Posts Tagged With: Giallo

SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?

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Suspiria, 1977. Directed by Dario ArgentoProduced by Claudio Argento and Salvatore Argento. Story by Daria NicoldiScreenplay by Dario Argento and Daria NicolodiCinematography by Luciano TovoliEdited by Franco Fraticelli. Production Design by Giuseppe Bassan. Musiby Goblin. SFX by Germano Natali. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.

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… you wait forty years for a 4k restoration of Suspiria then two turn up at the same time! Over in The States, Synapse’s Don May has been struggling manfully with his for something like a tenth of that period but CultFilms have stealthily beaten him to the punch with their European release of TLE’s take on the most visually beautiful of all Horror Films. Before either of them had aired in public there was much internet discussion and comparing of screen grabs with the intention of establishing which version would prove most successful in correcting the technical errors (too fiendishly complicated to go into here) that have marred previous releases. May’s strongest hand all along has been that Luciano Tovoli, the film’s cinematographer, has supervised his Suspiria… then again the CultFilms / TLE rendering was overseen by Dario Argento himself, who’s presumably entitled to a view on how the film should look and sound.

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Ultimately we’ll all have to pay our money / take our choice and as long as each version is only viewable in its own territory, one of the first things we Europeans (semi-detached and otherwise) will have to go on is this October and November’s Cultfilms UK mini-tour.  After its premiere at the BFI during the London Film Festival on 06/10/17, the TLE Suspiria rolled into Nottingham on the 14th October for a centrepiece Saturday late night screening at the Broadway Cinema’s peerless Mayhem Film Fest (full Festival report coming shortly on this blog).

Kudos to Festival co-curators Chris Cooke (who had previously told me that presenting such a restoration was a personal dream come true) and Steve Sheil, who introduced “Argento’s masterpiece” by asking how many audience members had never seen the film before. As it happened, a significant proportion of the audience admitted to being “Suspiria virgins”…

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… and what a way to lose their cherries! If the Synapse version is going to look any better than this, we’ve surely got to be talking infinitesimal degrees of cinematic lusciousness. Miraculously, considering the extent of the repairs that were reportedly needed, not a hair nor a scratch now sullies the candy coloured phantasmagoria of Argento’s vision. As for those much called-for corrections to the film’s pallet… suffice to say, you’ll feel an overpowering urge to lean into the screen and lick the marzipan walls of the Tanz Akademie, hopefully grabbing a kiss from Jessica Harper before returning to your seat and getting beaten up by the ushers.

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Soundwise, the film (not least Goblin’s celebrated score) is every bit as loud and frantic as you knew it was going to be… if a little flat. Was there something up with The Broadway’s speakers? Nope, various films of varying quality (none better than Suspiria) made effective use of the venue’s surround sound speakers throughout the Festival. Is it just that Suspiria was conceived, reasonably enough, without reference to the state of audio technology 40 year’s hence? Was there a problem with the relevant elements? With the sonic aspect of this restoration? With my ears? Will the Synapse jobby sound a little punchier? Watch (or should I say listen to?) this space…

Don’t get me wrong… it doesn’t sound crappy, it’s just not quite the outright audio assault for which Suspiria is famed. No matter, I didn’t begrudge one iota of the expense required to get me home after leaving this particular late, late show with those virgins’ applause ringing in my ears. They now knew what they’d been missing and I was reminded, after years of video / DVD / BD over-familiarity, that Suspiria is quite possibly The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. I don’t imagine too many visitors of this Blog are going to give me to much of an argument on that one.

Now for the contentious bit…

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What constitutes a giallo?  Various definitions have been offered. From the get-go we’ll dismiss the philistine broad stroke one that encompasses virtually any Italian exploitation picture. We’re talking here about those thrillers, descended in equal parts from the yellow (“giallo”) covered paper backs published by Mondadori and co, German krimis and Hitchcock, whose rule book was developed by Mario Bava during the ’60s and upgraded by Argento throughout the following decade.

So if we were to have a, er, stab, at definition, it would look something like this. A  killer is at large (usually in an urban Italian setting) and the viewer is challenged to work out his / her identity. His / her motivation can be madness, sexual sadism, an inheritance… it scarcely matters (and the motives revealed, even in some of the genre’s classier entries, are frequently risible nonsense) because the style and severity with which the crimes are perpetrated and filmed are more important than who is killing whom and why. Subjective shots from the killer’s point of view will keep you guessing, anyway, as flashy visuals continue to be prioritised over narrative coherence. The cops generally take a powder in these films, leaving the sleuthing to some obsessive amateur who, more often than not, has half-glimpsed an all important clue but is struggling to make sense of it. Just in case this recipe isn’t already sufficiently un-PC, among the bloodily dispatched victims we will typically find a disproportionate compliment of attractive young women.

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You don’t have to honour every one of these rules to qualify as a giallo. Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987) throws the whodunnit element right out of the window (we’re aware of the killer’s identity even before he inaugurates the movie’s sequence of killings) yet is frequently cited as one of the genre’s last great entries. Some gialli do admit cops, e.g.  Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (tellingly also known as The Police Require Assistance, 1974), Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975) and Alberto De Martino’s Strange Shadows In An Empty Room / Blazing Magnum (1976). Some of the grubbier gialli substitute smut for style (most notoriously in Mario Landi’s unpalatable Giallo In Venice, 1979) and setting their events outside of the Italian urban milieu has not discounted Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Womans Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Umberto Lenzi’s totally barmy Eyeball (1975) or just about all of Sergio Martino’s powerful entries in the genre… so why should its Austrian setting disqualify Suspiria, a film which in every other way adheres to the genre’s golden rules?!?

So it’s not contentious at all, actually… It’s a no-brainer. It makes no difference that the question “Who’s the killer?” is answered with a shrieked “Witch!” I always get slagged off for arguing this and no doubt will be again, but if it looks like a giallo, struts like a giallo and cuts its way through its victims like a giallo, then it’s probably a giallo… and Suspiria is a giallo. Yes, it’s a turbo charged giallo with heavy supernatural overtones and cinematic style to burn. But let’s try not to hold that against it, eh?

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It’s TORSO… Only More So! Sergio Martino’s Seminal Giallo / Slasher Crossover Epic On Shameless Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Sweeping the table of eyeless doll heads, you sit down and loosen your black-on-red (or is it red-on-black?) ‘kerchief. Ignoring the banging on the door of the room in which you’ve incarcerated the sexy art student, you peel the polythene wrapper from your copy of Shameless’s new Torso Blu-ray, take out the sleeve and reverse it because the alternative design is going to look so much better on your shelf, extract the disc, feed it into your BD player and settle back in anticipation…

19399797_561431237579683_1018641091339927587_n.jpgFaced with the problem of replacing talismanic female lead Edwige Fenech (who was probably knocking out a sexy comedy or two at the time) for 1973’s I Corpi Presentano Tracce Di Violenza Carnale (“The Corpses Bear Traces Of Carnal Violence”), Sergio Martino made a virtue of necessity by casting Derbyshire dolly bird Suzy Kendall, who had become something of a giallo icon herself since starring in Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Here Martino and stalwart scripter Ernesto Gastaldi cut back on the frenetic over-plotting and globe-trotting of their previous collaborations to render their most Argentoesque effort yet… stylishly shot yet boiled down to its brutal, basic ingredients, this is something like the quintessential giallo. Distributed, retitled (as “Torso”)  and marginally recut by Joseph Brenner for the American grindhouse circuit, the film’s pared down focus on psychosexual violence twitched the death nerves of American film goers who were about to embrace Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

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Much has been made of the connection between gialli and the subsequent American slasher cycle… by reducing things to a simple-minded body count mechanism and concentrating on predominantly attractive, sexually active female victims, Torso probably deserves as much credit (if that’s the appropriate word) for this cultural exchange as Bava’s Bay Of Blood (1971), whose plot is more easily recognisable in the first couple of Friday The 13th movies.

After a kinky photo shoot involving doll mutilation (?!?) has played out under the titles, we are introduced to Kendall’s character Jane. She’s studying Renaissance Art at Perugia University, whose student body for the Academic Year 1973-4 seems to consist exclusively of refugees from America’s Next Top Model. Before they’ve learned to distinguish their Perugino from their pudende, however, the girls start getting strangled and carved up by a balaclava clad assassin. Cristina / Conchita Airoldi (as Carol) is offed in even more memorable style than she was in Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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After a pot-fuelled heavy petting session with two hippies turns sour (as is so often the case), she wanders off into the foggy woods (like you invariably do on such occasions) and ends up strangled, stabbed and drowned in a muddy swamp. Sex and drugs, then killed in a forest? You couldn’t imagine a clearer template for the stalk’n’slash cycles “have sex and die!” rule, could you? Brenner astutely recognised the significance of this death scene, bumping it up in the running order so it played under the film’s titles, to the accompaniment of a howling fuzz guitar riff (imported from Bruno Nicolai’s score for the contemporary Leon Klimovsky flick, Night Of The Walking Dead.)

The only lead the police have is the killer’s preference for red and black scarves as strangulation aids. Martino manages a little in-joke by casting Ernesto Colli (one of the several assassins in Mrs Wardh) as the campus scarf vendor who attempts to blackmail the killer, only to be squashed under the latter’s car (after all, “death is the best keeper of secrets…”) Meanwhile sweet Danni (Tina Aumont), in best Bird With The Crystal Plumage style, is struggling to recall the half-glimpsed clue that’s tormenting her… did she see her obsessive wannabe boyfriend wearing a black-on-red patterned scarf or a red-on-black patterned scarf at the time of the first killing? Her uncle Nino is quite sure of one thing… that Danni and her sexy pals should try to take their minds off things by spending a weekend at his remote, cliff-side manner in the country. Uh-oh…

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The lecherous villagers are suitably impressed when all this tantalising totty rolls up. Sample comment: ” “Cor… look at all those knockers!” (Yeah Einstein, two per girl… though admittedly that might change when – to paraphrase the marketing for Shameless’s original DVD release – “the whores meet the saws!”) Katia (Angela Corvello) and Ursula (Carla Brait from Giulio Carnimeo’s Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?, 1972) are having a hot and heavy lesbian fling so it’s no surprise when they go the way of all sinful flesh, where they’re sadly soon joined by the lovely Danni.

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Because Jane arrived separately and retired to bed early with a sprained ankle, the maniac is initially oblivious to her as she eaves-drops, horrified, on the sawing up of her pals into handily disposable portions of sexy student. The killer boasts an impressive array of cutting tools, but it’s not clear whether his armoury includes a strange vice (yuk, yuk!) Our anguished heroine impotently watches the townspeople below and tries to alert them to her predicament by reflecting the sun off a mirror, but no dice. All she manages to do is reveal her presence to the killer, after which she spends about half an hour playing hide and seek around the house’s ornate fittings and among the butchered remnants of her pals… a fetishistic expansion of one brief, tense scene in Bird With The Crystal Plumage where the killer lays siege to Kendall’s apartment… yep, she’s in a locked room and only a psychotic maniac has the key! All the windows are (in)conveniently barred against burglars… cue the “through the keyhole” shots that Martino so obviously loved in BWTCP and with which he litters all of his gialli.

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But who is the killer? No giallo epic would be complete without the expected massed ranks of suspects. Doctor Roberto (crime-slime mainstay Luc Meranda) spends a lot of time loitering menacingly for no apparent reason… art lecturer Professor Franz (John Richardson, who’s been gracing spaghetti exploitation flicks since Bava’s Black Sunday in 1960) seems unnecessarily obsessed with the correct way to depict the gory martyrdom of Saint Sebastian… brooding student Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) has been stalking Daniela and attempts to throttle a prostitute who laughs when he fails to rise to the occasion…

… even kindly Uncle Nino (Carlo Alighiero) is an incestuously inclined voyeur… and maybe we should be worrying about the peeping tom milkman (“Ernie”, by any chance?) who seems to have emigrated from the set of one of Martino’s “sexy comedies”. Just about all of these guys seem to sport one of those racy little red / black neckerchiefs, too. All is finally resolved with the mandatory ludicrous psychosexual revelation…

 – SPOILER ALERT! –

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 “… just stupid dolls of flesh and blood!’ howls the culprit (calm down, calm down!), flashing back to the unfortunate (and hilariously rendered) childhood incident in which his kid brother went arse over tit off a cliff after a game of doctor’s and nurses went horribly wrong.

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Incidentally, the final confrontation between the characters who turn out to be killer and hero respectively is a full-on punch-up that wouldn’t be out of place at kicking-out time in a Glasgow hostelry and very much suggests the influence of the contemporary kung fu craze. When I interviewed Martino he declared his “absolute favourite moment” from all his films to be “the sequence at the end of Torso, in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there” Not half, matey! Edwige Fenech… who needs her?

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So what have we learned from Sergio Martino’s Torso? That some crazy-as-batshit dude carved up a bunch of art students because he thought that women were dolls… but why did he think that the appropriate response to dolls was to carve them up in the first place? Hm… Sergio, is it too late for a Torso 2? I, for one, would certainly buy a ticket to see that.

Picture wise, it’s the old Blu-ray trade-off between enhancing the subtlety of (Giancarlo Ferrando’s) cinematography while exacerbating the grain in a film that’s almost 45 years old. I’m more inclined to believe that my tumbler of J&B is half full rather than half empty on this occasion, especially as a lot of effort has clearly been put into rectifying the print damage that has marred previous releases. This Shameless BD continues the incremental improvements to Torso that seem to have marked every successive edition… notes that the characters write to each (on paper and on one occasion across a mucky windshield) are now in English and the two surviving characters now exchange philosophical observations (in Italian, with English subtitles) as they walk off into the sunrise, as opposed to the Third Man style dumbshow of the Shameless DVD release.

Extra-wise you get “Dismembering Torso”, a new 23 minute interview with director Sergio Martino. He tells how his usual producer, big brother Luciano, rejected his idea for the film (which was based on a notorious real life case), ultimately produced by Carlo Ponti. We also learn that Sergio originally wanted to call it Red For Love, Black For Death (the scarves thing, right?) but the title became The Corpses Don’t Bear Traces Of Carnal Violence… until distributors insisted that they must bear precisely such traces, obliging Martino to go back and redub the police inspector’s briefing on this subject. He recalls that Torso was doing OK at box offices until Last Tango In Paris came out and slaughtered all the competition (pity they couldn’t call Bertolucci’s film “The Bumholes Bear Traces Of Butter”). Self-critical as ever, Martino observes that “some of the actors were a little wooden”. Well, there’s a good reason for that, Sergio…

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Above: another cracking couple of reinterpretations from beyondhorrordesign.blogpsot.com

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He Should Have Gone To Specsavers… Sergio Martino’s THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR Reviewed

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

Claudio Cassinelli (in the first of several starring roles for Sergio Martino) plays Paolo Germi, an undercover Police Inspector (it is revealed, half way into the picture) who is investigating the trafficking of minors for immoral purposes in Milan. Impetus is lent to his investigations when informant Marisa Pesce (Patrizia Castaldi) gets sliced up by a knife wielding, mirror shades-wearing assassin before she can pass on the information she had promised him. Hampered by his by-the-book boss (Mel Ferrer) and dozy colleagues (one of whom seems more obsessed with betting than rounding up any bad guys) Germi recruits petty criminal Giannino (a nice comic turn from Adolfo Caruso) as his wing man and continues his enquiries among the city’s tarts, those with hearts and otherwise. As connections with the drugs trade and a kidnapping ring fall into place, suspicion begins to fall on Marisa’s wealthy and influential Uncle Gaudenzio (Massimo Girotti). With his employers continuing to drag their feet, demanding cast-iron evidence, Germi is prompted by the murder of Giannino and his girlfriend to quit the force and confront Pesce while the latter is on a money laundering trip to Switzerland…

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There’s a gag running throughout TSDOAM, concerning the frequency with which Cassinelli’s character breaks the lenses in his glasses. If I wanted to go all clever dick on you, I’d argue that this is emblematic of the film’s fractured stylistic take. I do, so I will…

Having authored some of the more compelling and varied entries in the giallo cycle from 1970 to 1973 (The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours of The Dark, Your Vice Is  A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key) and providing the template for the all-conquering stalk’n’slash cycle with Torso, Sergio Martino could have been forgiven for leaving the yellow stuff well alone, especially as the wave inspired by Dario Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970) was starting to recede. TSDOAM began life as a poliziottescho effort, a logical progression from the seminal crime slime entries that Martino had already racked up with The Violent Professionals (1973) and Silent Action (earlier in ’75). In the run-up to shooting Suspicious Death, however, the giallo was reinvigorated by Argento’s triumphant return with Deep Red and Sergio’s producer brother Luciano felt obliged, at short notice, to add gialloesque aspects to this picture. As well as the mandatory stalking sequences we get specific references to, e.g. Daria Nicolodi’s malfunctioning car, a stabbed woman breaking a window with her face, a nasty scalding… Luciano Michelini even contributes a main theme that’s eerily reminiscent of the Goblin one to Argento’s biggie.

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Argento copying aside, it can’t have escaped the Martino boys’ attention that Milan-born Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (alternatively titled, tellingly enough La Polizia Chiede Aiuto / “The Police Are Asking For Help”) from the previous year combined giallo and crime slime successfully… not to mention turning on a “teenage prostitution racket servicing the great and good” plotline and starring Cassinelli. This cross-pollination of cop / giallo ingredients would produce its prize specimen in 1976, with Alberto De Martino’s amazing Blazing Magnum (1976).

But betting (correctly) that neither gialli nor poliziotteschi had that much life left in them, Sergio further confused matters by incorporating elements of comedy (a genre he had already debuted in with the Edwige Fenech vehicle Giovannona Long-Thigh, 1973, and to which he would successfully return for much of his subsequent filmography) into an already overegged mix. So instead of the nail-biting thrills of the car chase from The Violent Professionals (so impressive it was recycled in subsequent films by Martino and others) we are here “treated” to automobile antics involving nuns, acrobatic head spins and trick unicycle silliness.

In case you were wondering whether such jocularity was appropriate for a film about the sexual exploitation of minors, fret ye not… this is hardly a serious look at that troubling subject, the victims herein constituting the oldest “minors” since Stockard Channing enrolled at Rydell High. Barbara Magnolfi, two years away from her striking turn in Suspiria, had already bid adieu to her teens when she appeared in TSDOAM…. ditto Patrizia Castaldi, the title character. Kooky hooker Carmela (Lia Tanzi, perviously a prostitute in The Violent Professionals) bears a close resemblance to  Nancy Allen and the fate of her character curiously foreshadows that of Allen’s in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981).

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A healthy compliment of strong female characters is rounded out by the feisty Gloria (the ill-starred Jenny Tamburi), with whom Germi hooks up for a briefing (while Giannino is attempting to debrief her) in a down-market Terza Vizione cinema which is screening, incestuously enough, Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room. This sequence segues into one of the picture’s best realised suspenseful action vignettes, with that mirror shaded assassin stalking Germi across (and through) the cinema roof until another Italian shop window mannequin takes the mandatory fall. Mention must also be made of a well-choreographed shoot out on a roller coaster and the ensuing metro station pursuit that ends in somebody being squashed under a train.

Arrow’s BD presentation of this rare title looks just great. We’re getting used to swallowing a bit of grain in return for the revelation of hitherto unguessed at cinematographical subtleties but those pesky pixels are barely perceptible here, a testament to the work of  Martino’s long serving DP, Giancarlo Ferrando. Travis Crawford clocks up yet another commentary track but the normally sure-footed TC seems to be having a bit of an off day, completely missing the director’s cameo appearance while wasting words on a (non-existent) continuity error. He also lavishes much praise on Mel Ferrer, who pretty much phones in his brief appearance here.

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Of course there’s a trailer and a reversible sleeve which, like the limited edition collectors’ booklet, “with new writing by Barry Forshaw”, was not available to me at the time of penning this review. The Ferrando interview mentioned in some of the publicity releases is conspicuous by its absence from the Blu-ray disc I received, though you do get 42 minutes with Sergio Martino, in which he reflects on the generalities of his long and distinguished career (e.g. the pros and cons of making most of your films for a producer who’s also your brother, the lax attitude towards health and safety that applied on Italian shoots and how this might or might not have contributed to Cassinelli’s untimely death during another Martino production, Hands Of Steel in 1986) and the problematic position that TSDOAM occupies within it, conceding what a hotch-potch of styles it represents and how difficult it consequently was to market. Indeed, the fact that this edition comes with an Italian language soundtrack and optional English subtitles confirms ones suspicions that Suspicious Death was just too weird for much of a mainstream release outside of Italy.

Indeed, with genres being so recklessly juggled, it’s amazing that this film’s elements cohere at all, let alone that it’s constituent parts coagulate into such a diverting concoction. As Quentin Tarantino once told me: “Martino’s a hack but he really knows what he’s doing and you’re in safe hands when you watch one of his pictures”. TSDOAM comes nowhere near to what Martino achieved at his peak in either the giallo or crime slime genres but as an interesting snap shot of Italy’s ruthlessly commercial popular cinema mutating, before your very eyes, in response to contemporary box office pressures, it’s well worth the attention of any serious student of Cine Exploitation All’Italiana.

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Kind Of Blue Beard… High Stakes And Thigh Steaks In Lucio Fulci’s TOUCH OF DEATH.

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BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

Lester Parsons (Brett Halsey) is so far into the hole betting on horses that he stars answering “lonely hearts” ads taken out by wealthy widows, divesting them of their dough then bumping them off (Jeez, those guys in The Pina Colada Song thought they had problems!) Lester should have remembered that line: “When the fun stops… stop!” Then again, it’s a line which could be as well applied to watching Lucio Fulci films as to gambling…

… unfortunately we here at The House Of Freudstein have sworn a sacred oath to shirk no shitshow when it comes to bringing you the straight poop about Italian exploitation cinema, so here it is – despite public demand – a review of Touch Of Death aka When Alice Broke The Looking Glass (1988), just one of the zero budget clinkers that Fulci cranked out in his declining years for producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini.

We’re introduced to Lester as he digests the news of yet another betting debacle, cheering himself up by cooking up and consuming a rare steak while he watches an introduction tape in which an anorexic, facially disfigured bimbo cavorts for his erotic delectation. You might well think that she didn’t make much of an effort, though she looks significantly better in the tape than she does now, lying dead in Lester’s basement, a raw excision from her thigh making it clear where that steak came from. Having consumed this prime cut and fed some of the remaining choicer morsels to his cat, Lester minces the balance of Miss Lonely Heart / lungs / spleen / liver / kidney / et al and feeds it to the pigs in his back yard.

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Nice disposal job, but the TV news subsequently informs Lester that said mortal remains have turned up in plastic bags on a local tip and the police are investigating. Somewhat perturbed by this turn of events, Lester talks them over with his only confidante, a pre-recorded voice on an audio cassette. Confused? Not as confused as Fulci was when he wrote this thing… come back Dardano Sacchetti, all is forgiven!

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He’s just a gigolo… form an orderly queue there, ladies!

Having offed his next victim – a lady with significant facial hair problems – by beating her hairy face in with a tree branch then microwaving her head (with the oven door open?), Lester elects to do away with the evidence in alternative fashion, burying her in cement on a building site which he conveniently seems to have the run of. This leaves him open to the threat of blackmail by a floridly overacting crusty witness (Marco Di Stefano), a threat he neatly heads off by chasing down this derelict in his car and running it over him…. several times….

… and still the TV newscaster reports that his latest victim’s hirsute remains have been discovered, also that the tramp is recovering in hospital and will provide a fotofit of the perpetrator when he’s sufficiently recovered. Lester continues to consult the voice on the tape which, it subsequently emerges, is that of his shadow. Is any of this making any sense? Like I said, Fulci wrote it so don’t blame me (though I guess it’s perfectly possible that, unbeknownst to me, my shadow had a spectral hand in the script).

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So far (and subsequently) Lester’s victims have been in some way disfigured. Fulci’s comment on superficial societal attitudes / body shaming? A mischievous retort to Argento’s notorious stated preference for beautiful female victims (and its obvious inspiration, Poe’s dictum that: “The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world”)? Whatever, Lester’s next date, Alice Shogun (?!?) suffers from no such disfigurement… not till she’s encountered Lester, anyhow. Is this why the film is named after her? Who can say? As embodied by Ria De Simone, she’s not a bad-looking woman at all (albeit a little over-voluptuous) though her penchant for performing operatic operas while participating in rough sex (a moral disfigurement?) make her an easy mark for Lester. He takes her corpse out for a drive, looking for an ideal place to stash it, leading to an allegedly comic bit of business with a traffic cop writing him a speeding ticket but overlooking the stiff in the passenger seat.

Every day, the newscasters bring worse news for Lester… that fotofit of “The Maniac” (as the police have imaginatively tagged him) is apparently coming along nicely and Lester’s DNA profile has been identified and announced (though it’s never made clear exactly how one would go about doing such a thing).

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Under pressure from his bookie Randy (an uncharacteristically fresh-faced Al Cliver), our “hero” tries for another big score from hare-lipped Virginia Field (billed as Zora Ulla Kesler but easily recognisable to any self-respecting spaghetti splatter fancier as Zora Kerova of Anthropophagous / Cannibal Ferox / New York Ripper infamy). It’s suggested that she’s a fellow con artist out to give Lester a dose of his own medicine but when she thwarts his attempt to kill her with nutcrackers (?!?) by shooting him, it’s revealed that she was tipped off re his murderous intent by seeing that much-anticipated fotofit on TV… and of course when we finally to see it, it bears no resemblance to Halsey whatsoever! Lester staggers off into a corridor and, before pegging it, exchanges a few rueful philosophical observations with his shadow… nothing like as rueful as the viewer, contemplating 80 wasted minutes of his life that he / she will never be able get back.

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Touch Of Death is unquestionably the work of a Pasta Paura maestro who’s gone more than a touch beyond his prime… it was conceived in conjunction with a season of movies under the “Lucio Fulci Presents” banner, attempting to evoke Dario Argento’s successful La Porta Sul Buio (“Door To Darkness”) series from the mid-70s (or even his rather less successful Turno Di Notte / “Night Shift” from the late ’80s) while simultaneously making a virtue of necessity in that the deregulation of Italian TV was closing most of the country’s cinemas. Were these films actually intended for sale to Italian TV? Their shared “shot on video” aesthetic suggests the possibility but could such violent fodder ever have stood a realistic chance of playing on the box? Perhaps Fulci intended Touch Of Death as a toast to the brave new world of commercial TV from a poisoned chalice (the cinematic equivalent of The Rolling Stones’ Cocksucker Blues?)… whatever, this and the film that Fulci shot virtually simultaneously with it (the woeful Ghosts Of Sodom), along with Hansel & Gretel (co-directed by Fulci and Giovanni Simonelli in 1990), Mario Bianchi’s Don’t Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta aka The Murder Secret (1988), Leandro Luchetti’s Bloody Psycho, Enzo Milioni’s Bloody Moon and Andrea Bianchi’s Massacre (all 1989), promptly disappeared, only to be filleted for footage by Lucidi and Nannerini to pad out the astonishing atrocity attributed to Fulci and entitled Nightmare Concert (aka A Cat In The Brain) that assaulted such Italian cinema screens as remained standing in 1990.

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The individual films have emerged, piecemeal, via obscure fly-by-night video releases (they’re also viewable on Youtube, for those of a hard-core masochistic bent)… a proposed Synapse release of Touch Of Death was abandoned when no original elements could be located and Don May’s outfit declined to source it from video. For the sake of unfussy Fulci completists, Shriek Show, Red Edition and others put out ropey looking DVD editions in the first half of the noughties. The BD release under consideration here looks pretty good (as well as this movie, in its original  4:3 aspect ratio, is ever going to look on your state-of-the-art widescreen telly, anyway) and 88 claim to have remastered it from an original negative. It would have been nice to see something in the bonus materials or liner notes about the film’s restoration, but no dice. The notes comprise Calum Waddell’s entertaining and informative interview with “Al Cliver” (Pierluigi Conti), whom he tracked down in Bali, while on the disc you get Phillip Escott’s documentary featurette Reflections in a Broken Mirror…

… in which (mostly) assistant director Michele De Angelis and Marco Di Stefano reminisce about the making of this movie. Cue the familiar anecdotes of Fulci singing happily to himself on set when not chewing out tardy collaborators. De Angelis confirms that the complicated co-production deal which made these movies possible ensured that very little money actually trickled down to the set. We also learn more about the up-and-down relationship between Fulci and Argento during pre-production of the Wax Mask that Fulci never lived to make and the claim that Fulci’s diabetes-related death was actually a suicide pops up again. Loose accusations are thrown around that “certain people” could have done more to prevent this from happening. We’ll never know the full story and it’s profoundly sad that Fulci’s amazing career should wind down amid such unedifying disputes.

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DP Silvano Tessicini makes a decent first of passing a Roman suburb off as Florida, though his indoor shots display all the finesse of a drunken camcorder record of Christmas Eve. Carlo Maria Cordio’s score is weedy, straight-out-of-the-library stuff. Only editor Vincenzo Tomassi remains from the glory days, though he has very little to work with here.

Touch Of Death is often described as being influenced by American Psycho, though it actually predates that film (2000) and also Bret Easton Ellis’s source novel (1991). For that matter it also anticipates, to a certain degree, Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs (1991), although of course with the meagre means at his disposal, Fulci was never going to come up with anything remotely as polished as those. Nor was he able to he do justice to those influences which he attempts to reference, several superior pictures including Robert Siodmak’s  The Spiral Staircase (1946), Jack Smight’s No Way To Treat A Lady (1968), Mario Bava’s Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970) and his own The New York Ripper (1982). The film’s pitiful stabs at black comedy fall flat on their arses (I admit I laughed when Lester kicked the cat) and Angelo Mattei’s clumsy splatter FX (the surname should have tipped us off), delivered without a fraction of the expertise and elegance which Giannetto De Rossi previously brought to such proceedings, are merely revolting. In the light of these failings Touch Of Death represents a wasted opportunity to definitively address the “misogyny” chestnut that plagued Fulci throughout his career.

Having thought long and hard about it, I’ve managed to find two things I could say in favour of Lucio Fulci’s Touch Of Death. Firstly, it’s not The Ghosts Of Sodom. Secondly, it’s required viewing for anybody intent on unpicking the splatwork quilt that is Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain… which Herculean task we’ll be attempting soon.

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Amuck Time… ALLA RICERCA DEL PIACERE Reviewed.

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“There must be some pleasure around here somewhere…”

BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

If any disc in the House Of Freudstein’s extensive DVD library ever needed upgrading, it was the grey (at best) market Eurovista Digital Entertainment (who they?) edition of Silvio Amadio’s Amuck! (1972). 88 Films step admirably into the breach with this excellent Blu-ray release, whose superiority to its predecessor is evident from the opening frames, vibrantly presented in their original screen ratio and now including establishing shots of Venice that were excised from Eurovista’s print, presumably for fear of alienating grindhouse punters seeking an in-pocket orgasm rather than travelogue enlightenment. With this demographic in mind, the film was also released at various times in The States as Hot Bed Of Sex, Whips and Chains, Maniac Mansion and In Search Of Pleasure…

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Good question…

…the latter being a literal translation of Alla Ricerca Del Piacere, the original release title. Seemingly oblivious of the shake-up that Dario Argento had administered to the giallo genre with his international hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage in 1970, Amadio mounts this one very much in the steamy, bonkbusting tradition of such Umberto Lenzi shagathons as Paranoia… indeed, to coin a phrase from that one’s ad campaign, secretary Sally Reece (Patrizia Viotti) is here “sucked into a whirlpool of erotic love” when she’s assigned by Richard Stuart (Farley Granger)’s publishers to transcribe the tapes of his latest novel while staying at his shabby-genteel villa in the Venetian boonies. Under the decadent influence of Stuart, his libertine wife Eleanora (Rosalba Neri) and their 24 hour party people friends, she ends up taking down more than his pulpy prose. Can she use his dictaphone? No, she has to use her finger like everybody else…

When Sally turns up disappeared, the publishers (seemingly setting a low priority on the Health & Safety of their employees) send out Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) to continue her duties. Eleanora wastes no time slipping Greta a Mickey Finn and seducing her. In slow motion. Must have a word with my tailor… these trousers don’t seem to fit me anything like as comfortably they used to.

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“Sexually… sexually… sexually…”

Though seemingly going along with the in-house unseemly shenanigans, Greta has a secret agenda, one that is revealed much earlier in the proceedings than in e.g. James Kenelm Clarke’s comparably plotted Exposė (1976). She’s determined to discover the fate of her colleague, friend and yes, lesbian lover Sally (getting us up to speed, Amadio thoughtfully throws in a flashback to Bouchet and Viotti getting it on under a waterfall… hm, really must have that word with my tailor as soon as possible!)

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During her day job, Greta is teased by Richard’s taped accounts of the murder and disposal of a young girl… but this is strictly fiction, right?

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After further perils including a dodgy séance and a duck hunt in which Greta is nearly blown away by the trigger happy Eleanora (could have been worse… at least she didn’t run into Lucio Fulci in his Elmer Fudd outfit), the besotted author finally confesses to Greta that her predecessor died at the hands of hulking handyman Rocco (Petar Martinovitch) during a sex party that got out of hand. He’s been covering this up to protect his reputation. Incredibly, Greta seems to consider the small matter of the sex killing of her pal now amicably resolved and begins to reciprocate Richard’s interest in her… but is there another kinky twist or two left in this tawdry tale? What do you fucking think?

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Despite Richard’s florid self description as “decadent, completely lost in the myriad facades of a doomed city”, Amadio’s vision of ultimate sexual depravity in the villa has a distinctly vanilla flavour to it… lots of lounging around in dressing gown and cravats for Richard, while all around him his acolytes snog on sofas and wear glazed expressions while puffing on suspicious looking ciggies and watching home-made porno films, one a Benny Hill-like adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, another starring the missing Sally. If you’ve got a superior mind, the Stuarts agree, then the perfect murder is possible, a nudge-nudge reference to Granger’s finest hour-and-a-half in Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train (1951).

Apparently Edwige Fenech was originally cast as Eleanora but bowed out on discovering that she was pregnant. My default position is the more Fenech, the better but despite the missed opportunity to pit giallo’s pre-eminent female performers against each other in substantial roles, it has to be said that Neri (who also starred in genre-jumping Amadio’s other 1972 giallo, Smile Before Death) is a better fit for the role.

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Granger’s Hitchcock connection won him various giallo / noiresque roles in Italy, including appearances in Mario Colucci’s Something Creeping In The Dark (1971), Franco Prosperi’s Kill Me, My Love! (1973), Giovanni d’Eramo’s Death Will Have Your Eyes and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (both 1974). Roberto Bianchi Montero’s 1972 effort So Sweet, So Dead (memorable retitlings of which include Revelations Of A Sex Maniac To The Head Of The Criminal Investigation Division and The Slasher… Is The Sex Maniac!) was recut with hard core footage featuring Harry Reems and Tina Russell to be released on the US grindhouse circuit as Penetration, a release which Granger took prompt legal steps to suppress.

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Neither as gripping as Maurizio Lucidi’s The Designated Victim (1971), as moving as Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? (1972) nor as sleazily gonzo as Mario Landi’s generically titled egg sucking outrage Giallo In Venice (1979), Amuck! still secures a place on the honour roll of Venetian violence videos via its starry cast and the efficiency with which Amadio puts them through their lurid paces.

Extras include interviews with Neri and Bouchet, both significantly more substantial than the “blink and you’ll miss ’em” jobs on the Eurovista edition. Calum Waddell conducts the one with BB, moderates the Q&A session with her from 2013’s Festival Of Fantastic Films and supplies liner notes relating Barbara’s progress through gialli, sexy-comedies and the chip shops of Greater Manchester. It was at the aforementioned Festival that I met and interviewed Bouchet and found myself (a rarity, this, during my decades of interviewing film folk) totally star struck in her presence.

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If you want to enliven your next sex party with Teo Usuelli’s hysterical orgy theme (“Sexually… sexually… sexually”)… and really, why wouldn’t you… it’s available on one of the Beat At Cinecittá collections from the mighty Crippled Dick Hot Wax! label. I’m not going to specify which one because a) I can’t be arsed to get up, walk to the other side of the room and get it off the shelf and b) you really owe it to yourself to buy all three volumes in that excellent series.

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Right, I’m off to don my dressing gown and cravat in anticipation of tonight’s revels at The House Of Freudstein…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Cheeky bastard said WHAT?!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Try that one more time, pal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibal Ferox?

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

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

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

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Wind In Eden…

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

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

In Tuscany?

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

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

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

A Quiet Place To Kill?

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

… for the youth market…

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

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

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Maybe…

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

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

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

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

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

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

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

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

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

The Spiral Staircase…

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

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

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 … Sandokan…

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

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

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

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

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

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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

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

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50 Shades Of Blu… THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH on Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Much  has been made of the “sex killer” angle in gialli… possibly too much. The culprit in what we might as well, for the sake of argument, concede to be the first giallo proper (Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963), though more than a little unhinged, turns out to be murdering on account of very cool calculations about an inheritance. Similar considerations motivate the assassin(s) in Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964), no matter how “sexily” its several slayings are rendered for our delectation… indeed, it frequently seems in that film as though Bava is inviting the audience to get off on the couture slaughter more than the film’s hard-nosed killer(s) is / are actually doing.

It would be perverse to argue that eroticism plays no part in these films and their popular appeal. Certainly during those bonkbusting Carroll Baker vehicles churned out in Bava’s wake by producer Luciano Martino, e.g. Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse from the following year, the jaded jet-setting characters, when they aren’t swindling each other out of large sums of money, are clearly having more and better sex than you ever have… probably took some time out to embezzle money from your company’s pension fund too, the bastards!

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Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, which changed the whole giallo ball-game when it crossed over from domestic to international success in 1970, was the first Italian thriller to prioritise (if not the first to feature) the exploits of a sexually sadistic killer. Even then, Argento’s focussed as much (if not more) on the trauma that had warped this character’s psyche out of shape rather than the lip-smacking relish with which they went about their stabby antics. Consider, furthermore, the motivations of the murderers in Argento’s subsequent films. You might well be surprised at how very few of them are actually out-and-out “sex killers”. But I’m getting ahead of myself… this argument will be developed in a future posting about The Stendhal Syndrome (if I ever get round to writing it!)

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Where were we? Ah yes… early 1970 saw Luciano Martino planning The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh as another steamy chamber giallo vehicle for Carroll Baker, but entertaining doubts about the cost of rehiring the star and another director. He didn’t have to look far for a solution… kid brother Sergio was chomping at the bit to direct his sophomore feature and had established his qualifications with the likes of spagwest Arizona Colt Returns (1970), various mondo documentaries and by shooting additional material to bump up the running time on such films as Hans Schott-Schöbinger’s 1969 adaptation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

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It was on the latter that Sergio discovered a breath-taking young starlet named Edwige Fenech, who promptly became a fixture in Luciano’s pictures, not to mention (jammy sod!) his bed. Add indefatigable screen writer Ernesto Gastaldi and all the ingredients (give or take some hunky love interest / potential killer for Edwige) were in place for a run of classic gialli, kicking off with the revamped, sexed-up Strange Vice, on which Sergio proved beyond dispute that he’d been paying attention during his stint as second unit director on Bava’s 1963 epic of sadomasochism beyond the grave, The Whip and the Body (1963).

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Meanwhile Gastaldi pounced enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s smash but borrowed its fetishistically clad fruit-cake only for that character (newbies beware, things could be about to get a bit spoilerish) to end up playing second banana to an insurance fraud conspiracy (“I told you, the best time to kill anyone is when a homicidal maniac is on the loose!” one conspirator tells another). Audacious stuff…. I mean, is there any cinematic precedent for a serial killer who is simultaneously the film’s principal red herring?

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TSVOMW’s opening intercuts a fatal razor attack on a prostitute with the arrival of the plane that is bringing the Wardhs to Vienna, greeted by a quotation from one of that city’s most famous sons, Sigmund Freud, concerning the potential killer inside all of us. Fenech plays the eponymous Julie Wardh (the “h” at end of her surname allegedly intended to forestall any libel proceedings from aggrieved real life Mrs Wards!), the neglected, bored wife of a workaholic diplomat (Alberto De Mendoza). She is simultaneously stimulated and troubled by salacious memories of her full-on sado-masochistic entanglement with brooding Jean (old Tartar cheek-bones himself, Ivan Rassimov). Their idea of fun, as revealed in sensuous slow motion flashbacks to the accompaniment of a Nora Orlandi theme that can only be described as sacramental, included him beating her in a muddy field (shades of Bunuel’s Belle De Jour, 1967) and – don’t try this at home, kiddies! – bonking her on a bed of broken glass. No wonder Julie is troubled by her cab driver’s stated desire for “perverts” to “get what they deserve”.

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

Aside from her obvious facility for nude scenes (no shit, Sherlock!), Fenech deserves credit for a performance that gets us on the side of a protagonist who is, when you get right down to it, pretty selfish, shallow and unlikable… in many ways a 20th Century rendering of the Balzac character she played for Schott-Schöbinger.

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Martino confesses readily to the influence that Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955, above) exerted over TSVOMW (and what about Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, 1951?) but has waxed ambivalent about The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, to the extent of half-heartedly claiming, when he and fellow ‘B’ movie directors were being feted (at the behest of Quentin Tarantino) during the Venice Film Festival ten years ago, that his picture actually preceded the Argento biggie. In sharp contrast to Argento’s signature use of steadicam, his characteristic deployment of hand-held camera does convey a sense of urgency, plunging the viewer into the thick of the carnage and his restrained use of zoom underscores dramatic moments without descending into Franco-esque overuse. But there’s no doubt where those “through the keyhole” POV shots, which Martino would repeat through just about all of his subsequent gialli, came from. To be fair, Argento himself seems to have been influenced by the scene of Airoldi’s death in the park, restaging it pretty faithfully for Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971.) Martino’s diplomatic comment on this is that both scenes owe a lot to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966.)

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Argento inarguably pinched one of TSVOMW’s central plot devices, by which calculating, opportunistic killers take advantage of a genuinely deranged individual’s murder rampage to deflect suspicion from themselves for Tenebrae (1982) though if anything, Argento tones it down because at any one time in Martino’s flick, there are no less than four killers operating with dovetailing motivations, no less than three of whom are out to get Fenech! Looks like Freud wasn’t just blowing cigar smoke up our asses with that opening quote…

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Shameless continue their drive to upgrade notable titles on their slate to Blu-ray. Having started a bit late in the game, they’ve avoided some of the pitfalls that bedevilled various early-adopting competitors, some of whose remasterings were looking distinctly variable in quality for a while there. It could be argued that Shameless have had less opportunity to cock one of these up because they’ve so far only done so few, but now that this aspect of their operation is picking up it looks like they’ve learned well from the mis-steps of others. Those having been made, DNR is currently considered less desirable than an “authentic” level of upfront graininess and if you can live with that, opportunities are now opening up to grasp hitherto unguessed-at cinematographic subtleties in some of your favourite films. Arrow’s recent(ish) Deep Red was a particular delight in this regard and the efforts of Emilio Foriscot and Florian Trenker are done similar justice here. No sound problems for audiophiles to have hissy fits over, either.

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Bonus materials comprise the Martino interview and Fenech profile from the previous Shameless release, plus a mini-doc in which most of the significant participants in TSVOMW have their say, the latter lifted from Italian label No Shame’s early DVD edition. Justin Harries’ “fact track” also reappears from that original Shameless release and alternates entry-level giallo observations with some interesting speculation about how the various men in Mrs Wardh’s tangled love life correspond to Freud’s tripartite model of the human mind. I used to get a lot of flack for bringing this kind of thing into the discussion of exploitation movies but in case that’s too high-brow for you, Harries also describes Martino’s film as Sex In The City with added murder.

Another home run from Shameless!

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Running On Empty… BLAZING MAGNUM Reviewed

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“Ooh, I could crush a grape!”

DVD. Region 1. Scorpion Releasing / Kino Lorber. Unrated (as “Shadows In An Empty Room”).

Alberto Martino (aka “Martin Herbert”, 1929-2015) has a decent claim on being the most underrated of all those journeyman Italian directors who jobbed their way promiscuously through every conceivable genre during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Serving his apprenticeship as writer and AD on romantic dramas, adventure yarns and peplums during the 50’s, he clocked up his own initial directorial efforts in the latter genre and spaghetti westerns during the early ’60s. His epic of international espionage, Operation Kid Brother (aka OK Connery, 1967) attained lasting notoriety due to the casting of a certain Scottish milkman as its protagonist, whose sole qualification for the role was being the current James Bond’s younger brother. “Neil Connery is too much!” claimed the posters, but the general consensus was that, in thespian terms, he wasn’t quite enough and wee Neil soon went back to totin’ crates of gold tops. Thereafter Martino authored solid entries in the giallo (The Man With Icy Eyes, 1971 and The Killer Is On The Phone, 1972) and poliziotteschi (Crime Boss, 1972 and Counsellor At Crime, 1973) fields. There are plenty of films in which those two genres shade off into each other and that is indeed the case for the one under scrutiny here, but Blazing Magnum (aka Shadows In An Empty Room, Strange Shadows In An Empty Room and A Special Magnum For Tony Saitta, 1976) is particularly notable for the way that it lifts both of these filoni out of their accustomed urban Italian environment and lands them slap-bang in the middle of downtown Montreal, scoring in the process a kick-ass action triumph that graced Granada TV’s late night programming on multiple occasions during the ’80s and whose reappearance on DVD certainly hasn’t disappointed me.

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The film opens with sexy student Louise Saitta (Carole Laure) having an on-campus tiff with her professor / lover Dr George Tracer (recently deceased Hall of Famer, Martin Landau). Spurned and upset, she calls her big brother, cop captain Tony (Stuart Whitman) in Ottawa. Yep, Tony Saitta’s an Ottowan and at this point I’m going to challenge you to read the rest of  this review without “D.I.S.C.O.” playing in your head. Anyway, Louise intends to blow the whistle on her illicit relationship with the Prof but Tony’s otherwise engaged, breaking up a bank heist… Harry Callahan style, with the aid of his fetishised magnum. By the time he’s killed everyone, wrapped up the paperwork and tried to call her back, Louise is dead. Having  embarrassed Tracer with an elaborate practical joke during a swish faculty party, she downed a drink that turned out to laced with poison.

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Tony flies in with a heart full of guilt, a relentless determination to smoke out (with the assistance of cop-on-the-spot John Saxon) the lowlife who snuffed his innocent little sister… and that magnum, with which to dispense a little rough’n’ready justice. Our latter day John Wayne is predictably disgusted by the louche sexual mores of Montreal’s academic set, not only lecherous prof Tracer but Margie Cohen (Gayle Hunnicutt… strong cast, ain’t it?) and her creepy brother who eventually turns up (in full drag) dismembered in a piece of industrial machinery. How was the blue necklace he wore connected to the recent murder of an apparently respectable woman in Toronto?

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It’s while following up this latter angle that Saitta’s complacent self-image as a morally upright macho man sustains its first serious damage. Visiting a gay clubhouse on the top floor of a skyscraper, confident in his ability to shake some clues out of what he believes will be a bunch of fairies, he promptly gets the shit kicked out of him by a posse of transvestite kung fu furies… yay, even unto being put through a plate-glass window in slow motion from several different angles. While his scars heal and he reassesses his stereotypes, Margie chides Saitta for his blinkered, clichéd view of the word and indeed, the further he delves into the case, the more it becomes apparent (via a series of Sergio Leonesque unfolding flashbacks) that his kid sister wasn’t quite the little innocent abroad that he had always imagined her to be… 

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For all it moral subtleties, BM will be best remembered among Crime Slime fanatics for that LGBT kung fu show down and even more so for the truly gob-slapping car chase that takes up eight ecstatic minutes of its running time. Master stunt co-ordinator Rémy Julienne subsequently plied his trade in Bond films but this is his masterpiece, right here… topped off with a nice little gag, at that: when Saitta pulls his quarry from the wreckage of his car and demands some information, the latter coughs it up without any fuss, making one question the whole point of the delirious vehicular vandalism we’ve just witnessed, over and above keeping the enthralled viewer on the edge of his / her seat… “Pure Cinema”, anyone?

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Meanwhile giallo fans will be enjoying the whole whodunnit format (the Mannino / Clerici writing team also scripted Fulci’s New York Ripper and Murder-Rock, among others) and such suspenseful scenes as the one in which Louise’s blind friend Julie (Tisa Farrow from Zombie Flesh Eaters, Anthropophagous, et al) is set up for a fall out of a high window. Great stuff all round. Speaking of Anthropophagous, Blazing Magnum’s one-shot DP “Anthony Ford” turns out to be yet another AKA for jolly “Joe D’Amato” / Aristide Massaccesi.

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Released (uncharacteristically late) in a flood of Dirty Harry / French Connection cash-ins, Blazing Magnum is more than just some macho exercise in vigilante bullshit… Whitman’s character goes on a real learning curve, at the end of which he emerges as a more self-aware, tolerant, all-round caring and sharing kind of dude… who’s still able to bring down a helicopter over a densely populated urban area by plugging away at it with his turbo magnum! A win-win result, in anybody’s book…

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Although not that brilliantly remastered (despite claims to this effect on the packaging), Blazing Magnum looks significantly better here than in its former incarnation as a Medusa VHS release and unlike that, it isn’t going to look any worse with subsequent rewatchings… of which it’s going to get plenty here at The House Of Freudstein.

Jeez, I can’t believe that when I first posted this review I neglected to big up Armando Trovajoli’s pulse-pounding OST… mi scusi, maestro, mea culpa!

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ALL THE COLOURS Of Blu… Sergio Martino’s Classic Occult Giallo On Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

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

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Thankfully she was back for the following year’s All The Colours Of The Dark aka Day Of The Maniac / They’re Coming To Get You / Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh Part 2, et al, in which Martino would extend the giallo’s frontiers exponentially. Fenech’s Jayne Harrison in this one is even more screwed up than the spoiled Mrs Wardh and with considerably more justification. Cooped up in Kenilworth Court, Putney, she’s suffering post traumatic stress disorder following the car crash in which she lost her baby (and it’s only later that we learn that she witnessed the fatal stabbing of her mother when she was seven) but gets precious little emotional support from her cold fish, workaholic pharmaceutical salesman boyfriend Richard (George Hilton). He obstructs her sister Barbara (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro)’s efforts to set Jayne up with a psychoanalyst, insisting that she just pull herself together and keep taking the tablets (… but are they, as claimed, just vitamins?) Jayne is plagued by nightmares in which her various traumas are juxtaposed with all manner of Satanic psychedelia (good news for us because she tends to get over them by taking a shower in her nightshift… woah, baby!) and things go from bad to worse when a guy who resembles the assassin from her dreams (Ivan Rassimov, looking even more striking than usual in a pair of shocking blue contact lenses) starts stalking her. Her chic new neighbour, Mary (Marina Malfatti), waxes blasé about this (“Strange men have been following women since the stone age, Jayne!”) but does propose a novel solution to our heroine’s malaise, i.e. that she attend a black mass (?!?) Although much has made up to this point of Jayne’s indecisive character, by a flick of scripter Ernesto Gastaldi’s pen she decides there and then that she wants to participate in precisely such a shindig RIGHT NOW!

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“Chill-O-Rama”, huh?

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

Far from her being mitigated by these occult dabblings, Jayne’s problems are exacerbated when, at a subsequent ritual orgy, she is implicated in the killing of Mary, who had apparently grown terminally jaded about life and delivered Jayne to the sect as her replacement. I love the way the Satanic acolytes shuffle round each other in a little dance routine while all this is going on. Now Jayne’s stalker (Rassimov) reveals himself as “Mark Cogan”, the murderer and former lover of her mother, who had been an enthusiastic participant in all these occult shenanigans (foreshadowing a plot point in Argento’s Opera)… “Now you’re one of us, Jayne…” he glowers: “It’s impossible to renounce us!”

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

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If you think you’ve read something very like the above review on this site before, congratulations on a) your excellent taste in blogs and b) being such an attentive, retentive reader. The first time we ran Sergio Martino’s occult giallo past the viewing panel here at HOF it was on the German Marketing-Film DVD, which occasioned a certain amount of moaning about its not-exactly anamorphic presentation and the fact that its 5.1 option was only available on the German language sound track… foreskin durch technik, indeed. The Shameless BD fits our TV screen much more agreeably, albeit with no Surround option whatsoever (though Nicolai’s black music theme still lit up our left and right frontal speakers, not to mention our Woofer, to diverting effect.) The digital upscale significantly enhances the beauty and subtlety of Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography, while noticeably boosting the graininess of certain passages… ah well, to quote an irate French chef from a P.G Wodehouse story, I can take a few roughs with a smooth and if you’ve had the Marketing-Film edition on your shelf for a few years now, you’ll certainly be wanting to upgrade to this.

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Extras include a bunch of trailers for Fenech / Martino oriented Shameless releases and Doors, a spooky (and apparently prize-winning) short by Michele De Angelis. Hi, Michele! There’s a new interview with the ever-affable Martino, in which he sings the praises of his regular repertory players (“If you’ve got a winning team, why change it?”) and recalls the memorable occasion of his first meeting with Edwige Fenech, apparently resplendent in leather trousers (and looking far more fetching in those, one imagines, than Theresa “Mock Turtle” May ever managed to.) Once again, Sergio assures us that he felt no disappointment when the divine Fenech took up with his brother Luciano (yeah, whatever) and acknowledges the passionate devotion of giallo fans. He describes how the process ATCOTD was shot in led to framing problems and recalls that ten minutes were cut out of the film’s tricky climax when it played in Roman cinemas. Most amusingly, he opines that when snooty critics condescendingly refer to him as a craftsman, it makes him “feel like a carpenter.” Undeniably though, such moments in ATCOTD as the Lewtonesque “bus shot” (actually a “black cab shot”) are, er, very well crafted…

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It’s always a pleasure to hear the thoughts of Diabolique magazine mainstays Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, who contribute a characteristically enthusiastic and knowledgable commentary track here. Their excitement about contributing to a Blu-ray edition of what is clearly one of their favourite films (and why wouldn’t it be?) registers almost palpably. While ATCOTD, for all its manifest merits, is thematically skinnier than e.g. Borowczyk’s The Story Of Sin (for which the Diaboliquel duo contributed an exemplary voice over to Arrow’s release), this disc is all the better for their efforts and yes, Kat does get to vent her ongoing obsession with Mathew Lewis’s The Monk. Hey, why not pick up a copy of that Gothic classic, stick some Bruno Nicolai on your stereo as you leaf through it and knock back a glass or two of absinthe while you’re doing so? Go on, you’ve earned it!

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Say what the fuck?!?

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

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