Posts Tagged With: Giallo

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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Got To Get Ourselves Back To The Garden… ASSAULT Beautifully Restored By Network.

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BD. Network. Region B. 15.

Although the upscaling from DVD to Blu-ray has produced miraculous editions of some old favourites (CultFilms’ Suspiria springs to mind) there have been at least as many (and probably more) titles which make you wonder why they bothered. We can all think of stuff that was scanned through 4k and all the rest of it, sometimes crowd-funded on its way and to great fanfare, only to emerge drowning in grain or compensated-to-shit with DNR. So why has this visually astonishing Network restoration, drawing from 35mm negative elements in the vaults of the BFI, been such a low-key affair?

Well, Assault is something of a problematic viewing experience from a 2018 perspective. While the assaults on the schoolgirls are obviously not rendered with any kind of pornographic expliciteness, the presentation of such subject matter in the guise of entertainment now seems vaguely questionable, the BBFC’s classification of it as ’15’ notwithstanding. The casting, furthermore (as a traumatised and catatonic assault victim) of Lesley-Anne Down, whose name so closely resembles that of a real life victim of Britain’s most notorious sex killers, seems rather insensitive and just to put the tin hat on it,  when Tony Beckley’s emasculated teacher tells Frank Finlay’s gruff cop that he has fantasised about raping all of his students, you ask yourself if things could get any more non-PC… only for the Detective Chief Superintendent to retort by suggesting that the guy is probably “not man enough” to rape anyone… ouch!

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In the words of Cicero: “”O tempora, o mores”…

1971 was arguably the annus mirabilis of the giallo, the year that brought us Mario Bava’s überinfluential Bay Of Blood, Fulci’s psychedelic three-ring circus Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Sergio Martino’s masterly The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and an Argento brace in the shape of The Cat O’Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, amid countless others. One of the most intriguing yellow shockers from this year, though, was made right here in dear old Blighty and produced, as if that weren’t already a sufficiently surprising proposition, by Peter Rogers,  the man responsible for all those jolly Carry On Romps

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The director of Assault, though, was ideally placed to handle a British attempt at the giallo (which this film so clearly is)… Sidney Hayers, having racked up a couple of routine thrillers in 1950, revealed a knack for transcendental cinematic delirium with the completely demented Circus Of Horrors (1960), a film that would give the trashiest Eurotrash competitors a run for their cheesey money. Hayers subsequently directed Peter Wyngarde in Night Of The Eagle aka Burn, Witch, Burn (1962) an effective little variant on Jacques Torneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957) but 1971 turned out to be his busiest year in terms of Freudsteinian credits. As well as the  The Firechasers (an insurance fraud thriller) and episodes of both The Persuaders and the short-lived Shirley MacLaine vehicle Shirley’s World, Hayers directed Revenge aka After Jenny Died and Inn Of The Frightened People, in which Joan Collins and family take the law into their own hands when their young daughter is raped and murdered… not a million miles removed, thematically, from the film under consideration here.

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Straight after Circus Of Horrors, Hayers began a prolific career in TV direction with episodes of The Avengers and The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre. Anyone whose caught even a handful of the German krimi cycle, which was so influential on the giallo, will know how often these Wallace thrillers featured schoolgirls in peril as a plot point and that’s the theme around which both Assault and Revenge (not to mention the subsequent Italian trilogy written and / or directed by Massimo Dallamano) rotate…

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… but Assault’s credentials as a giallo all’Inglese go way deeper than that. You want a plot that hinges on its protagonist half-glimpsing a crucial clue and agonising about its exact significance? You got it. You want said character to be played by giallo icon Suzy Kendall? Here she is. Lascivious subjective camera work… a hard-ass cop… a shoal of lecherous and disreputable red herrings… convoluted plotting wherein all sense of proportion is lost (a trip to pick up some sodium pentathol concludes with the pharmacy blowing up… *) … a spectacular demise for the newly unmasked culprit, so ingeniously (some would say stupidly) devised that it suggests divine retribution? All present and politically incorrect. Overblown alternative titles? Well, Assault played the US grindhouse circuit (presumably post-Exorcist) under the alias In The Devil’s Garden, a rebranding actually justified (kind of) by the fact that Kendall’s feisty Julie West spends much of the film believing she literally saw Satan himself at work when she stumbled upon a fatal sexual attack inflicted on one of her students in the woods adjacent to the posh school where she teaches. Indeed, her insistence on sticking to this lurid account leads to her being ridiculed by the prickly coroner (Allan Cuthbertson) when she gives evidence at the inquest. Det. Chief Supt. Velyan (Finlay) co-opts a sleazy tabloid reporter (Freddie Jones) to vindicate her, unmask the culprit and set up a truly electrifying climax…

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Perhaps it would be inappropriate, given Assault’s subject matter, to describe this restoration as “ravishing” but it’s an incredible step-up from Network’s previous DVD edition. Even the bonus trailer, which looked pretty knackered on that, is significantly improved here. The stills gallery remains but the 1981 Tales Of The Unexpected episode There’s One Born Every Minute, starring Finlay, is conspicuous by its absence… no great loss when weighed against the sumptuous presentation of the main feature.

My screener didn’t come with the limited edition collector’s booklet with essays by Adrian Smith and Laura Mayne, plus PDF material. Hopefully that comes with some information on this beautiful renovation job. Hell, I might even shell out £9.75 to find out. Talk about a bargain… what are you waiting for?

Trivia note: much of Assault was filmed in Black Park, Iver Heath, Bucks, subsequently the home of pre-Cert video distribution legends IFS.

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(*) … and taking with it, in his first credited screen role (as “Man in chemist shop”), David Essex. Is he more, too much more than a pretty face in Assault? I don’t think so…

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“There were never any problems with Edwige”… The BARBARA BOUCHET Interview.

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I tend to be more awe-struck in the presence of my musical idols than around film folk. Perhaps I’ll bore you some other time with my theory about why this might be. I did feel rather star struck on the occasions I was introduced to Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, though the latter (after a wicked leg pull) took trouble to put me at my ease. The last time I encountered this pesky emotion was on the 21st September 2013 at Manchester’s ever-wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films, when I was knocking on the door of Barbara Bouchet’s hotel room to arrange an interview. Why this rare attack of bashfulness? Was I expecting to find her sunbathing naked, as in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972)? Maybe just hoping…

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… maybe it was because BB is so palpably a film star. Don’t get me wrong, during the hour or so that we talked Barbara didn’t for one moment act the star / act up. She just exudes that certain je ne sais quoi… and there’s a certain laser focused, business-like steel beneath the impeccably groomed exterior, which there probably needed to be for her to survive the upheavals of her early life.

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The interview from which the following passages are excerpted originally appeared in its entirety in Dark Side magazine #156 at the end of 2013, which you might well want to check out. At the point where these selection kick in, the former Barbel Goutscher had made a promising start in Hollywood (winning a Gidget lookalike competition and snogging Captain Kirk in the Star Trek episode By Any Other Name) before things stalled after a run in with notorious martinet Otto Preminger, for whom she’d signed a seven year contract. Sticking to her guns, she was released from that (“maybe he did me a favour because we were both East European emigrés”) and attempted to pick up some career momentum in Europe. First she tried for a part in Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966)…

I flew from Paris to London at very short notice because he was there looking for girls for Blow Up and wanted to see me but when I arrived he told me: “I’m much too tired to see you, come back tomorrow”. You can imagine how I reacted to that. At the same time Charley Feldman had been pursuing me so I contacted him in preference to Mr Antonioni and suddenly I was in a new seven year contract, beginning with Casino Royale.

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With Sharon Tate at The Playboy Club in London, 1966.

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Your first significant role in Italy was in Paolo Cavara’s 1971 giallo The Black Belly Of The Tarantula (above). Cavara was previously known as a maker of Mondo documentaries and I wondered if this was apparent from his handling of actors in a dramatic context…

There were no problems with Paolo and he got good performances out of everybody.

He certainly did… it’s your antics in the memorable massage parlour opening scene that set the maniac off on his kill-spree and you become his first victim… it’s been said that you get killed off early in so many of your giallo roles because you always had to run off and start another picture…

Is that what they say? (Laughs)

You do get a more substantial role in Silvio Amadio’s Alla Ricera Del Piacere, a film with a very decadent atmosphere in which you starred with Farley Granger and Rosalba Nera…

You mean Amuck?

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Yeah, it was released under the usual variety of titles. That one is remembered for your lesbian love scene with Rosalba Neri, which I gather was received with great controversy in its day…

Oh yes, to the Italians it was quite scandalous! Whereas I had grown up with a large family in a small house, everybody was very casual about nakedness so it was no big deal to me. The Italians did get very excited about it, though. (Can’t honestly claim that I didn’t – Bobby F)

Another scene that you did which caused a bit of a commotion was the one in which you’re naked and taunting an adolescent boy in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling…

Yes, Fulci was taken to court over that!

He was always being taken to court… and he always walked.

Yes, he did this time too because we were able to prove that when you saw the back of the child, who was looking at me, it wasn’t actually a child – it was a dwarf. And of course when you see the face of the child who’s talking to me, he’s not looking at me, he’s looking at a blank wall.

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It’s amazing that the prosecutors could have shown such an elementary lack of cinematic savvy… did your nude and sexy scenes ever cause any grief for you with your family?

Well, these films didn’t tend to play in The States, where they were living…

… maybe in the kind of grind houses that your parents wouldn’t have frequented.

They did cause some problems for my sons in Italy, they got into fights with their classmates who said that they’d seen me naked in sexy magazines, like some of the ones I signed for you earlier. I decided to move them out of the house so as not to upset my sons, but I left the suitcase outside my house for one minute and when I came back it had been stolen. So I think when the thief opened it, he would have been disappointed.

Quite the opposite, I would have thought…

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I told my sons that if anybody teased them about their mother being in sexy films and magazines, they should reply that I was in them because  I was beautiful, but their mothers couldn’t do that because they were fat, old hags! They liked that. As I said, acting these roles is no big deal for me. There are just two films that I turned down because I thought they were too much. One was Just Jaeckin’s The Story Of O and the other was one of Tinto Brass’s pictures…

Salon Kitty?

I don’t remember which one it was, but I didn’t want to do that kind of film.

I was wondering if a multi-lingual actor such as yourself found it frustrating to have to re-dub your dialogue in post production, as is the Italian way?

Well of course, the first time you’re told not to worry about your lines but just to count “one, two, three, four.”.. because it’s all going to be re-dubbed later… that does take a bit of getting used to. When I later made films outside of Italy it came as an equal shock that you were acting and you couldn’t hear traffic noises or the sound of technicians talking on the set.

Whenever fans talk about gialli and Italian sexy comedies, the names of two actresses always come up – yourself and Edwige Fenech. What are your memories of La Fenech?

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(Smiles) We only appeared together in one movie, you know? (Hm, I think there were a couple more than that – Bobby F). When they wanted a blonde they would call me, when they wanted a brunette it was Edwige and there were other girls who could fill these roles if we were not available for a movie. The press are always trying to get an angle, to make a story, you know, so they wanted us to be rivals but it was all stupid, there were never any problems with Edwige.

You never appeared in any of the excellent gialli directed by Sergio Martino…

… but I appeared in sexy comedies that he directed, which were produced by his brother Luciano, the lover of Edwige.

You also appeared in two movies by Antonio Margheriti… he was revered as a technical director and in Bed Of A Thousand Pleasures he had you making love to an invisible man and to another guy on a flying carpet… memorable stuff!

You say that but I can’t remember any of it!

Maybe you remember Death Rage, the other film you made with Margheriti, a little better… it’s rumoured that you didn’t get on too well with your co-star, Yul Brynner…

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I certainly remember that I hated how horribly rude he was to the make-up girls and other people who were there trying to look after him, so when I found out that he was superstitious about chrysanthemums I sent him a beautiful big bunch of them.

These movie tough guys are all big girls’ blouses… another one in which you die very early was Fernando Merighi’s Casa D’Appuntamento aka The Bogey Man And The French Murders… what was going on in that one with the pointless Humphrey Bogart lookalike and everything?

I don’t know what the point of that was. You know what? I don’t watch a lot of my films… was that one shot in Germany?

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times was shot in Germany. You keep seeing shots of the Eiffel Tower in Merighi’s film, but who knows? It looked a bit thrown together.

That’s how some of them were.

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In one of your earliest giallo roles, for Alberto De Martino’s The Man With Icy Eyes, your character is described by another as “the kind of broad who’ll do anything for money” and you did go onto perfect the role of the femme fatale who’s irresistible to men but has her own evil or at least ambiguous agenda.

Yeah, but it’s fun to do these roles because they’re the exact opposite of how I am in real life.

Your characters have taken some terrible beatings from the men they’ve wronged. You’re treated particularly violently by Henry Silva in Andrea Bianchi’s mafia epic The Ones Who Count aka Cry Of A Prostitute…

Ugh! (Shivers) That was unpleasant… I didn’t remember it being that unpleasant when we made it. In fact I prefer not to remember too much about that one. When Quentin Tarantino arranged a screening of some of my movies in LA he opened with that one and I wish he hadn’t…

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Henry Silva was one mean screen mo-fo but I gather he was a sweetheart in real life…

He was a lovely man but with that face he was always going to be cast as the bad guy… what a face! Cheek bones like razor blades…

In some of your films, including that one, you’re the bad girl who “gets her comeuppance” but I think Don’t Torture A Duckling features one of your best roles and performances because you start off as this snotty rich bitch but Fulci develops your character to the point where, by the end of the film, you’re really sympathetic.

Yes, it’s the actress’s craft to bring these things out…

… which you do so well in that film and your relationship with Tomas Milian’s character develops accordingly.

Tomas was alright but at that time he was very into his relationship with Irene Papas…

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Fulci had a bit of a reputation as a tyrant and a misogynist on set…

On Don’t Torture The Duckling (sic)? Yes, I have heard this but he never showed that side of himself to me. He was very focussed on getting the movie made, yes, but we got on just fine.

Your “manipulative bitch” character is brought to perfection in Fernando Di Leo’s definitive Italian noir, Milan Calibre 9. Di Leo also had a bit of a hard ass, misogynistic reputation… did you see anything of this?

Di Leo was absolutely fine with me. A misogynist? In fact I discovered after his death that he had been quite a lady’s man.

Sometimes the two go together. It’s often said that the deregulation of Italian TV killed the Italian film industry, but you kept working with your TV health and beauty show…

Yes… I saw what happened to Sylva Koscina, an East European actress like me (she came from Yugoslavia). She was of the generation just before me and when she reached a certain age, the roles dried up. She took it very badly and she died very young. So I said to myself, am I going to let that happen to me? Oh no! So I stopped doing films round about the time of Sergio Martino’s Spaghetti At Midnight in 1978 and devoted some time to bringing up my family.

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My mother took me to a psychic in Arizona who predicted that I would go to work in television and I said no way. I had no intention of doing that but as soon as I stepped off the plane back in Italy, Berlusconi’s people offered me a pilot, then a TV series. It was based in a health spa because I have always looked after myself, kept in shape, eaten the right food and taken vitamins and so on. I had my own health business and I told them it would have to be plugged in every episode of the TV series. I was resolved to make it work for my benefit.

Good for you. Speaking of plugging, why is everybody in your movies always furiously knocking back bottles of J&B? Sometimes the screen is almost filled with stacked-up cases of the stuff…

Well in those days, you know, you could partially finance the movie with these product placements, so there was Coca Cola all over the place and yes, J&B. But then the Italian government brought in a law that you couldn’t do this anymore.

Killjoys! Just for old time’s sake, why don’t we …

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Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mystery Of The Elusive Auteur… THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail (1971) plays out in familiar globe-trotting style, kicking off in a London that is still just about swinging (and in which Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin was shot, the same year) before relocating to Greece, where this film was released as “Dawn Of The Black Stilletos” (yeah, I remember her well…) George Hilton is insurance man Peter Lynch, detailed by his employers International Unlimited Insurance to investigate the million dollar payoff to Lisa Baumer (“Evelyn Stewart” / Ida Galli) after her old man was among the victims of a Lockerbie-style plane bombing; her druggy ex is prepared to testify that she was in on the conspiracy but gets silenced by an identikit black clad, knife-wielding assassin (Luis Barboo from a thousand trashy Jesus Franco movies); to complicate matters further, the latter’s girlfriend Lara (Janine Raynaud from Franco’s Succubus) was having a fling with Mr Baumer and is contesting his will. On the eve of her flight to Tokyo, still carrying that million around in a bag (!), Lisa is butchered in her hotel room in a scene that’s cribbed directly from a memorable murder moment in Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) and which also obviously alludes to the shockingly early demise of Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho. Enter Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza), local cop Stavros (?!?) played by Luigi Pistilli and Anita Strindberg as investigative reporter Cleo Dupont. Lynch wastes no time making out with her (good choice, considering the other two options) amid copious consumption of J&B. Lara also pops up again, only to figure in a BWTCP patented siege scene before she and Barboo’s character are both killed off. Still with me? It’s only after Cleo’s own siege scene that the clue of the Scorpion-shaped cuff-link emerges from a photographic blow up (!), soon revealed as a red herring when Lynch takes Cleo on a recuperative harpoon fishing trip and the final wave of twists and shock revelations rolls round. What a carry on for Cleo…

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For some time now I’ve been labouring over a piece (and for an even longer time, trailering it… way to guarantee an anticlimax there, Freudstein!) concerning the way the giallo genre shifted from the superficially “sexy” but ultimately money-motivated potboilers of Guerrieri and Lenzi to the deranged sex killer sagas pioneered by Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage. In the course of researching this piece I had cause to dig out, rewatch and reappraise Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970), a film which anticipates much of what happens in the four more widely celebrated gialli that Sergio Martino clocked up over 1971/2. With an impeccable sense of timing, Arrow are now debuting the second of those, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, on UK Blu-ray.

Martino’s earlier The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh mixed three parts cold, calculating killer(s) with one homicidal sex case (yep, the odds were very definitely stacked against Edwige Fenech) but the action was proceeding in a deccidedly post-Argento direction. The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail suggests that the director, his producer / big brother Luciano and prolific scripter Ernesto Gastaldi were still hedging their bets as to which kind of plot was going to trump the other at the box office. Again, both strains are mixed, though there’s a definite feeling (despite Strindber’gs character anticipating that of Daria Nicolodi in Deep Red… plus a brief and jarring irruption of Fulci-esque eye violence) that matters have regressed into something more resembling one of Lenzi’s torrid bonkbusters. In the absence of Fenech (who was pregnant) one half expects Carroll Baker to arrive centre screen. She doesn’t but there’s so much else going on in this rattling little giallo (I particularly

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appreciated the psycho’s Diabolikesque rubbber kill suit), which rolls along at a fair old lick and (if you can overlook such jarringly cheap moments as the airfix air disaster) in satisfying style. For Martino Jr, TCOTST might well have seemed, in retrospect, to play things a little too safe, which he would remedy in spades with his 1972 brace All The Colours Of The Dark (which incorporated occult elements into the basic formula) and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (a chamber giallo whose sexual decadence is peppered with more than a pinch of Poe). Ringing the changes from film to film was the essence of Martino’s directorial style…

… if, indeed, he had one. Le Dolce Morte author Mikel Koven argues in an engaging featurette here that Martino is some kind of anti-auteur, whose directorial identity dissolves into whatever filone he’s currently navigating, whose genre films are all about genre rather than any personal statement he’s making. Koven suggests that the true auteur of these Martino films could be producer Luciano, but is more probably screen writer Ernesto Gastaldi, obsessively re-refining his take on Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955)… well, Brian De Palma built an auteurist rep by Hitching his star to endless rehashes of you-know-who…

Gastaldi’s auteurist credentials are further examined in a video essay by Troy Howarth and who do we find providing the main feature’s commentary track (moderated by Federico Caddeo) but Gastaldi himself… damning George Hilton with faint praise, explaining his beef with Dario Argento (illogical plotting) and relating the corruption of Italian censorship bodies.

I’m hard pressed to think of a release whose bonus features cohere so cogently into an overarching argument, one which you might or might not care to accept. Should generate a few lively threads on social media, anyhows…

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Sergio Martino does get his own say, citing the notorious Fenaroli insurance murder case as an influence at least as important as that of Les Diaboliques… he also talks about phony credits that were manufactured to meet co-production quotas, his dismay at the overuse of zooms in his films and the ever-popular subject of J&B product placement.

George Hilton is interviewed too, revealing his affair with Anita Strindberg, which is perhaps a little ungentlemanly… even more so, his pronouncements on her botched boob job. More amusingly, he remembers his first encounter with the Argentinian actor Alberto De Mendoza, who ultimately became a friend but initially identified him as “that Uruguyan twat!” You’ll also get to marvel at a trailer that is, quite frankly, berserk.

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We hacks are never sent the limited edition booklets that come with these things so I’m not able to comment on the writings of Howard Hughes or Peter Jilmstead (the latter presumably extracted from Peter’s eagerly anticipated Strindberg biog, The Other Anita) but Rachael Nisbet, one of my favourite bloggers (at hypnoticcrescendos.blogspot.co.uk) has kindly sent me the text of her highly enjoyable essay. I particularly admire the heroic way she manages to stay with the labyrinthine plot twists of these things. I’m more down with Koven (who admits, in his featurette, that he just “goes with the flow”). The main thrust of RN’s piece concerns the way that TCOTST’s deployment of “whodunnit” themes make it a quintessential giallo…

… indeed, although somewhat less adventurous than subsequent Martino gialli (or its predecessor The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, for that matter) this Case belongs firmly in the giallo files on your shelf. Arrow’s new edition looks (bearing none of the dreaded grain often associated with such upgrades) and sounds just great, showcasing a Bruno Nicolai score that’s all prowling bass and snarling trumpets, ably echoing the work of Nicolai’s compadre Morricone in the first three Argento thrillers.

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