Posts Tagged With: Giallo

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 one 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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Dizzy Blondes… VERTIGO Goes Go-Go In Lucio Fulci’s PERVERSION STORY.

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BD. Region Free. Mondo Macabro. Unrated.

By 1969 Lucio Fulci, the self-proclaimed “terrorist of the genres”, had compiled a solid track record of domestic box office success with every filone he ever waded into… youthsploitation pictures, comedies, caper movies, spaghetti westerns… it was inevitable that he would be given the opportunity to try his hand in the newly faddish field of giallo. His maiden entry in the thriller stakes, with Una Sull’Altra (“One On Top Of The Other” aka Perversion Story… the original Italian title resonating far more cleverly with what actually goes on in the film) preceded the model that Mario Bava had been refining since The Evil Eye (1963) and Blood And Black Lace (1964) hitting critical mass with Dario Argento’s international crossover hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Before that smasheroo prompted descriptions of Argento as “The Italian Hitchcock”, Fulci was fusing the bonkbusting formula of Romolo Guerrieri and Umberto Lenzi‘s Carroll Bakerthons with his own take on The Master’s Vertigo (1958), with a few noirish clichés (e.g. waiting on a gubernatorial reprieve in the condemned cell) thrown in a for good measure).

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Ah, The Jacey. Subsequently an evangelical church, then knocked down to build a shopping mall.

Jean Sorel had starred in Guerrieri’s template-setting The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and would take the male lead in such subsequent variations on that theme as Umberto Lenzi’s A Quiet Place To Kill (1970) and José María Forqué’s The Fox With The Velvet Tail (1971). His bland, masculine good looks will inevitably tempt viewers of these films into suspecting that he’s got to be up to something nefarious although sometimes, of course, 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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In Perversion Story Sorel plays Dr George Dumurrier (a subliminal Hitchcock nod in itself), director of the San Francisco clinic that takes his name. Ever the opportunist,  George has got more of an eye for the bottom line than the Hippocratic oath and wastes no opportunity to hype the clinic with such gimmicks as announcing heart transplants that he’s in no position to deliver. In the process he pisses off his sensible brother / junior partner Henry (Alberto De Mendoza) no end and his neglectful careerism and indiscrete affair with Jane (Elsa Martinelli) alienate his sickly wife Susan (Marisa Mell). When a mix up between her asthma medication and sedatives lead to Susan’s death, the discovery of a life insurance policy with George as her beneficiary looks bad enough … but things take an even more sinister turn with the discovery of Monica Weston, an “exotic dancer” who’s a dead ringer for Susan. George and Jane’s investigations into the ever-deepening mystery lead him further and further down a dark path which will terminate in the gas chamber at Alcatraz…

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Perversion Story proves that Fulci hadn’t been wasting his time since assisting Steno in the early ’50s (including on the first Italian features to be shot in colour) and directing nearly 25 of his own pictures in the meantime. Throughout this one he alternates spacious panoramas of San Francisco in automative action with claustrophobic, geometric compositions and deep focus shots that testify to his visual imagination and the technical virtuosity of DP Alejandro Ulloa and camera operator Giovanni Bergamini.

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Ditto the periodic eruptions of split screen work. Coincidentally, round about the time Fulci was making Perversion Story, Martin Scorsese was splitting Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock (released 1970) into panels and Brian De Palma (for whom split screen and depth focus would become part of his directorial signature) was incorporating more of the same into Dionysus In ’69 (another 1970 release). As for the sex scenes apparently shot from inside red satin sheets…

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All of this distracts admirably from Perversion Story’s many glaring narrative failings (on which more in a moment…)

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Perversion Story represents the first occasion during which Lucio Fulci was let loose on American locations and the film fair crackles with his love of that country’s cinema and of America itself. To the appropriately beatnik jazz stylings of Riz Ortolani’s overheated OST, Fulci presents a visual paean to Neal Cassady’s vision of the USA as cars, girls and an endless road… although of course the road comes to an end on the West Coast and had already run out for Cassady, dead at 41 by 1968. The beatnik / hippy scene was also dead on its feet by the time Fulci arrived in San Francisco, with straight tourists trying to snatch a fleeting sniff of its remains in seedy “swinging” establishments like the one wherein Monica plies her exotic trade.

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Frustrated fuddy-duddies would also rub up against happening hep cats, again with discouraging results, in Fulci’s next giallo, the following year’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (click the link for a discussion of the impressive job Mondo Macabro already did on that title). The Summer of Love is over and the world belongs to suited’n’booted bastards like George Dumurrier. He’d like to think so, anyway, but as the man says: “If the finger print matches, it’s the gas chamber for you, Doc!”

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The go-to edition of Perversion Story prior to this one was Severin’s 2007 DVD release (now out of print) which came with a nice bonus CD of Ortolani’s score. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray provides a predictable step up in image quality (unimpaired by any significant grain gain) and clocks in ten minutes longer but if you’re hoping for any clarification of the film’s wayward plotting… well, don’t hold your breath (unless of course you’re reading this in a gas chamber, in which case by all means hold your breath!) I do love Perversion Story but every time I rewatch it, I become more aware of how little sense is made by its storyline (concocted by Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Jose Luis Martinez Molla, though the latter is conceivably billed merely to fill co-production quotas). Yes, I know that Vertigo itself  seriously stretches credibility at certain points but “far-fetched” barely begins to do justice to Fulci’s film. Not only does it beggar belief that Mell’s character could set up such an elaborate parallel life for herself (I’ve got no qualms about dropping “spoilers” here, I mean we’ve already established that PS is a Vertigo variant)… indeed, that she could carry off two such fabrications (“Susan Dumurrier” is ultimately revealed to be as ersatz a construction as “Monica Weston”) but it’s difficult to see what she might ever have gained from the arduous effort that must have gone into creating Monica. Surely, having framed George for the killing of Susan, she should have just disappeared into a discreet and anonymous alias (though of course in that event, Fulci would have had significantly less of a saga to unfold and we the viewers, considerably less eye candy to contemplate).

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A likely story…

Fittingly for a Hitchcock pastiche, Fulci himself pops up in probably the most substantial of his early cameos, as a forensic scientist, looking well fed but thinning a bit on top (though what he’s got has been teased into impressive quiffage of which even Adriano Celentano might have been proud). After a couple of minutes presenting slides of handwriting that seem to push George even closer to his appointment at Alcatraz, Fulci signs off with: “I’ll be next door, writing up my report”, though in fact he hangs around, badgering some laboratory underlings at the back of the shot for another minute or so, old ham that he is.

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No bonus CD here but there’s the now mandatory overview from Beyond Terror author Steven Thrower, who’s always worth listening to, plus interviews with Elsa Martinelli and Jean Sorel, who just seems to look more distinguished with every passing year and here remembers Fulci more as a collaborator and family friend than via the usual recitation of flakey behaviour. You also get a trailer, which points out that death chamber attendants and technicians actually appear in the film, as they do (but can’t resisit gilding the lily by claiming that they were hot from a recent execution) and a truly wild reel of excerpts from current and upcoming Mondo Macabro releases.

This looks like being the definitive presentation of Perversion Story for quite some time to come.

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You might think she’s crazy, but Marisa Mell wants you to lick her decals off, baby…

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Caesar’s Wife’s Blues… FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION on Arrow BD.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

Minou (Dagmar Lassander) lives a privileged life of pampered ennui as the neglected wifey of workaholic industrialist Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi). Comfortably marooned in Jacqueline Susann territory, her most significant daily decisions include what colour to paint her toe-nails, which wig to wear (she and her snooty pals all boast extensive wig collections, any of which pale into insignificance in comparison with the legendary lacquered Capponi comb-over) when she hits Barcelona’s hot and happening nite spots (FPOALAS is clearly shot in Barcelona, though at several points in it characters can be seen waving wads of US dollars around) and how early in the day she can get away with downing a tumbler or two of J&B and popping a few prozacs. Yep, Minou is bored off her delectable arse and longs for a little excitement in her life, but you know what they say… be careful what you wish for! Attempting to see off the blahs with a moonlit walk on the beach, Minou is waylaid by a menacing dude (Simón Andreu) with a sword stick who cops a feel off her and demands that she “beg for me… plead for my kisses”. When he’s done groping he disappears, but not before advising her that her husband is “a fraud and a murderer”.

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Pier Paolo Capponi and friend… anybody noticing a recurring visual motif yet?

You have to keep reminding yourself that all of this is taking place in pre #metoo days, otherwise the general reaction to Minou ordeal at the hands of a sword stick wielding weirdo might seem a little… off-key. “It was probably just a prank”, hubby helpfully suggests and the victim herself seems to take the incident in her stride, refusing to alert the police on the grounds that “they just make you fill in forms”. Later, at a hep party where ageing swingers bust their funky moves to delirious dollops of Morricone Hammond heaven, Minou meets up with pal Dominique (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro) to discuss her run in with the kinky maniac. “It means you’re bursting with sex appeal”, gibbers Dominique (who’s at it with Peter behind Minou’s back, incidentally) : “I’d adore being violated!”. No big deal then, it’s unanimous… indeed, there seems to be the suggestion that a bored, spoiled woman is just getting carried away with her Angie Dickinsonesque sexual fantasies.

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Stoking the fire, Dominique shows Minou some (rather tame) nuddy photos she’s had taken of herself and her pals (which had to be developed in Copenhagen!) Who should turn up in one of them, but Mr Menacing Dude from the beach?! He subsequently contacts Minou, claiming that the recent death of one of her husband’s creditors (from the bends, of all things) was no accident. Taped telephone conversations seem to lend credence to this version of events, and Minou is only too well aware that Peter has been suffering some serious cash flow problems, so she agrees to meet the blackmailer… but was it really wise to go in that mini skirt?

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Minou offers to buy Menacing Dude’s silence but he scorns her paper dollars: “You don’t know me, Minou…” he emotes: “You must submit your mind and body… you must suffer and be my slave!” What this florid nonsense boils down to is the blackmailer bonking her while taking pictures. With the eponymous forbidden photes in his possession, Minou’s tormentor reveals that he has faked the incriminating evidence against her husband but now has a strong bargaining position from which to demand her ongoing sexual favours… which she seems to dispense, shall we say, not without enthusiasm. Deduct several credibility points if you haven’t worked out there’s more to this debauched scenario than meets the eye and that there are several twists still to come…

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On the evidence of his Death Walks On High Heels (above, 1971) and Death Walks At Midnight (1972), each of which has its moments but both of which ultimately amount to less than the sum of their convoluted parts, I’d long considered Luciano Ercoli a bit of a second stringer, an underachieving Sergio Martino wannabe. While researching a piece on how the “bonkbusting” strain of giallo (presiding goddess Carroll Baker) gave way to the “psycho slasher” variant (and the divine Edwige Fenech) after the success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage, however, I rewatched Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970) and completely revised my long-standing, complacent opinion.

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Martino’s gialli are clearly key transitional works between the sexually overheated, money-motivated murder mysteries of Guerrieri and Lenzi and the post-Crystal Plumage sagas of deranged sex killers, mix-and-matching elements from both strains to keep their audiences guessing while simultaneously, director Sergio, producer Luciano and writer Ernesto Gastaldi  furiously attempted to figure out which side of the equation was going to put the most natiche on Italian cinema seats. No fewer than four aspiring assassins are interacting in their attempts to eliminate Edwige during The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). Just one of them is a full-blown nutzoid sex case, while the others coolly calculate the financial benefits potentially accruing from her demise. Subsequent Martino efforts essentially reshake the mix while refreshing the flavour with such incidental distractions as a black magic cult (in All The Colours Of The Dark, 1972) and the boho / Poe stylings of the same year’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key.  Martino finally came down firmly in psycho killer territory with Torso (produced by Carlo Ponti in 1973), which stripped the narrative right down to “pretty girls vs drooling loony” basics, with the most sexually conservative girl surviving the kill spree… establishing, in the process, the template for the whole American slasher / splatter phenom.

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From Copenhagen with love…

FPOALAS was released over the last two months of 1970 in Northern Italian cities and during early ’71 in the South. In other words, it was an earlier response to TBWTCP than any of those Martino pictures and anticipates several of their recurring narrative strategies. Like Fenech’s Mrs Wardh, Minou responds to marital neglect by drifting into an abusive S/M relationship with a cad, here the prolific and still busy Simón Andreu, who would combine the neglectful and sadistic male roles in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride, two years later (his roles in both films are so archetypal that his characters in each remain unnamed!) Just like Ivan Rassimov, who would subsequently take the corresponding role in Martino’s thrillers, Andreu tends to lurk in the shadows or barely glimpsed through rain-streaked windows, turning up at pivotal plot moments to further turn the screws on the increasingly desperate heroine. The ease with which Dominique converts Minou to the joys of amateur Porn prefigures Edwige Fenech’s rapid recruitment to a Satanic cult when Marina Malfatti suggests it might remedy her conformist malaise in All The Colours Of The Dark… jeez, Lassander even does the “take a shower in your slip” thing before it ever occurred to Edwige Fenech to do so!

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What really clinches FPOALAS’s place as a seminal text in the discourse between the bonkbusting and Argentoesque substreams of giallo is the self-consciousness with which the conspiring characters discuss precisely this dichotomy.  “You want to defeat me with your money… you’re trying to make a fool of me!” chides Mr Menacing when Minou attempts to buy him off: “Both of you think that your money can buy anything. You’re like animals, yet you call me mad!” “He’s crazy…” Minou confides to Dominique ” he doesn’t think like other people, there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do next”. As it happens, he’s only playing a role, but acts it out so (over)enthusiastically that he ends up spoiling the scam that his puppet-master (guess who) had devised. “He enjoyed playing the maniac and forgot I was paying him to follow instructions” complains the actual culprit behind this whole tawdry affair, before the cops arrive and gun him down… but if Andreu’s anaemic antics during this film (which amount to handing out a few superficial scratches with that sword stick) constitute him “going over the top” as a sex killer, one can only wonder what a half-assed attempt by him could possibly have looked like! The “rational” motive for all the unseemly shenanigans in Ercoli’s film, furthermore, when ultimately revealed, makes no sense whatsoever… I mean, I know there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on in Italy during the ’70s, but has there ever been a time (anywhere?) when insurance companies paid out on suicides?

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Luciano Ercoli (who also produced FPOALAS… Ernesto Gastaldi, still working through his obsession with Les Dialoboliques, wrote it) retired from the film biz after inheriting a fortune in the mid ’70s, presumably to enjoy the J&B quaffing, leisured lifestyle with his muse Navarro (who carried on acting – in several Joe D’Amato titles, among others… till 1989). Hopefully they spent their time until Ercoli’s death in March 2015 more harmoniously than Peter and Minou. The interviews with them on the supplementary materials for this release, conducted in their ostentatiously luxurious Barcelona apartment, rather suggest that they did. Indeed, Ercoli seems so happy with his lot that in his closing remarks he expresses the desire to live another 82 years, setting up the featurette’s final ironic caption. Gastaldi also has his say on their collaboration. Much of this material seems to have been re-edited from Arrow’s earlier releases of Death Walks On High Heels / At Midnight.

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Among the other extras, aside from the expected trailer, soundtrack nabob Lovely Jon illuminates the working relationship between “The Big Three” (Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Alessandro Alessandroni (from the privileged position of having himself collaborated with Alessandroni) and suggests that Nicolai, in particular, has been given short shrift, credits-wise, in relation to Morricone (Billy Strayhorn suffered much the same in his collaborations with Duke Ellington). Lovely Jon also takes the time to credit the contributions of the angelically voiced Edda Dell’Orso, among others. There’s a lengthy and revealing interview with Lassander, conducted by the inestimable Steve Green on stage at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in 2016. During her commentary track, Kat Ellinger eloquently champions pre-Argento, non-Bava gialli with reference to Michael Mackenzie’s “F-giallo” / “M-giallo” schemata. I’m not altogether convinced by this distinction… is Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story (which we’ll be reviewing shortly), for instance, an “F-giallo” or an “M-giallo”? A social media friend (and if I could remember who it was, I’d give them due credit) drew what is, for me, a wittier and more useful distinction between “60s scheming gialli and 70s stabby gialli”. If anything, the current background buzz over Umberto Lenzi and Romolo Guerrieri’s early Italian thrillers gives me grounds for optimism that Arrow might be preparing long overdue BD releases for them. Mr Mackenzie, incidentally, contributes an essay on FPOALAS in the illustrated collector’s booklet that accompanies the first pressing of this edition, but not the screeners that we hacks get.

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Quite aside from all the worthy extras, the main feature’s colour palette is presented here with significantly more nuance, vibrancy and general oomph than on Blue Underground’s previous DVD release… suitable grounds for an upgrade.

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“I hope you threw that cucumber in the bin afterwards!”

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Sette Studentesse Per L’Assassino… THE MINISKIRT MURDERS Reviewed.

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Directed by “Anthony Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti) in 1968. Produced by Lawrence Woolner, Virgilio and Giuseppe De Blasio. Written by Antonio Margheriti, Giovanni Simonelli, Franco Bottari and (all uncredited) Mario Bava, Tudor Gates, Brian Degas. Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli. Edited by Otello Colangeli. Production design by Antonio Visone. Music by Carlo Savina. Starring: Michael Rennie, Mark Damon, Eleonora Brown, Sally Smith, Patrizia Valturri, Ludmilla Lvova, Malisa Longo, Silvia Dionisio, “Alan Collins”, (Luciano Pigozzi).

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Antonio Margheriti was, by the general consent of anyone who ever met him (among whose number I’m fortunate to count myself), a total sweetheart. Much the same is said,  by those who encountered him, of Mario Bava. Between these two great Italian genre directors, though, little love seems to have been lost. One possible contributory factor to this alleged frostiness might have been Margheriti’s string of Gothic horror efforts which, while constituting a respectable body of chillers in their own right (The Virgin Of Nuremberg, 1963, Danse Macabre and The Long Hair Of Death, 1964) unquestionably shadowed such Bava classics as Black Sunday (1960), Black Sabbath and The Whip And The Body (both 1963). Perhaps such copy-catting was considered par-for-the-course in the Italian B-movie tradition… but maybe not by everybody.

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Whatever, it is suggested (notably by Tim Lucas in his epochal Bava tome All The Colors Of The Dark) that Bava quit as director of the picture under consideration here (at that point known as Cry Nightmare) when he learned that the producer he’d be answerable to was none other than Antonio Margheriti. Inheriting the direction of the project, Margheriti definitively established that he was nowhere near as good a copyist of Giallo Bava as he was of Bava in Gothic mode. Margheriti’s 1973 spaghetti slasher Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye is pretty watchable stuff, precisely because of the way it allows him to indulge his gothic inclinations… whereas this effort more closely resembles one of the more schoolbound krimi (those West German Edgar Wallace adaptations which are shading off into gialli proper round about this time) than the great giallo leaps forward that Bava seemed to manage every time he worked in the genre.

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For such a pedestrian effort, Marghereti’s film boasts a plethora of lurid titles aside from its original designation, Cry Nightmare. There’s Nude… Si Muore (“Naked You Die”), Sieben Jungfrauen Fur Den Teufel (“Seven Young Girls For The Devil”), The Young, The Evil And The Savage, Schoolgirl Killer and – my favourite – The Miniskirt Murders. Under whatever name, its alleged “action” unfolds, at a very sedate clip indeed, within the walls of St Hilda’s College, a boarding school for the daughters of the well off, whose dormitories are populated by some of the oldest looking “schoolgirls” since Stockard Canning slipped on her Pink Ladies outfit… Sally Smith was thirty when she appeared in this picture, for Chrissakes! Most irritating by far, though, is Lorenza Guerrieri as “Jill”, exactly the kind of mandatory, misfiring “comic relief” that is again strongly reminiscent of the krimis. All of these superannuated students are busily lusting after supposedly hunky teacher Mark Damon, whose penchant for jail bait immediately marks him out as the chief suspect when various girls and faculty members start getting bumped off (in disappointingly perfunctory style). The fact that he likes to hang around the college’s lime pit (yes, St Hilda’s has a lime pit… I imagine that it features prominently in the school prospectus) looking menacing does nothing to ease our suspicions. Another possible culprit is Margheriti and Bava’s ubiquitous character player “Alan Collins” alias Luciano Pigozzi (“the Italian Peter Lorre”), the school handyman who spends his time lovingly polishing his scythe (Freudian, much?) while relentlessly ogling schoolgirls from the bushes.

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Inspector Durand, the cop called in to investigate St Hilda’s alarming mortality rate, is played by a fast-fading Michael (The Day The Earth Stood Still) Rennie… fading so very fast that he was rather, er, tentative in his role, as Margheriti delighted in telling me when I interviewed him in 1995: “Rennie had suffered a heart attack about a year before we shot that picture. Every time we had to shoot a scene with some action, he would come to me and say: ‘Tony, what do you think? Maybe we could have Franco come in with all the policemen running and I arrive later and have a look…’ What he meant was: ‘Don’t make me run, I don’t want to die!’ Ha ha… a terrible story. He would open the door and step out before you could tell him to jump out, because he was really sick, you know? Ha ha ha!” Yeah, that’s very sensitive of you, Antonio…

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The biggest clue to the killer’s true identity lies with a corpse in a crate that we see being deposited in the school’s cellar towards the beginning of the film, and the ultimate revelation comes in a silly cross-dressing twist that really isn’t too hard to spot coming. Margheriti told me that he regarded The Miniskirt Murders as “a Dario Argento picture, ten years before Argento started to make movies!” Apart from the hazy grasp of chronology implied by this statement, it flagrantly disregards how much more Argento managed to achieve with the school setting in Phenomena (never mind Suspiria!) Nowhere in Schoolgirl Killer do we find the delirious levels of sheer stylised cruelty that Italian directors such as Argento, Bava, Fulci and Martino – even Carnimeo and Bianchi – brought to the genre. Even Sidney Hayers’ British girls school giallo wannabe Assault shows The Minskirt Murders the door. Margheriti clearly regarded this one as a job of work, taken on at short notice, rather than any kind of labour of love. He was an admirable jack of all cinematic trades but clearly no master of the giallo. He has left us with many enjoyable pictures but Naked You Die is not one of them.

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It must have been even more underwhelming when cut by 20 mins in States to fit on AIP double bills with “The Conqueror Worm” (that’s Witchfinder General to you, me and the late Michael Reeves). Gialli completists who feel compelled to catch it should be seeking out something close to the original Italian release’s 98 minute running time.

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Why Didn’t They Ask Evelyn? THE WEEKEND MURDERS Reviewed.

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The Weekend Murders aka Concerto For A Solo Pistol (1970). Directed by Michele Lupo. Produced by Antonio Mazza. Written by Sergio Donati, Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru. Cinematography by Guglielmo Mancori. Edited by Vincenzo Tomassi. Art direction by Ugo Sterpini. Music by Francesco De Masi. Starring: Anna Moffo, “Evelyn Stewart” (Ida Galli), Gastone Moschin, Peter Baldwin, Lance Percival, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Chris Cjhittell, Marisa Fabbri, Quinto Parmeggiani, Beryl Cunningham, Orchidea de Santis, Claudio Undari, Franco Borelli,  Ballard Berkeley, Richard Caldicot, Harry Hutchinson

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Whenever the origins of the giallo are discussed, various tributaries that fed into that particular filone will inevitably be invoked… Hitchcock, film noir, such German components as Expressionism and the subsequent cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations, American pulp fiction… but critics, fans and indeed the film makers who plied their trade in this murderous milieu seldom mention the influence of Golden Age (circa the interwar years) British detective fiction. Among the major exponents of the genre, Mario Bava, perhaps, came closest in Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970), a thinly disguised adaptation of the 1939 Agatha Christie novel whose name we dare not, these days, speak.

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In the same year (1970, that is) Michele Lupo was far more explicit in acknowledging this debt with The Weekend Murders, a comic country house murder mystery actually filmed in and around an English country house (Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk) and so broadly played that I kept expecting Miss Marple to pop up from behind a privet hedge or Lord Peter Wimsey to pull up in his Roller. After a flash forward to the discovery of a body in a bunker during a sedate round of golf, the action kicks off with the mustering of the ill-assorted Carter clan for the reading of the eccentric family patriarch’s will. Everything worth having goes to Barbara (Anna Moffo) and the grumbling has hardly subsided before an attempt is made on her life and a series of characters who would become beneficiaries in the event of her demise are bumped off. Co-writers Sergio Donati, Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru have the wit to do away with the butler (Ballard Berkeley) first… and yes, Berkeley would become more famous several years later as The Major in Fawlty Towers.

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There’s no shortage of remaining suspects (several of whom, naturally, find themselves on the growing pile of victims…) Ted (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) is a charming cad with his eyes on the prize… his wife Pauline (Beryl Cunningham), whom he seems to have married mainly to upset his racist family, is similarly on the make… Isabelle (Ida Galli) is involved in a tortured love triangle with two of the Carter men and Aunt Gladys (Marisa Fabbri) is a sinister battle-axe with terminally maladjusted son Georgie (future Tomorrow Person Chris Chittell) in tow… the latter’s penchant for morbid practical jokes complicate the police investigation at several junctures and his Oedipal hang ups (clearly inherited from those of Hywel Bennett’s identically named alter ego in Roy Boulting’s Twisted Nerve, 1968) are horribly exposed in a really cringe-inducing sexual encounter with nymphomaniac maid Evelyn (Orchidea de Santis).

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A great cast is topped off with Lance Percival (who, as previously noted in these pages, holds an inexplicable grip on Mrs F’s erotic imaginings) and Gastone Moschin (unrecognisable from his hard man roles in such poliziotteschi as Fernando Di Leo’s Milan Calibre 9, 1971) playing, respectively, the snotty Supt. Grey of Scotland yard and bucktoothed, bumbling bobby Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe. Although Grey regards Thorpe (and openly addresses him) as a “hobnailed country yokel bumpkin”, the local beat cop is more on the ball throughout and it’s he who ultimately identifies the culprit, their elaborate MO and motivation in a game-changing twisteroo that could have been dreamed up by Agatha Christie herself (and possibly was… I can’t claim to have worked my way through her complete bibliography). The knockabout relationship between these recalls the set up in many of those German krimi efforts which were, at this point, interchangeable with Italy’s gialli. Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, of course, was about to change all that…

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Francesco De Masi’s score, which riffs on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (served up straight in Duccio Tessari’s The Bloodstained Butterfly, the following year) is more suggestive of the Spaghetti Western in the way it incorporates gun shots to punctuate the percussive cutting of (Fulci’s go-to editor) Vincenzo Tomasso, hence the original Italian title Concerto Per Pistola Solista. Throughout, the director’s visual flair, a witty script and very watchable cast elevate The Weekend Murders above the mundane run of drawing-room detection duds… in fact, Lupo’s solitary shot in the Italian slasher stakes makes for one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable gialli you’ll ever see. Should be required “after Sunday dinner viewing” and indeed, here at The House of Freudstein, it now is.

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Oedipus Wrecks… Riccardo Freda’s MURDER OBSESSION On Blu-ray.

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BD. Region B. RaroVideo. Unrated.

“For Centuries theologians, philosophers and poets have delved into the Universe in search of proof of the existence of The Devil. It would have sufficed to look into the depths of their own souls…” Hieronimus A. Steinback, 17th Century.

Renowned for his neo-realism spurning lavish costume dramas of the ’40s and ’50s, Riccardo Freda is probably better known to readers of this blog as The Father Of  Italian Horror Cinema, no less, though he seems to have been losing interest in his career round about the time that he inaugurated that great tradition with I Vampiri in 1957, going AWOL and leaving its direction to be completed by his cinematographer, a certain Mario Bava. In the same year, a similar disappearing act from the set of Trapped In Tangiers enabled Freda’s assistant on that picture, Jorge (Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue) Grau to make his uncredited feature directing debut. Even when he did stick around physically to complete a picture, the feeling remained that Freda was still, at least metaphorically “phoning ’em in”…

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Made nearly a decade after Freda’s delirious Tragic Ceremony (one of the more mutated manifestations of that great tradition), Murder Obsession (which he signed as “Robert Hampton”) kicks off with Beryl (Laura Gemser) being throttled by a man who was hiding behind her bedroom curtain. Freda’s camera pulls back to reveal a film crew recording this. Yes it was only a movie (… only a movie…) but actor Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi)’s throttling of Beryl has been a little too enthusiastic for comfort. The fact that she responds so casually and the abrupt way in which the “movie crew” set up is so cavalierly jettisoned (there’s nary a mention of the film they’re supposed to be making throughout the rest of this picture) suggest that Freda and quite possibly his screen writing collaborators Antonio Cesare Corti, Fabio Piccioni and Simon Mizrahi are, well, phoning this one in.

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Musing over his potentially murderous method acting, Michael conceives the sudden desire to go and visit his old Mum, Glenda (Anita Strindberg) and invites the cast and crew along to get their collective shit together at her country pile. Greeted by sinister and somnambulistic manservant Oliver (John Richardson) they are ushered into the Jocastaesque presence of Mrs S, who maintains such a tight grip over her son that he explains girlfriend Deborah (Silvia Dionisio, the one time Mrs Deodato) away as his secretary. Deborah subsequently suffers a daft (and interminable) nightmare sequence involving laughable giant spiders and bats, then a phony-looking black mass sequence. Presumably Freda had the notion to invoke the gothic glories of I Vampiri, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) and The Ghost (1963) but once again he’s, you know, phoning it in…

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After a black gloved figure subjects Beryl to another throttling in her bath tub, she once again takes it philosophically and precisely none of Michael’s friends seem remotely alarmed when he confesses that as a child he killed his father during a psychotic episode. Beryl even consents to a little al fresco nookie with him, after which he wakes to find himself cuddling up to her eviscerated corpse. Has he returned to his juvenile psycho killing ways? Difficult to say, as just about everybody in the house is acting suspiciously and seems to own a pair of black leather gloves. Freda’s trying to spread the suspicion around among his red herrings, like a competent giallo director, but… how many times do I have to say it? He chucks in a predictable twist or two about what really happened to Michael’s dad (also played by Petrizi) but you’ve seen this primal scene before (in Profondo Rosso) and adding insult to injury, Oliver and Glenda are respectively awarded psychic powers and mastery of the black arts in an arbitrary spasm of 11th hour script “development”.

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All of this comes as too little, too late for genre icons Richardson and Strindberg, who are disappointingly underused throughout while Gemser, who is given rather more acting to do than usual, clearly isn’t up to it. The proceedings are further marred by a couple of misfiring splatter FX that will have you wondering if the Angelo Mattei who executed them is the same guy who fashioned the submerged corpse that Irene Miracle went skinny dipping with in Inferno. Incredibly, it is.

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The disc’s extras include an interview with Sergio Stivaletti, who assisted Mattei here before getting his big break on Argento’s Phenomena. We also hear Claudio Simonetti’s take on the development of OSTs in Horror cinema, a little puzzlingly as neither of the alternative cuts of Murder Obsession on this release are scored (and I’m trying to be diplomatic here) particularly memorably… the Italian version (clocking in at 1.37.18) is accompanied by lots of portentous plonking around on the piano while the English language variant (1.31.35) “boasts” synthesiser fartings that wouldn’t be out of place on Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast. Supplementary materials are rounded off with an (unsympathetically edited) appreciation of Murder Obsession by Gabriele Albanese, director of Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show, et al) and a low-grade extended rendering of Gemser being attacked in her bath).

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Have I already mentioned how Freda phones this one in? Well, if you can stand a little SPOILER I’ll tell you how the former sculptor redeems himself, right at the death… by restaging Michelangelo’s fucking Pieta is all, before slamming the door on Dionisio’s character and taking his leave of us with an implicit “Up yours, you doubting bastards!” Try phoning that in, smart Alecs…

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As well as being Riccardo Freda’s directorial swan song, Murder Obsession was also the final leading role undertaken by Anita Strindberg… according to some filmographies, anyway. I’m eagerly anticipating clarification on this point and so much else from Peter Jilmstad’s upcoming Strindberg biography, The Other Anita.

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Ringing Down The Curtain On The Golden Age Of Giallo… THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS And OPERA Reviewed

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The charnel house at Parma: Opera

BD/DVD Combi Edition. Cultfilms. Region B. 18.

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Edwige Fenech’s Garden Of Love: The Case Of The Bloody Iris

BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

Now I like mechanical, by the numbers spaghetti slashers… but I like barking mad, auteurist gothic cross-over gialli, too. So which is better? There’s only one way to find out…

A timely brace of releases from sister labels Shameless and CultFilms affords us the opportunity for a “compare and contrast” exercise that might shed some light on certain aspects of the giallo phenomenon. Failing that, at least we’ve got a pretext to run yet more alluring photos of Edwige Fenech…

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The Case Of The Bloody Iris (an unassuming little handle compared to the film’s original Italian title, which translates as “Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?”) was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo (masquerading as “Anthony Ascott”) during 1972, quite possibly the giallo’s annus mirabilis in purely quantitative terms, when every journey man who could work a camera seemed to be churning ’em out. Qualitatively, Argento took the genre to its zenith in 1975 with Deep Red and while others slackened off, his reputation / connections / family fortune enabled him to carry on obsessively reworking his favourite giallo themes with the likes of 1977’s Suspiria (you heard me!), Tenebrae (1982) and Phenomena (1985), before contributing one of the final two worthwhile entries (Opera… the other was his protegé Michele Soavi’s Stagefright) to the now moribund cycle in 1987.

Sergio Martino spent 1972 tweaking the giallo template, adding supernatural overtones with All The Colours Of Darkness and injecting a little Poe into his Les Diaboliques variant Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key (before kick-starting the stalk’n’slash wave with the following year’s Torso). All very well but in the meantime big brother / producer Luciano, craving another “Martinoesque” thriller to cash in on Sergio’s 1971 successes The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale, roped in reliable jobbing director Carnimeo to collaborate with scripting stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi, plus returning stars Fenech and George Hilton and ubiquitous OST composer Bruno Nicolai to knock out this very passable facsimile.

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TCOTBI packs a string of nubile psycho fodder (in all their funky ’70s finery) plus a veritable shoal of red herrings onto photo model Jennifer (Fenech)’s floor of a swish Genoan apartment building. Who’s cutting this collection of cuties off in their respective primes? Difficult to say, given the culprit’s standard issue black leather trench coat, broad-brimmed hat and stocking mask, but the cast of candidates comprises suspiciously smooth architect Hilton; a predatory lipstick lesbian (Lana Del Rey lookalike Annabella Incontrera) who’s predictably hot for Fenech’s bod; her disapproving, grumpy father; a nosey-parker old crone who’s keeping tabs on everybody else in the building; and her secret, scarred son, who is presented as obvious psycho-killer material because of his addiction to lurid horror comics (an imprudent tack to take in a lurid slasher film, one might have thought… ) Dodgiest of all is Jennifer’s ex Adam (Ben Carra), who’s stalking her, sending her irises and generally trying to lure her back into her former drug-crazed swinging lifestyle.  ”I’ll tear you as I tore the petals of the iris…” he rants: “You’re an object and you belong to me… since our celestial marriage you’ve belonged to me!” (shades of the overheated fruit loop played by Ivan Rassimov in Strange Vice).

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All of this understandably reduces Fenech to a nervous wreck, though her fellow photo model Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) is keener to attribute her agitated state to sexual frustration. “You made a big mistake, going from group sex to chastity” she advises, urging Jennifer to let her hair down a little, not to mention her drawers. The mandatory clueless cops (an inspector who’s more interested in collecting stamps than cracking the case, and his long-suffering side-kick, who seems to have wandered in from a Sexy-Comedy) persuade the reluctant Jennifer and Marilyn to stay in their apartment in a high risk strategy designed to flush out the killer (leaving them with the helpful advice: “Don’t trust any of your neighbours!”) as the bodies and improbable plot convolutions proliferate all around them.

One memorably barmy scene involves the night-club act of athletic black chick Mizar (Carla Brait) which involves her challenging horny audience members to get her clothes off in three minutes, while she’s beating them up (no, really!) This character’s later bath-tub demise is modelled upon one in the mother of all “imperilled models” gialli, Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964). Elsewhere an attack on a girl while she’s pulling a garment over her head and a public stabbing in broad daylight anticipate sequences in Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), and an elevator slashing is every bit as clearly the inspiration for one in Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980) as the power-tool slaying in Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Orchids Stained In Red (1972) was for the one in De Palma’s Body Double (1984)… what is it about Italian slasher directors and bloody petals, anyway?

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Carnimeo adroitly keeps the viewer’s suspicion alternating around his collection of ne’er do wells, with Hilton ostentatiously flagged as prime suspect, despite his professed haemophobia. Predictably, things are even more complicated than they appear, the true culprit’s puritanical motivation getting the customary curt airing before his / her equally obligatory dispatch by being chucked down a stair well. Gastaldi also manages to work a Spellbound-type cathartic liberation for one of the main characters into this boffo denouement. DP Stelvio Massi and sound track composer Bruno Nicolai perform their respective chores with the customary panache and although TCOTBI is nowhere near as adventurous, inventive or influential as Sergio Martino’s several stabs at giallo, suspend your disbelief to enjoy one of the genre’s most pleasantly time passing guilty pleasures.

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The second release under consideration here is another balaclava-load of bubbling brains altogether, the final refinement of its director’s patented giallo mix before a precipitous slide into self-parody (if you’ve never seen Argento’s on-the-nose 1998 Phantom Of The Opera remake… well, do yourself a favour and keep it that way). So, there’s a primal (and decidedly sadistic) scene that’s left an indelible mark on one of the main characters, a leading lady struggling to make sense of something she’s witnessed (or possibly just dreamed), an ineffectual police investigation that obliges another character to turn amateur sleuth… pepper all this with state-of-the-art camera technology in the service of vaulting directorial ambition and fiendish Sergio Stivaletti splatter FX and what do you get? Dario Argento’s Opera, that’s what!

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Thrown into the spotlight on the opening night of a controversial production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, young diva Betty (Cristina Marsillach) promptly feels the full force attendant on the proverbial “Curse of The Scottish Play”. Trussed up by a mysterious masked stalker who tapes needles under her eyelids, she is forced to witness her nearest and dearest being stabbed in the gizzard and butchered before her unblinking eyes (an ordeal exacerbated by outbreaks of terrible heavy metal music on the soundtrack!)

So who’s giving her the needle… her dictatorial director Marco? A disgruntled diva? Urbano Barberini’s drippy, star-struck investigating officer? If Marco was a controversial pick to direct opera then Dario Argento, in the light of such operatic horrors as Suspira, Inferno and Phenomena, was a natural to direct Opera… indeed, it’s unlikely that anybody but him could have dreamed up (in conjunction with Franco Ferrini) this extreme twist on Gaston Leroux’s source novel). To render his OTT vision, Argento roped in DP Ronnie Taylor (*), with whom he’d previously shot some cutting edge car commercials, to collaborate on such startling moments as Betty’s agent Myra (Daria Nicolodi) being shot in the face through a keyhole, or the climactic attack of pouncing, vengeful ravens, viewed from the birds’ aerial POVs. Things are ultimately wound up with an ending that’s so very left-field, even by Argento’s standards, that Marsillach’s space cadet soliloquy / lizard rescuing routine were cut from export prints for many years (you get to see it all here, though you won’t necessarily believe it).

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Opera is baroque, beautiful and downright berserk enough (Nicolodi’s death scene holds it own in comparison with anything else in Argento’s extraordinary canon) to secure its place in the director’s matchless golden era (on which it rings down the curtain in appropriately flamboyant style) although it’s no Suspiria. Accordingly, it’s been given a mere 2k restoration (half the ‘k’s of CultFilms’ eye-searing Suspiria restoration) and looks mighty fine for it, with the revelation of pastel tendencies that recall the job Arrow recently did on Deep Red restoration. Argento supervised this one personally, with reference to his own favoured cinema print which, we learn in the lengthy bonus interview on this disc, he stole! Among the other extras we are given a split screen look at the restoration process plus extensive behind-the-scenes “making of” footage… I’ve seen various permutations of this stuff in previous featurettes and documentaries but what we have here appears to be the motherlode.

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Shameless have managed a sharp BD transfer of Carnimeo’s film with little grain to distract you from your contemplation of the onscreen carnage, though some might find the colour palate of this particular Bloody Iris a tad dull and overly green compared to, e.g. (my handiest reference point) the DVD on Anchor Bay’s 2002 “Giallo Collection” box set. Bonus wise, you get Interviews with Paola Quattrini and George Hilton. Quattrini is mystified that people would still want to ask her about this film 45 after the event, but muses that this tale of misogynistic murder might have renewed relevance in the age of #metoo. George “I know I’m handsome” Hilton reminisces about his many love scenes with Edwige Fenech… well, it’s a tough job but some jammy bastard’s gotta do it!

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(*) Mr Taylor took his wife to see Opera for the first time when it played at The Scala in 1991, as part of the launch event for Maitland McDonagh’s book Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds, with Argento in attendance. I was privy to her reaction. “Not impressed” would be a serious understatement…

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