Posts Tagged With: Edwige Fenech

Lovelock Lies Limp… Edwige Fenech in THE VIRGIN WIFE

valentina-movie-poster-1978-1020205099.jpgTHE VIRGIN WIFE / “LA MOGLIE VERGINE” aka VALENTINA – THE VIRGIN WIFE, YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HEART and AT LAST, AT LAST (1975)

Directed by “Franco Martinelli” (Marino Girolami).
Produced by Edmondo Amati.
Written by Marino Girolami & Carlo Veo.
Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli.
Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Starring: Edwige Fenech, Ray Lovelock, Renzo Montagnani, Carrol Baker, Gabriella Giorgelli.

“What’s eating you” Ray Lovelock asks Edwige Fenech at one point in this picture. Not him, apparently. C’mon Ray, get down and get down to it… today is La Fenech’s birthday! (It’s rather a special occasion for everybody here at The House Of Freudstein, too… our 100th posting in this, our first year of blogging!)

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If Lovelock’s career reached its zenith in Jorge Grau’s sublime Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974), its nadir can surely be fixed in this fitful, unfunny effort by Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad and director of Zombi Holocaust.) The Virgin Wife is a variation on Ray Boulting’s The Family Way (1966) done as Sexy-Comedy all’Italiana and comes as an overdue opportunity to probe the link between Italian machismo and mama-worship, in which we’re supposed to believe that ol’ Ray (as “Giovanni”) can’t bring himself to consummate his marriage with the truly   (“Valentina”), despite the encouragement of lecherous old Uncle Fred (Renzo Montagnani, he of the ever-popular catch-phrase “Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”) Priapismic Fred likens his own unbridled manhood to “an Olympic torch burning a hole in my breeches”, simultaneously complaining that “My nephew’s got a limp sardine in his pants!”

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“Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

Bottles of schnapps, red hot chillies in the minestrone, “bull’s hormones” and the contagious eroticism of cousin Gianfranco (Michele Gammino, an astonishing Peter Sutcliffe lookalike) and his nymphomaniac French girlfriend Brigitte (Florence Barnes), much addicted as she is to nibbling sensually on bananas, the ministrations of Maria the naughty maid… even Fenech’s restaging of Sophia Loren’s strip for poor old Marcello Mastroianni in Ieri, Oggi E Domani… all of these attempted remedies, and more, fail to get lovelorn Lovelock’s limp dick rising to the occasion (don’t forget, all of this took place in the days before Viagra.)

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Nature abhorring a vacuum, Fenech is soon on the receiving end of Sapphic overtures from Brigitte (“Your skin is fantasteek… eet must drarve your ‘usband warld! Your breasts are magnifique… lark a marble statue!”) as well as warding off the unwanted overtures of a smarmy family lawyer who’s trying to get into her briefs.  At one point Fenech is driven to take herself in hand, fantasising about Lovelock in a Superman costume… a virile horse also features in this dream sequence, so it’s probably just as well that Girolami rather than Joe D’Amato directed the picture!

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Any scant sympathy one might have felt for Lovelock’s plight, even after the realisation that it’s him croaking the godawful theme-song to this film (one section of the lyrics sounds horribly like: “Teek-tock, the time goes on / Teek-tock, my love has gone / Teek-tock, my goat goes on without you here”) flies right out of the window when the root of this Oedipus wreck’s trouble is revealed as a fixation on his mother-in-law, played by the matronly Carroll Baker. Distraught, Fenech runs off during a downpour and is discovered and deflowered by a member of a nudist colony (“They’re Americans – they like to do that sort of thing!”) Lovelock and Baker, searching for her, are themselves obliged to take shelter in a derelict building, where they make out  while Lovelock weeps and wails: “I want my Mama”, setting a new low for unwholesome Mommy love that would stand for several years, until Peter Bark and Marianga Girodano’s gob-smacking shenanigans in Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981.)

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The unhappy family come to an awkward modus vivendi in an unexpectedly downbeat ending for such a frothy piece (something Hollywood took years to work up the courage to do – remember the fuss that was made over War Of The Roses?) Otherwise, this is typical and typically broad Italian comedy, complete with its groan-inducing compliment of double-entendres. Unfortunately Fenech’s oft noted comedic talents are severely compromised, in the British VPD video release, by the clumsy translation and disastrous dubbing of her waspish asides.

Trivia note – when the family doctor “tests” Giovanni for homosexuality, he does it by showing him pictures of a (then) little-known body-builder… yep, it’s Arnold Schwarzennegger!

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“Stop me if you’ve heard this before… oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

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“The Ruthless Logic Of Commercial Production”… THE SERGIO MARTINO INTERVIEW

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Sergio Martino interviewed in March 1997.

Were you surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino was one of your biggest fans?

When I first read his comments in Giallo Pages, yes – but after reflecting a lot on it, I realised that he was paying tribute to myself and also to a whole generation of Italian film-makers who knew, above all, how to improvise,  and use their imaginations to overcome restricted resources and shooting schedules. Tarantino started off in “low budget” cinema himself, so he appreciates only too well what it takes to get good results under these circumstances.

Are you aware of the increasing “cult” status of Italian genre films in America, England and Europe?

Yes, because with increasing frequency I’m hearing from journalists like yourself, who want to interview me about films I’ve made in the past… I hope that in the future I’ll get to make some more that will also be of interest to you!

Me too, but the present state of the Italian film industry isn’t very promising… what is the reason for this? And can you see any remedy?

The present state of Italian genre cinema is, indeed, very sad. The cause of our decline has been the massive economical and technical superiority of Hollywood, which you can only fight with improvisation and imagination for so long. The investment sources that we used to have in Italy have just dried up. If we could get a million and a half dollars to make an action film, then perhaps we would again be able to get the attention of the international market, but there is no Italian producer in a position to risk such a sum. Perhaps the future lies with more European co-productions, though these bring difficulties due to differing languages and national taste.

Have you managed to keep making movies during these last few difficult years?

I’ve been offered opportunities to shoot a few films on which the budgets would have been disgraceful, so instead I’ve been concentrating on making TV series.

I believe that in the early days, you worked as an assistant to the great Mario Bava… how do you remember him, and what did you learn from him?

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I worked on the shoot of Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963) as a production assistant. I remember his technical ability, his expertise in constructing scale models and how skilfully he used lighting and camera positioning to make up for certain deficiencies in the acting department. He had previously worked as a cinematographer, so he knew that a shaft of light or a lower positioning of the camera lower could heighten the dramatic impact of a line. Also, he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and would never shoot anything superfluous. If a film was to last 90 minutes, he would scarcely shoot any more than that.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti and Umberto Lenzi on some of their films…

I have very positive memories of them as two real pros, who had mastered the technical side of film-making.

Your earliest directorial credits were “mondo” efforts such as Mille Peccati… Nessuna Virtu (1969) and America… Cosi’ Nude, Cosa Violenta (1970)… how do your remember those?

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Extraordinary memories. These films allowed me, while very young, to live through unrepeatable experiences… this was the time of the youthful rebellion in 1968, the hippies, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation and the first men on the moon…

You also worked in a genre, which is a descendent of the “mondo” documentaries… cannibal movies: how would you compare and contrast your Mountain Of The Cannibal God with the cannibal pictures of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato?

I saw one of Deodato’s films, though unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. It was made before my Montagne Del Dio Canibale…

That would be L’Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, then…

 … but it was trying for the same sort of ambience. I think Lenzi’s films in this genre  were made after mine, but I must confess that I haven’t seen them. I think that between all of them there was some affinity… once one such film has been successful, the producers obviously want you to come up with something similar.

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Did you, your cast and crew encounter any real dangers in the jungle?

The only problem was the wasps, really. I made Montagne Del Dio Canibale and The Great Alligator in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The most effective jungle scenes were actually shot in the botanical garden of Kandj, in very comfortable circumstances. I remember though, shooting in the cave in Montagne Del Dio Canibale… it was so hot and humid, even more so under the lights. In addition, we’d just had to climb 500 metres up a mountain!

Because she’s such a big star, did you have problems convincing Ursula Andress to have all that crap rubbed all over her?

Ursula had already experienced a lot in life and made other films in the jungle, so she was not worried on that occasion, nor indeed  in the scene with the python, which she insisted I shoot without using a double.

How do you respond to the charge that such films are “racist” or “cruel to animals”?

Racism? This is a first for me, but the things critics come up with never cease to amaze me! As far as I’m concerned, these films were inspired by American adventure cinema of the 4O’s like King Solomon’s Mines, and other American and European adventure cinema. I can understand the “cruelty against animals” charge, but the scene in which the python strangles the monkey, for instance, was shot almost by chance. Admittedly, the monkey was put next to the snake, but it had every opportunity to escape… there was nothing inevitable about it being killed. Anyway, in the jungle the law of life is the law of survival. I don’t believe, moreover, that the makers of all these “respectable” nature documentaries we see on TV just shoot what they find… I think that many of their violent scenes of jungle life are contrived and reconstructed.

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Were you surprised that your brother Luciano put some of your footage from Montagne Del Dio Canibale into Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive?

Not at all – it’s the ruthless logic of commercial production. Would it be more just to shoot another scene of violence to animals? So it seems right to me to re-use the footage, as it suited the purposes of that film so well.

Is it more or less difficult working with a producer who is also your brother?

As with any other situation, there are both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have managed to keep working in a field that is otherwise rather precarious, and I am allowed to make my films with a certain autonomy. The disadvantage is that, I’ve made so many films with my brother that other producers are less inclined to call me for their projects.

How would you define the term “giallo” and assess the Italian thriller’s influence on the thriller genre internationally?

It’s obvious that directors like Romero and De Palma have been influenced by their viewings of Italian gialli. In essence, these are thrillers based not only on the intricacies of uncovering the identity of the culprits, but also on the use – and, at times misuse – of violent imagery. As for myself, the biggest influence on my own gialli has been Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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That influence is very apparent in a film like Your Vice Is A Closed Room… what are your favourite and least favourite of your own entries in this genre?

My least favourite would certainly be Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery, my favourites are All The Colours Of Darkness and – my absolute favourite – the sequence at the end of Torso in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there.

Was Kendall cast as an hommage to her role in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

Suzy Kendall is an excellent actress, and at that time she was very bankable, internationally. The film was shot in English, and her casting was partly motivated by this, though of course the fact that she had been in Argento’s film was also a major factor.

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Do you agree with the assessment that Torso represents a transition from the stylish gialli of the ‘60s and early ‘70s to the brutal “splatter movies” that came later?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t recall the kind of films that were being made at the same time or just afterwards… in fact I followed Torso up with a comedy and two tear-jerkers.

How did you find the experience of working with Carlo Ponti?

It was a very positive experience. There was a great deal of trust between us. I was then a very young director, and not particularly self-confident… it’s fair to say that I became one of his pupils. Unfortunately we only made a few films together… three, and all successful. Soon after this, he had his tax problems, and could not work as a producer in Italy for a long time. A pity from my point of view, but above all for the Italian film business, because he was one of the most intelligent producers we ever had.

What did you think of the alterations that American distributors made to your films, e.g. Joseph Brenner with Torso, the way that All The Colours Of Darkness lost its opening nightmare sequence in America, and the way that more gore was added to Island Of The Fishmen?

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For a long time, I was not even aware of this. I was later told that these changes were made to make the films more appealing to an American audience. It’s not that the distributors found the content of these films below par, just that different audiences are looking for different things.

The theme of female masochism in your The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh echoes that in Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh, which as we mentioned earlier, you worked on…

Possibly so… the films shared the same writer, Ernesto Gastaldi. But the real inspiration for Strange Vice, of course, was the commercial success of Argento’s first film.

What was Nora Orlandi’s inspiration for the haunting theme music to that film?

Nora Orlandi is a woman of great musical sensitivity and passion. I thought it was right to use her because she would be better able to interpret the sensations of the female protagonist.

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Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery and Delitti Privati are both, in their different ways, “TV gialli”. Is the genre suited to this medium?

In a TV series, which runs longer than a feature, it’s more difficult to keep suspicion moving between the various characters… the plot must be much more intricate to hold the viewer’s interest and persuade them to tune in next time. In the case of Delitti Privati, I think we managed this quite well.

Sergio Stivaletti worked on Etruscan Cemetery and other  of your movies… how do you rate this FX man-turned-director?

He’s a young man with a fantastic talent. I think that it’s a good move for him to start directing, and I’m sure that he will be successful.

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Giovanni Lombardo Radice from Etruscan Cemetery told me that he found you a very “cold” director, but later realised that you had made him give one of his best performances… do you have a set way of working with actors?

I think that the rapport between director and actors is determined, above all, by the quality of the story and by adherence to the truth of the characters’ motivations. In genre films the stories are often very mechanical and the characters are moved not by true reactions to the situation, but by the necessities of moving the story along. For example – why, in giallo films, do so many beautiful and vulnerable girls sleep alone in sinister, isolated  castles instead of comfortable and secure hotels in the towns nearby? Because otherwise, it would not be possible to generate any suspense. The characters are motivated by the will of the writer and the director. In this respect it is difficult to communicate to the actors how they should be interpreting their roles, when it’s mainly a matter of mechanics. Perhaps my “cold attitude” towards actors in certain films was determined a little by my own natural timidity, but also from my awareness of the limitations on creative possibilities in these circumstances, where all you want from them is a routine “fearful” expression, or whatever. If Lombardo Radice believes that this brought out the best in him as an actor, so much the better.

Was it important for you to keep a regular cast (e.g. Edwige Fenech, George Hilton) from picture to picture?

It produced a great sense of camaraderie among us, which probably helped everybody to give their best to the production.

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What are your memories of working with Fenech?

Very agreeable and positive. I hope to work with her again in the future.

What did you think of her appearances in gialli made by other directors, like Giuliano Carnimeo and Andrea Bianchi?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge the work of my colleagues, in the giallo field or elsewhere. I will say though that these are excellent professionals, who have worked well in most genres, not just the giallo.

Do you think Fenech is better as a giallo ingenue, or a comedienne?

Her sunny face and Mediterranean beauty inclines me to think she’s more suitable for comedy. On the other hand, Delitti Privati demonstrates just how well she can do in a dramatic role.

Any memories of Barbara Bouchet?

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Another actress with a great comic talent. I think it’s a real pity that she doesn’t seem able to get roles in the cinema and on TV these days. She works mainly in the theatre, now…

Presumably you used international actors like Marty Feldman, for example, in Sex with A Smile, in an attempt to make the Italian comedy a less domestic affair and more saleable abroad?

Yes, obviously. Marty Feldman in particular was a great comic. In fact, at this time Italian comedies did have a certain amount of international success, and actors like Buzzanca and La Fenech became quite marketable.

Your cop films – like Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia (The Violent Professionals) with Luc Merenda – were criticised for being “fascistic”…

I remember that in Italy at the start of the seventies there were moves in  parliament to disarm the police, and sociologists were arguing against putting people in prison. But the man in the street wanted strong, decisive action against crime. All the cop films of the time had this same theme, like the American films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson – are they, then, “fascistic”?

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In 2019: After The Fall Of New York, you tried to put a new slant on the hackneyed “after The Bomb” scenario, with Wagnerian allusions, and so on…

To be honest, although the Wagnerian tone is a suggestion that pleases me, I’m not sure how intentional it was.

Well, you’ve got a character named “Parsifal” in there, for starters… what are your memories of the Westerns you made?

Arizona Si Scateno was my first non-documentary film. I remember with nostalgia how green I was in those days. I think that with Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) I made a good film with some beautiful sequences, though it came a little too late in the great “spaghetti western” cycle.

Can you tell us something about Claudio Cassinelli’s tragic death during Vendetta Del Futuro (Hands Of Steel)?

More than ten years later, it still feels like an iron in my soul! Claudio was one of my dearest friends, a sensitive and gentle person. The circumstances of his death were really absurd… I don’t want to go over it all again, because no amount of that will bring poor Claudio back. I prefer to cherish the beautiful, personal memories I have of him.

What can you tell us about your 1993 film Craving Desire, with Serena Grandi?

It’s a film that I was able to make after the TV success of Delitti Privati. Serena did play a part in that film, though the star was Vittoria Belvedere. Serena had already played some small roles for me at the beginning of her career, so I knew very well how good she was.

Has Queen Of The Fishmen been completed yet? Is Edwige Fenech in it, as announced?

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The film was shown, with some success, at the Cairo Film Festival in 1996. It’s a kind of fairytale that uses repertory footage from Island Of The Fishmen and 2019.  La Fenech did not appear in the film, because at the last moment she decided that she couldn’t face wearing a heavy costume in the equatorial climate that we would be shooting in.

Why do you use two American-sounding pseudonyms (“Martin Dolman” and “Christian Plummer”) instead of the customary one?

The name “Plummer” was used only for the abridged version of Etruscan Cemetery, the feature that we “salvaged” from the TV series. At this time there were so many films by “Martin Dolman” on the market, we thought that another pseudonym was in order, so as not to devalue the name.

Any future projects that we should be anticipating?

Some TV projects, then another “giallo” serial.

Sergio Martino, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

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In Memoriam, Luciano Martino (22.12.33 – 14.08.13)

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Who Dies In A House Like This? YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 18.

Perhaps more than those of any other director, Sergio Martino’s gialli have covered a diverse range of styles and approaches. 1972’s Your Vice Is A Locked Door And Only I Have The Key (fair trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?) emerges as something of a chamber piece (perhaps big brother Luciano, Sergio’s producer, was feeling the need to trim the budgets a bit at this point) borrowing its story template from the much misadapted Poe yarn, The Black Cat and grafting on elements of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955.)

That florid handle quotes one of Ivan Rassimov’s endearments to Edwige Fenech inMartino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971.) Whether viewed under that title or alternatives including Excite Me or Gently Before She Dies, Martino has seasoned his malevolent moggy mischief with more than a pinch of melodrama, recasting Poe’s gothic fragment as a superbitch showdown between Fenech (as Floriana, sporting a shorter hair style than we are accustomed to) and the Titian haired Anita Strindberg as neurotic Irene, holed up in a Padovan country villa with the latter’s drunken husband Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), a dissipated, mother fixated writer suffering terminal block. For once Fenech plays not the wide-eyed ingenue, rather “a loud-mouthed little ball breaker” (“Finally I got my moment of wickedness”, she remembers), an appropriately feline predator who arrives in that ironic Snow White bob to stir the final drops of poison into Pistilli and Strindberg’s already severely dysfunctional diptych. Careful, Edwige… Strindberg could probably cut your throat with those cheek bones!

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The picture opens with Oliviero humiliating Irene at a swinging party for trailer trash hippies where Dalila Di Lazzaro (in her alleged screen debut) drops her pants and starts dancing on a table.

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Jeez, it’s donkey’s years since I was invited to a party at which Dalila Di Lazzaro danced naked on a table… anyway, two of his jailbait girlfriends are subsequently murdered with a scythe. Oliviero proclaims his innocence to Irene but, paranoid that he will be fitted up by the police, he persuades her to help him wall up the evidence in their wine cellar. It’s at this most inconvenient juncture that Floriana invites herself to stay with them. Lecherous Oliviero is delighted at the way his “snotty little bitch” of a niece has grown up and she’s soon bedding both of them, with the milkman thrown in for good measure! Irene sensitively confides in her that Oliviero is “sexually retarded and afraid of impotence” (ooh, catty!) Meanwhile “Walter” (Ivan Rassimov, still going through his peroxide period) lurks menacingly in the shadows… if only they’d awarded Oscars for lurking menacingly, Ivan would have collected a shelf load. Elsewhere a prostitute becomes the latest scythe victim before the assassin (a completely unknown character) is himself killed.

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Irene hates Pistilli’s cat Satan and when it savages her doves, she carves its eye out with a pair of scissors. Nice. Later she’s grossed out by a delivery of sheep’s eyes for pussy’s dinner (hmm, Sheep’s Eyes For Satan… that’s not a bad title for a giallo, actually!) Stalked by the moggy she maimed, goaded on by Floriana, then discovering Oliviero’s endlessly retyped intention to bump her off and wall her up, she cracks and grabs those scissors again… it would be unfair to spell out the murderous final steps of this dance macabre, suffice to say that if you’ve ever read Poe‘s Black Cat or sat though one of its innumerable Italian (or other) screen adaptations, you won’t need telling how the crimes of the last surviving baddy are ultimately brought to light.

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At this point it’s customary to invoke the “(Film X) has never looked better” cliché and that is certainly the case with this 2K restoration of YVIALRAOIHTK, which showcases the subtlety of DP Giancarlo Ferrando’s palate in admirable fashion, reminiscent of how beautifully Arrow served Luigi Kuveiller’s work on their recent 4K restoration of Argento’s Deep Red. Nor has Bruno Nicolai’s OST ever sounded better, whether you’re listening to the original English or Italian soundtracks in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio.

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“What about bonus materials?”, I hear you ask (must get these walls insulated!) Unveiling The Vice, in which Martino, Fenech and co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi look back on Your Vice, will be familiar to anybody who’s seen the No Shame DVD release from several years ago. In it, Fenech recalls her own and Strindberg’s embarrassment about the lesbian scenes and waxes nostalgic about the enormous onion omelettes she was fed on set. Tasty stuff. Through The Keyhole is a new interview with the director, who’s on charming and engaging form as usual. He talks about how the film’s title originated from audience response to that Rassimov line in Mrs Wardh (“We thought it would be a captivating title, full of depraved innuendos”) and talks of the “inspiration” he took from the real life Fenaroli murder case of 1958, a notorious insurance scam. Martino expresses amazement at the level of fannish activity devoted to him on social media, where he believes that he is over praised, while conceding that when his films were released contemporary critics significantly underrated them. When he’s reminiscing about collaborators (including the ill-starred  Pistilli) we learn interesting stuff about the discovery of Fenech and how her face and figure went against the grain of what he wanted in a giallo heroine, only for him to be persuaded otherwise by her acting talent.

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Arrow are really pushing these “visual essays” and here you get not one but two of them. Michael Mackenzie’s Dolls Of Flesh And Blood: The Gialli Of Sergio Martino opens with the suggestion that Martino be recognised as a peer of the “big three” giallo directors, Bava, Argento and Fulci, though I’d have thought most genre buffs have long accepted him as a member of an actual “big four.” Mackenzie works hard trying to flog his “M-gialli vs F-gialli” thesis and there’s some impressive deployment of split screen techniques whereby the action from as many as four films is unfolding simultaneously to illustrate whatever point he’s making. In his The Strange Vices Of Ms Fenech, Justin Harries alternates such academic observations as “Sartre viewed through an exploitation lens…” with barely concealed lusting after the focus of his dissertation. Well, who can blame him? The accompanying cavalcade of clips and cheese cake shots is very predictable but none the less welcome for that… slightly less welcome is the innovation of Mr Harries hogging centre stage, mugging and gesticulating for much of the time that they’re playing out. No slight intended against Justin’s photogenic credentials, I’m just not sure that we want anyone – however finely chiseled – interrupting our view of Fenech. He does admittedly fill in some interesting biographical minutia for our girl while he’s at it, too.

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Eli Roth also gets to wax enthusiastic about Martino without really telling you anything that you didn’t already know. He drops a clanger of misattribution but redeems himself at the end with an amusing personal anecdote.

There’s no booklet, all the written stuff all having been reserved for the expensive Arrow box which teamed this title with Fulci’s The Black Cat. The reversible sleeve features classic YVIALRAOIHTK artwork and a newly commissioned artwork by Mathew Griffin… dunno about you guys but I always tend to go classic.

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The Sergio Martino Weekender concludes tomorrow evening, with… The Sergio Martino Interview!

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Edwige Fenech Gives Mutant Nazi Sex Midget The Boner Of The Year… SEX WITH A SMILE Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Skyline. Unrated.

Justly feted as one of the masters of giallo (see reviews of The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Torso elsewhere on this site) Sergio Martino was also a nimble genre jumper, diving fearlessly and  proficiently (as was required from any journeyman director of his generation) into several other filoni. The “Sexy-Comedy” proved a particularly fertile furrow for his plough and his favoured giallo ingenue Edwige Fenech doubled, of course, as the Queen of Sexy-Comedy. Her only serious rival in both genres, Barbara Bouchet, shares prominent billing (though no scenes) with her in this 1976 portmanteau effort, Martino’s take on Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). It seems fitting to kick off our Martino weekender with a look at Sex With A Smile (aka 40 Gradi All’Ombra Del Lenzuolo), as this prolific field of spaghetti endeavour has so far received pretty short shrift here at The House Of Freudstein… and perhaps we’re about to find out why.

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The title of the first episode, One For The Money, actually short changes Enrico Montesano, who manages to seduce the glacially beautiful Barbara Bouchet on three separate occasions in return for money which… well, I’ll leave you to discover the twist for yourself if you’re not already familiar with it. Suffice to say, this is a well constructed little piece of ribaldry, probably the best segment of the picture. Which means, of course, that everything goes downhill a bit, thereafter. Marty Feldman and Dayle (Spermula) Haddon star as The Bodyguard and his client, the latter finding her love life thwarted by Marty’s tendency to see kidnap plots everywhere. Feldman was cast to enhance the international box office appeal of SWAS but for me he’s the most irritating thing in a film that’s chock full of “broad” performances. I’ve enjoyed him in plenty of other things but his lame attempts to do Buster Keaton here come across more like Buster Cretin. In Catch It While It’s Hot Alberto Lionello is a chauffeur being mercilessly prick teased by his aristocratic mistress Giovanna Ralli, a situation which resolves itself in another entertaining if not exactly unguessable twist.

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In Dream Girl, Edwige Fenech is the town hottie driving the horny locals crazy (“She’s giving me the boner of the year!” drools Salvatore Baccaro), none more so than Tomas Milian, nebbishly cast against type as the schmendrick getting completely lost in his nerdy daydreams about her. When he phones his fantasies in to the divine Edwige she starts getting hot pants herself, coming over all twitchy while watching a Dracula movie whose lighting is highly suggestive of that on Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963), in which Christopher Lee starred and Martino served as assistant director. The ultimate, accidental beneficiary of her stoked libido, however, turns out to be Baccarro. Yes – spoiler alerts be damned – “Sal Boris”, the mutant Nazi sex midget from Luigi Batzella’s “video nasty” The Beast In Heat enjoys carnal knowledge of Edwige Fenech… there’s hope for all of us!

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This instalment might have made a good closer but regrettably Martino opts to wind things up with a mutt of an episode entitled A Dog’s Day in which Aldo Maccione saves dotty Sydne Rome from suicide and seems set for a carnal reward, only to fall foul of her protective Alsatian… the same one from Suspiria? Or is it Dicky himself from The Beyond? Buggered if I know…

Italian comedy travels about as well as Gorgonzola and my Skyline video of Sex With A Smile, having sat gathering dust on the shelf for some decades now, doesn’t look that fresh either. I have to admit, I just don’t get the “Comedy” component of “Sexy-Comedy”… which is fine, as I’m sure your average Italian hipster would similarly struggle to get any chuckles out of Keith Lemon (and why wouldn’t they? That guy is about as funny as popping a hemorrhoid!) As for the “Sexy” bit.. well, we’re talking international language here. Martino’s celebration of the physical charms of Haddon, Rome and Ralli requires little explanation, though it might need justification in some politically correct quarters. As for the naked vistas he affords us of Bouchet (impressive) and Fenech (quite jaw dropping)… forget about it!

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Skyline Video found themselves dragged into the whole “video nasties” brouhaha when they released Ruggero Deodato’s sexually violent essay in crude class struggle, House On The Edge Of The Park. Although that one has now been released (albeit with cuts) on DVD by Shameless, I suspect that this Martino effort would struggle to get certified today, cutting perilously close to depicting, as it does in at least three of its episodes, women who mean Yes when they say No and rape as suitable subject matter for comedy. Nothing remotely funny about that, Sergio. Different times, different mores as several UK radio DJs could no doubt have told you…

The Sergio Martino Weekender continues tomorrow evening, with all eyes on Edwige Fenech…

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All Hands On Bawd: TOP SENSATION Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

“The jet-set breaks loose in an orgy of violence and terror.” Don’t they just…

Tony (Ruggero Miti) is a troubled young man. Specifically, he’s a catatonic pyromaniac. Yep, he’s a fire starter… twisted fire starter. His problems began in boyhood apparently, when his Mom Mudy (Maud Belleroche) let him attend one of  her acid parties, where his synapses were duly blown. Mudy’s ideas haven’t got any less radical with the passage of time. Poo-poohing the advice of square psychiatrists, she decides that now her son’s a man, his recovery would be best effected by taking him on a sex cruise around the Greek islands with her decadent pals Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri), plus the conniving Ulla (Edwige Fenech in one of her very earliest film roles), whom they’ve employed for the precise purpose of popping Tony’s catatonic cherry. “This boat is loaded with whores!” observes Mudy, diplomatically. When they’re not shagging anything that moves, her decadent hipsters friends are planning how they can defraud Mudy out of her oil inheritance. Oh, and Paola has a penchant for playing with lighted sticks of dynamite… what could possibly go wrong, huh?

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The boat bound bacchanal is proceeding full steam ahead as we join this sordid saga, with Neri prowling around the deck in her PVC bikini, lobbing live explosives into the sea to the aural accompaniment of Sante Maria Romitelli’s delightfully cheesy sexadelic score. “This is really turning me on!” she enthuses to Aldo and for a second there I was seriously wondering if Austin Powers was going to join the dramatis personae. Instead, buffoonish Greek shepherd Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) and his beautiful bumpkin of a wife, Beba (Ewa Thulin) are piped on board to ensure that the possible permutations of couplings and tripling become even more intricate and potentially explosive… all under the watchful gaze of Mudi who, anticipating Celebrity Big Brother, has thoughtfully installed CCTV in every cabin so that she doesn’t miss a trick or indeed a fuck. Nor indeed will you, dear reader, feel remotely short changed in the smut department as you relish the opportunity to oggle Fenech nekkid and appreciate Thulin’s skin, not to mention Neri’s furry bits.

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When our jaded swingers have exhausted the possibilities of human interaction, Aldo photographs Ulla suckling a goat… I said suckling, OK? (Reminds me of a joke Jim Morrison told in Miami, shortly before he got arrested.) It’s even suggested, albeit very tastefully, that the goat orally pleasures Ulla… hang on, can such shenanigans ever be reconciled with the concept of “tastefulness”? It’s difficult to say… with his, er, singular direction of this astonishing motion picture, Ottavio Alessi has ripped a vortex in the cinematic continuum, taking us to a strange new plateau where moralists, cineastes and cunning linguists fear to tread. Or something. BTW, that little goat grew up to be… Satan!

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After strangling Beba, Tony explicitly acknowledges his incestuous relationship with his mother (I reckon this guy would get on very well with Michael from Nights Of Terror / Burial Ground) before strangling her too. The boat is sailing on regardless as we reach the 90 minutes mark and events are arbitrarily wound up. There’s an alternative ending (included as an extra here) in which we get the benefit of Tony’s bonkers internal ruminations for a minute or so before the boat resumes sailing on regardless. What is Alessi trying to tell us? That free love has a downside? Well, paying for it also has a down side so what, exactly, is his point? Both endings feature a hypocritical quote from The Book Of Ecclesiastes to the effect that your sins will find you out. As if to prove his point, Alessi never directed again after this crackpot concoction of Gilligan’s Isle and Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, his sophomore effort. Shameless have appended their own final caption, reassuring us that “No goats were molested in the making of this film.” Phew, that’s a relief…

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In the main bonus item here, the featurette Of Boats And Goats, Neri remembers that Alessi was so unsure of himself on set, he relied upon her to the extent that she got her first and only credit as assistant director. It’s great to see Neri looking so well and reminiscing so happily about this film and her fellow cast members. Ditto Salvatore Puntillo, who reminds us of his distinguished stage career but leaves us in little doubt that his stint as the meat in a Fenech / Neri sandwich remains a personal and professional highlight.

Just when you thought they’d been a bit quiet recently, Shameless hit the ball out of the park with this extended exercise in nautical naughtiness. Sure it’s panned, scanned and to varying degrees scuzzy-looking (certain restored scenes of exposition and dialogue look a bit crap and Edwige’s goat-lovin’ moments especially so) but you know you’ve gotta have it! And Michele Soavi’s The Church and The Sect are on the way… yeeh and indeed, haw!

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An ultra-rare still from the entirely imaginary sequel Bottom Sensation.

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Heart Of Glass… THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

Un altro giorno, un altro giallo here at The House Of Freudstein…

In 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage emerged as an unexpected international crossover hit, single handedly inspiring nothing short of a renaissance for the giallo genre coined by Mario Bava in 1963 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much / The Evil Eye. Luciano Martino was just one of the many film makers looking to cash in the revitalised killing-by-numbers craze. He had already produced Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah in 1968 and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet, So Perverse the following year but liked the idea of bringing in similar films on a lower budget, employing home grown talent.

He didn’t have to look too far, finding exactly the kind of ambitious young director he needed in kid brother Sergio; the choice of an alluring leading lady was a similar no-brainer, i.e. his current squeeze, Edwige Fenech, with whom Sergio had already shot additional footage to fill out Hans Schott-Schöbinger’s The Sins Of Madame Bovary (1969); and scripting duties fell to the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who had previously penned the above-mentioned Carroll Baker vehicles for Luciano among giallo credits including Elio Scardamaglia’s The Murder Clinic (1966) and Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970). Gastaldi had also directed one of the early gialli, 1965’s Libido, himself. The feature on which Luciano teamed them – The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) – pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s smash hit and shows that Sergio wasn’t sleepwalking through his stint as second unit director on Bava’s 1963 epic of sadomasochism beyond the grave, The Whip and the Body (1963).

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The film’s opening intercuts a fatal razor attack on a prostitute with the arrival of the plane that is bringing the Wardhs to Vienna, greeted by a quotation from one of that city’s most famous denizens, Sigmund Freud, concerning the potential killer inside all of us. Fenech plays the eponymous Julie Wardh (the “h” at end of her surname allegedly intended to forestall any libel proceedings from aggrieved Mrs Wards!), the neglected, bored wife of a workaholic diplomat (Alberto De Mendoza.) She is simultaneously stimulated and troubled by salacious memories of her full-on sado-masochistic entanglement with brooding Jean (old Tartar cheek-bones himself, Ivan Rassimov.) Their idea of fun, as revealed in sensuous slow motion flashbacks to the accompaniment of a Nora Orlandi theme that can only be described as sacramental, included him beating her in a muddy field (shades of Bunuel’s Belle De Jour, 1967) and – don’t try this at home, kiddies! – bonking her on a bed of broken glass. Eat yer heart out, 50 Shades Of Grey…

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Nor does the life of a neglected ambassador’s wife seem anything like as dull as we are expected to believe, including as it does wild embassy parties where drunken floozies rip each other’s dresses off, prior to one of them being bloodily dispatched in a Hitchcockesque shower sequence (“Another girl slashed to death?” remarks Julie’s cynical friend Carol: “We should be grateful that he’s eliminating all the competiton!”) Julie is horrified to discover Jean popping up among the ferrero rocher at one such bash but not sufficiently horrified to resist a) succumbing to his erotic menace and b) striking up yet another affair, with smoothie antipodean inheritance chaser George (George Hilton.) When somebody starts blackmailing Mrs W about her various extra-marital liaisons, the worldly Carol (Cristina Airoldi) becomes convinced that Jean is playing his old head games with her, and agrees to meet him in a park on Fenech’s behalf… only to get sliced up a treat (I wonder how grateful she was for that!) In mortal fear that Jean has lost it completely, Julie abandons her hubby and absconds to Spain with George (many of Martino’s gialli feature a lot of jet-setting, reflecting their status as international co-productions aspiring to success in as many territories as possible.) No prizes for guessing that there are several more twists to come…

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Martino confesses readily to the influence that Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) exerted over TSVOMW (and what about Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, 1951?) but has been ambivalent about The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, even seeming to claim half-heartedly at one time that his picture actually preceded the Argento biggie. His characteristic deployment of hand held camera conveys a sense of urgency, plunging the viewer into the thick of the carnage and his restrained use of zoom underscores dramatic moments without descending into Franco-esque overuse, all of this in sharp contrast to Argento’s signature use of steadicam. But there’s no doubt where those “through the keyhole” POV shots, which Martino would repeat through just about all of his subsequent gialli, came from. To be fair, Argento himself seems to have been influenced by the scene of Airoldi’s death, restaging it pretty faithfully for Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971.) Martino’s diplomatic comment on this is that both scenes owe a lot to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966.) Argento inarguably pinched one of TSVOMW’s central plot devices, by which a calculating, opportunistic killer takes advantage of a genuinely deranged individual’s murder rampage to deflect suspicion from himself (“I told you, the best time to kill anyone is when a homicidal maniac is on the loose!”) for Tenebrae (1982.) In fact if anything he tones it down because in Martino’s flick, at any one time there are no less than four killers operating with dovetailing motivations, no less than three of whom are out to get Fenech. Yep, there are nearly as many killers as red herrings… Looks like Freud wasn’t just blowing cigar smoke up our asses with that opening quote!

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This handsome “Shameless fan edition” is beautiful remastered in 16:9 anamorphic wide screen and comes with an all-new Sergio Martino interview and Introduction plus fact track and visual essay by Justin Harries, Fenech bio and trailers for other Shameless releases.

Fenech has made the mind-boggling observation that she doesn’t remember TSVOMW having any particularly erotic overtones. Strange, indeed… eroticism is undoubtedly, if not in the jap’s eye of the beholder, a subjective business, but the frequent showers that Edwige takes herein, be they in hot water or crystal cascades of broken glass (while mounting a persuasive portrayal of a woman in the throes of sexual ecstasy) certainly registered with this scribe and commenced the honourable tradition of her endless ablutions (by which Fenech became the most fragrant and freshly scrubbed actress in cinema history.) Martino states in the bonus interview that such scenes were easier to get past the Italian censor than love-making ones and that he often shot the latter specifically to provide the censors with their pound of flesh for extraction, leaving intact the scenes which he considered more important. He even declares himself disappointed that Fenech’s bonking scenes have been restored to DVD editions of his films. You won’t be.

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All The Flavours Of Fenech… Sergio Martino’s ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Marketing-Film. Not rated.

When Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage parlayed Mario Bava’s giallo formula into the stuff of international crossover hits in 1970, every spaghetti exploitation director worth their salt (and several who weren’t) scrambled to get a piece of the slasher action by setting killers in broad brimmed hats and dark macs onto scantily clad ingenues. Sergio Martino surfed this filone more impressively than most, aided and abetted by the most scantily clad and beautiful ingenue of them all, his producer brother Luciano’s room mate Edwige Fenech. The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s box-office smash and established a template in which Fenech’s neurotic character would jet set around the world in her attempts to live down the sexy skeletons in her closet and escape the homicidal nut job on her tail, only to discover that just because she’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that several of the men in her busy love life aren’t conspiring in various permutations and with miscellaneous motivations to do her in. Fenech wasn’t available (probably knocking out a few period sex farces) for Martino’s second giallo of 1971, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, which ran along disappointingly formulaic lines and proved conclusively that  Anita Strindberg and Evelyn Stewart together couldn’t make up for the absence of one Edwige Fenech.

Thankfully she was back for the following year’s All The Colours Of The Dark aka Day Of The Maniac / They’re Coming To Get You / Sreange Vice Of Mrs Wardh Part 2, et al , in which Martino would extend the giallo’s frontiers exponentially. Fenech’s Jayne Harrison in this one is even more screwed up than the spoiled Mrs Wardh and with considerably more justification. Cooped up in Kenilworth Court, Putney, she’s suffering post traumatic stress disorder following the car crash in which she lost her baby (and it’s only later that we learn that she witnessed the fatal stabbing of her mother when she was seven) but gets precious little emotional support from her cold fish, workaholic pharmaceutical salesman boyfriend Richard (George Hilton). He obstructs her sister Barbara (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro)’s efforts to set Jayne up with a psychoanalyst, insisting that she just pull herself together and keep taking the tablets (… but are they, as claimed, just vitamins?) Jayne is plagued by nightmares in which her various traumas are juxtaposed with all manner of Satanic psychedelia (good news for us because she tends to get over them by taking a shower in her nightshift… woah, baby!) and things go from bad to worse when a guy who

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resembles the assassin from her dreams (Ivan Rassimov, looking even more striking than usual in a pair of shocking blue contact lenses) starts stalking her. Her chic new neighbour, Mary (Marina Malfatti), waxes blasé about this (“Strange men have been following women since the stone age, Jayne!”) but does propose a novel solution to Jayne’s malaise, i.e. that she attend a black mass (?!?) Although much has made up to this point of Jayne’s indecisive character, by a flick of scripter Ernesto Gastaldi’s pen she decides there and then that she wants to participate in precisely such a shindig RIGHT NOW!

In a gothic folly that will be familiar to fans of Toyah Wilcox’s The Blue Meaning album, Jayne gets down with the Satan worshipping junky set (I think this is what we’re supposed to infer from the calomile lotion daubed liberally over their faces) and, during a Rosemary’s Baby-inspired scene, is ravished by cult honcho J.P. McBrian (Julian Ugarte from Paul Naschy’s breakthrough picture Mark Of The Wolfman, 1968). Now “J.P McBrian” might strike you as a disappointingly pedestrian monicker for a Satanic cult leader, but he’s knobbing Edwige Fenech so the dude’s doing OK for himself, alright?

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Bruno Nicolai’s acid rock theme during this and subsequent Satanic sexcapades constitutes an unmitigated aural treat and if you’ve got the German DVD under review here (as “Die Farben Der Nacht”) it’s recommended that to enjoy the full effect of these scenes you flick into the deutch surround sound option… any enterprising dude out there fancy issuing some of these Martino films’ soundtracks on CD? Or (Mr Shameless, I’m looking at you) ATCOTD on Blu-ray with an English language 5.1 audio track? In its original screen ratio, too, rather than the distincty non-anamorphic presentation which marrs this German DVD… and some decent bonus materials to compliment the bare bones trailer / filmographies fare on offer here. Not asking for much, am I?

Far from her being mitigated by these occult dabblings, Jayne’s problems are exacerbated when, at a subsequent ritual orgy, she is implicated in the killing of Mary, who had apparently grown terminally jaded about life and delivered Jayne to the sect as her replacement. Now her stalker (Rassimov) reveals himself as “Mark Cogan”, the murderer and former lover of her mother, who had been an enthusiastic participant in all these occult shenanigans… “Now you’re one of us, Jayne…” he glowers: “It’s impossible to renounce us!”

The plot descends into pure paranoia at this point, with the news that McBrain is a big cheese at Scotland Yard, though this is immediately revealed as a figment of Jayne’s increasingly traumatised, drug-addled and brain-washed imagination (check out the totally surreal “breakfast with dead people” vignette… did it really happen?) Turns out that significant characters have been motivated by all-too materialistic considerations (i.e. an inheritance) but, at the very death, Martino can’t bring himself to impose a purely logical wrap-up on the narrative. Fenech’s final (and almost certainly post-synched) lines, delivered with her face turned away from the camera, indicate that genuine psychic forces are awakening within her, an awakening which is going to either  empower or destroy her… or is this is just one more level of delusion? ATCOTD’s ambiguous and haunting conclusion ensures that the viewer will keep turning the film over in his / her mind after watching it, like a nightmare from which (s)he is struggling to wake. An inveterate mix’n’matcher of genres, Martino set the ball rolling here for a synthesis of straight giallo and the supernatural that would be handled to more influential effect by Dario Argento a few years later…

ATCOTD

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