Screen writer Joe Eszterhas has made a highly successful career for himself out of sexing up long established Hollywood formulae. Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995) respectively pimp out the femme fatale-driven Noir and Busby Berkeley chorus line extravaganza with contemporary slick production values and enough schlocky smut and violence to set Will H. Hays rotating in his casket. Richard Marquand’s Jagged Edge (1985) takes the Courtroom Drama to places where Jimmy Stewart and Hank Fonda might have feared to tread, all prefaced with a scene of sexualised murder that, if not actually delivering the “blood and hair on the wall” promised / threatened by Eszterhas, would certainly look more at home in a giallo (or one of the many stalk’n’slash pictures delivered by Bava and Argento’s American indie disciples) than it does here in mainstream Tinseltown product.
Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges) is a whizz kid newspaper executive but his wife Page (Maria Mayenzet) owns all the shares, so when she’s tied to her luxury bed and carved up by a balaclava wearing nutzoid, Golden Boy Jack becomes prime suspect. Effectively retired, for reasons that become apparent as the narrative progresses, ace Attorney Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close, who improbably became the Queen of ’80s Erotic Thrillers after her appearances in the likes of this and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, two years later) is persuaded, against her better judgement, to take on Forrester’s defence. It’s not long before she’s also sharing his bed. After all, nobody that blandly cute could perpetrate such a vicious murder, right? Right?
That’s the $64,000 question which Teddy and Prosecutor / former colleague Thomas Krasny (Peter Coyote) kick around in court for the balance of the picture, as a series of revelations (about the private and professional lives of not just Forrester, also Teddy and Krasny) and the introduction of another violently misogynistic candidate for the commission of the crime skilfully skew the viewer’s suspicions this way and that. A verdict is duly arrived at, but is it correct? Suffice to say that the individual who’s been sending out “helpful” typed clues had never watched Prick Up Your Ears. I know, I know, that film was only released after this one. They could / should have read the book, though…
And so to the climactic unveiling of the actual culprit, the face behind the balaclava revealed as… Forrester? The other, misogynist suspect I just mentioned? Some viewers have even suggested it’s Krasny… hey, maybe it’s that guy from the Go Compare ads? Now, Richard Marquand was an accomplished director… George Lucas entrusted him (below) with the megabucks invested in Return Of The Jedi (1983), no less. So how could it be that he fluffed the big reveal so clumsily? Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. Panned by critics, Jagged Edge became a substantial hit via word-of-mouth. Maybe Marquand actually intended people to keep talking up all this balaclava palaver and indeed here we are, 36 years after the event, still talking about Jagged Edge…
Eszterhas and editor Sean Barton also talk about it (and other aspects of their respective careers) among the fearutettes on this disc. There’s an hour of audio from Geoff Andrew’s interview with Bridges at the NFT in 1990 and David Huckvale digs deep into John Barry’s score. For this, its UK BD premiere, Marquand’s film has been remastered in HD with a choice of original stereo or 5.1 surround audio. The expected trailer, radio and image galley are present and correct. The limited (to 3,000 units) edition comes with an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Maitland McDonagh, extracts from archival interviews with director Richard Marquand, a look at the making of the film, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.
Eccentric mavericks have never exactly been in short supply on the Italian film scene but even in that colourful milieu, OVIDEO G. ASSONITIS stands out. Born of Greek stock in Egypt, 18/01/43, he became involved in film distribution after his family relocated to Italy. When the kind of films he wanted to distribute weren’t available, he started producing them himself. When he couldn’t find satisfactory scripts, he started writing his own. And when the directors he hired weren’t up to scratch… you guessed it. The runaway success of his first (co)directed feature Beyond The Door (currently available in a beautiful BD edition from Arrow) ruffled the feathers of Tinsel Town’s big wigs, resulting in a long running legal case. His fingerprints are on films that represented the best of some genres and changed the course of others. He was behind a couple of the “video nasties”, fired a Hollywood A-lister and saw more of the real Emmanuelle than he probably wanted to. And he’s still going strong, preparing to shoot his latest effort in Maui when we caught up with him.
First things first, Ovidio… I know that you were born in the great commercial centre of Alexandria, also that your father was involved in film distribution. Presumably these things impacted on your choice of career…
When my family lived in Alexandria we were not involved with the film industry. My father was an entrepreneur in the cotton trade, though he did bring writers and film makers over to Alexandria as part of his efforts to promote Italian culture. We moved to Italy when I was 14 years old and my father became the general manager for international relations at a major film producers’ association. Every day at lunch and dinner, I heard a lot of things about the making of movies, something to which I was definitely attracted. Later, I become a film distributor in South East Asia, opening offices all over that part of the world. My partners and I released more than a thousand movies over ten years. At a time when I was having difficulties finding the right pictures for that market I started producing them myself.
As a producer and distributor you were collaborating with people like AIP and the Shaw Brothers…
AIP was an independent distributor in the United States, one of my strongest connections over there. Nicholson and Arkoff released a lot of my movies and in the process we became great friends. I worked with the son of one of the Shaw Brothers, who was running the company then, also with people like Prince Yukolo Anusom, the brother of the King of Thailand who became one of my business partners.
A movie you produced that did very well in Far Eastern markets was Umberto Lenzi’s Man From Deep River, an important film which transformed the flagging Mondo genre into the highly successful and controversial Italian cannibal film cycle…
My inspiration for that one was definitely A Man Called Horse and also my connections in Thailand, where we shot the movie. It’s a country I knew very well and visiting the small villages in the forests, I discovered some very cinematic elements that could be combined interestingly in a movie. That’s how I decided to write and produce The Man From Deep River. Umberto Lenzi was the kind of director who could understand what I wanted to achieve, though I had to correct some of his more commercial instincts. But collaborating with him was nice, he was a very hard worker… although a little bit crazy!
You’re noted for your forceful personality, I was wondering how you found dealing with such similarly forceful types as Lenzi, Lucio Fulci (who was in the frame to direct Beyond The Door and helped out on the direction of David Keith’s The Curse, which you produced in 1987)… and yes, James Cameron. How were disagreements with these guys resolved?
Very simple. They had to back down… (Laughs)… because I never give up!
OK. Another of your early productions, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die, is considered one of the classics of the giallo genre…
I was involved in conceiving the mystery story for that film, beyond that my contribution was mainly financial. I was not a “hands on” producer for that one.
When I spoke to Aldo Lado he said that the thing about the killer being somebody who impersonated a priest rather than an actual priest was tacked on under pressure from censors and the Catholic church…
I don’t remember anything about. That sounds like a “post mortem” explanation…
You did have a killer priest in a film you later directed, Madhouse…
Were you aware that Madhouse and Man From Deep River were both banned on home video during a crazy UK moral panic in the early ’80s?
Not really. I knew that those pictures had the potential to generate controversy. They were part of a tendency in horror movies that was going on at that time but they were original works… in fact I think there was that over reaction to them because they were ahead of their time.
Well, they’re now legally available in the UK, which kind of supports your argument. The female lead in Madhouse was Trish Everly, a very good looking woman and she gives a strong performance but she didn’t do much after that. What happened to her?
She’s the ex-wife of one of the Everly Brothers, so she was not short of money. After Madhouse I never heard from her anymore...
Like Fulci and Enzo Castellari you had great success in The States with a movie that ran into problems over its perceived similarities to a previous film… obviously I’m talking about Beyond The Door.
The world of horror movies was always something that attracted me and what really changed my vision of how to make them was Rosemary’s Baby. Films like that one and The Exorcist were bringing the horror into our houses, into our daily lives by representing something the audience knows very well. They’re both films about sick people and everybody at some point has some experience of illness, of family members with cancer or something like that.
Warners sued you over perceived similarities to Friedkin’s film of The Exorcist but you said at the time you hadn’t even seen that film… did you ever watch it?
No, but I read the book. We started shooting our film when theirs was still in post production. I read the book on a plane flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong on a very stormy night with a lot of turbulence, which seemed very appropriate. All the passengers were screaming and I was reading about The Devil. I thought this was a perfect project for me to shoot and as soon as I got back to the office I called the publisher to ask about the film rights, which of course had been sold to Warners, who were about to make their movie. So I said OK, I want to do something similar but original, something about the demons that are part of every one of us. Beyond The Door is about those demons we don’t like to acknowledge but we see lurking inside us, parts of ourselves that cause us to do irrational and selfish things, not out of love for ourselves but out of fear. No matter how hard we try to ignore our demons they are always there, bubbling up from under the lid that we try to keep on them. It wasn’t just reading a book that convinced me to produce a horror movie along these lines. The preparation for Beyond The Door was a very extensive intellectual exercise. It was both less and more than just “ripping off” The Exorcist. Every movie is influenced by movies that came before it and you could argue that The Exorcist is a “rip-off” of Rosemary’s Baby. We weren’t motivated to just make a cheap imitation of a famous movie, there was a lot of thought behind Beyond The Door and we hired one of the most important special effects artists, Wally Gentleman (who was Doug Trumbull’s right hand man on 2001) so we could make a good movie… all of this while confined to a $300,000 budget against $10 million for The Exorcist!
The case that Warners brought against you was one of “infringing visual copyright”…
Yeah, they charged me with infringing something that doesn’t even exist! Warner thought that they could intimidate this Italian producer, this small company, considering that the judge had confiscated $20 million dollars from us, pending the trial. Of course they didn’t know me because like I said, I never back down. It took me three years fighting them and I spent three times the cost of our negative on lawyers. In the end I met with them. I was in LA and I drove to Burbank, knocked on the office door of the number 2 man at Warners and I told him: “You have to stop, because you’re going to lose. You’re claiming $20 million from us but I’m going to take you for $100 million! So just stop!” We arrived at a compromise. He asked for two things, firstly that I shouldn’t do a sequel to Beyond The Door, because they were very worried about that, also that I should sign a deal with them to make three movies. They saw the return on my budget compared to what they had done with The Exorcist and they were so impressed that they wanted me to work with them.
That return on your budget had something to do with the amazing marketing for Beyond The Door, with gimmicks worthy of William Castle… the whole “Sensurround” bit and actors planted in the audience who were supposed to be having heart attacks because it was so scary!
The marketing was very smart and the sound was very important because when we had preview screenings for American audiences, they were screaming during the scene where Juliet Mills’ head turns around but it was a different story in Italy. Italian audiences are always very sarcastic and when Juliet’s head was rotating, they started laughing. I know I had to stop this laughing and I had heard that Universal were going to use this thing Sensurround on Earthquake so I flew from Rome to LA and asked them if I could borrow the sound technology. They showed me around this huge laboratory that looked like something out off NASA but of course they weren’t going to lend me the sound system until they had exhibited their picture first and then maybe, who knows. But we had the idea and we came up with a very basic concept which, instead of using 40w of sound, had thousands of watts at front and back of the theatre and the combining of these two low frequencies built a sound that covered the laughs of the Italians.
Try laughing that off! You’ve had some real star names in your films… Richard Johnson and Juliet Mills in Beyond The Door… Henry Fonda, John Huston and Shelley Winters in Tentacles…
Juliet Mills was perfect for the role, she came from this great British acting background. Richard Johnson was the same, from Shakespearian theatre. I liked Richard and he became a very good friend, worked for me in more than one movie. Working with them was great. I always want my actors to be totally involved in the picture, intellectually involved and giving to it the maximin of their experience and talent. They were not just “actors for hire”, they were really behind the story and we worked as a team. John Huston was in Tentacles mostly because he swapped roles with Henry Fonda, who had a heart attack and couldn’t play for us as long as we’d planned. John Huston was an amazing person who became my best friend and worked for me in another movie. I wanted him to direct a movie based on a famous novel for me but of course he died. Glenn Ford was another who played not just for money, these guys had to approve and believe in the story.
All of those were solid pros but in Beyond The Door you also had those two kids in very strange roles… jive-talking and swearing… was it difficult getting good performances out of them?
There have been children in many of my movies and you have to treat working with them like working with animals. They can be extremely good when they are just acting spontaneously but very bad when they start thinking about what they are doing. It’s the same with animals. When they act spontaneously they are very good but when they’ve been trained to do something, they might or might not do it well. Children can be really good, the trick is in choosing the right ones. The girl in Beyond The Door… the Italian Susan Strasberg… they way she talked in the movie was exactly the way she talked in real life. The boy was a very strange American boy who went to school with my son, an overseas student in Rome. I only met him because he was a friend of my son, a strange kid who would sit there silently for hours, which made me think he would be good for our movie. Neither of them had any previous acting experience.
That boy, David Colin Jr., appeared again in Mario Bava’s film Shock, which was even released in America as Beyond The Door 2. Given all the legal problems you’d had with Warners, I was wondering if anybody involved in Shock had had to settle with you.
Not, they just helped themselves to that and I didn’t even chase them. I don’t think it was the film’s producers, it was the American distributor of that picture who did it, taking maxim advantage of the title and logo of my picture.
I guess that illustrates just how successful your picture had been. Several writers are credited on Beyond The Door, one of whom is The Incredible Melting Man himself, Alex Rebar…
Alex Rebar was an American dubbing artist, he dubbed movies from Italian into English and I met him when I was working as a distributor in the Far East. As a matter of fact I originally cast him to play the Richard Johnson role but our schedules clashed and I went ahead without him. In the end his contributions to the film were very limited.
Beyond The Door has a great score from Franco Micalizzi and so many other great composers have scored your pictures. Morricone, Ortolani, Cipriani…
I’ve always believed that music is one of the most important elements of a movie. Alongside the acting and the photography, the music is as important as the plot, so I always want to hear the composition that I’ll be using in my movie before shooting the movie itself. I’ve always done that, that’s what happened with Morricone on Who Saw Her Die…
That’s a beautiful score!
It is. In the case of Beyond The Door, Micalizzi, had worked for me in my previous picture which was a tremendous success, a tear jerker called The Last Snows Of Spring. His music for that was a big success on the hit parade for many weeks all over the world. I asked him to have the main composition ready before I shot Beyond The Door and he asked me what I wanted. I had been thinking and thinking about what the theme should be, the language of that music and when I was in Paris, I had heard Barry White…
Who needs Sensurround when you’ve got Barry White?
Whether it was coming from a concert stage or a recording studio or even a telephone conversation I had with him, Barry White’s voice is unlike anything else in popular music. There is something truly profound about that basso… it rumbles! It’s not his voice but the way that he used it. This is what I told Micalizzi about the kind of music I wanted… I wanted to hear the voice of The Devil! That’s how we came up with the theme Bargain With The Devil and he recorded it before I made the the movie, I listened to that music before shooting many of the scenes because it was so very inspirational.
That music plays as Gabriele Lavia and Juliet Mills walk around in San Francisco, having all sorts of weird experiences. I believe that you shot these scenes guerrilla style, without any permits… masquerading as Italian tourists! Was that difficult?
It was very easy. Sometimes we asked for and received permits to shoot in public places sometimes we didn’t have time to ask so we just went ahead and shot the scene but all the interiors were shot in a studio in Italy. We had to be very careful to keep all the stylistic elements consistent so we brought everything we could back from the States to make the room look like an American apartment.
On several of your films you’ve co-directed with Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli and I wonder how you typically divide the work between you. Is one guy doing the set-ups while the other directs the actors, or whatever?
Beyond The Door was the first picture which I directed or co-directed. I had a lot of experience in editing, especially the pictures that I was releasing in the Far East, recutting them for different markets. This editing experience also helped me in writing stories and conceiving the pictures I wanted to make. Roberto D’Ettore had worked as my DP and directing together, we didn’t really share out the work. It was more about pooling our different experiences to support each other and make the best movie possible. Of course his camera experience was greater than mine at the time and my experience with editing and conceiving stories was greater than his. I did deal more with the actors, mostly because I could speak English and he couldn’t.
You co-wrote and produced the 1976 film Laure aka Forever Emmanuelle, supposedly directed by Emmanuelle Arsan herself… which I doubt. What was the real story behind that picture?
First of all you have to know that the person who wrote Emmanuelle was not Emmanuelle Arsan…
It was her husband, wasn’t it?
Exactly. Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane. He was an officer of UNESCO but he had these strange ideas about sex, he was like a theoretical philosopher of “the new sexuality”. He wasn’t a porno guy, but he considered porn as part of a normal life. I knew him very well, he used to live in Rome and Paris. He was a person of great intelligence, very highly cultured, but he wrote Emmanuelle and had this great success with it. Now one day, I was sitting in front of the President of 20th Century Fox in LA and he was reading the box office takings and he just was screaming, saying hey, look at the figures for Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle… he said that I should do something like that and I told him that I knew the guy who wrote Emmanuelle. He was very excited by this and proposed we do a movie in Italy with Louis-Jacques directing, of course under the name Emmanuelle Arsan and also have her as one of the leads. I asked Louis-Jacques about this and he jumped at the chance.
We started putting the elements together and then had the bizarre idea to have Linda Lovelace acting in the movie. I thought that to put somebody with one of the most famous names in the world, particularly in the United States, in a normal, well directed picture with production values would sell the picture and give her more quality, representing her the way she really was. So I asked my assistant to find where she was and a couple of weeks later he found her living in Arizona, almost retired. So we hired her and flew her over to Rome for a meeting with Louis-Jacques. I told everybody to treat her like a lady rather than the Porn Star she used to be, to forget about Deep Throat, to treat her like a normal actress and everybody was willing to do that but throughout the meeting Linda sat with a bodyguard who was also her boyfriend…
Was that Chuck Traynor?
It was an American – Italian guy and she wouldn’t talk directly to us, we had to talk to the bodyguard so it was a funny situation where we were asking him the question, he was asking her the same question, she was answering to him then he was telling us the answer.
Like Chinese whispers…
Yeah. Then she said: “I will never shoot this scene the way that it’s been written. I will never appear naked in the movie”.
Yeah, she said that it was absolutely against her morality. Like I say, you could write a book about every movie I’ve ever made. There were so many problems with Linda but we had a commitment with Fox to have her name on the marquee so we called in the actress Annie Belle to do the nude scenes and changed Linda’s role to one in which she kept her clothes on. Then we went to the Philippines to shoot the movie and immediately there were more problems. In the first scene we shot, Linda was walking in a corridor and she had to stop and say some lines but she refused because there was a statue behind her, a copy of the Venus De Milo statue and she said she would never appear in a scene next to a naked woman! That was it, no matter what the deal with Fox was, I fired her. Going back to Emmanuelle Arsan, of course she didn’t really direct the movie, that was Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli, who loved photographing naked women. Then some stills were released to a magazine which published some really unflattering shots of Emmanuelle Arsan. I had to sue them because they also ran an interview with me that never actually happened! Anyway, Emmanuelle Arsan came to me and said she didn’t want her name attached to the movie anymore and in the end we publicised it with a picture of her, saying she wrote it but that it was directed by “Anonymous”.
What sort of a person was Emanuelle Arsan? Was she comfortable with being this erotic icon created by her husband?
The first time we visited Louis-Jacques ’s apartment in Rome, he opened the door and right in front of us, in the lobby to his apartment, there was a big photo of his wife, naked, with her legs wide open. My wife didn’t want to go in and I had to convince her, c’mon, were doing a business deal here. But everything was like this, the whole apartment was full of photos of his wife in, let’s say, the most incredible artistic positions.
Wow! In 1979 you produced Giulio Paradiso’s The Visitor… that’s another wild movie. What can you tell us about that one?
Again, that would fill a book in itself, like most of the films I’ve directed or produced for other people. There are so many interesting things that happened on that movie, some of them positive, some of them negative. Like most of my movies, it was ahead of its time. I’d like to remake The Visitor, bringing in elements of gaming and virtual reality that we didn’t have at the time. It was an interesting movie, but much more interesting in its conception that what actually ended up on the screen. The same is true of Tentacles, which had a really good script that was compromised by the distributor’s vision. But come on, I know you’re dying to ask me about James Cameron and Piranha 2…
Well, now you mention it… in fact before you signed Cameron to direct that picture, I believe you were going with Rob Bottin.
Exactly. Piranha 2 was not my idea. After I’d settled with Warners over Beyond The Door, they asked me if I would produce a script they were interested in but they didn’t trust the producer… it was the same producer from the first Piranha. They said they’d shoot it if I’d take over. So I read the scripts which was very bad and I told them I’d executive produce if I was allowed to change the story which was really stupid, beyond any credibility. They did insist on me keeping those piranhas, flying out of the sea, which was absolutely irrational but that’s what I signed up for. Immediately I was looking for a director who’d be good with special FX. Knowing very well the work of Rob Bottin, I approached him and he was very happy about directing the movie. About a week after we signed an agreement he came asking me to release him because he’d just got an offer from Universal to pay him a million dollars a year to supervise effects on some of their films and I couldn’t stand in his way. He recommended James Cameron so I went to see him while he was some shooting second unit stuff on Escape From New York. I asked him to direct Piranha 2 and he was jumping like crazy, very happy to do it. That’s how we started to know each other. I like Jim a lot because I understood that he had a great vision. The problem was that he did not know how to make his visions happen, especially in a film whose budget was so limited considering the amount of special effects that Warners wanted to keep from the original script. I have thousands of stories to tell but I’m not going to tell them now, but basically Jim failed in what he was supposed to do. I didn’t want to fire him but I had to after 10 days because at that point we were 9 days behind schedule.When the picture was finished we had to shoot the FX scenes all over again and try to make them work. We spent a lot of time in labs trying to make it happen and have hundreds of flying piranhas attacking, not just one or two on wires and stopping in the middle of the shots. That’s what Jim did. I asked him to stay next to me and help wherever it was needed. I allowed him to shoot all the underwater scenes in the Cayman islands and he got some great shots but only when he didn’t have to deal with special effects. I admire Jim for flying from LA to Rome without any money and staying here for two months. Of course I put him in hotels and gave him whatever he needed. I admire that he is so stubborn but he is a very difficult character. When I was directing the movie he wanted to take part in the editing and although he didn’t have the right to do it, I said fine, but after a week the editor came to me and said: “Hey, I’m very happy to work with James because you will pay me for one year!” He had edited it, Jim had taken it and changed things around but after three days it was right back to what the first editor had already done. He was too inexperienced. I wanted Jim to gain experience but the editor didn’t want him in the editing room any more because he was wasting so much time. I told him that we’d look at the scenes in my office and he could have his say. That’s where the idea of The Terminator came up, based on a book that I bought called Formula Man, by an Italian writer…
Do you remember the name of the writer?
He was a physician as a matter of fact. His name escapes me right now but the inspiration for Terminator came from this book. Jim was asking me what we were going to work on next and he proposed a Terminator-like story but I told him: “Jim, I want to do your third movie with you, not your second, because when you have learned enough you will surely become a great director”. So once when I was in LA, I was going to meet the chairman of Orion Pictures and I saw Jim coming out of his office so asked the chairman, who was a good friend of mine, what Jim was doing there and he said well, they were going to release a picture that he would direct, called The Terminator, which was basically that story. The chairman said that they had seen Piranha 2 and liked it, not knowing that I had actually directed it. I didn’t say anything to put him down and he made The Terminator. Since then he’s written a lot of inaccurate things about our relationship but I’ve kept quiet about it because I don’t want to embarrass him. But every time he made a new movie I’d send him a message saying “You need to improve” and his answer was always “Fuck you!” When I saw Titanic, which I really liked, I sent him a message saying: “You’re improving but you still need to do better” and again he replied “Fuck you!” So this was our relationship. One day I called him because I read something he said that was not true and said: “Hey Jim, we’ve got white hairs now, we’re getting older. You’re much more famous than I am, you’ve made a lot of money and I’m making much less money, we should stop doing this stuff. We spent more than one year together and I admire you for many reasons. I had to do what I had to do because it’s a business but we should stop doing this, let’s meet and have a drink… of course you should pay because you have so much more money than me!” He said I was right and we should meet but after an hour he called me and said: “No Ovidio, I don’t want to meet you, because you are such a convincing person, you will convince me that I am wrong and you are right!”
I heard that Cameron released an alternative cut of Piranha 2 in certain markets, though I’ve never seen it. Is that true?
Absolutely not. He doesn’t have the rights and I would sue him if he did. That just never happened, anyway. I directed Piranha 2 and I could have put my name on it but I kept his on there because I didn’t want to embarrass him, I wanted to help his career.
Can you tell us something about the part you played in the ongoing saga of Cannon Films at the end of the ‘80s?
How long have you got? (Laughs) It’s a long story… I was approached by one of the people who acquired Cannon Films from the cousins Golan and Globus, his partner was the very important financier Giancarlo Parretti who had financed some of my pictures. He said they’d just acquired a major company and requested my help after discovering the critical financial situation that Golan and Globus had left it in. I said I didn’t want to be part of it unless we could sort out the company and we employed a very important lawyer to do that. We split Cannon into two new companies, one which I ran as chairman and which would produce pictures with budgets of lower than ten million dollars and the other, run by Alan Ladd Jr. doing films with budgets beyond ten million. I had a plan and the first policy I wanted to introduce was to move away from the pictures Golan and Globus did which were all about action with machine guns and helicopters. I wanted to try what New Line had done, gradually introducing more quality into their productions. I wanted to make Scent Of Woman with this new company but in the end they did that with Universal because the budget was over ten million. When Parretti decided to buy MGM, that was the beginning of the end and I got out just before everything collapsed. But in that period, it was little more than a year, I made ten movies with good box office receipts, well in excess of the costs of these movies.
A couple of times I’ve asked you about things and you’ve said: “How long have you got?”… “You could write a book”. Do you in fact have any plans to write your memoirs?
After death! You can write them for me after I’ve gone…
Well, we’ve made a good start today. What are you working on now?
Well, you haven’t asked me the question that everybody else asks, i.e. among the pictures I’ve shot, which is the one that I like the most?
And the answer to that question is?
I don’t like any of them! The one I like is always the next one and principal photography for the next one will begin in Maui in Hawaii, where I’m flying out to tomorrow. It’s called The Disappearing Girl, it’s a very strong story about love and life and death. The leads are two teenagers, one American and one Italian. The really interesting thing is that the director of this picture will be a 15 year old girl, a very famous Youtuber and author named Iris Ferrari. I’m never satisfied with my films but I’m sure this one is going to be very good and a tremendous box office success.
We’ll be looking out for that and wish you well with it. Thanks for your time, Ovidio.
Beyond The Door is available in a spanking Arrow BD edition from all good retailers or directly from Arrow.
To say I haven’t exactly been in a rush to catch Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria would be a significant understatement. It never seemed remotely like a good idea. Dario Argento’s 1977 original is a unique marriage of his seriously neurotic psyche and formidable technical skill set, the remaking (rebooting, re-imagining, whatever) of which makes about as much sense as somebody having another bash at, say, Eraserhead. It did nothing to allay my misapprehensions when I learned that the film was going to star Tilda Swinton (an actress who regularly missteps from the “worthy of attention” to “desperately seeking attention” category) and that the insufferable Thom Yorke, rather than Claudio Simonetti, would be scoring (Radiohead? Why not just have somebody shit in your ear?) Then the new Suspiria arrived, clocking in at a daunting two-and-a-half-hours plus (really, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do with my time…) Friends who did brave it and whose opinions I value had nothing good to say about it. Well, I’ve finally grasped the nettle and can confidently (if not exactly happily) report that, against all expectations, I found it Suspiria, 2018 style to be… not unbearably awful.
Much critical discussion of Pasta Paura, certainly the work of its principal practitioners, has centred on the old “style over content” chestnut. Does style crowd content out of these films or subtly enhance and amplify it? Guadagnino seems to have his own definite ideas in this regard, dialling down the style (in cahoots with DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, production designer Inbal Weinberg and art directors Merlin Ortner / Monica Sallustio he’s come up with a very good looking picture, whose good looks sadly pale into insignificance compared with the all out aesthetic assault of Argento’s original) while cramming in extraneous content. So Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion (sic) is the victim of a religiously repressive Mennonite upbringing (Suzy’s Mom considers her “my sin… that’s what I smear on the world”… BTW, Greta Bohacek as the young Susie bears a pleasing resemblance to Nicoletta Elmi); instead of being bisected by falling masonry, Pat Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets regrettably wrapped up with the Red Army Fraction (yes, that’s the correct rendering of their name) but also gets to deliver the best line in the film (“They’ll follow me out and eat my cunt on a plate!”); and the witches who staff the Markos Dance Academy seem to have exerted an influence over Hitler and co. So far, so… well, I’m still watching, aren’t I?
Guadagnino gets a bit more milage out of the whole terpsichorean thing. Those witches seem to feed off the energies unleashed by dancing (which can also be turned against their enemies) rather than just eating the dancers, as in the original. The routines here are modern, interpretive stuff, as opposed to the classical ballet in Argento’s film (which, combined with some judicious editing, makes easier for Johnson to pass herself off as a dancer). The 42nd Street references (and I’m referring to Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 musical now) are more overtly stated than before and the mousey teacher’s abrupt suicide reminded me of the pianist’s in Pasolini’s Salo.
Guadagnino’s Suspiria doesn’t drag anything like as much as I’d feared it would and Tilda Swinton’s “Kind Hearts And Coronets” turn is significantly less irritating than it could have been. Incidental pleasures include a tiny role for Jessica Harper (the original Suzy Banyon) and a somewhat larger one for the marvellous (and far too little seen, these days) Renée Soutendijk from Spetters, constantly snarking away over some malign gag that only she gets. It’s also quite amusing from a 2020 perspective to see these holistic health freaks chain smoking away like bastards.
In conclusion, Suspiria 2018 is nowhere near as appalling as I’d expected, which isn’t to say that I’m likely to ever watch it again…. two-and-a-half hours of my time is more than enough. I sincerely hope we’ll be spared a four hour “Amazon Original” take on Inferno. No need to worry about a Mother Of Tears rehash because as Darrell Buxton has already pointed out, that’s covered in the mystifying, messy and decidedly overripe final thirty minutes of Guadagnino’s film. The whole experience would have been much more satisfying if they’d changed the title / character names and generally cut back on the allusions to Argento’s masterpiece, riffing on Suspiria 1977 in the same way that Midsommar riffs on The Wicker Man. Courting direct comparisons with what is probably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made was never going to work out to this film’s advantage. On the other hand…
During a catwalk show designed to let the world know what a tortured existence supermodels lead (“… trapped in a shop window with no escape”), the obnoxious, coke addled Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) manages to monumentally piss off everybody (going so far as to scar her make up artist for life, with scalding coffee) before accidentally incinerating herself. Most of the tears shed for her are blatantly crocodilian, but an unspecified admirer, somebody who spends their time obsessively watching a VHS compilation of Alexis’ greatest media moments, is also watching out for her legacy. The formidable Lucia Uccello (Silvia Montanari), publisher of the fashion bible Atilla, decides to stage a tribute event on the first anniversary of Alexis’ death, pitting a posse of bitchy models into competition with each other to fill the Jimmy Choos of the former colleague they so despised. In protest or as some misguided tribute of their own, Alexis’ brother and boyfriend decide to steal some of her dresses before they can be used in the show, only for the latter to have his throat cut by a murderous mannequin. He won’t be the last, as the extravagantly disguised killer steadily works his or her way through everybody who was present on that fateful night. Will the tribute show be haunted by this Phantom of the catwalk? Well, what do you think…
Just about any frozen frame from writer / directors Endelman and Montejano’s Crystal Eyes would probably invoke the spirit of Argento’s Suspiria more effectively than is managed during 152 minutes of Guadagnino’s “reimagining”. Clearly conceived without any substantial aspirations whatsoever, this Argentinian effort is an unabashed open love letter to the Italian horror and thriller traditions, a sentiment that will be enthusiastically seconded by legions of admirers around the world. I really can’t abide those Cattet / Forzani desperate Arthouse wannabes, nor those bigger budgeted productions which take the same lazy tack of grafting prime Morricone or Trovajoli cuts onto their “Original Soundtracks” in an attempt to cop some facile giallo cachet, but Crystal Eyes is a different matter altogether, a seriously devotional exercise.
Endelman and Montejano are clearly enthusiastic consumers of all things Yellow and gleefully plunder their favourites for scenes to restage. Carlo Vanzina’s 1985 effort Nothing Underneath (the very title of which riffed on the ol’ “style / substance” chestnut), its sort of sequel Too Beautiful To Die (directed by Dario Piana in 1988) and their end of cycle ilk are heavily referenced, but the directors don’t hesitate to delve right back into the archives of couture slaughter, revisiting Mario Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964) for the murder of one of Lucia’ sexy lesbian “nieces” (it was either Nadia or Nidia but I’m buggered if I can tell one from the other). The film’s climax will bring back welcome memories of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987), too, while Pablo Fuu’s score strikes exactly the right notes for late ‘80s giallo.
Endelman and Montejano were also responsible for the film’s production design and have done a remarkable job recreating the decor of (the original) Suspiria (Lucia’s office comes complete with a dagger plumaged phoenix statue) on the cheap. Cinematographers Cecilia Casas and Vanina Gottardi alternate between the Luciano Tovoli look on Argento’s classic and what Romano Albani wrought on his follow up, Inferno. Outrageous matte shots of city scapes contribute further knowing nods to the influence of Bava and as for that drawer full of Hitchcock artifacts…
Stylistic exercises as sterile as those aforementionend Cattet / Forzani efforts are hardly the most captivating cinematic experiences. Crystal Eyes, in sharp contrast, effectively corrals its cornucopia of stylish genre allusions into a teeming subtext that will tax the brains of those sufficiently versed in the wilder highways and byways of Pasta Paura. It won’t be too hard, for instance, for any horror fan raised on “video nasties” to spot the significance of Lucio the blind lift attendant (Andrés Borghi) and his cataracts, nor to look, er, beyond that and get the reference to a fractured pipe in the basement (send for Joe the plumber!) but how many viewers took Lucio’s blindness as a cue to extrapolate the killer’s identity from what happened in Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971)? I certainly did… and as it happened I was completely wrong, though Endelman and Montejano have a ball leading us up and down such garden paths throughout their picture.
Essentially as camp as a row of tents, this Fray Bentos thriller is played sufficiently straight faced to pass for a convincing latter day spaghetti slasher… which is, if I can stretch a banal geographical point (and for a film as enjoyable as this, why wouldn’t I?) exactly what it is.
The whole giallo stabbing match kicked off (by common assent) in 1963, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much; peaked quantitatively in the first years of the ’70s; qualitatively in 1975 (with Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso); and tailed off after 1987, when Argento chalked up his last top notch picture (Opera) and Michele Soavi made his astonishingly assured directorial debut, Stagefright. Like Irving Wallace in the latter, the genre itself has been pronounced deceased many times but that ol’ death nerve has a habit of twitching back into life, just when you thought it was safe to take another slug of J&B. The results have been decidedly mixed, though once in a yellow moon something as marvellously entertaining as Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano’s Crystal Eyes (2017) turns up… and yes, we’ll be reviewing that one shortly.
Given director Federico Zampaglione’s previous (and for all I know, ongoing parallel) incarnation as an Italian rock star, one might reasonably have feared that his Tulpa (aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire, 2012) would emerge as some kind of glorified, feature length pop promo. What bodes well for the picture is that he conceived its story in collaboration with spaghetti screen-writing veteran Dardano Sacchetti, who’s penned more A-grade gialli than anybody else (with the probable exception of Ernesto Gastaldi).
Tulpa stars Greta Scacchi lookalike Claudia Gerini (Zampaglione’s partner when they made the film) as Lisa Boeri, a high finance woman whose boss Mr Roccaforte (Michele Placido) is a big cheese in the money markets (see what I did there?) Lisa works hard and plays hard, unwinding from the pressures of bitchy boardroom battles by visiting an Eyes Wide Shut styled upmarket swingers’ club, where she has lashings of fun and is encouraged by Kiran, the cadaverous moloko plus-dispensing bar tender / Tibetan Buddhist adept, to free, surrender to and generally indulge her Tulpa. Apparently if I’d paid more attention to Twin Peaks I’d have got the reference but (evidently unlike Signor Zampaglione), I tuned out of that show very early in its run. The Tulpa, we learn, is a concept borrowed from esoteric Tibetan Buddhism and apparently refers to a physical being, generated from sexual energy, which if allowed too much autonomy, can impact on the material world with demonic intensity.
Are Lisa’s bonking exploits responsible, then, for the black hatted and leather macintoshed spectre slicing its way through her co-swingers and boardroom rivals (not to mention throwing hot chip fat in their faces, putting them on barbed wire carousel rides and interring them in coffins with hungry rats)? Needless to say, there’s no shortage of twists and turns along the way though as in many classic gialli, the killer’s identity is eminently guessable. Which is not to say that Tulpa is a classic giallo, exactly… but you know you’ve wasted many 90 minute chunks of your precious time on plenty worse.
During my interview with Dardano Sacchetti he complained that Zampagline had stressed Tulpa’s soft core aspects over the giallo elements of his story. Regular readers of this blog might well agree. Zampaglione directs competently enough and has clearly familiarised himself with the Argento canon (I would hazard a guess that he was particularly taken with Opera) but never comes close to the visual creativity of prime time Argento or the other terror titans with whom Sacchetti notably collaborated, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. Together with his brother Francesco, the director also scored his film, waxing Carpenteresque during stalking scenes and approximating Claudio Simonetti’s cacophonic Suspiria crescendo during the climactic revelations. FZ opted for his actors to deliver their lines in English which obviously made some kind of commercial sense, though this decision ultimately backfires on the movie, with stilted deliveries often distracting attention from the on screen action (it’s a problem that dubbing doesn’t always solve, witness Argento’s Tenebrae, 1982).
If there is any message lurking behind Tulpa’s veneer of recycled style, it’s that sexual repression, rather than sexual expression, creates demons. Amen to that.
Bond girl sex bomb Maria Gracia Cucinotta apparently produced Tulpa. So, er, grazie, Maria…
Enrico Fontana (Ferdinando Sarmi) is a Milanese industrial magnate, doing very well for himself, but his wife Paola (Lucia Bosè), whom he married after a whirlwind romance in 1943, remains a beautiful, remote mystery to him. Intrigued by the discovery of photos she’s kept from her apparently carefree youth in Ferrara, he enlists private detective Carloni (Gino Rossi) to fill in some of the gaps from her biography.
The problem is, there’s an obscure incident that occurred just before Paola met Enrico, which she would very much like to remain that way… as would her former lover Guido (Massimo Girotti). Obliged to reconnect in an attempt to thwart Carloni’s investigations, they rekindle their earlier passion. Somebody who previously came between them has already died in unexplained circumstances… will boring Enrico go the same way?
Those “post car sex” blues will get you every time…
Neorealism served Italian Cinema and society very well in the immediate post War period (expiating guilt for both the excesses of Fascism and the ridiculous, Mussolini approved “White Telephone” films) but the writing was on the tenement wall after the 1950 feature debuts of two diverse talents. Federico Fellini clocked in with Lights Of Variety (Luci Del Varietà) and Michelangelo Antonioni, after making documentaries, writing film criticism and teaching at Centro Cinematografia Sperimentale (where one of his “livelier” students was a certain Lucio Fulci) directed Chronicle Of A Love Affair (Cronaca Di Un Amore).
As well as being an eminently watchable and artful thriller (proto giallo, anyone?), the latter is a crucially transitional film, as can be best understood by contrasting its approach with that of Visconti’s similarly Noirish 1943 effort Ossessione (above), both of course owing much to James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice and both starring Girotti. Yes, Antonioni honoured the NR tradition of casting non-actors… Bosè’s career trajectory (from soda jerk to beauty queen, Antonioni’s lover and – at Visconti’s insistence – the star of this film) was almost as unconventional as that of the character she plays (and plays very well, her apprehension of looming Nemesis almost palpable). Ditto coutourier and one shot thespian Ferdinando Sarmi, who also provides the film’s set decoration and sumptuous costume design, at a time when Milan was just starting to challenge Paris in the High Fashion stakes.
While Visconti, though, got down with the dispossessed (in a way Antonioni would still be echoing three years later in his short doc People Of The Po Valley), Story Of A Love Affair flips the Neorealist coin by portraying the lives of the well to do, but in a far less flattering light than that afforded them in any amount of Telefono Bianco drivel.
Antonioni and his co-writers based Story Of A Love Affair on the notorious Countess Bellentani case (principals pictured above) of 1948, just as the similarly scandalous Fenaroli case, ten years later, influenced the plotting of several gialli out of the Martino stable and their imitators, from Romolo Guerrieri’s Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968), the films Umberto Lenzi subsequently made starring Carroll Baker and Sergio Martino’s Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).
All of those were in a determinedly populist tradition (and nothing wrong with that, it was precisely such box office hits that underwrote production of the supposedly “worthier” stuff) but in beginning to shrug off the proletarian prescriptions of classic Neorealism, Antonioni was taking the first step in a personal cinematic journey of a thousand miles that would turn him into the Quintessential “Arthouse Director”, the Silver Screen’s most potent purveyor of existential alienation.
Alienation’s a very old word… it’s been around since Richard III.
This release, an international Blu-Ray debut, is based on a 2k restoration from 15 years ago (Story Of A Love Affair was one of the first films to undergo such treatment, under the supervision of Giuseppe Rotunno, no less) and does full justice to the magisterial monochrome photograpy of Enzo Serafin and Aldo Scavara’s camera operation through some long, fluid takes. Special mention too for Giovanni Fusco’s disquieting score, with its strangulated woodwind.
Extras include assorted scholarly appraisals of the film’s status, the reminiscences of co-writer / assistant director Francesco Maselli (the sheer chutzpah by which Marco Ferreri kickstarted and nursemaided the production emerging as a consistent theme) and a featurette on the restoration process. Most engaging of all is a visual record of the restoration’s Premiere screening with the director and Bosè, plus guest attendees including the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore, ’60s / ’70s sex symbol Zeudi Araya (now a producer, still looking mind bogglingly fine) and Dario Argento. Argento hails Antonioni as the guv’nor (“the greatest Italian director”) and while it isn’t too hard to spot the influence on his Deep Red (1975) of 1966’s Blow Up (another Antonioni picture in which a forensic investigation ultimately obfuscates more than it illuminates), first time viewers of SOALA might acquire a new perspective on the conclusion to Argento’s own masterpiece, in which the hero watches somebody die in a lift mechanism. Sins of omission, of course, are one small step away from acquiescence … from sins of collaboration… and as in much of the finest Cinema that Italy produced in the second half of the Twentieth Century (from Pasolini, overtly, to more oblique offerings such as Pupi Avati’s The House With Laughing Windows), Story Of A Love Affair touches on that touchiest of questions for a whole Italian generation: “What did you do in the War?”
The most moving image on this set is that of Antonioni at the aforementioned Premiere, feted by his peers but immobile and unresponsive, locked in by the stroke which blighted the last quarter Century or so of his life, simultaneously sad and appropriate for (a good line, they say, is worth repeating) the Silver Screen’s most potent purveyor of existential alienation.
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.
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…)
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?)
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).
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!
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,
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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?
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!
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.
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.
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…
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”!
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?
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.
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…)
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…
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.
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.
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).
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…”
… 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…
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.
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.
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?