Posts Tagged With: Giallo

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

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BD. Region Free. Mondo Macabro. Unrated.

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

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

Jean Sorel had starred in Guerrieri’s template-setting The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and would take the male lead in such subsequent variations on that theme as Umberto Lenzi’s A Quiet Place To Kill (1970) and José María Forqué’s The Fox With The Velvet Tail (1971). His bland, masculine good looks will inevitably tempt viewers of these films into suspecting that he’s got to be up to something nefarious although sometimes, of course, there’s a double bluff going on and there really is nothing more than an ineffectual numpty lurking beneath that smooth exterior.

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In Perversion Story Sorel plays Dr George Dumurrier (a subliminal Hitchcock nod in itself), director of the San Francisco clinic that takes his name. Ever the opportunist,  George has got more of an eye for the bottom line than the Hippocratic oath and wastes no opportunity to hype the clinic with such gimmicks as announcing heart transplants that he’s in no position to deliver. In the process he pisses off his sensible brother / junior partner Henry (Alberto De Mendoza) no end and his neglectful careerism and indiscrete affair with Jane (Elsa Martinelli) alienate his sickly wife Susan (Marisa Mell). When a mix up between her asthma medication and sedatives lead to Susan’s death, the discovery of a life insurance policy with George as her beneficiary looks bad enough … but things take an even more sinister turn with the discovery of Monica Weston, an “exotic dancer” who’s a dead ringer for Susan. George and Jane’s investigations into the ever-deepening mystery lead him further and further down a dark path which will terminate in the gas chamber at Alcatraz…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A likely story…

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

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

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

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

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

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Copenhagen with love…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BD. Region B. RaroVideo. Unrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The charnel house at Parma: Opera

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

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

BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At Least It’s Not Those PPI Bastards! THE KILLER… IS ON THE PHONE Reviewed

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L’assassino… É Al Telefono aka Scenes From A Murder. Directed by Alberto De Martino. Produced by Aldo Scavarda, Guy Luongo and Valerio De Paolis. Written by Alberto De Martino, Adriano Bolzoni, Renato Izzo, Lorenzo Manning and Vincenzo Mannino. Cinematography by Aristide Massaccesi (“Joe D’Amato”). Edited by Otello Colangeli. Production Design by Antonio Visone. Music by Stelvio Cipriani. Starring: Telly Savalas, Anne Heywood, Osvaldo Ruggieri, Giorgio Piazza, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Rossella Falk, Antonio Guidi, Roger Van Hool, Ada Pometti, Alessandro Perrella.

Although he worked his way up through the mandatory succession of peplums and spaghetti westerns and signed off his directorial career in 1985 with a skid row giallo (Formula For A Murder) and similarly under-resourced monster movie (Miami Golem… David Warbeck starred in both), Alberto De Martino was a capable director (responsible for my all time favourite Italian crime slime picture, Blazing Magnum) who nearly crashed the big time in 1977 with Holocaust 2000, a Kirk Douglas-starring Omen clone that did tidy international box office business. The er, omens for Alberto’s career were looking good until he perpetrated The Pumaman, a terminally lame superhero effort that crashed and burned in 1980.

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The aforementioned Blazing Magnum (1976) is one of those poliziotteschi with strong giallo overtones and Martino’s The Man With Icy Eyes (1971) similarly straddles both genres, to less compelling effect. The Killer… Is On The Phone is often dismissed as “for giallo completists only” but having finally caught up with this 1972 effort, I’d hesitate to go even that far, the film playing out more like a ponderous “psychological thriller” than a full-blooded Italian whodunnit…

… for starters, we know who did it (“it” being “bumped off actress Eleanor Loraine’s husband Peter”) from the get go. Yes, it was hit man Ranko Drasovic (Telly Savalas, the year before his apotheosis from cinema character acting stalwart to TV icon with Kojak).

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Ranko’s been contracted to kill a Middle Eastern diplomat in Bruges, when he spots Eleanor (Anne Heywood). His assassination job immediately goes on the back burner (to the chagrin of his employers) because he knows that Eleanor saw him killing Peter (Roger Van Hool). What he doesn’t know is that she was so traumatised by what she saw that she’s completely blotted it out of her memory.

So, an eye-witness to a crime who, unknown to the perpetrator, can’t testify against him… think of how cleverly Lucio Fulci deployed this device during his psychedelic giallo tour de force Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). In contrast, De Martino just has Drago wandering around the canals of Bruges, dogging Eleanor’s footsteps and looking vaguely menacing while he ponders what to do next. When he does finally take decisive action he only succeeds in bumping off the wrong woman, Eleanor’s sister Dorothy (the very lovely Willeke van Ammelrooy, possibly best known to our readers from Dick Maas’s The Lift, 1983) who has taken the indisposed Eleanor’s role in a production of Lady Godiva. Yeah, I’d pay to see Ms  Ammelrooy (below) in that…

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Eleanor had to bow out of the show when she started declaiming Lady Macbeth’s lines during rehearsals and indeed, she seems to identify closely with Lady M… in one flashback she is apparently seen egging on her co-star / brother-in-law / lover Thomas (Osvaldo Ruggieri, who looks like Udo Kier in a Kenney Jones wig) to murder Peter (now there’s a twist!) only for it to be revealed that this is a scene from a play in which they previously appeared together (taking his cue from Busby Berkeley, De Martino stuffs the purported stage production with visual material that no theatre audience could possibly have seen…)

Any viewer roused from their slumbers by this potentially interesting development will soon wish they hadn’t been, as further endless scenes of Savalas wandering around ensue, detracting from what is (when it finally arrives) a rather gripping and suspenseful finalé in which Eleanor rings the curtain down on Ranko’s murderous career in conclusive style. Then there’s an unexpected twist which identifies who really ordered Peter’s murder (and why), all of which comes way too late to salvage this Italo-Belgian co-production which, even if it doesn’t quite piss on your giallo chips, saturates them in an unappetising slurry of stodgy narrative mayonnaise.

Disappointing stuff…

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“Here’s A Bit Of A Scoop For You…” The ALDO LADO (Micro)Interview

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Calum Waddell’s presence at Manchester’s 29th Festival Of Fantastic Films (introducing and conducting stage interviews with some of its star guests) afforded us the opportunity to hook up and shoot some stuff that will hopefully be appearing in featurettes for several releases you might be enjoying in the near future. During my flying visit on Saturday 27th October it was a pleasure to catch up with some old (and getting older) mates, say hi to Luigi Cozzi and finally meet Aldo Lado, who has directed some of the darkest, most troubling and subversive entries in the Italian B-movie tradition. Thanks are due to Gil Lane Young for graciously allowing me to attend the director’s Q&A session, during which we managed the following brief exchange…

Signor Lado, is it true or just a rumour that you made an unacknowledged contribution to the writing of Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

I haven’t said much about this for the last forty years but now I feel like talking about it, so here’s a bit of a scoop for you… I was working as AD on a film produced by Dario’s father, Salvatore. Dario talked to me about ideas he was considering for his first film. He gave me the book he wanted to adapt and asked me what I thought of it.

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After I read it I told him that frankly I didn’t think very much of it but that there was something in there which would translate very well into a film, i.e the idea of the killings being seen from the killer’s point of view. So we worked together on a treatment of the film, until I was called away to assist on a Western in Spain (Presumably Sergio Bergonzelli’s Colt In The Hand Of The Devil – BF.) When I came back, he was making The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, featuring all these POV shots that would become “his trademark” and it was being presented as something that he had dreamed up all by himself, with no mention of me whatsoever. Dario built a very successful career on the back of that film and if he’d acknowledged me, it would have opened a lot of doors for me, too. So now I regard him as my sworn enemy, because why would you treat somebody like that unless they were your enemy?

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) At the climax of your brilliant giallo Who Saw Her Die (1972) it’s revealed that the child killer is a priest but the film ends with a hastily dubbed line, right out of the blue, to the effect that he wasn’t a real priest, just somebody who dressed like one… was this ending imposed on you by the censors?

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Yes. You have to realise what a Catholic country Italy was in those days and how much power was wielded by the Church. The producers told me either we insert this false ending or the film will not be distributed, it was as simple as that. If you know me, you’ll have no doubt whatsoever what my attitude towards this was. I’ve been saying for decades that one day the truth will come out about all this sexual abuse in the Church and look where we are today…

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At the start of your career you were part of the circle around such heavyweight Arthouse directors as Pasolini and Bertolucci (whom you assisted on The Conformist, 1970)… is it fair to say that with your films you’ve carried on their tradition of social comment and criticism but in the idiom of a more popular / commercial Cinema?

Yes, I was part of that circle. All of those directors had important things to say about our society and I had things I wanted to say, too. One of them was inspired by something I read, when I was about 12 or 13, in a book by a Czech author… I forget his name. He said that everybody is actually two people… the person they present to society and their other, more authentic self.

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So in a lot of my films you see these people who are outwardly respectable but that’s not the whole story. People are judged by their outward appearance so we see that rich people and poor people who commit very similar crimes are treated very differently.

I wonder if you can tell us something about the film you made that was based on the notorious case of Japan’s “celebrity cannibal”, Issei Sagawa…

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Was that one of mine? Oh yes, Ritual Of Love (1989) was loosely based on that case. To me, it’s a love story. You know that in Italy, when people express their love for their grandchildren, they often say things like: “You’re so sweet, I could eat you up!” Well, this is a story about a man who is so much in love with a woman that he wants to eat her… and she is so in love with him that she wants to be eaten by him! I’m putting together a book in which I expand upon the ideas of this film and other films I have made, also films that I will never get to make. I think that you would find it very interesting… 

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… I think so, too. Again, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Gil and all the folks from Manchester’s ever-fabulous Festival Of Fantastic Films, for letting me in… to Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill, whose Lado documentary I’m eagerly anticipating… and to Nick Frame, for stalwart translation services. It was good to see so many friends. 

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Aldo Lado + High Rising team = essential doc in the making.

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Vicious Sydney… Flavio Mogherini’s THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

During a career in which he was more active as an art director and production designer, Flavio Mogherini managed just this one certified giallo (his swan song, 1994’s Delitto Passionale, sounds like it might be a borderline case) among his directorial credits… but it’s a fascinating one and not only because it’s based on a notorious and perennially enigmatic true life murder mystery (a new cinematic treatment of which is pending as I write these words)… the Antipodean equivalent of the Black Dahlia case .

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The overwhelming majority of gialli are set in an urban Italian milieu and even the most jet-setting efforts of Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino tend to play out in recognisably European cosmopolitan locations. The action of Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (1977), in contrast, apparently unfolds beneath the rolling blue skies and between the wide open spaces of Australia, the land of opportunities and new starts… though its principal characters’ attempts to lay the ghosts of their pasts prove unsuccessful, with tragic consequences. For instance…

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The film kicks off like a commercial for the Sydney Tourist Board, with off-road bikers and a cute little girl enjoying a golden beach… until the latter discovers a dumped, burned out car with a dumped, burned up girl inside it. Sydney’s finest (who make The Sweeney’s Regan and Carter look like by-the-book softies) are happy to pin the murder on shanty-dwelling sex case Quint (Giacomo Assandri) but reluctantly retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland), who’s bored with tending his orchids and can’t be kept out of the station house, thinks that’s a little bit too convenient. Besides, who is the mysterious burned woman? This film is at least as much a “who’sbeendonein?” as a “whodunnit”.

In an attempt to answer that question, the cops arrange for the body, stripped of its yellow pyjamas and dunked in a tank of formaldehyde, to be put on public display in an improbable and gristly attempt to jog somebody’s memory or elicit a suspicious reaction from a viewer… a snarky comment on us, for watching this sort of thing?

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Meanwhile, we are introduced to the troubled love triangle of three struggling immigrants – Dutch former prostitute Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), her oversensitive Italian husband Antonio (Michele Placido) and Roy the German, played as a priapismic Iago by “Howard Ross” (Renato Rossini)… just to further complicate matters, Linda is still making it with long-standing sugar daddy Professor Douglas (Mel Ferrer). The culmination of this romantic tragedy is played out in parallel with the ongoing, ill-fated investigations of Inspector Thompson (a character that anticipates the one played by Max von Sydow in Dario Argento’s Sleepless, 2001) and at some point in this bifurcated narrative you’ll twig  (and I guess this constitutes a SPOILER ALERT!!!) that the time frames are not what you’d initially imagined them to be, the past and present having been crunched together as if to underline that message about the impossibility of escaping one’s own past. Mario Landi, of all people, attempted something very similar in his considerably less accomplished and altogether grubbier Giallo A Venezia (1979) and while TPGC contains nothing like the outré imagery of that film, I was surprised (in view of some rather gruesome moments and an icky gang bang scene) to find that our pals at the BBFC have knocked it down from an ’18’ to a ’15’ Certificate.

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Arrow have done ample justice to Carlo Carlin’s ravishing photography with this 2k scan from the original camera negative, piling on the bonus materials for good measure. Michael Mackenzie presents a featurette concerning the giallo’s globe-trotting tendencies and Troy Howarth supplies a commentary track which I’ll no doubt enjoy when I’ve had a chance to listen to it. Again, I haven’t seen the collector’s booklet (confined to this edition’s first pressing) which features new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Of course you get a trailer, image gallery and reversible sleeve options.

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Best of all are three cracking new interviews with Howard Ross, editor Alberto Tagliavia and assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo, plus a re-edited archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani, all of them competing to lavish the most praise on Mogherini as a collaborator and a man. Ortolani’s OST for Pyjama Girl Case is probably one of its weaker components (at times he seems to be aiming for Giorgio Moroder but falling short at Throbbing Gristle… the dirge-like croonings of Amanda Lear don’t exactly help much, either) but in his featurette Ortolani doesn’t dwell on this rare misfire, giving instead a potted auto-biography that takes in his ongoing chagrin over people misspelling his name, being ripped off by The Chemical Brothers and his impressions of the cinematic controversies he was dragged into via his famous collaborations with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Ruggero Deodato.

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Sly old silver fox Howard Ross gives fantastic VFM in a candid, gossipy confessional that could have gone on ten times longer and left me wanting more. He’s certainly got a lot to tell, about a career that started with a literal spear-carrying bit part in Raoul Walsh’s Esther And The King (1960), where he came to the attention of uncredited co-director Mario Bava by saving a girl from drowning. What he does manage to tell us about during the confines of this half-hour featurette includes his 12th place finish in the Mister Universe contest of 1970 (a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger took the laurel that year) and lessons on screen kissing with confidence from Walerian Borowczyk. Re The Pyjama Girl Case, Ross remembers that Di Lazzaro insisted on a double for her nude scenes, feeling that her bod wasn’t up to it… Jeez, we should all look so shabby! Howard’s not looking too bad himself these days, but complains “nobody ever calls me anymore”. For shame…

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Editor Alberto Tagliavia and assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo provide between them several valuable insights into the making of TPGC. We learn from Tagliavia that the film’s distinctive structure was arrived at after two previous edits failed to impart any oomph to the narrative. After all these years, Castronuovo reveals that apart from obvious establishing shots captured in Sydney, much of this Italo-Spanish production was actually shot in Spain (much of his AD duties involving such mundane tasks as covering Spanish number plates with Australian ones). As any Argento amateur sleuth could have told you, nothing is ever quite as it seems in a giallo…

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Murder Most Fowl… The Nucleus Gang Go To Work On Giulio Questi’s DEATH LAID AN EGG.

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BD. Nucleus. Region B. 18.

Like its companion piece in Nucleus’s “European Cult Cinema Collection”, Lady Frankenstein, Giulio Questi’s Death Laid An Egg (1968) concerns itself with the shenanigans of mad scientists. In the feudal set up of Mel Welles’ film the aristocratic protagonists own their serfs and servants, using them as experimental and sexual fodder under a Romantic patina of paternalism and progress. (*) Death Laid An Egg, in contrast, is set firmly in our own immiserated age, where rampaging technological advance connives at the neo-liberal free-for-all by which everybody’s free to, er, scramble for profit and frankly, fuck anyone who can’t keep up (well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!)

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Sunny side down…

Marco (Jean-Louis) Trintignant is the manager of a cutting-edge egg hatchery where automation has allowed most of the workforce to be laid off. The surplus help hang around outside, throwing insults and the occasional blunt object, much to the chagrin of Marco’s perfectly groomed, soulless wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). But are these luddites responsible for all of the sabotage that’s been going on at the plant? Marco is seemingly a model employee of The Association (a simultaneously menacing and ridiculous marketing board whose obsession with eggs surpasses even that of Edith Massie in Pink Flamingos) but secretly he harbours serious doubts about the way the job, society and his life are heading. When the plant’s resident GMF boffin manages to hatch a clutch of giant, headless, wingless birds, to the obvious delight of just about everyone else in the cast, Mario goes all eggs over uneasy and beats these avian atrocities to death with a wrench. His simmering discontent further manifests itself in the clandestine affair he’s conducting with Anna’s ditzy blonde cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin, the Baby Spice of her day, from Joe D’Amato’s Death Smiles On A Murderer)… oh yeah, he also seems to have a penchant for butchering prostitutes in cheap motels. Slimy-slick ad man Mondaini (Jean Sobieski) is keeping tabs on Marco’s murderous side-line while pursuing a parallel affair with Gabrielle and planning a grab for Anna’s money… what could possibly go wrong?

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What the pluck?

Compounding  the complexity of its plot twists (co-authored as ever by Questi’s trusty collaborator Franco Arcalli), the film is shot in oblique style with little regard for conventional cinematic grammar. Questi’s camera will focus on. e.g. Trintignant’s back while he’s delivering a line or float off to concentrate on some insignificant visual detail as the action unfolds. The avant-garde OST from Bruno Maderna and Arcalli’s radical editing further exacerbate the viewer’s disorientation… at one point Arcalli folds what looks like an episode from J.G. Ballard’s Crash (a novel that wouldn’t be published for another five years, BTW) into a routine drive taken by Marco and Gabrielle.

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The black gloves donned by Marco before his assignations with those hookers are also strangely prescient pre-echos of the turn that the giallo genre would take with Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). But is Death Laid An Egg (as often claimed) a giallo? It’s more properly understood as a deconstruction of that genre, akin to how Questi exploded the spaghetti western with his feature debut If You Live, Shoot! aka Django, Kill! the previous year, in the process clueing Alessandro Jodorowsky into the mystical potential of the genre (and there are moments in Santa Sangre which suggest that El Jodo wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with Death Laid An Egg, either).

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Corrado Farina, one suspects, was also taking notes (check out the subliminal advertising imagery)… and don’t start me on David (insert expletive) Lynch! Elsewhere Questi seems to be cocking a snook at Antonio (“This is how you make an anti-giallo, Michelangelo… stick it in your family albumen!”)

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How more Post-modern can you get on the giallo’s ass than by deploying the whole serial kill stabbing match itself as a red herring? If DLAE isn’t, after all, a giallo in the as-yet-nonexistent Argento mould (I suppose it would be fair to characterise it as the Mario Bava tendency… or one of the Mario Bava tendencies… in 1968) then it certainly has affinities with Romolo Guerrieri’s contemporary thriller The Sweet Body Of Deborah and its bonk-busting descendants directed by Umberto Lenzi (in one of which, 1969’s So Sweet… So Perverse, Trintignant would also star).

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Giulio Questi… the real “terrorist of the genres”?

However you generify Death Laid An Egg, it’s a mesmerising work of Art. Craig Ledbetter was sufficiently mesmerised to devote a special issue of his seminal European Trash Cinema fanzine to it, reproduced here among the bonus materials along with CL’s thanks to Nucleus for finally bringing Questi’s 104 minute director’s cut to light… looking as beautiful as we have come to expect from this label, scanned as it is in HD from the original negatives with the “new” footage inserted from an Italian archival print. You get the truncated (91 minute) cut as well, of course, plus another Jones / Newman commentary track, featurettes (the BFI’s James Blackford on Questi’s work and radical politics… soundtrack collector extraordinary / DJ / Alassandro Alessandroni collaborator Lovely Jon on Bruno Maderna), an archive interview with the director himself (who passed away in 2014) during which he observes that movie-making is now within everybody’s grasp, if not access to major distribution networks, still hung up on the chicken farming model), a short appraisal from Italian critic Antonio Bruschini and another interesting insight into the cuts demanded by the BBFC for the film’s UK theatrical release (as A Curious Way To Love), alongside all the other stuff you’d expect.

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Not quite the lubricious girl-on-girl fest its UK distributors would have had you believe…

The restored 14 minutes reveal a whole new character, Renato Romano’s Luigi, whose role in the overall scheme of things is wide open to interpretation. It also amplifies a suggestion that remains in the shorter cut, regarding the European Union (which was really taking off in its current incarnation round about the time this film was made) and its role as a principal driver of austerity, increasing income disparities, declining public services and terms & conditions for working people, war as a tool for prising open new markets… the full neo-liberal, er, yoke under which we’ve been labouring for the last half Century or so. As such, DLAE comes a useful corrective for the baffling rose-tinted nostalgia for the EU currently sweeping the nation. The film predicts GM food and anticipates the coming tsunami of technological advance that’s going to wash away so many more jobs… talk about chickens coming home to roost! In addition to all these valuable services, Questi proves that avant-garde dialectical materialism in the cinema doesn’t have to be as simultaneously pleased with itself and downright dull as Godard and his ilk.

Pending the arrival from left field of some unexpected and unexpectedly astonishing release from another label, this is going to be the undisputed Disc Of 2018… clucking brilliant!

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(*) An early draft of this posting contained a line that ended: “… progress and enlightened paternalism derailed by the Cotten character’s hubris and the overweening impertinence of Rosalba Neri’s overheated clitoris”. Having penned that, I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

You’re welcome.

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