plenty of problems though was Tony Musante, in my first film, The Bird with The Crystal Plumage. We fought all the way through the shoot. For me, getting up in the morning to go to work became a nightmare, because I knew that I would have to fight with Musante… everyday, day after day! When we finished the film, we met again, and this time we had an actual fist-fight… as he was much bigger than me, he gave me a good hiding!

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And that was your worst ever experience with an actor?

Yes, luckily I’ve never had to work with anyone that obnoxious again.

There’s a shortage of really top-notch special effects people in Italy…

Well, Sergio Stivalettii is pretty good… and we had Rambaldi, the great Rambaldi.

Yes, but you used the American Tom Savini on Two Evil Eyes…

Well, Tom Savini is an artist, a great artist… he’s a sculptor, he builds models that nobody else in the world could do… his models are truly unique. He also does animatronics exceptionally well. For example, the cat head he did for me on Two Evil Eyes… it was about this big (makes sweeping gesture)… the head moved… the eyes, the ears, the nose… but Tom was born a great artist, it could have happened anywhere… in America, or France, or wherever… sometimes a genius is just born.

Will you be using him on your next film?

Yes, because I’m shooting in America again.

Can you tell us something about the picture?

It’s called Aura’s Enigma (released as Trauma – Bob). I had the idea while I was working in Pittsburgh during the three months it took to edit my Black Cat segment of Two Evil Eyes… I find editing very easy, it doesn’t take too much out of me. So I was all alone in my room for long periods, and I spent the time writing the story, then I wrote the screenplay, and now I’m shooting it.

Are you still, in the words of Sergio Leone, “full of cinematic sperm?” Are you still in love with film?

Yes, it feels like my career has just started, like it started only a moment ago. Yes, I am still “full of sperm!” (Laughs) For me it’s really like a natural function… if you didn’t shit you would die, and it’s like that. I’ve got to do it, because if I didn’t, I would die… it’s a necessity!

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“Now I have a mission in my life…”

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“I have become like a monk…”

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“A monk of…”

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“… AGAINST CENSORS!!!”

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Four Flies / Red Eyes… Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET Reviewed

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As already mentioned in this month’s Scalarama postings, there was a time in the ’80s when I would think nothing of catching a train from Liverpool to London, doing a spot of shopping in Forbidden Planet, stopping up all night in a shabby Scala seat to catch a 4 am screening of Four Flies On Grey Velvet then returning on the milk train to Lime Street… eloquent testimony to both the lure of The Scala and the 40 year unavailability of Dario Argento’s third giallo (not to mention how much more disposable income and motivation I had in those days!) You kids don’t know you’re bloody born, with your deluxe Blu-ray collectors’ editions! Speaking of which…

 Blu-ray. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

CoOP41YW8AA0YaT.jpg-large.jpgIf The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) was evidence of Argento’s growing self-assurance his follow-up, the same year’s Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio / Four Flies On Grey Velvet testifies eloquently to his emerging genius. Its dazzling title sequence intercuts an overhead view of a drum solo with closeups of a beating heart, a brilliantly chosen image with which to simultaneously express Argento’s central and interconnecting themes – time, love and mortality. Thereafter we are plunged straight into violence: Gleefully confounding our expectations, Argento has the menacing figure based on Cameron Mitchell’s heavy in Blood And Black Lace apparently killed by the character he’s been stalking, rock drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) who tracks him down to a derelict theatre.

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All this is photographed by a mysterious masked figure in the balcony, and the guilt-stricken Tobias, who already has to contend with the breakdown of his relationship with his wife Nina (another touchingly fragile performance from Mimsy Farmer) is now plagued by photographs of the incident turning up at his house – no wonder he suffers from a recurring nightmare of decapitation.

His housekeeper works out what is going on and arranges a meeting with the blackmailer in a local park, only to be stalked through its topiary after closing time and stabbed to death in a maze. At this point Tobias enlists the aid of a gay private eye, a deft comic performance from Jean Pierre Marielle as the ineffective detective who fares no better than the housekeeper… after a chase on the underground he confronts the blackmailer, who promptly beats him over the head and injects curare directly into his heart.

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As his entrapment deepens, Roberto seeks consolation in an affair with his wife’s friend Delia (Francine Racette), who predictably is soon pushed down a flight of stairs and stabbed to death. The police’s forensic division use one of the dead girl’s eyeballs in an experiment, passing a laser beam through it in the hope that the last thing she saw can be reproduced as a photographic image (that old chestnut pseudo forensic chestnut) and provide a clue to the identity of her killer. The resulting image is meaningless, the titular “four flies on grey velvet.” Things are looking bad for Roberto, but out the blue the significance of this image announces itself… then things look even worse as he finds himself at the mercy of his tormentor. He is shot twice but just as the killer is about to deliver the coup-de-grace, one of the drum’s eccentric friends appears and saves the day. The killer jumps into a car and drives away, only to crash into the back of a truck, and Roberto’s ongoing premonitions of decapitation are shockingly fulfilled…

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Argento had recourse to extra high-tech equipment for FFOGV and technological innovation also features as a plot device (noted Italian SF specialist-Luigi directed second unit and also had a hand in writing the film’s story.) Paradoxically, Four Flies is the director’s warmest, most human film – transcending mere gimmickry, Argento uses his technical bag of tricks to cut straight to the heart of the human condition. By a masterful manipulation of screen time he illuminates the plight of those for who present is a constant re-working of past traumas. The titular clue is quintessential Argento, an audacious visual representation of a dead moment from the past, lovingly conserved and cultivated in the mind of a psychopath until it can swing again into violent life. There is no room for any concept of free will in this scheme of things and Argento goes to extraordinary lengths to comment on his fatalism – the classical device “Deus ex machina” is used at the climax of many of his  films but here Tobias is saved by the intercession of a god very much present in the machine, Bud Spencer as “Dio” who is introduced by a burst of The Hallelujah Chorus on the soundtrack, a nod to the Spaghetti Westerns in which Argento got his script-writing break.62-four-flies-on-grey-velvet-1-preview

In another spot of dues-paying the director gives Tobias an address on Fritz Lang Street! Clearly Argento is in a playful mood – he even manages an affectionate sex scene, touchingly played by Brandon and Racette, which brings the emotionally shrivelled life of the killer into sharper relief. Similarly, a jokey visit to an exhibition of funeral accessories where one of the tacky exhibits is a coffin car, serves as a comic pre-echo of the film’s shattering conclusion, where Argento scales the heights of tragedy. Using a camera that shoots (by his reckoning) up to  25,000 frames per second, Argento elongates the final seconds in the present of a character whose life has been lived almost exclusively in the past. His minutely-detailed slow motion dissection of this terrible moment either sadistic, nor voyeuristic, but ultimately compassionate. Enhanced by Ennio Morricone’s most haunting theme (at times the marriage of visuals and music in FFOGV approaches what he achieved in tandem with Sergio Leone) this profoundly moving moment leaves the viewer emotionally drained but wishing that he could sit down and watch the whole thing all over again (though for decades seeing it at all was some feat.) By tugging on the strings of time Argento has wrought a work of staggering complexity and resonance in which each part refers to every other part and to the whole. Nic Roeg’s feted Don’t Look Now, which aspired to something similar (a full two years later), comes across as positively simple-minded in comparison.

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From about 2010 0nwards a succession of official looking releases turned out to be little more than tricked-up bootlegs, finally put by right by Shameless in early 2012. This one is Argento-approved and optically fixes a screen glitch (caused by the film jumping the high speed camera gate) that has detracted from the film’s shattering climax in every previous small and big screen release. Visual and aural elements have been beautifully remastered, four elusive pieces of footage can now be viewed (in standard definition) as either isolated extras or in situ, Luigi Cozzi introduces and talks about the making of the film, you get alternative English titles and credits plus the expected trailers…

… talk about well worth waiting for!

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Van Orton Design

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

Goblin Up The Years… CLAUDIO SIMONETTI interviewed in 2006

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For those of us fixated on the twin ’70s worlds of Prog Rock and Italian Horror cinema there are two points on the graph at which our obsessions meet and snuggle up. Firstly, there’s the recently deceased and sadly missed Keith Emerson, of The Nice and ELP notoriety, who also scored movies for Dario Argento (Inferno, The Church) and Lucio Fulci (Murder Rock). Alongside Emmo’s flirtation with Pasta Paura, there’s been an ongoing contribution from one band. That band is, of course, The Goblins… or just plain old Goblin, depending on which record cover or film credit you believe. To mark what now seems to be a never-ending world tour by this legendary combo (which currently constitutes keyboard whizz Claudio Simonetti plus whoever else he’s managed to round up in time to rehearse), we’re reviving a Simonetti interview from the fabled Freudstein vaults. Since it was taped, the Goblin saga has mutated into something approaching the Julio-Claudian family tree in terms of complexity, with more personnel changes than Spinal Tap and more competing rival line-ups than Bucks Fizz. Simonetti has also toured the Goblin repertoire with a more Goth / Death Metal-orientated band, Daemonia. Over to you, Pete Frame…

Half Brazilian (like future collaborator Dario Argento), Claudio Simonetti was born (19/02/52) in Sao Paolo, the scion of an eminent musical family, his father Enrico being a noted pianist and conductor. By the time the Simonettis had relocated back to Italy, Claudio was an accomplished keyboard player. During his national service he befriended guitarist Massimo Morante, who shared Simonetti’s passion for such heavyweight British Proggers as ELP, The Nice, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant. “Yes, I started playing in bands covering the material of those guys”, remembers Simonetti: “I think everybody in the world was influenced by that music. It was obviously the big influence on the band I formed with Massimo, though subsequently we found our own voice.”

Demobbed in the early 70’s, Simonetti and Morante began recording demos with a mob of collaborators from which Fabio Pignatelli (bass) and Walter Martino (drums) emerged as fully paid-up band members. Martino had given way to Carlo Bordini and American vocalist Clive Haynes was recruited before the band (initially named Picture Of Dorian Gray, later The Oliver) travelled to London in 1974 in a misfiring attempt to hook up with Yes producer Eddie Offord.”Eddie had expressed an interest in working with us and we brought over some demos to play to him, but he was very busy at this time, he was on a world tour with The Yes, so we never get together with him” sighs Simonetti: “We stayed in London for about two months, played a few gigs and recorded some more demos, then it was back to Italy and we resumed recording in Rome.”Returning, deflated, to home soil, these Olivers – like their Dickensian namesake – were hungry for more.

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Their fortunes took an upward swing when the Cinevox label signed them to record an album, on condition that they change their name to Cherry Five, possibly to avoid confusion with the execrable soundtrack outpourings of Oliver Onions, i.e. the De Angelis brothers. Cherry Five’s 1975 self-titled debut album (on which Tony Tartarini had replaced Haynes as front man and Martino returned to replace Bordini on skins) has now been issued as a Cinevox CD and emerges as a surprisingly confident outing, albeit instantly recognisable as the work of a bunch of Yes obsessives (the harmonies, the tricky time signatures, Pignatelli’s pastiche of Chris Squire’s trebly bass sound … )

Cinevox, of course, were a label chiefly concerned with releasing soundtracks, and it was through this connection that the boys encountered Dario Argento, who was having problems scoring his giallo masterpiece Profondo Rosso / Deep Red (1975). Claudio remembers it like this … “Giorgio Gaslini had written the music but Dario wanted it played by a rock band and was searching for one which would be up to the job. He signed us after hearing the Cherry 5 album. After ten days of recording it was decided that we should come up with more of the music ourselves. Dario and Gaslini had been having disagreements about the music, also Gaslini had a very heavy schedule of concert work … he was a very famous jazz player… so Dario said: ‘OK guys, you’re on your own’. That was our big break, we did the main title music and other themes in the picture. The A-
side of the soundtrack album is the music that we composed, the B-side is Gaslini stuff arranged and played by Goblin” (as the band, minus Tartarini and concentrating on instrumental material, would now be known).

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“We were glad to have been granted this great opportunity, we were very young and very full of ourselves …. ” So, to Gaslini’s famous lullaby theme The Goblins added (among other bits of business) the equally celebrated, much re-released and remixed title piece, a stunning interplay between acoustic guitar-picking and church organ grandiloquence which makes me suspect that, while in London, The Goblins must have been tuning into classic Granada TV documentary series World In Action. During the Deep Red sessions drummer Martino left yet again to be replaced by Agostino Marangolo, whose brother Antonio also contributed additional keyboard parts. On the soundtrack to Mauro Macario’s 1976 picture Perche Si Uccidono, attributed to II Reale Impero Britannico, four of the eleven tracks are The Goblins’ interpretation of music written by Fabio Frizzi, no less… the guy who went on to score most of Lucio Fulci’s zombie epics. Antonio Marangolo gave way to Maurizio Guarini for the band’s other 1976 effort Roller, whose title track continues the big organ (ooh-er, missus!) sound of Profondo Rosso, though here in tandem with Morante’s soaring electric lead. Elsewhere those Prog influences are very much in evidence. Dr Frankestein (sic) emulates ELP and the eponymous Goblin runs the gamut from Genesis to jazz-rock, while Snip Snap hints at the funky shape of things to come. Roller remains one of only two non-soundtrack albums that were ever put out under the Goblin banner, though cuts from it were subsequently pillaged for the soundtracks of other films, notably Wampir (the 1979 Italian release of George Romero’s Martin), Luigi Cozzi’s colourised re-issue of the original Godzilla and Argento’s tenor tour-deforce Suspiria (1977 … Aquaman and Dr Frankestein appear on the original soundtrack album though not in the film itself). Goblin did however deliver plenty of original material for Suspiria, their dissonant cacophony of whispers, screams, strangulated synthesiser and found percussion providing the perfect accompaniment to Argento’s all-out visual, visceral assault. Just as the witches’ murderous daggers are wielded in close up by the director’s own skinny hands, so it is Simonetti’s voice that can be heard throughout the picture, muttering lines from the folk poem “Three Witches Sitting In A Tree.” It has gone down in fear-film folklore that Goblin completed the scoring of Suspiria before a frame of film was shot, and that the actors rehearsed and played their parts while listening to it. The truth is that this provisional score was completely revamped in postproduction. Another persistent rumour has it that the band Libra, whose relentless, percussion-driven score accompanies Dario Nicolodi’s accelerating mental disintegration in Mario Bava’s final feature Shock (1977), are actually The Goblins, working incognito for contractual reasons. In fact the connection was a very tenuous one, Libra comprising original Goblin drummer Walter Martino and transient members / fringe figures Maurizio Guarini, Alessandro Centofanti, Carlo Pennisi and Dino Cappa.

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In the same year the genuine Goblins scored Enzo Castellari’s cop saga La Via Della Droga.There was no doubt about who scored George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead aka Zombie, coproduced by Argento in 1978. With Antonio Marangolo contributing sax parts, Goblin turned in what is undoubtedly their strongest soundtrack album. The others invariably boast a strong title theme but also a certain amount of straight filler and tend to peter out into lots of “creeping around corridors” stuff that doesn’t necessarily do much for the listener without its accompanying visuals. The band came up with several compelling themes for Dawn, and their characteristic staccato unison riffing, a la King Crimson / Mahavishnu Orchestra, has never been this tight and telling. Argento wisely beefed up the band’s soundtrack presence on his punchier cut of the movie, released in Italy.

Like any self-respecting Prog band, Goblin were obliged to release the dreaded “concept album,” which also appeared in 1978 with the Kafka-esque title II Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark (“The Fantastic Voyage Of Mark The Bug”). This was full-on Prog with a distinctly Italian flavour, the vocals (courtesy of Morante ) delivered at times in the hectoring tone of a Roman market trader. “It’s a story about this beetle called Mark and his travels through the insect world, but it’s like … how to say? It’s a human story, but told in the insect world … an allegory!” An autobiographical allegory of certain members’ drug problems, it was later confessed! Perhaps those problems contributed to the band’s split later in 1978, apparently at the height of their powers. It’s also possible that there was friction with Argento, who has had well-recorded spats with Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Gaslini and Keith Emerson. Simonetti, however, offers a more prosaic explanation …” I think at that point, after all those years of collaborations, that we had nothing more to say. A lot of other bands from that era were also calling it a day round about this time … Prog Rock was finished, the new era of dance music was arriving.” Indeed, when sundry Goblins reconvened four years later to record the soundtrack of Argento’s Tenebrae, the results were distinctly disco-flavoured, with vocoder heavily to the fore on the main theme’s infernal toccata-and-frug, and drum machine throughout, complimenting the musicianly efforts of Pignatelli-Simonetti-Morante. Thus they were billed, as by now Cinevox owned all rights to the name Goblin, under which Zappa looky-likey Pignatelli was simultaneously recording Volo, an album of TV themes, utilising a rotating crew of collaborators, either with or without Simonetti and / or Morante. Pignatelli had taken on scoring duties for a succession of Italian genre pictures which generally lack the zip and zing of golden age Goblinry, their sequenced keyboard progressions coming across as leaden and predictable. Among the better ones are those for Joe D’ Amato’s 1979 outrage Blue Holocaust, with its pulsating main theme, and Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), whose genuinely epic title piece contains some of the niftiest mellotron work ever executed outside The Court Of The Crimson King. The rest of the album features several cuts filched from D’ Amato’s picture. The weirdest is undoubtedly that for Bruno Corbucci’s Squadra Antigangster (1979), a comedic crime-slime vehicle for Tomas Milian’s ever popular “Monnezza” character. This one boasts Chinese disco, the S/M droolings of demented dominatrix Asha Puthly on a track entitled The Whip and, bizarrest of all, the funk fiasco Welcome To The Boogie, in which guest vocalist “Charlie Cannon” not only welcomes us to said boogie but also invites the bemused listener to “wiggle his woogie” before delivering further astonishing non sequitur lines about, among other things, “funky” (or are they “spunky”?) donkeys!

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Meanwhile Simonetti’s solo scores were often the most entertaining features of exploitation pictures such as Enzo Castellari’s The New Barbarians (1982), Lucio Fu1ci’s Conquest (1983) and several Ruggero Deodato efforts. In collaboration with ethereal vocalist Pina Magri, he also contributed the pulse-pounding title piece for Argento’s much-panned Phenomena (1984, also collaborating on some tracks with Pignatelli) and the rather more lyrical main theme for Opera (1987), book-ending his Herbie Hancockesque electro contributions to Argento and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) and gothy dabblings on its inevitable sequel, Demons 2 (1986). Simonetti’s contributions to all of these nestled cheek-by-jowl with a grab bag of contemporary rock tracks, Argento’s magpie “now that’s what I call hit-and-miss” scoring system an ill-advised attempt to drum up extra soundtrack album sales. When it came to Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989), producer Argento was ready for something more refined, dividing scoring duties between Keith Emerson and the axis of Pignatelli, Simonetti and Morante, who performed the looping cadences of Philip Glass’s compositions for the film. Argento’s directorial career marked time during the ’90s as the Spag Horror legend turned in a succession of misconceived mediocrities. 2001’s Non Ho Sonno aka Sleepless was a return to the giallo genre and a partial return to former glories. To stoke up expectations that he was back on track, Argento asked Simonetti to reform the classic Profondo Rosso / Suspiria line-up of Goblin for its soundtrack. “I met him in Barcelona at a festival in the late ’90s … ” remembers the keyboard wizard ” … and he said why not reform the band for my next film. So I contacted my friends and they agreed.” Although Goblin / Argento enthusiasts raved over the results (the predictably lush title piece has more than a suggestion of Profondo Rosso about it), ” .. .it was very hard to work together again,” confesses Simonetti, ” … because we hadn’t played for 22 years and we are now so different from each other. Every one of us likes different types of music. I think we were not ready to play together again.” Indeed, Non Ho Sonno could well prove to be the final hurrah. “That will probably be the last collaboration of that classic line-up of Goblin …. ” sighs Simonetti: ” .. .its not easy to play together and stay together.”

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“A marriage is easier to keep together than a band” drummer Marangolo muses during an MPEG that appears on certain video-enhanced Cinevox editions of the band’s CDs. The company has diligently kept all of the band’s work available since the early 80s, and released an ongoing series of “greatest hits” and “rarities” packages including such oddities as Chi? (the band’s 1976 performance of a popular TV programme’s theme tune), Yell (Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers’ 1978 theme for another TV series, which was resurrected for The Goblins’ re-scoring of Richard Franklin’s Patrick) and Pignatelli, Marangolo and Pennisi’s contributions to the score of Armenia Balducci’s 1979 effort, Amo Non Amo. The proliferation of Cinevox “Best Of” compilations and bonus “tracks / alternate” takes on their new editions of original albums made for a certain degree of duplication, but in 2000 the company excelled themselves with The Fantastic Journey Of Goblin, Volume 1 (no sign of Volume 2 at the time of writing). This collection serves up the expected Argento collaborations, but with a bonus disc comprising material that had recently been discovered in the Cinevox vaults, a concert recording of the band (Simonetti, Morante, Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers) delivering live renditions of tracks from Roller and Bagarozzo Mark, together with the inevitable Profondo Rosso theme. “I can’t imagine where they discovered that material” confesses Simonetti: “”We were a really good live band, it’s a great shame there are not a lot of concert recordings and absolutely no video” (in fact a bootleg DVD exists, documenting Goblin’s appearance at the San Remo Festival in 1978. I might even get round to reviewing that one in a future posting – Bob Freudstein.) Cinevox have also released Volume 1 of a remixes collection and Simonetti himself has continued to tinker… on his Simonetti Horror Project video there’s a dance version of the Profondo Rosso theme, with a black DJ rapping over the top to startling effect. The Goblin legacy continues to thrive, much to the delight of Simonetti: “Prog Rock was very popular in the’ 70s. Now it is completely out of fashion, yet there is still such strong support for the music of Goblin over so many years. We couldn’t have imagined that this would happen. It makes us very surprised … and very, very happy!”

Goblin&Dario

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

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