Posts Tagged With: Giallo

Blood & Brown Fur… WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

The question is not “Who is the murderer?”… but “Who is the werewolf?” (The challenge thrown down to viewers during the legendary “Werewolf break” in Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die,  1974).

Before it found a particularly convivial setting in the early-mid ’70s thrillers of Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s obsession with the Whodunnit plotting of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) was expressed via some unlikely outlets, none more unlikely than Lycanthropus, directed by Paolo (The Day The Sky Exploded) Heusch (as “Richard Benson”) in 1961.

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Despite a dodgy discharge from his previous employers, Doctor Julian Olcott (Carl Schell) takes up a new position at a reform school for bad girls, supposedly located somewhere in England (though the locations are conspicuously Italian). Fortuitously (for the real culprit) his arrival coincides with a spate of slayings in which various residents and staff members are messily bumped off, for which Dr Jules naturally becomes the prime suspect, ahead even of philandering pedagogue and blackmail victim Sir Alfred Whiteman (Maurice Marsac) and general dogsbody Walter (“Allan Collins” / Luciano Pigozzi, whose resemblance to Peter Lorre always puts him in the frame). Striking up an alliance (not to mention a romantic entanglement) with boot camp babe Priscilla (Barabara Lass, who was nearing the end of her marriage to Roman Polanski during the making of this picture), the doc sets about the task of unearthing the actual killer’s identity (and their shaggy dog back story, into the bargain…)

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While the transformation scenes are handled with simple efficiency, they’re not the main point of interest here. Lycanthropus is clearly cut from the same cloth in which the incipient giallo genre was being fashioned. The milieu of intriguing young minxes and their corrupt custodians in a claustrophobic setting rings a bell or two with Mario Bava’s seminal 1964 effort Blood And Black Lace (and is it just me, or does Barbara Lass bear an incidental resemblance to Leticia Roman from Bava’s earlier The Girl Who Knew Too Much?)

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Antonio Margheriti’s The Miniskirt Murders (1968) also rehashes several elements from Heusch’s films, not least the presence of “Collins” / Pigozzi and Lycanthropus’s giallo legacy stretches far further than that… tracking shots of night time chases through the woods and compositions of female victims reclining in stretches of water had me wondering if this is one of the films screened by Argento before he got cracking on Phenomena (1985).

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Renato Del Frate’s crisp b/w cinematography is well served throughout in this new 2k scan from archival elements. Special features include an interview with the great Gastaldi, a David Del Valle-moderated commentary track from Curt Lowens (who plays Director Swift in the movie), trailers, and the alternative US titles… commercially inspired by any amount of contemporary werewolf flicks, Lycanthropus went out as Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory States-side, with a terrible tacked-on opening song (“The Ghoul In School”) that is clearly attempting to invoke the spirit of AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). My early bird copy contained a mini-repro of the original promotional photo-comic and a bonus CD of Armando Trovajoli’s OST. Nice!

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He’s Coming To Get You, Barbara… BYLETH Reviewed

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Don’t remember seeing Udo Kier in this one, but there you go…

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

When the Duke Lionello (Mark Damon) and his sister Barbara (Claudia Gravy, who appeared in some Jess Franco pictures but, as far as I know, never in any adaptations of the works of Robert Browning) were growing up on their family’s ancestral Lazio pile, they were such loving siblings that they play-acted getting married when they were older. Ah, cute. Barbara, as you would expect, grew out of this whimsical little fantasy… Lionello never quite managed to do so. When Barbara returns from a spell in Venice, her brother is overjoyed but she harshes Lionello’s mellow big time by announcing that she’s now hitched to Giordano (Aldo Bufo Landi). A big girl’s blouse in a frilly shirt, Lionello goes into angsting overdrive, moping around his castle, spying on the bonking couples with which it seems to be littered and enjoying his own odd assignations with prostitutes (very odd… he can’t seem to rise to the occasion with any woman who isn’t Barbara). He even hides in Barbara’s wardrobe, caressing her petticoats while he watches her and Giordano gittin’ it on through the keyhole,

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Unfortunately a series of the women Lionello spies on and / or fails to satisfy start turning up dead, somebody having stabbed them in their throats with a three pronged knife. But who is that somebody? A handy dandy priest (Antonio Anelli) turns up to advise the police that such a weapon is traditionally handled by Byleth, the Demon of Incest, throwing in bonus biographical information about Byleth’s demonic cohorts , Astorath, Baphomet, Belphegor and so on…

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In the rare moments that the screen isn’t filled with copulating couples, director Leopoldo Savona (better known for such endearingly titled Spaghetti Westerns as God Will Forgive My Pistol, Apocalypse Joe and Pistol Packin’ Preacher… also as the original director of what emerged as Mario Bava’s The Vikings knock-off, Knives Of The Avenger) and one shot co-writer Norbert Blake (anyone smell a pseudonym?) attempt to mix giallo elements into an already overcrowded supernatural-gothic-costume-melodrama-romance mish-mash and fail to pull it off because apart from the obvious suspect, no plausible red herring is even offered. Barbara finally (and a tad arbitrarily) succunbs to Lionello’s advances. We don’t actually see her doing so or him killing her, but it seems both of these things happened, ushering in a misfiring demonic wrap up.

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The demon Byleth, apparently.

Of the two films that most readily occur to me, right off the top of my head, as comparators, I like this one a whole lot better than Alfredo Rizzo’s The Bloodsucker Leads The Dance (1975) but it’s not a patch on Joe D’Amato’s Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973). Byleth is a rather minor effort, but the spaghetti exploitation cognoscenti will want to check out this interesting rarity from 1972. Severin’s 2K restoration has been sourced from an uncut (but somewhat damaged) German negative (as “Trio Der Lust”) with optional German or Italian sound and English subs. No extras.

Next!

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“The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect”… FEAR, The Autobiography Of DARIO ARGENTO, Reviewed.

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FAB PRESS. H/B. 279 Pages. ISBN: 978-1-913051-05-1
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Picture the scene… Winter, 1976 and Dario Argento is stopping at the Hotel Flora on Via Veneto. Having proved the industry doubters wrong by scoring an international hit with his debut feature The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (transforming the giallo genre into box office gold in the process) and earning comparisons with Hitchcock on account of that and his follow up thrillers, Argento is putting the final touches to his masterpiece, Suspiria (1977). You might think he’d be feeling upbeat, but no… wounded by the recent defection of Daria Nicolodi with their infant daughter Asia, he’s seriously considering throwing himself out of the window.

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Must be the grit in life’s oyster that yields these pasta paura pearls. Lucio Fulci, of course, had a biblically miserable time of it and Mario Bava, despite his witty, urbane facade, was reportedly an unhappy and deeply neurotic man… quite the Pollyanna, though, when compared to Dario Argento, who confesses in his long-awaited autobiography to anorexia, gluten / lactose intolerance, paranoia, pharmaceutical and sexual excesses, drug busts, bankruptcy and a plethora of phobias including a fear of other people touching his hair, for which reason he’s always cut it himself (who’d have thunk it?) “The foreigner theme to me is fundamental…” sez DA: “I know what it means to be different to others because I’ve lived it”. Growing up, he was taunted by other kids due to his skinniness and no doubt his exotic physiognomy, traceable to his Brazilian mother, the noted fashion photographer Elsa Luxardo.

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Argento’s precocious discovery of Edgar Allan Poe (“In the blink of an eye, without interruption, I went from masturbation to the cult of horror and mystery”) afforded him both a refuge and a pointer to future glories. Despite his family’s film biz lineage, Argento’s was no easy passage to success in the Italian industry. Bird With The Crystal Plumage, now an acknowledged game changer, was made in the face of opposition from hostile executives (“Is it a giallo?” asked the horrified Titanus boss, Goffredo Lombardo) and a cast / crew who were initially unsympathetic to Argento’s technical orientation. His solution? To treat them like the Scout troop he had led in his boyhood. Then began the ceaseless skirmishes with censorship…

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Argento’s unusual life and remarkable Art have always reflected each other, sometimes in ways not immediately apparent to the director himself… he relates that he was mortified when friends pointed out how closely the destructive relationship between Michael Brandon and Mimsy Farmer’s characters in Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971) paralleled that between himself and his wife Marisa Casale, to whom Farmer allegedly bears a close physical relationship. We learn precious little about Marisa but Argento is more candid about e.g. his torrid affair with Marilù Tolo. More importantly, he finally gives something like proper credit to Daria Nicolodi for the influence she has exerted over his life and career. He obviously makes much of their daughter Asia’s successful acting career, nor are we left in any doubt how much he dotes on his first daughter Fiore.

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Most readers will probably be more interested in the inside information and anecdotes from the making of Argento’s films and Fear delivers all that in spades, also taking in side projects, non realised (including opera) productions and such career missteps as 1973’s The Five Days Of Milan (just think, if that had one been a success, this book might well have been titled Historical Drama – The Autobiography). Dario admits towards the end of Fear that his more recent efforts are nowhere near as highly regarded by fans and critics, a fact that he’s already acknowledged by condensing coverage of the sequence from Trauma (1993) to Dracula In 3D (2012) into 35 of the book’s 279 pages. We’ve all speculated on the reasons for this drop off, but anyone searching for a clue might care to ponder Dario’s observation that he made The Card Player (2004) in accordance with the Dogme principle that “special lighting is not acceptable”? Just imagine if he’d taken that principle on board before shooting Suspiria, eh?

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Dogme, my arse…

Ah well, this is a time to praise Argento for his incomparable heyday rather than quibble about his career coda. Given that this is a FAB Press publication, it goes without saying that the production values and presentation are, er, fab and the text is accompanied by personally selected photos from il maestro’s private archive. Fear is a fascinating and disarmingly frank memoir which I concluded in one avid sitting. One minor grouch, I would have liked to hear a lot more about his working relationships with Sergio Leone, Mario Bava and lucio fulci. Maybe in an expanded second edition?

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The Turkish Delight Of Mrs Wardh… THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER Reviewed.

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Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder (“Aska Susayanlar: Seks Ve Cinayet”) (Turkey, 1972) Directed by Mehmet Aslan.

Kebab shop counterfeits of the likes of Spiderman, The Exorcist and Star Trek (“Mr Spak” indeed!) have earned the Turkish film industry mucho kitsch culture collateral and its interaction with its Italian counterpart (fascinatingly documented in Pete Tombs’ indispensable Mondo Macabro tome) has born delirious fruit. I’d always accepted Antonio Margheriti’s Yor – Hunter From The Future (1983) as the bench mark of this particular craziness until, that is, the recent buzz on antisocial media which alerted me to the existence of … (brace yourselves)… a Turkish remake of Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). No, really!

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Apparently Martino’s film did get a Turkish release (premiering on 23/11/71 as “Yılan Ruhlu Kadın), obviously doing sufficiently blockbusting business on The Bosphorus to convince somebody that a quickie copycat was in order the following year… and it’s a very close copy, or at least a serious stab at one. Certain scenes play out shot-for-shot in comparison to Martino’s original and the principals have clearly been cast with half an eye on how much they resemble its stars. It has to be said that Ivan Rassimov was singularly ill served in this regard, his Turkish equivalent looking more like Lee Van Cleef in the aftermath of a particularly heavy night on the tiles. Meral Zeran (below) is handed the thankless task of replacing Edwige Fenech and the script of this one dispenses with the endless shower scenes that adorned TSVOMW, along with much expositional material.

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Various running times have been claimed for Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder but each of its two appearances on Youtube clock in just short of forty minutes. I don’t know if any footage has been excised (there’s a Sunset Beach-style voice over at one point which might be there to cover such excisions, but my Turkish is rather rusty so who knows?) or whether Turkish cinema goers in the ’70s were content to consume films of such brevity (maybe as a support to the main feature?) One of the versions on Youtube “boasts” a grab-bag soundtrack of themes from miscellaneous gialli, some of them original and some (notably a weedy attempt at invoking Nora Orlandi’s unforgettable “sacramental masochism” theme from TSVOMW) which could have been concocted by the people who used to put together those “Hot Hits” albums for Woolworths. Perhaps the soundtrack copyrights, at least, were contested because the other version I found substituted intolerable synthesiser farting for all of this.

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Director Aslan generally makes a creditable job of aping Martino’s shots and copping the giallo’s visual style but does hit the occasional bum note, e.g. the really odd bit in which Zeran is distracted by headlights in a car park, which seems to go on for about four hours. It doesn’t exactly hurt that everybody’s decked out in groovy early ’70s threads and there’s a totally wild party scene in which everybody’s dancing fit to bust a blood vessel and the camera keeps sneaking up the girls’ mini- skirts in the TOTP-patented fashion. The denouement departs somewhat from the original template, incorporating a shoot out / punch up with added acrobatics and Zeran pitching in with a pitchfork. That’s the way to do it, Sergio…

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In conclusion, I’d just like to express my disappointment that Turkish exploitation maven Kunt Tulgar had absolutely nothing to do with this picture. Just think of the humorous mileage I could have extracted from that name. I mean, come on… “Tulgar” rhymes with “Vulgar”!

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NOW… a chance for you to put your film buffery to the test, avids. Can you correctly identify which of the following images comes from The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and which from Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder? Send your answers, written on a ten pound note, to That Freudstein House, Oak Mansion, Dunwich, New England, blah, blah, blah to stand a chance of winning absolutely  sweet FA. Are we good to you or what?

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(Bit of a Clue in this one…)

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“They Called Her The Countess…” Twice The Vice In Riccardo Freda’s DOUBLE FACE.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

Arrow’s creditable crusade to afford decent BD releases to as many Riccardo Freda films as possible continues with this timely edition of Double Face (“A Doppia Faccia”), an Italian / West German co-production that initially emerged in 1969 on the very cusp of Germany’s “krimi” adaptations (and alleged adaptations) of Edgar Wallace potboilers and the Italian giallo cycle that was heavily influenced by but ultimately supplanted them.

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Here John Alexander (Klaus Kinski on uncharacteristically restrained form for one of his earliest leading roles) romances Helen Brown (his frequent Eurotrash co-star Margaret Lee) in whirlwind style (and amid some of the crappiest blue screen work in cinema history) but finds time to repent at leisure as his new bride rapidly cools on him in favour of female lovers, most notably Liz (Annabella Incontrera). On the upside, she makes him the beneficiary of her controlling interest in some ill-defined business empire or other, in the event of her death. Some upside… when Helen’s jaguar crashes (in one of the film’s two poorly mounted miniature RTAs) and she’s burned to an unidentifiable crisp, he becomes Scotland Yard’s number one suspect for her murder (somebody planted an explosive device in the jag…)

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As if he doesn’t have troubles enough, John returns to his impressive country pile from a recuperative break to find that sexy hippy squatter Christine (Christiane Krüger) has moved in. Dismissing her as one of his wife’s ditzy conquests, John is lured to a groovy sex / drugs / motorbike party where he catches a blue movie starring Christine and a veiled woman who, her distinctive jewellery and distinguishing neck scar strongly suggest, is Helen. You’d have to be particularly dim not to suspect that John is being set up for something and he’s probably not too dim to have worked that out for himself, but his curiosity and the tantalising suggestion that his beloved, albeit estranged wife, might still be alive propel him ever further down the rabbit hole…

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Like any self-respecting giallo (and this one is, any way you cut it, more giallo than krimi), Double Face owes much to French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose ongoing concerns with thwarted sexual obsession, personal identity and characters who might or might not be dead were adapted to the screen most notably as Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Long before he was sucked into Italy’s giallo feeding frenzy, Freda had shown his affinity for these themes in that 1962 milestone of Gothic Cinema known, not coincidentally, as The Horrible Secret Of Dr Hichcock, wherein their necrophiliac foundations were laid startlingly bare.

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Converseley, the Goth trimmings of that one and it’s non sequential companion piece The Ghost Of Dr Hichcock (1963) infect Double Face, whose entrepreneur class inhabit antique mansions scarcely less sumptuously appointed than that of Dr H himself. Freda has a ball indulging his fussy visual style while driving his compelling narrative forward at such pace that you don’t register how little sense it makes until after the end credit has rolled. DB’s FX scenes are as risible as anything in Freda’s Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire  (1971), Tragic Ceremony (1972) or Murder Obsession (1980) and he stages a visit to The Grand National (Edgar Wallace’s parents hailed from Liverpool, incidentally) in true Am-Dram style but he never bailed (as was his wont) on Double Face (though Kinski briefly did after these alpha males had butted heads)… when you sense that his mercurial mind is tiring of the proceedings, the director amuses himself by sending Kinski out sleuthing in a Philip Marlowesque mac and fedora for a paranoid perambulation down Fritz Lang Street… Freda was a more cultured character than many of his contemporaries and when I see this sort of thing, I can’t help feeling that it’s closer to the passages of stylistic parody and pastiche in  Joyce’s Ulysses than standard cheapjack film thievery.

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Hyped as a Wallace adaptation for its German release, Double Face was actually co-written by our old pal Lucio Fulci, who liked its wobbly plot so much that he rehashed elements of it in his own Perversion Story aka One On Top Of Another (which takes its Vertigo fetish so far as to be set in San Francisco) the same year and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). Nora Orlandi’s beautiful main theme was similarly reworked, to spectacular effect, in Sergio Martino’s extraordinary The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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Speaking of Orlandi (with pals, above), in his bonus featurette OST guru Lovely Jon gives us the run down on the great woman and her circle, with some priceless vintage clips. Better still, the lady herself is then interviewed and proves to be a formidable prospect, who by her own account battled to make her way in a man’s world but never took any shit off anybody. She flatly contradicts Lovely Jon’s assertion that she must have learned much from Alessandro Alessandroni, implying instead that without what he learned from her, Alessandroni would never have amounted to much. She’s particularly catty about another rival, Nino Rota and although she got on fine with Romolo Guerrieri (for whom she scored The Sweet Body Of Deborah, 1968), predictably fell out with Freda over his accusation that she recycled cues from picture to picture. Frankly, he had a point, as acknowledged by Orlandi when she jokes: “Better to steal from myself than from somebody else…”

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… unless they lived in the middle ages, of course, Orlandi happily bandying about the volume of medieval music from which she pinched her most celebrated theme. When it was recycled in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, she had to take steps to ensure that she got paid. Endearingly, she admits to not even knowing who Quentin Tarantino was at the time, though now she believes it enhanced her prestige to have her music associated with him. Why not the other way round? Cultural imperialism is a curious thing…

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Other supplementary materials include Amy Simmons’ video essay on Freda’s forays into giallo, an extensive image gallery from the Christian Ostermeier collection (including the original German pressbook and lobby cards, plus the complete Italian cineromanzo adaptation), original Italian and English theatrical trailers, also a reversible sleeve featuring vintage and newly commissioned Graham Humphreys artwork. The first pressing only will include an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on Double Face by Neil Mitchell.

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Tim Lucas’s commentary track is as erudite and informative as ever, though representing something of a change of tack. Unsure about which of the films many edits (see below) he was going to be discussing, TL delivered a lecture rather than the usual scene synchronised commentary. If you close your eyes or turn the picture off this works OK, otherwise there are points at which Tim discussing scene A while scene B unfolds is as jarring as a Dinky toy traffic accident.

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Lensed by Gábor Pogány (who also shot Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, among many others), Double Face’s bold primary colours, which previous releases have contrived to mute, really pop in this beautiful transfer. At 1:31:26, the main feature runs about four-and-a-half minutes longer than the previously circulated French language / English subtitled bootleg print of “Liz Et Helen” and a full thirteen minutes longer than the Das Gesicht Im Dunkeln version on Universum Film’s epic Krimi DVD box set. I’ve never seen the French version with hard core inserts featuring Franco favourite Alice Arno… hey, what kind of a boy do you think I am?

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Ha Ha Ha… Boom Boom! * THE FOX WITH THE VELVET TAIL Reviewed

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* With apologies to those who are too young to remember Basil Brush (you poor bastards…)

(As “In The Eye Of The Hurricane”). BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

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Can the Spanish do giallo? Sundry senors have had a go at in on various occasions, with approaches ranging from León Klimovsky’s on-the-nose A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1975) to Pedro Almodóvar’s postmodern Matador (1986… that’s postmodern as in “featuring a serial killer who masturbates over a quota conscious compilation of gore highlights from Bava’s Blood And Black Lace and Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon”) and of course many films thought of as spaghetti slashers were actually Italo / Spanish co-productions, e.g. Mario Bava’s Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971), Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball (1975)… and the title under consideration here.

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Viewers attracted to José Maria Forqué’s The Fox With The Velvet Tail / In The Eye Of The Hurricane by some perceived connection with Dario Argento’s international thriller hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) might well have been perplexed by its relative bloodlessness and low body count (one man and his poisoned dog)… but only if the presence of Jean Sorel in its cast had not already alerted them to the fact that Forqué is here following the pre-BWTCP bonkbusting template set down by the likes of Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and Umberto Lenzi’s A Quiet Place To Kill (1971) in both of which Sorel had taken the male lead, daring viewers to guess whether his bland, masculine good looks conceal nefarious intentions or whether (as in Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story, 1969) there’s a double bluff going on and there really is nothing more than an ineffectual numpty lurking beneath that smooth exterior.

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Bland? Numpty? Moi?

Carroll Baker, Sorel’s usual foil from those films is missing here but Argentinian substitute Analía Gadé brings the same qualities that she did… a good looking woman who’s vulnerable and possibly a little past her physical prime, an observation I make not to indulge petty sexist prejudices but to underscore the appropriateness of her casting as Ruth, a woman rebounding from her apparently steady but unsatisfying husband Michel (“Miguel” in some releases… played by Tony “Return Of The Evil Dead” Kendall) into the arms of Sorel’s exciting, edgy Paul, who spirits her away to an exclusive coastal resort for the time of her life (what’s left of it!)

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The subsequent accumulation of luxury detail (pet swans, not to mention swan sculptures stuffed with caviar… exclusive disco dates, et al) is a tale told at a pretty langourous pace. We’re half an hour in before Ruth’s brakes have been tampered with, leading to a white knuckle ride down the side of a mountain road. At this point in a typical Sergio Martino giallo, Edwige Fenech would have taken at least three showers and been menaced by various permutations of several would be assassins, sex cases and people who’ve taken out insurance policies on her. Forqué steps up the pace immediately thereafter, though, with a sequence involving sabotaged scuba diving gear… is somebody trying to kill her? Or to kill Paul?

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Miguel pays them a visit and immediately falls under suspicion, but what about Paul’s mysterious “war buddy” Roland (Maurizio Bonuglia)… and just what exactly is Daniella (Rosanna Yanni), the sunbathing bimbo from next door, up to? Turns out, when Ruth eavesdrops on the rest of the cast (during an unfortunate outbreak of mass indiscretion) that just about all of them are planning to do her in and divide her estate before she can divorce Michel … all of this only about half way through the film’s running time, but rest assured that from here on in things start getting really complicated… and not a little kinky. Needless to say, there are several twists on route to the ambiguous conclusion of this tawdry tail. Special mention for a great performance from Sorel, whose character seems to degenerate before our very eyes as the seamy, steamy plot details unfold.

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Forqué clearly has a painterly eye for compositions and a pleasing facility with lurid colour palettes. The film’s various scrumptious Spainsh and Italian locations are beautifully rendered by co-directors of photography Giovanno Bergamini and Alejandro Ulloa if, indeed, you believe that they both worked on the picture. Was this anything more than quota satisfying fiction? Maybe one of them handled the undersea photography? Whatever, 88 (some of whose transfers have drawn criticism) do a spanky job presenting the main feature here. Piero Piccioni compliments the overwrought visuals with an appropriately lush OST, the high point of which is a (sadly unidentified) pastiche of Woolworth’s Warwick warbling ersatz Bacharach.

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Extras include a trailer, reversible sleeve, alternative titles and credit sequence, plus a silent “clothed” version of one love scene. “No sound, no T&A, no point!” you’re probably thinking (you uncouth bunch!) and while Forquée goes through the glossy gears efficiently enough, TFWTVT – seamy, steamy and swinging as it is – might well leave you hankering for something a little more sleazily transgressive. If so, tune into Parts 2 & 3 of this Spanish-themed Weekender for a double dose of louche Larraz lunacy…

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Hung up down snogging didn’t start in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman. No Siree, Bob..

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When Irish Eyes Are Screaming a.k.a. The Politically Incorrect Way To Wash Your Underpants… Riccardo Freda’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE Reviewed

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Who shivs ya, baby?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

“The times we live in!”, as Lucio Fulci once exclaimed before disappearing in a taxi. “Willy Pareto” (Riccardo Freda)’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire, rushed out during 1971 as a sure-fire cash in on the international success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) didn’t, in the event, get much of a release anywhere. In March 1972 British distributor Ben Rose submitted it to the BBFC for theatrical certification, which was promptly refused on the grounds of its florid sadism. Since then it’s only been available on nth generation bootleg VHS dubs and murky DVD-Rs sourced from them. Now, courtesy of Arrow (a label which has released several Freda titles in the last few years, with Double Face on the way) here’s a spanky new 2K restoration, uncut and rated ’15′(!) The times, indeed…

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Now a more general audience can discover (and bootleg watchers can more clearly evaluate) the sheer oddness of this film, in which a serial killer on the loose in Ireland is defacing the proverbial prettiness of Dublin’s female inhabitants with acid before slashing their throats, to be sure. While TIWTTOF’s ineptly rendered gore scenes (courtesy of Lamberto Marini, who did rather better on Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, among others), nasty and mean-spirited as they undoubtedly are, look more laughable than anything these days, the very wilfulness of e.g. its plotting / dialogue / ludicrous Irish dubbing reaches levels only rarely attained by a select few, among whose numbers we can include the visionary likes of Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen.

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Whereas Freda’s 1980 directorial swan song Murder Obsession aka Fear, et al (alternating as it does phoned in-banality and such audacious visual moments as the climactic recreation of Michelangelo’s Pietá) might suggest that, while making it, he was recovering from a stroke (a stroke that he was conceivably in the full throes of while directing 1972’s batshit bonkers Tragic Ceremony) there are signs here of a director who very much knows what he’s doing (there are crane shots and even helicopter shots) but is winking at us and daring us to get the joke during TIWTTOF’s  more ludicrous passages… dreaming, perhaps, that after all this faddish giallo nonsense has blown over, he’ll be back making “proper” pictures like the lavish costume dramas for which he was noted in the ’50s and ’60s. Guess again, Riccardo…

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The film kicks off with Dominique Boschero, playing the mistress of Sobieski, the Swiss ambassador (Anton Diffring) being bumped off in the first of many not-so-grand guignol FX scenes. The fact that she promptly turns up in the boot of his limo (and is discovered there by a bored-looking, possibly catatonic schoolboy) immediately puts the aryan ferrero rocher slinger in the frame, but why is his chauffeur Mandel (familiar giallo face Renato Romano) acting so suspiciously? Come to think of it, why is everybody in the cast acting so bloody suspiciously? Just about all of them seem to own at least one pair of murderous black leather gloves…

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The murder investigation, by Police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan), is hampered by Sobieski’s diplomatic immunity so he spends a lot of time giving Mandel a hard time, to no avail, then calls in his “secret weapon”… ex-detective John Norton (played by Luigi  Pistilli and seemingly named after his transportation mode of choice). Lawrence recruits Norton to the investigation by sending some of his men round to duff him up, which might seem a perverse tactic… until you consider the circumstances under which Norton (nicknamed “The Beast”) became an ex-detective. As revealed in a recurring Leonesque flashback, this involved the enhanced interrogation of a suspect, so very enhanced that when Norton took a break from beating up on him, the dude grabbed a carelessly placed pistol and blew his own brains out. Yep, that’s definitely gonna piss on your career chips (incidentally, as acknowledged in the audio commentary to this release, the unidentified actor briefly essaying the role of that victim is a particularly fine-looking specimen of manhood).

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Norton’s beastliness is explained by reference to his own wife’s death at the hands of violent criminals, a revelation which fails to make his character any more sympathetic but significantly raises his own status as a suspect. In a clumsy bit of exposition / excruciating dialogue, Lawrence explains the film’s title to Norton… though he’s clearly confusing iguanas with chameleons. Shifting effortlessly from taxonomical error into political incorrectness, Lawrence confidently declares that the killer’s modus operandi is typical of “a woman… or a coloured person!”

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Norton starts dating Helen Sobiesky (the ever lovely giallo icon Dagmar Lassander), apparently unaware (in one of the film’s many improbable narrative spasms) that she’s the ambassador’s daughter. Looks like Dublin’s got no bigger since Bloomsday. He takes her on a date to Ireland’s ravishing coastline and seems to contemplate strangling her and throwing her off a cliff. She’s OK with this. Takes all sorts.

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Meanwhile various other characters are murdered and some gay people are being blackmailed. Or something. A decapitated moggy turns up in somebody’s fridge and every time any pair of spectacles appear on-screen, a burst of Stelvio Cipriani’s most sinister musical theme swells on the soundtrack. During one of the repetitions of the all-important flashback, Pistilli is clearly resorting to that most ludicrous of Francoesque expedients, acting in slow motion! Valentina Cortese’s excellent performance as Sobieski’s wife looks like it belongs in another film and she probably wishes it was. Confused yet?

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Understandably, in view of his long lay off, Norton’s grasp of contemporary police procedure is a bit shaky so he debates the likely guilt or innocence of the various suspects with his elderly mum (Ruth Durley), with whom he lives. I’m reminded of President Carter announcing to a bemused world that he frequently sought advise on nuclear disarmament from his brattish daughter Amy… in fact Norton’s daughter lives with them, too. He mocks his mother’s “Mrs Marples” identification of the culprit, which turns out to be bang on the money. This is no consolation when the killer pays them a visit (in drag) during the film’s genuinely shocking climax, which briefly attains the kind of goofy delirium also seen at the conclusion of Fernando Di Leo’s Cold Blooded Beast, made the same year. Norton intervenes and the killer (whose previous appearances in the film you quite possibly missed if you blink at anything like the normal human rate), apropos of nothing in particular (I mean, he’s already killed plenty of other people) jumps out of a high window, down into the street and through the windshield of a passing car, whose driver seems understandably miffed to find his shredded face puking blood all over the dashboard. It’s suggested that the killer became a misanthrope because he was gay / a slaphead / traumatised by somebody else in his family being a murderer. That somebody else thinks they’ve eluded justice, but there’s a twist in the tail. Award yourself bonus points if you spotted Freda’s cameo as one of the guys who fished Lassander out of The Liffey and… relax. You have been watching Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire.

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Things get a bit iffy on The Liffey for Dagmar Lassander…

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The commentary track, conducted by David “Reprobate” Flint and Adrian J. Smith (author of giallo tome Blood And Black Lace) strikes just the right balance between informative (they made the effort to research and confirm the existence of The Swastika Laundry, in which Dubliners could once tumble their underpants) and fannishly enthusiastic… there really is no alternative to raucous guffawing when confronted by some of TIWTTOF’s unlikelier plot developments and choicer visuals. In a bonus featurette, cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer further accentuates the film’s narrative incoherence, a quality which he found engaging in Sergio Bergonzelli’s In The Folds Of The Flesh but not here. Developing the thesis he previously expounded on the Arrow release of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Lady Of The Lake, he talks up his theme of “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Editor Bruno Micheli talks about learning his craft from his big sister Ornella, how sex scenes removed by the Censor were surreptitiously spliced back into prints, working closely with Freda and how producer Adolfo Donati was the only man allowed to wear a red tie in the presence of Mussolini.

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Dagmar… the Nancy Allen of her day.

We’ve had a few career-spanning interviews with Dagmar Lassander recently and there’s another here, conducted by Manlio Gomarasca, which starts with her oblique entry into the industry and takes in Lucio Fulci’s misogyny, Freda’s snobbery, Tomas Milian’s charisma and Valentina’ Cortese’s thespian caprices.

OST guru Lovely Jon presents a useful 25 minute primer on the recently deceased Stelvio Cipriani, pushing his claim for a place alongside the “big three” of Morricone, Nicolai and Alessandroni. He discusses the influence of Dave Brubeck, talks us through Cipriani’s deployment of music during three key scenes in the film and – evaluating the killer’s acid chucking, throat slashing MO – offers the verdict: “Fucking ‘ell, that’s some really nasty shit, man!” Indeed.

If your fancy is tickled by what Lovely Jon has to say, Arrow are issuing an LP release of Cipriani’s score too!

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… and yes, that’s two reviews in a row where we neglected to mention (until now) that Werner Pochath was in the film under consideration. So sue us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And if you really feel like splashing out…

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Truth With A Capital “T”? Luigi Bazzoni’s THE LADY OF THE LAKE, Released On Arrow Blu-ray As THE POSSESSED.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 12.

Successful novelist Bernardo Giovanni (Peter Baldwin from Freda’s The Spectre Of Dr Hichcock and Michele Lupo’s The Weekend Murders) winds up an unsatisfactory relationship and returns, out of season, to a hotel in the Alpine village where he grew up. Keen to rekindle an involvement with Tilde (Virna Lisi), a maid he encountered on his previous visit, he is shocked to learn that she has committed suicide and withdraws into obsessive musings about what happened to her, fuelled by gossip he picks up from local photographer Francesco (Pier Giovanni Anchisi) and his own observations of the outwardly respectable but seriously dysfunctional family who own and run the hotel… Enrico (Salvo Randone), his son Mario (Philippe Leroy), daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese) and clinically depressed daughter-in-law Adriana (Pia Lindström). Fuelled by a flu bug he picks up, Bernard’s memories, dreams, speculations and fantasies fuse in a fashion that causes the viewer to constantly question what they’re seeing. Just as you’re beginning to think that Bernard’s suspicions might be the product of an overheated imagination, Adriana drowns under mysterious circumstances… meanwhile, who is the mysterious lady whose presence haunts the lake?

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Made in 1965, a year after Mario Bava’s Sei Donne Per L’Assassino / Blood And Black Lace, La Donna Del Lago / The Possessed is as much ghost story as giallo (in the wide definition offered by Tim Lucas during his commentary track) or even proto-giallo (as suggested in Arrow’s publicity blurb), Luigi Bazzoni’s psychological thriller having more in common with Bergman or Borges than Bava. Although it’s generally accepted that he contributed very little to the film’s actual direction, Franco Rossellini (nephew to the great Roberto and future producer of several Pasolini efforts, also Caligula) is officially credited as co-director, the film is scored by his father Renzo and Pia Lindström, as Ingrid Bergman’s daughter, was of course related to the Rossellini family by marriage… things behind the camera on this one were nearly as incestuous as the familial relationships portrayed in it, inspired by Giovanni Comisso’s book documenting the notorious “Alleghe killings”. Giulio Questi (later the director of Django, Kill! and Death Laid An Egg) collaborated with Bazzoni and Rossellini on the screenplay, which can’t exactly have detracted from the overall quirkiness of the proceedings, then again Bazzoni rendered similarly surreal psychological malaise without Questi’s collaboration in Footprints On The Moon (1975) and even his straight(ish) giallo The Fifth Cord (1971) plays out as an existential crisis suffered by its protagonist / chief murder suspect Franco Nero.

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The Lady Of The Lake occupies the crucially important but critically under-explored hinterland between Italian Arthouse Cinema and the B Movie tradition that underwrote it. Bazzoni and his closest circle of collaborators never made it into the august company of erstwhile associates Pasolini, Bertolucci, Antonioni et al, nor did they ever descend to the lowest common denominators of Italian genre cinema. The dynamic between these cinematic demi-mondes is incarnated here by the presence of Francesco Barilli, reminiscing about his friends and collaborators the Bazzoni brothers, Luigi and Camillo, throwing in random bits of tittle-tattle as he goes (“Steve Reeves was rumoured to have a very small cock”). Having played the protagonist of Bertolucci’s Before The Revolution in 1964, Barilli went on to write Aldo Lado’s memorable giallo Who Saw Her Die and Umberto Lenzi’s seminal Deep River Savages (both 1972) before directing his own unforgettable, indefinable oddity Perfume Of The Lady In Black (1974).

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Arrow’s 2K restoration from the original b/w camera negative does ample justice to the beautiful b/w cinematography of Leonida Barboni (Enzo’s big brother), whose camera team included the up and coming Sergio Salvati (subsequently to pull off so many lighting miracles for Lucio Fulci). Bonus materials include a video appreciation by cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer, who identifies the film’s central thesis as “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Interviews with assistant art director Dante Ferretti and make-up FX ace  Giannetto De Rossi are highly watchable but neither of them touches upon The Lady In The Lake to any great extent. De Rossi’s is particularly entertaining. During it he identifies the personal attributes that smoothed his career trajectory (“My deep voice, my big eyebrows and my assassin look! That’s why people feared me. Everyone behaved when I was around”), recalls a run in with Anne Parillaud and confirms that it was his hand pushing Olga Karlatos’s head towards its celebrated intersection with a splinter in Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters. You also get some trailers and then there’s the stuff I never get to see, including a reversible sleeve that features original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips and – in this edition’s first pressing only – an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich and Roberto Curti, plus reproductions of contemporary reviews.

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Lucas’s commentary track is every bit as informative and insightful as you’d expect. Bonus points for twice referring to Pasolini’s Jesus biopic by its correct title, The Gospel According To Mathew. Deduct one point for subsequently misidentifying it as “The Gospel According To Saint Mathew”. TL makes much of TLOTL’s sliding perspectives and the difficulty of arriving at Truth with a Capital “T”, a point nicely underlined by the fact that his interpretation of the story’s resolution deviates markedly from my own. I think he watched it with Italian dialogue and English subtitles (as you might well care to, this option reducing as it does the on-the-nose portentousness of Bernardo’s introspective musings) while I oped for the English dubbing. Try running the English language version with English subtitles, which also throws up some significant discrepancies. An already substantial plot thickens…

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Figures like Questi, Barilli and the Bazzoni brothers represent a significant but long concealed stratum of Italian Cinema, further illumination of which is long overdue. Arrow’s new edition of La Donna Del Lago constitutes a solid step in that direction.

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

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DVD. Region Free. Dragon Film Entertainment. Unrated.

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

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

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

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“The Neighbour”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doll

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

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

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

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

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

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