Posts Tagged With: Gore

How To Carve A Turkey… Herschell Gordon Lewis’s BLOOD FEAST / SCUM OF THE EARTH Reviewed

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That’s it, we read about her

BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 18.

About a year ago, Arrow’s monumental, long-gestated “Feast” box set was released in the immediate aftermath of the death of the cinema maverick whose work it celebrated so lavishly – Herschell Gordon Lewis. Earlier this year, the announcement of an Arrow collection of George Romero’s non-zombie films coincided with that iconic director’s demise. John Carpenter could be forgiven for anticipating the label’s upcoming Blu-ray release of The Thing with a certain amount of trepidation and David Cronenberg might well be anxiously checking their re-release plans for a whole raft of his titles…

Now that Arrow have started dismembering that Feast box for discrete releases of selected HGL epics that will better suit the pockets of more penurious punters, where better to start than with Blood Feast (1963), the oldest film to make it onto the dreaded “video nasties” listings and widely acclaimed as “the first splatter movie”? Widely, but not universally acknowledged… other contenders have been put forward for this laurel, notably Mario Bava’s Black Sunday but while Bava’s film has plenty of other things going for it (cinematography, atmosphere, Barbara Steele, for example) Blood Feast remains an unrepentently one trick, plasma-drenched pony… it’s all about the Gore.

It’s certainly not about the plot…

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The film opens (to the accompaniment of “tragic kettle drums”!) with a blonde lady (Sandra Sinclair) being attacked in her bath tub by crazed Egyptian exotic caterer Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold)… don’t you just hate it when that happens? The Daily Chronicle’s infamous headline acknowledges one small step for Fuad in his quest to invoke the Goddess Ishtar but a giant leap for screen gore (not to mention a faltering hop for Ms Sinclair). Striking again while the iron is hot, Ramses goes beach-combing and beats out the brains of some cutie out spooning under the stars with her boyfriend. When questioned by the police, this guy really starts chewing the scenery, pulling faces and wailing “She wanted to go home! She wanted to go home!” over and over again as he meditates on the wages of sin.

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Ramses’ third victim has her tongue (actually that of a sheep) pulled right out of her head. Lewis says of Playmate Astrid Olsen: “She was quite adequate for the role – her mouth was big enough to hold this sheep’s tongue and several others!” Connie Mason (another ex-Playmate, who was cast because of producer Friedman’s infatuation with her toothy smile) is a member of the same book-club as the amputee in the bath and also attends lectures on Ancient Egyptian cults. “You know I’ve always been interested in Egyptology”, this obviously empty-headed girl tells her boyfriend Pete Thornton (Bill Kerwin), who just happens to be a detective, in fact one of the extremely slow-witted cops on the case of the demolished girls.

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Another (un)fortuitous “plot”-twist has Connie’s status-seeking mother (Lyn Bolton) hire Fuad Ramses to provide something really exotic for Connie’s birthday party. Little does she know that this is to be the “Blood Feast’ of the title. With a tongue, a brain and a leg, Fuad obviously has the makings of a serviceable Goddess already, though precisely which bits of Connie’s anatomy he plans to filch are left to our imagination. Although an ace Egyptology student, Connie just doesn’t realise what peril she’s in as the machete-wielding exotic caterer persuades her to lie on the kitchen table with her eyes closed. Just as he is about to deliver the coup-de-grace, the cops, for whom the penny has finally dropped, burst in and save Connie. Ramses is pursued across the city dump and expires in a garbage crusher. “He died a fitting death for the garbage he was” intones Detective Thornton, neglecting to add that his fate also provides a perfectly appropriate ending to cinematic garbage such as this.

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Lewis himself always conceded that Blood Feast wasn’t very good. “We don’t want it good, we want it Thursday” was the philosophy of producer Dave Friedman (above), but HGL did insist on its historical importance as the first of its kind… like Walt Whitman’s poetry, argued the former English lecturer at the University of Mississippi. Although this claim to primacy is, as we have seen, debatable, Blood Feast’s massive influence over subsequent graphic horror product (just think of how many films have reprised the tongue-yanking gag) and indeed the monied cinematic mainstream is undeniable.

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In the supplementary featurette Blood Perspectives, filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy and Rodney Ascher argue that with Blood Feast, Lewis and Friedman broke down the walls between mainstream cinema and exploitation (“Off the byways and onto the highways of America”, as Friedman has it) and (rather convincingly) for its status as a bona fide slice of crypto social history. HGL himself is brusquely dismissive of any such auteurist theorising in a couple of other featurettes herein, insisting that the aim all along was purely to entertain, gob-smack and sell tickets. Friedman backs him up on this in an archival interview from 1987 and on the main feature’s commentary track.

The gruesome twosome reiterate the oft-aired account of how they embarked on the splatter trail in an attempt to fashion a new USP and keep themselves ahead of the pack after competitors felt emboldened to emulate their exploits in the “nudie-cutie” field. 1963 turned out to be the annus mirabilis in this regard, the year in which Lewis shot Bell, Bare And Beautiful virtually simultaneously with Blood Feast, also finding time to contribute Goldilocks And The Three Bares and Boin-n-g. “I felt the nudie cycle was going in the wrong direction…” he recalled: “There are only a certain number of ways you can show girls playing basketball!” (indeed, Boin-n-g probably remains the definitive statement on this aspect of the human condition). In the very same hyperactive year, Lewis and Friedman inaugurated the “roughie” with Scum Of The Earth, which is (you lucky people!) crammed onto this disc as yet another extra.

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Lewis’s final monochrome film (with the exception of one hand painted frame at its suicidal climax), Scum Of The Earth tells the tawdry tale of innocent young ladies being drawn into a world of pornography and blackmail by the lure of easy money. Sinister porno king-pin Lang (Lawrence Wood), sadistic Ajax (Craig Maudslay, the guy who trash compacted Fuad Ramses) and sleazy snapper Larry (played by Mal Arnold, though described as “a minor”… in what possible parallel universe?) are out-and-out misogynistic bastards, whereas photographer Harmon (Bill Kerwin) and model / procuress Sandy (Sandra Sinclair, whose bath time routine was so rudely interrupted in Blood Feast) wring their hands about the racket they’re in but carry on regardless, getting – much like the viewer – to have their cheesecake and eat it. After the correct moralistic ending to this perversely enjoyable melodrama, a stern voiceover warns us that: “For every girl who escapes the trap, another falls into it. Only an alert society can save us from those who prey on human weakness… the scum of the Earth!” What kind of low-life, indeed, could draw a sweet lil’ thing like Allison Louise Downe into a net of fleshy depravity? Ask her then husband… Herschell Gordon Lewis (he describes her on the Blood Feast commentary track as “a crew member” so draw your own conclusions as to how the marriage worked out).

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Bill Kerwin lures the lovely Allison Louise Downe into a life of vice…

Additional extras include outtakes, trailers (also for Lucky Pierre, Goldilocks & The Three Bares and Bell, Bare And Beautiful) plus a hysterically sincere theatre announcement / warning to the faint hearted. Bill Kerwin fans are also treated to the promotional short Carving Magic (1959), in which Martha Logan (the Nigella Lawson of her day) coaches Kerwin in how to tackle the Sunday joint. You might learn something about meat carving here but don’t expect too many laughs from this allegedly humorous effort…. Sgt Bilko it ain’t!

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Bill Kerwin (left) demonstrates a bit of Carving Magic to Harvey Korman.

I’ve often babbled on in these and other pages about the swings-and-roundabouts aspect of Blu-ray upgrades. If you’re the kind that habitually regards his or her tumbler of J&B half full, you’ll appreciate the hitherto unguessed at cinematographic subtleties that are revealed to you thereby. If you’re of the “half empty” persuasion, then you’re gonna rue the consequent increase in grain. It hardly matters, anyway… if you keep on drinking J&B, at some point you’re going to be stabbed to death by a loony in a leather trench coat, right? So what’s the diff? As it happens – and against all my expectations – Blood Feast, for all its 54 years, looks just fab on Blu-ray, a medium that could have been conceived specifically to showcase its lurid comic strip aesthetic. If you still harbour memories of discovering Lewis’s magnum opus on some nth generation video dub, you’ll certainly appreciate the job Arrow have done here. Splendid stuff.

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

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – SPOILER ALERT! –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assassin Screed… THE KILLING OF AMERICA Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

“Oh, the history books tell it, They tell it so well
The cavalries charged, The Indians fell
The cavalries charged. The Indians died
Oh, the country was young, With God on its side…” With God On Our Side, Bob Dylan.

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”. Second amendment to the Constitution of The United States.

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“Drop the gun!” a cop urges Sam Brown, the superfly San Diego sidewalk sniper in 1979. The unresponsive Brown (possibly musing over the important message he claims to have brought from aboard the Starship Enterprise) is shot down, point-blank. The first words we hear in The Killing Of America are effectively its message. But as we shall learn, things are seldom as simple as they seem…

TKOA’s status as the Mondo Movie that transcends Mondo, redeeming the genre from the questionable shockumentary practices of its founders Jacopetti and Prosperi by virtue of its ongoing relevance and unflinching verisimilitude (well, keep reading…) is even more remarkable when you consider that this 1981 effort was commissioned by producer Mataichirô Yamamoto in a blatant attempt to emulate the success of that most gonzo of Mondos, Faces Of Death (1978), which had outperformed Star Wars for 13 straight weeks at Japanese box offices. “His problem was that he hired a film archivist and a guy who did Art Films” says director Sheldon Renan, describing himself and writer / producer Leonard Schrader respectively.

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Not that it’s likely FODophiles will consider themselves remotely short-changed by TKOA… Thomas Noguchi, LA “Coroner to the Stars” and inspiration for TV’s Quincy ME appears in both and establishing shots here of mortuary workers matter-of-factly going about their daily business are pretty much interchangeable with those in “Conan Le Cilaire”s memorably revolting “video nasty”. Thereafter it’s the expected mix of newsreel footage, CCTV and some original material, all (and here, in the words of the doc’s opening caption, is the kicker) “… real. Nothing has been staged.” Hm…

The other thing that sets TKOA apart from the Mondo competition as worthy of serious attention is the serious Calvinist intent of writer Leonard Schrader (The Yakuza, Blue Collar, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Mishima) and the attention to structure imposed upon it by renowned film archivist Renan. Starting with shots of America’s geographical scope and splendour (though unfortunately most of this stuff was cut from the American release) he pursues a historical tack (which identifies ground zero for an epidemic of American violence as the JFK assassination) and progressively narrows his focus through a succession of snipers, messianic assassins and serial killers until we find ourselves face to face with Ed Kemper in his cell at the California Medical facility, hear what he has to say for himself and get the chance to reflect on what we might possibly have in common with him.

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The structure and thrust of TKOA command respect, even where one might find oneself disagreeing with Schrader’s argument. For example he fetishises the slaying of JFK (difficult not to, I guess) but it’s unlikely that Sitting Bull and Geronimo, were they available to offer their opinions, would agree that American cultural violence was conceived in the room of a book repository or on a grassy knoll in Dallas, TX on 22.11.63. The Zapruder footage, duly trotted out, never loses its impact (though it’s interesting to hear Renan’s observations on the shocking condition that the original film had been “conserved” in), likewise the casual brutality with which South Vietnamese police chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executes  Việt Cộng member Nguyễn Văn Lém in the street. There’s further familiar footage of Bobby Kennedy’s death (and a mind-boggling interview with his killer Sirhan Sirhan, who offers: “I wish that son of a gun were alive… I’m not mentally ill, Sir, but I’m not perfect either”), the shooting of Ronald Reagan and crippling of George Wallace, protestors gunned down at Kent State, dramatic trial footage (the Manson family, Ted Bundy) and helicopter shots of Guyana littered with dead followers of the Reverend Jim Jones (scenes of Jones gurning idiotically as he does a wacky snake handling dance are particularly creepy, given what was to come)… and on and on…

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A Central Park vigil for the murdered peace activist (when it suited him) John Lennon suggests the potential for positive social change, until the dulcet tones of narrator Chuck Riley close the proceedings with the claim that two people were killed at the vigil and that “while you watched this movie, five more of us were murdered. One was the random killing of a stranger.” Sweet dreams, everyone.

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You might already be aware of this forbidding documentary from the Severin gang’s earlier DVD edition, when they were trading under the name of Exploited. They’ve hit the ball out of the park once again with this super spanky Blu, which not only serves up the main feature looking and sounding better than ever before, but incorporates as extras (aside from the expected trailer) Renan’s audio commentary plus interviews with him, editor Lee Percy and Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton (who’s been working about as hard as the Sevs on making sure that TKOA is finally seen where it’s most needed, i.e. the USA!) Along with the outstanding documentary they worked on, Renan and Percy’s contributions to this release represent something of a primer for any aspiring documentarian on how to set about making one, but be warned… both admit the adverse effects that making TKOA had on their own mental well-being.

As if all that weren’t enough, this edition includes an alternative Japanese cut of the doc, lasting 20 minutes (!) longer than the US version. Much of the additional material comprises a paean to the American way of life and some of its critics have speculated that Yamamoto felt obliged to somehow “soften” the film’s message out of some misguided sense of politeness. One could just as well argue that these glimpses of the American dream serve to throw the atrocities that litter the rest of TKOA into sharper relief… a legitimate approach, though not one which consistently comes off. There’s an endless sequence of clean-limbed young Americans relentlessly tossing frisbies, roller skating and generally pursuing wholesome leisure activities that almost has you wishing you were back in the morgue among all those cadavers. We also participate in a training exercise during which rookie cops must make split second decisions about whether to shoot or not. The Manson section in this version is prefaced by material about Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975. We also witness Muhammad Ali talking down a would-be suicide, suggesting that celebrity doesn’t always have to be a malign end in itself, in stark contrast to one Robert Smith, who blew away innocents “to get known… I just wanted to make a name for himself”.

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Though far superior to the Mondo movies with which it is traditionally bracketed, even the original cut of TKOA is (like Sirhan Sirhan) not perfect.  There’s a sequence about the lives of social marginals on Hollywood boulevard that doesn’t really go anywhere and I’ve always felt that the addition of comic piano music to some of the footage detailing Richard Hall’s three-day ordeal at the hands of aggrieved bank customer Tony Kiritsis  (above) struck a jarringly bum note. I was further disheartened to learn from Renan’s contributions to this set that he dubbed dialogue over the shooting of the strutting Sam Brown that would tend to support the police’s (contested) version of how that lethal incident went down. Once a film maker has admitted to one such falsification … who knows?

Still, TKOA stands as disturbing yet compelling piece of work whose power hasn’t been diminished by one jot over the passing of the years. On the contrary… Pinkerton says he’s tired of hearing that TKOA is “more relevant today than it’s ever been” but come on Nick, if something looks, sounds and feels more relevant than it’s ever been, then it’s probably because it’s more relevant than it’s ever been. Some things really are as simple as they seem.

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When Two Tribes Go To War… Calum Waddell’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Tome Reviewed

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Cannibal Holocaust by Calum Waddell: Auteur. ISBN paperback: 978-1-911325-11-6 ISBN ebook: 978-1-911325-12-3

When I interviewed Ruggero Deodato in the ’90s I mentioned the obvious (to me) affinities between his 1980 films Cannibal Holocaust and House On The Edge Of The Park, only for him to pointedly dismiss any such parallels. Well, I persisted, both films deal with a group of feral outsiders who are ultimately revealed to be less morally culpable than the “civilised” sophisticates whom they encounter… but the director was having none of it. Although both films had been lumbered with the moronic “video nasties” label in the philistine climate of early ’80s Britain, by the time I spoke to Deodato the reputation of his little anthropophagous epic had made the transition from international pariah to postmodern phenom worthy of serious critical – and even academic – attention. House On The Edge, in the meantime, has undergone no such re-evaluation (and admittedly, it’s nowhere near as good a film)… it remains, in the eyes of the world, an irredeemably tacky little knock off of a Wes Craven knockoff (I personally find much to “like” in HOTEOTP but this isn’t the place to go into that) and Deodato didn’t want anybody besmirching his suddenly respectable cause celebre with any comparisons to it. Have it your way, Ruggero…

From my earliest scribblings in Samhain, during the aforementioned video witch hunt, I was agitating for (and I hopefully contributed towards) a criticism that would fuse fannish enthusiasm for such genre films with an intelligent, analytical approach. Subsequently (blame me if you want to… I’ve frequently had the impression that I’m being shot by both sides) there have been comings together of the zine scenesters and the ISBN-totin’ academics, who’ve generally snarled at each other before withdrawing to their respective corners. One gathers there was a particularly mean-spirited poker game at one point but, as yet, nobody’s managed to find the found footage that documents this…

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Calum Waddell is not (and this won’t come as news to him) everybody’s cup of tea or bowl of monkey brain mush. He notably declared himself horrified by Cannibal Holocaust. Gore hounds, horrified by the fact that he was horrified by it, then alleged hypocrisy when he continued to write (very well) about it in genre publications and get paid (nothing like as well, believe me!) to do so, interviewed and befriended several of its principal creators, toured the festival circuit with them and collaborated on the film’s Blu-ray release in The States. But come on, guys… isn’t anyone who’s fascinated by this most notorious “video nasty” also appalled and repelled by it? Isn’t that the very essence of its ongoing “appeal”? Cannibal Holocaust isn’t Marmite (even if one of its most persistent chroniclers seemingly is.) Waddell’s proven track record of willingness to take a wider view, plus his extensive connection with the film’s creators (Carl Yorke – the hateful Yates himself – contributes a thoughtful and witty foreword) guarantee that anyone who picks up this latest entry in Auteur’s (Columbia University Press in the U.S. of A) ongoing Devil’s Advocates  series will find a lot to, er, get their teeth into… much food for thought in, e.g. his survey of which Italian cannibal movies got distributed in which Third World territories, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

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The author gives cursory treatment to Cannibal Holocaust’s seminal role in the aforementioned “nasties” hoo-hah and its roots in the “mondo” school of shockumentary, satisfied that enough has been written on both of these scores, elsewhere (not infrequently by myself.) My own particular interest in these films has always been the extent to which they represent a range of domestic reactions to the failure of Mussolini’s abortive (and ultimately absurd) attempt to refound some sort of Roman Empire. Waddell casts his net wider, framing his (persuasive) arguments in the wider context of The Cold War, which still had a decade or so to run when Deodato took his band of cinematic conquistadores up the Amazon. The proximate inspiration was no doubt Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), though Cannibal Holocaust makes a starker statement about the impact of imperialism on the bodies of “gooks” and “savages” than FFC’s bloated folly, with its relentless focus on the mindset of its American characters, could ever hope to achieve… if, indeed, it was ever interested in doing so. When Alan, Jack, Faye and Mark massacre the yanomami in their huts for the purposes of their tacky little mondo movie it is, as Waddell points out, the spectre of My Lai that haunts our screens…

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“A clump“?

… Cannibal Holocaust could as easily be read as an allegory of the 16th Century European (specifically Latin) conquest of South America and a much more finely nuanced one than, for example, Neil Young’s celebrated Cortes The Killer, which combines musical fireworks with a portrayal of life under Moctezuma and his warrior priests so naively sanitized as to amount to inverted racism. Trust Bernal Diaz, who was actually there with Cortes and whose account, in The Conquest Of New Spain, of brutal life and death in the Aztec empire is all the more trustworthy because he pulls absolutely no punches at all about what a bastard (and indeed a killer) his master was.

Similarly, it’s a moot point (and one made eloquently in the final section proper of Waddell’s book, “Patriarchy In Cannibal Holocaust”) whether the indigenous women here (not to mention Faye) suffer more at the hands of the mondo crew, casual rapists and killers as they are, or their own jealous menfolk, casual abortionists and honour killers that they are.

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Hip as he is to such moral relativism and the irony of an exploitation movie that’s exploiting its own expose of exploitation movies to put bums on cinema seats, Waddell can’t help but multiply rather than resolve the ethical ambiguities of Cannibal Holocaust… as would any self-respecting discussion of Deodato’s film, which remains a hall of distorting mirrors in which the moral high ground is impossible to locate, let alone claim. Nevertheless, those seeking a guide through the arterial byways of Deodato’s Heart Of Darkness (perhaps towards a verdict that will be – to paraphrase a line in another notorious “nasty” – one of self-incrimination) will wait in vain for a better one than this.

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Simon Slays… Arrow’s Blockbusting 4K BD Edition of PIECES Reviewed

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BD / DVD / CD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 18.

Lucio Fulci always seemed a bit touchy on the question of possible influences on his films and so it proved when I interviewed him in 1994. He adopted a pained expression (like somebody had just stepped on his ski boot) when I invoked the spectre of H.P.Lovecraft and claimed he hadn’t even heard of Ambrose Bierce (let alone read An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) until after he completed The Doors To Silence (1991.) Unpredictable as ever, Fulci (who, it transpired, was quite the Spanish horror film buff) then amazed me by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery (1981) from Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia / The House That Screamed (1970.)

Although arguably the ever popular (at least in the venerable Aurum Horror Encyclopedia) “body-in-pieces fantasy” has cinematic antecedents that go at least as far back as James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), Serrador’s gothique girls school adventure hit the spot with its daring satire of Spain’s ossified fascist society, in which the sexually repressed son of an authoritarian headmistress finishes off several young ladies at her finishing school so that he can build himself an idealised “pure” woman.

When Generalissimo Francisco Franco died in 1975 and his appointed successor King Juan Carlos opted to become a constitutional monarch in a modern liberal democracy, things thawed pretty rapidly. In “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!”, one of the many extras on this handsome package, The Pact director and Pieces lover Nicholas McCarthy identifies it as a film coming “at the ass end of the Spanish horror boom” which honours the Iberian tradition with its hommage to La Residencia and via such touches as the casting of tapas terror titan Jack Taylor. Late Phases director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, in the same featurette, notes that things had been buttoned down for so long in Spain that exploitation film makers made up for lost time by packing as much sex, violence and plain craziness into their films as the creaking plots would bear… and no film exemplifies this tendency more brazenly than Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces (1982.)

Somewhere in “Boston, 1942″(or a Madrid facsimile thereof) some four eyed little schmendrick is discovered labouring over a jigsaw of a naked Playboy playmate (which looks like it dates as far back as the early ’70s, tops) by his mom (May Heatherly, who bit that doctor’s tongue out in Cannibal Apocalypse.) Not knowing where all this is going to end (though masturbation would be a reasonable guess) she smashes a mirror (repeated in slow motion and shattervision, like she was in an Adam And The Ants video or something) before announcing that she’s going to bin said nudie jigsaw. Now The Beastie Boys wrote a rousing rap when their mom threw away their best porno mag, but this guy’s protest is rather more emphatic… he buries an axe in her head and starts sawing her into … Pieces!

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When the cops turn up he insists that “a big man… a big man” performed the murderous deed then scarpered and as forensic science wasn’t so hot in Boston, 1942, he gets away with it…

… “forty years later”…

… loose living, flash dancing bimbos at some Boston college are being carved up with a chainsaw by a black clad assassin. In broad daylight. At the same time, somebody is having another go at that jigsaw. Looks like Junior from the pre-titles sequence is replaying his primal scene… but who did he grow up to be?  Willard the burly gardener (Paul “Bluto” Smith) is strenuously touted for our consideration on account of his familiarity with a chainsaw and appetite for beating up cops trying to investigate the case, but c’mon… are we really expected to buy that the scrawny kid in the Quincy tank top grew up to be this ogre? Indeed, the Paul Smith interview included as another of the extras on this set is pointedly entitled The Reddest Herring.

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Other leading suspects include closet case anatomy professor Arthur Brown (!), played by Jack Taylor and the Dean of Studies (Edmund Purdom.) Curiously, Professor Chow the kung fu instructor (yep, the college has a kung fu instructor) played by Kin Lung Huang (*) is never in the frame, despite his penchant for wandering around the college at night, randomly picking fights with women he encounters (it’s a crazy world on this campus… then again, what do you expect when they employ an anatomy professor named Arthur Brown?)

The Dean is keen on a low-key investigation, which might seem like a tall order (what with these butchered co-eds turning up all over the place) until you consider the resources that Boston’s finest are prepared to commit to the case, i.e. Lt Bracken (Christopher George), his sidekick Sgt Holden (Frank Bana), and ex tennis pro May Riggs (George’s wife, Lynda Day), working undercover (sure thing, I mean who else would you send?) Bracken’s got the measure of the case, though – “We must catch the killer…” he advises Holden: “… that’s what it says in the rule book” (I bet he was the stand out candidate at police academy.) Smoothy student Kendall (Ian Sera) is initially a suspect but, having won the confidence of Lt Bracken (and with precious little alternative manpower available) he is soon seconded to the case. I think he’s supposed to be like Keith Gordon’s character in Dressed To Kill (1980) but in the event he’s way more irritating. Co-scripters Dick Randall and “John Shadow” seem to find him equally obnoxious, judging by the fate they’ve devised for him. First of all, after the killer has finally been unmasked, Kendall has to fight off his knife wielding attentions until Bracken turns up to shoot him in the head. While they’re congratulating themselves on that, the putrefying dream girl that the killer has been stitching together falls out of a cupboard and pins Kendall to the floor. Just as he’s recovering from that shock and joshing with the cops about it, in the mother of all Carrie quotations, the composite corpse reaches up and claws his balls off! I swear to Christ, I’m not making any of this shit up!

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The budget that the Boston PD allocated to the investigation of this case would seem to be significantly less than that afforded the FX crew on Pieces. Kudos to Basilio Cortijo for some of the stunning gore creations on display here (mostly centering, of course, on the after effects of chain saw attacks.) There’s stuff that Giannetto De Rossi wouldn’t turn his nose up at. Among all the silliness and non sequiturs, Simon also manages some suspenseful sequences and set pieces murders that look like they belong in an arty giallo rather than a run-of-the-mill American slasher effort. (**) The scene in which Isabel Luque’s nosey reporter is stabbed to death on a water-bed wouldn’t be out of place, if not quite in an Argento classic, than in a top-of-the-range Fulci effort, though better editing would have obscured the wobbliness of that rubber knife before it entered the girl’s skull and edited via her mouth, a la the pre-titles sequence of Fulci’s aforementioned House By The Cemetery.

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Bad chop suey strikes again…

People get snotty about Pieces in particular and JPS in general, while learned tomes get written about Jesus Franco. Now don’t get me wrong, people have a perfect right to enjoy the films of Jesus Franco and write learned tomes about them… I’ve read one or two of them and it proved a worthwhile investment of (rather a lot of) my time. But compare Pieces to e.g. its closest equivalent in the Franco canon – Bloody Moon (1981) – and really, there’s no contest.

I used to love the long-defunct magazine Continental Film Review (briefly recoined as Continental Film And Video Review before it disappeared forever from our newsagents’ shelves) for the way it would alternate analysis of the new Antonioni or Fellini offering with pages of stills from the likes of Danish Dentist On The Job and similarly, I do appreciate it when a label goes to town on a “mere” exploitation movie.

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Suffice to say, Arrow have done an astonishing job here. The 4K restoration of Pieces from its original negative looks just dandy, but video high fidelity probably isn’t a major reason why anyone would watch a movie like this. It’s the extras assembled here that make this release indispensible. People used to talk about “party tapes” but you could have your mates round for this set all weekend and still be discovering stuff long after all the snacks have been snacked on, drinks quaffed and the party favours have petered out. For starters, this is the ultimate “Musos edition” of Pieces with three (count ’em) score options and that’s before you even get onto the commentary track. I hope the original music by Librado Pastor is your favourite, because you also get that on a bonus CD. It’s not likely to keep Ennio Morricone off my deck for any length of time but I’m glad to have it. Thanks, Arrow.

That commentary track, courtesy of The Hysteria Continues (basically Justin Kerswell and his mates) is a real plus: skilfully moderated (it sounds like a couple of the participants are on some kind of conference call set up or maybe Skype), enthusiastic, entertaining, informative and insightful. I’m particularly grateful to Kerswell and co for clearing up an aspect of the film that has always mystified me, i.e. the bit where a certain “Virginia Palmer” (you’d think her family had suffered enough, considering what happened to Laura and everything) skateboards through a giant sheet of plate-glass in slow motion, apparently a propos of nothing. Turns out it was a propos of reminding jigsaw boy of his mother smashing that mirror, reactivating the killer inside him after years as a useful member of society, plying his trade as a… oops, nearly gave it away there! Sadly no explanation is offered (I’m sure they looked for one) as to why Professor Chow should launch an unprovoked flurry of kung fu kicks at Lynda Day (or why she forgives him so readily), over and above the clearly implausible one suggested in the (frequently piss-taking) English dub, i.e. “bad chop suey!” Just to clarify another bit of trivia they allude to, it’s true that the “John Shadow” who’s “credited” as co-writer of Pieces is NOT (as often rumoured) Joe D’Amato… the guilty party is actually Roberto Loyola, one of the many producers involved in the tangled saga of bringing Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (1974) to the screen.

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As if the guidance of The Hysteria Continues wasn’t immersive enough for you, you’re also treated to The 5.1 Vine Theater Experience…. a barker lures you (with lines like “Come and see tits getting sawn”… let’s face it, you’re never going to get that at the NFT) into the lobby of the eponymous LA theatre where you’ll have fun spotting trash film luminaries before taking your seat for a screening of Pieces, courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing. During that you’re able to enjoy the surround sound reactions of an up-for-it audience enthusiastically applauding every outbreak of nudity, guffawing at every last gobbet of gore and critiquing salient thespian missteps (Lynda Day’s “bastard… BASTARD… BASTARD!!!” predictably takes the cake!)

Not least among the bonuses offered on this set is the presence of two distinct versions of the feature, the US theatrical cut and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche (“A Thousand Cries In The Night”), the slightly longer Spanish version. I must have the attention span of a goldfish or something but I never manage to work out what the extra stuff is in the longer cuts of these things. One thing I did learn from watching Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, though, is the extent to which the American dubbers yocked things up by spicing up dialogue that was already pretty fruity to begin with (i.e. for once something gained a lot … of mainly trash … in translation), the “bad chop suey” crack being the most obvious example. The Spanish original also plays Stars And Stripes Forever over Suzy Billing’s murder but those who put the US release together obviously figured that such iconic American music shouldn’t accompany shots of a girl pissing herself and being dismembered by a chainsaw, so substituted the kind of jolly library music often played over sketches on The Benny Hill Show.

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The late JP Simon gets an hour-long interview / profile devoted to him and in a similarly lengthy interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (so good they named him twice) we hear a lot of amusing stories about how resourceful the director was in stretching out his minimal budgets to maximum effect. A short audio Interview with producer Steve Minasian relates how everybody was shafted for their money by a fly-by-night distributor. Undeterred by this cautionary tale, JPS disciple Sergio Blasco relates on another featurette of his collaboration with the maestro on a sadly unrealised Pieces sequel.

Of course you get a trailer, image galleries and a reversible sleeve (featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach.) The collectors’ booklet apparently features new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold… I’ll have to take Arrow’s word for that as I didn’t receive a copy of it.

Watching this set might not quite be “the most wonderful feeling in the world” (to paraphrase one of the most notorious lines of dialogue in Pieces) but in trash movie terms, it comes pretty close.

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You can always rely on beyondhorrordesign.blogspot.co.uk

(*) Kin Lung Huang  starred (as “Bruce Le”) in the likes of…Bruce’s Deadly Fingers (1976), My Name Called Bruce (1979) The True Game Of Death and Re-Enter The Dragon (both 1979)… and just in case the penny hasn’t dropped yet regarding his USP, The Clones of Bruce Lee (1980.)

(**) The producers of Pieces include Stephen Minasian (who put up money for Friday The 13th) and Dick Randall, who produced Ferdinando Merighi’s 1972 giallo The French Sex Murders… though on reflection, I’d be pushing it (over a fucking cliff!) to describe that one as “arty.”

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A Duodenum In Your Lap… Who really Directed FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA?

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It really should be a question in trivial pursuit: “Who directed the notorious ‘video nasty’ Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and its companion piece Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1973)?” It sure as hell wasn’t Andy Warhol… after being shot by Valerie Solanas, one of his own more deranged acolytes in the ’60s, the late socialite and soup tin painter turned over filmmaking duties at his Factory to Paul Morrissey, whose subsequent lowlife epics Trash (1970) Bad (1971) and (Heat) 1973 prove that there’s nothing new under the sun (or in Trainspotting…)

Actually Morrissey takes great exception when Warhol’s name is appended to the titles of this splattery, blackly comic brace shot in the same year as Hammer’s gory Frankenstein swan song Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, a year before Mel Brooks’ riotous Young Frankenstein and pitched somewhere in tone between those two. In Italy, where the films were produced back-to-back by Carlo Ponti, they were dubbed Il Mostro E In Tavola… Barone Frankenstein (“The Monster Is On The Table… Baron Frankenstein”) and – nicely encapsulating the second film’s rudimentary plot – Dracula Cerca Sangue Di Vergine E Mori Di Sete (“Dracula, In Need Of Virgins’ Blood, Dies Of Thirst.”)

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Morrissey prefers the titles Fresh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula, with the former’s obvious echo of his earlier underground efforts

Warhol’s “executive producer” credit was merely designed to gain the films some additional attention and notoriety, as if they needed any, bearing in mind their outrageous content. “Bryanston thought it would help bringing in an audience, which is ludicrous since his name was on plenty of movies that nobody went to see.” Morrissey later bitched to Tom Rainone in the pages of Fangoria: “He had no connection with the films until he saw them at the premiere” (Warhol has admitted elsewhere that the extent of his participation in these films was “to go to the parties.”)

“Not only did Andy Warhol not make (them), he couldn’t have made (them)” continued Morrissey: “he had trouble finding his way home without somebody helping him!” The incensed director cited “moron journalists who don’t bother to read the credits” to Rainone as the culprits for perpetuating the myth of Warhol’s “hands-on” role in these films but what really pisses him off is the way that he believes these “moron journalists” have misattributed “his” films to veteran Italian exploitation nabob Antonio Margheriti.

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The prints of both films that were originally released in English-speaking territories (and later emerged on video in them) credited Morrissey as director. On Italian prints, though, Margheriti received the credit. Nobody actually seemed to notice this disparity until Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Film Encyclopaedia came out in 1986. Hardy’s reflection on this rum turn-up suggested that the presence of a native director at the helm was more likely to put bums on seats in each market (though in Italy it hasn’t worked this way since Ricardo Freda initiated the practice of spaghetti directors awarding themselves evermore outlandish “American sounding” names)… which still begs the question, who actually directed these movies?

Credence is lent to the Margheriti theory by the simplistic brand of Marxism peddled in Blood For Dracula, which makes a meal of the obvious parallels that can be drawn between vampirism and capitalism and sits uncomfortably with the bellicose right-wing utterances we are more used to hearing from Morrissey. There’s also a pre-echo of Margheriti’s subsequence participation (with the likes of Cannibal Apocalypse and The Last Hunter) in the explosion of graphically gory efforts in Italy during the late ’70s and early ’80s, which suggests that he would have been quiet at home among the severed limbs and unfurling intestines of the “Warhol” films…

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Admittedly Morrissey could’ve been merely lampooning gore films (as in the spoof “Exorcist” sequence in his next picture, the uproarious Pete’n’Dud vehicle Hound Of The Baskervilles, 1978) and using Marxist rhetoric ironically, although irony isn’t a trait you immediately attribute to the man who allegedly once ranted: “Trash is called Trash because the people in it are trash!” Then again, anyone who could leave so crude an actor as Joe D’Alessandro to improvise his own dialogue must have some sense of humour!

Hardy answers the big question by coming right out and identifying Margheriti as the director of these films, crediting Morrissey with “a vague ‘supervisory’ function” and adding, somewhat condescendingly, that “there is little to choose between a declining Margheriti and a Morrissey graduating into crass commercialism.”

The view that has more generally prevailed, which stands that account on its head, is summed up during Luca Palmerini’s interview with Margheriti in his excellent Spaghetti Nightmares tome: “I supervised both and on Flesh For Frankenstein I had to shoot various supplementary scenes in order to bring the film up to the standard length.”

Morrissey however has always vigorously refused to acknowledge anything but the most menial contribution by Margheriti to “his” films. He told Canadian journalist Eric Sulev that: “Producer Carlo Ponti required an entire Italian crew to be eligible for tax write-offs. Margheriti, whose sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper in Flesh For Frankenstein, was given the director’s credit by Ponti.  The Italian tax-men were not so easily fooled and these modifications led to Ponti and his wife Sophia Loren being charged with tax evasion. Ponti has not been able to live in Italy since” (and Loren served a brief stretch at The Big House in 1982- BF.)

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“Morrissey himself doesn’t hold a grudge against Margheriti…” stated Sulev “… since he was only a pawn in the matter.” Why, indeed should Morrissey hold a grudge against Margheriti when presumably he had been equally happy to go along with the whole scam?

Margheriti himself, talking to me in March 1995, recalled the arrangements for FFF in equally affable term: “It was all done on a friendly basis – I got my money, for sure, but it was an informal thing, not to be creative. Carlo needed the picture to have an Italian nationality, which was impossible with that picture… there was Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey from America, Udio Kier are from Yugoslavia (Germany, actually – BF) “… not one Italian, with the exception of me… ‘Anthony Dawson!’… but Carlo says: ‘No, I want it to be an Italian picture so I signed it for Italy and some parts of the world and Morrissey asked me if I wanted the credit as a director everywhere else too, but and I said no, that they should open the film with his name in America.”

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Unfortunately the mercurial Morrissey’s once equally benign attitude towards Margheriti didn’t last. As he told Rainone in Fangoria: “I was good-natured about it then but now all these dopey magazines are coming out and saying he directed it, after he worked one or two days on the picture. It’s criminal that this man is receiving credit for this. This loser directed hundreds of films in Italy, none of which are of any merit…” (untrue… even Margheriti’s lamest flicks are infinitely more entertaining than a dozen Trash, Bad or Heats…)

In the second Video Watchdog special, Udo Kier, who took the title roles in both movies, told David Del Valle that “the director was Paul Morrissey. Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end. Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors. Never!” In Fango he reaffirmed to Rainone that “Morrissey directed the pictures… certainly all the scenes with myself and that’s all I know.”

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There, in the last four words, lies the rub. Kier only knew that he had been directed by Morrissey but another of the Flesh For Frankenstein thesps, Nicoletta Elmi, told ace Italian genre journo Loris Curci in Fangoria # 150 that: “Antonio Margheriti was the director, although he really stepped in when the film was in the middle of production. He was the one appointed to instruct the actors and the one responsible for all of the special effects. I don’t recall ever meeting Paul Morrissey and if I did, then I just don’t remember anything about him.” Elmi has been awarded the epithets “ruby maned brat” by Travis Crawford in Giallo Pages and “Italian horror cinema’s original enigmatic kill baby” (by me, just now) but surely, Mr Morrissey, she can’t be dismissed as just another “moron journalist” from “a dopey magazine”?

Morrissey might think it “criminal” that “this man” should receive credit for directing “his” films, but in fact the rather more gentlemanly Margheriti (who invariably speaks respectfully of his American counterpart) has never claimed a sole directing credit for either of them, merely insisting – as seems eminently reasonable – that he and Morrissey each handled parts of them (as seems to be borne out by the recollections of Kier and Elmi, concerning their respective participations in these pictures.)

There’s hard, all too palpable physical evidence of Margheriti’s collaboration on Flesh For Frankenstein in the shape of Carlo Rambaldi’s pulsating heart-and-lungs prop, previously seen in Margheriti’s I Criminale Delle Galassia / The Wild, Wild Planet (1964.)

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As he told Peter Blumenstock in Video Watchdog # 28: “Those weird images, which gave the film its bizarre flavour, such as the breathing, disembodied lungs, came from me. I shot a lot of the special effects scenes with the blood and intestines bursting in the direction of the audience”, before revealing literal evidence of his, er, hand in the proceedings: “You can actually see me in Frankenstein, when the male zombie destroys himself at the end and rips his intestines out… those are my hands! I have a stiff finger which I broke when I was young, which is kind of like a signature. I prepared and staged that effect.”

Morrissey’s explanation of this (“The animal guts smelled so bad, I didn’t want to shoot them… so I left that to him”) smacks of an ill-tempered attempt to put a self-serving twist on the plain fact of Morrissey’s superiority as a technical director and FX expert.

Indeed, as Morrissey admitted to Paul Talbot in Video Watchdog # 28, presumably in an unguarded moment: “Roman Polanski told Carlo Ponti that I, for some reason, would be a natural person to make a 3-D film about Frankenstein… I thought it was the most absurd offer I could ever imagine!”

Elsewhere in that issue Margheriti explained to Peter Blumenstock that “when Paul Morrissey came to Rome to start with Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein they arrived with four pages of script and they wanted to shoot 3-D picture the way they had done with movies like Flesh with the camera standing in one corner, running for 10 minutes without a cut and that’s it… not the best idea when using a technique such as 3-D.”

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At yet another point in this issue of VW, Margheriti revealed that the 3-D process Spacevision, used in Frankenstein “caused some problems with the Technicolor” that he was required to fix. “Carlo Ponti is a real producer and he wasn’t interested in backing an underground film.” Margheriti also suggested that, bearing in mind Morrissey’s avant-garde background, “Carlo was afraid the films would be far too short to be commercial.”

All of this squares with what Margheriti told me personally, i.e. “Carlo was worried about all of these considerations so he worked a kind of blackmail me, he said: ‘Tony you make that picture in Australia we talked about? If so, you have to be with the Morrissey shoot first’.”

“The picture in Australia” to which Margheriti refers was the insufferable Hercules Against Kung Fu which Margheriti made later in 1973, rounding out a typically busy year which also saw, in his in addition to his work on the Warhol brace, the entertaining gothique giallo Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eye.

“At the beginning I was kind of a supervisor but as it went on I was doing more and more because we had to shoot a lot of sequences with special effects and I handled all those then, when he was watching the first cut of Flesh for Frankenstein, Carlo said: “… but what’s happening with the kids? You have to take care of that, Tony.”

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So I wrote a new story about the kids and later I shot all the stuff at the beginning of the picture with the spider and them playing with the hand and so on (thus Kier remembers Morrissey as director while the Elmi kid recalls Margheriti) “… we put more story in and with the two kids I had a chance to bring everything together and do more special effects.”

Contrast Margheriti’s consistent, coherent accounts of what he did with Morrissey’s varying accounts. He told Video Watchdog that “Margheriti did two second units, one day for each film”, Killbaby magazine that “his sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper” and Fango that “Margheriti worked a second unit director on Frankenstein, shooting the title sequence, the bat attack and close-ups of animal guts.”

Margheriti freely concedes that he played a minimal part in the shooting of Blood For Dracula because the measurements of its sets ruled out use of the technically difficult 3-D process and in his words to Peter Blumenstock: “That was much more organised because after Frankenstein Carlo Ponti convinced Morrissey to write a real screenplay and not just treatment. That was fun. I did some scenes with Vittorio De Sica and the ex-wife of Ruggero Deodato, Silvia Dionisio…”

I’m also loath to believe that the genial, self-deprecating moderating Margheriti (when I told him that Quentin Tarantino collected his work on video, Margheriti expressed himself mystified that anybody would want to collect “all those rubbishy movies!”) would refute the widespread notion that he had worked on a prestige production like 2001: A Space Odyssey, only to claim credits he didn’t deserve on these relatively obscure movies… in fact they are so obscure that Roman Polanski felt confident enough to recreate a parlour trick he pulls during his Blood For Dracula cameo in his own Bitter Moon.

In conclusion it would seem that Antonio Margheriti deserves a significant amount of credit for the direction of portions of Flesh For Frankenstein and somewhat less for Blood For Dracula. Stick that in your gallbladder and.. well, you know what to do with it, Mr Morrissey!

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