Posts Tagged With: Gore

I Really Hate Your Tiger Feet… BLACKENSTEIN Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“To Stop This Mutha Takes One Bad Brutha!”

One of the standby narrative tropes of Blacksploitation (see also Fred Williamson‘s Mean Johnny Barrows, 1975) is the black Vietnam Vet who gets welcomed back States-side with a big “fuck you very much!”, invariably fouling foul of gangs and / or The Man while trying to piece his life together. Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue) has it worse than most. Losing all his limbs to one of Charlie’s land mines, he’s now trapped in a crappy Veterans’ hospital where one of the male nurses (John Dennis) taunts and mistreats him. On the plus side, his loyal and foxy fiancée, Doctor Winifred Walker (one shot film actress Ivory Stone) works for Doctor Stein (TV’s former Lone Ranger, John Hart) who’s just won a Nobel Prize for “solving the DNA code” (methinks he’d totally clean up if they ever held a Dick Van Dyke lookalike competition, too) and he agrees to take Eddie on for experimental treatment in his plush LA mansion, which boasts a basement lab fitted out with props from James Whale’s original Frankenstein (1931)… more Van Der Graaf Generator than in Fabio Frizzi’s record collection!

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Before he gets carried away with optimism, though, Eddie might care to consider the, er,  mixed results of the Doc’s treatments so far. There’s a 90-year-old woman who now looks several decades younger than she should but will crumble like Christopher Lee at the first rays of dawn if she doesn’t top up her injections every twelve hours… and what about Bruno, who due to “unresolved RNA issues” seems to have grown a tiger leg? Nevertheless, Eddie’s limb transplants seem to be going well until Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson)… yes, Malcomb (why didn’t they just call him Ygor and get it over with?) makes a move on Dr Winifred and is firmly rebuffed. Figuring that she’ll fall into his arms if Eddie’s don’t take, Malcomb switches his all-important DNA injections with Bruno’s (I particularly cherish the scene where Winifred sniffs the bottles of DNA suspiciously, suggesting that each batch bears its own distinctive bouquet…)

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You’re probably suspecting that Eddie grows a tiger leg like Bruno’s but no, nothing so ridiculous… instead, he develops a bad case of acromegaly and (his head swelling into a reasonable approximation of Jack Pierce’s iconic make up job on Boris Karloff) becomes… Blackenstein! He also sets off out on a bloody kill spree. Now, I can understand the poetic justice of pulling his former nurse’s arm off (above) but after that our boy seems to pick his victims (whom he mostly disembowels) pretty much at random. He does display a certain penchant for “courting couples”, among whom we find the legendary Liz Renay, though my favourite victim is Beverley Haggerty as one half of “couple in car”.

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She abandons said car after a particularly lame make out attempt by her date, to wit:

Him: “You’ve got beautiful hair!”

Her: “I know I’ve got beautiful hair!”

Him: “Are you proud of it?”

(Taking notes there, boys?)

Blackenstein returns to the hospital to find Malcomb forcing himself on Winifred and soon makes him wish he hadn’t. As Dr Stein’s lab goes up in flames, Blackenstein can’t bring himself to kill Winifred and the Dobermanns of the LA County Canine Corps roll up to pull him limb-from-recently acquired-limb for an abrupt and anti-climactic ending, though trash movie fans will surely have enjoyed their fill by this point.

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On this disc Severin serve up both the 78 minute theatrical release and the extended video version which clocks in at 87, with the extra footage scattered throughout it clearly having been sourced from lower grade elements. Narratively, it might well have made more sense for cinema distributors looking to fit this one more comfortably into a double bill to have just excised the padding of the nightclub scene, though admittedly Cardella Di Milo (geddit?) sings pretty well and MC Andy C tells a couple of good jokes. One of the most keenly felt omissions in the theatrical cut is that of John Dennis’s apologia for his rotten behaviour, in which he deplores “the Patriotism scam”.

Although Blackenstein was directed by William “The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington” Levey, the bonus materials concentrate, understandably, on the eccentric life and violent, unsolved death of its flamboyant, polymath writer / producer Frank R. Saletri. His sister, June Kirk, gives a touching interview to David Gregory and we also get the reminiscences of Saletri collaborators Ken Osborne And Robert Dix. An audio interview with creature designer Bill Munns and theatrical trailer round things off nicely.

Another corking release,  Severin dudes… are you proud of it?

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Bringing Up Baby… ABSURD, ANTHROPOPHAGOUS Antics On Severin BD.

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Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast (1980) and Absurd (1981).

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“Respectable” journalists and media outlets seem to spend most of their time, these days, angsting about “fake news” and its potentially pernicious effects on gullible schmoes like you… which is pretty ripe considering the constant stream of bullshit these jokers have themselves been pumping out at us over so many years. UK readers of a certain age might well recall tuning into News At Ten during the early 1980s only to find themselves being leered at by Luigi Montefiori as he stuffed his hand up a pregnant lady’s skirt, pulled out a skinned rabbit and started chowing down on it. This, we were earnestly informed by the stern-faced newsreader, was “a scene from a snuff movie”! Get a fucking brain, pal…

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“Video  Nasties” hysteria has, fortunately, abated to the point where that alleged foetus-eating feast, Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast (1980), is (alongside most of the other “nasties” on the DPP’s dreaded list) readily available and uncut on the shelves of legitimate retail outlets over the full length and breadth of these sceptred isles. 88 Films released it here on Blu-ray in 2015, rapidly followed by a “remastered special edition” boasting a previously deleted scene. Unwilling to splash out more of the readies to witness what might, for all I know, amount to no more than six seconds of Mr Montefiori walking across a beach, gurning, I’m unfamiliar with that edition.

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What I am clutching in my sweaty little hands though is a Severin box set comprising their releases of Anthropophagous and its sort of sequel, the following year’s Absurd. The original film, as you’re probably already only too well aware, alternates passages of unrelenting tedium (as an ill-matched party of tourists wander around the Greek islands waiting for something to happen… then wish it hadn’t) with sporadic outbursts of ultra-violent, inventively gory action every time our heroes (Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, “Vanessa Steiger” / Serena Grandi, et al) cross paths with hulking cannibal Klaus Wortmann (or Nikos Karamanlis, depending on which print you’re watching), who got the taste for human flesh after several days adrift on an open boat obliged him to eat his wife and child. Less, er, visionary Horror directors than D’Amato would have contented themselves with that, the foetus eating and a rather grisly scalping, but Joe could always be relied on to go that extra exploitive mile and Mr Beast tops all of it (and arguably anything else in the truly wild annals of Italian splatter cinema) at the climax of this picture… disembowelled with a pick-axe, he pulls out yards of his unravelling intestines and (still gurning madly) starts stuffing his face with them.

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Severin have commemorated this unforgettable (try as you might) movie milestone in the plush doll pictured above and a host of other man-eating merch available on their website.

While much of Marcello Giombini’s synth OST still sounds (appropriately enough, perhaps) like an acute attack of IBS, Severin’s 2k scan from the original 16mm negative will come as a revelation to anyone who’s heard about Uncle Joe’s reputation as a DP but suffered previous VHD and DVD editions. Don’t get me wrong (we’re not talking Days Of fucking Heaven, here) but relative to those, the cinematography (officially credited to Enrico Biribicchi, which might or might not be yet another D’Amato alias) is pretty good.

A predictable profusion of bonus interviews are chock full of hot gossip from the inner circle of pasta splateratti. Monterfiori rates Anthropophagous as”shit” and who’s going to argue with the big guy? In fact he rewrote the script only on condition that he wouldn’t be “credited” for having done so and attributes the film’s cult success to the fact that “there are a lot of weirdos out there” (guilty as charged, eh readers?)

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Everybody agrees that working on a D’Amato set was always a laugh riot (FX man Pietro Tenoglio recalls a lot of bantering back and forth during the scene that freaked out our man at News At Ten) and nobody has a bad word to say about Tisa Farrow. Zora Kerova (looking fab, despite her countless cinematic tribulations) disputes the oft-repeated story about Farrow having one eye and gives us the lowdown on who was romancing whom. Several interviewees comment on the emergence of Margaret Mazzantini as one of Italy’s leading literary figures… who could have extrapolated that from her show stopping turn in Anthropophagous (above), jumping out of a barrel clutching a big knife, arm pit hair akimbo?!? Editor Bruno Micheli recalls how the cutting of  D’Amato’s films devolved to him because his sister jumped ship when Joe started steering a porno course and Saverio Vallone finally gets the credit he deserves for skewering Montefiori’s duodenum on that pick axe.

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Whatever guts Montefiori’s character still packed after Anthrophophagous are unpacked on a spiky railing at the commencement of the aptly named Absurd, when he’s attempting to evade Edmund Purdom’s obsessive priest (“I serve God with biochemistry rather than ritual”). Needless to say, this doesn’t cramp his style re menacing a houseload of children (Katya and Kasimir Berger… yes, they’re William Berger’s kids) and their baby sitter (Annie Belle). John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) seems as salient an antecedent here as Anthropophagous and Montefiori’s monstrous dude (boasting a much clearer complexion last time out) doesn’t actually eat anybody (he even resists the urge to consume his own intestines when they put in their inevitable appearance) though he does hang Michele Soavi’s juvenile delinquent upside down from a tree, bake Ms Belle’s bonce in an oven and penetrate the heads of various other dudes with axes, black’n’deckers and bandsaws. This predisposition towards the ol’ ultraviolence is on account of a genetic mutation (a scientifically induced one, the script darkly hints) that also, as (bad) luck would have it, renders him virtually indestructible. Katya Berger, who spends most of the film screwed to some fiendish orthopedic device, ultimately rises from it (begging certain obvious questions that D’Amato clearly couldn’t be arsed to answer) and proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that when it comes to challenging the alleged indestructibility of hulking home invaders, eye pokings and decapitation trump biochemistry every time!

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Extras on the Absurd disc include the alternative Italian cut (as Rosso Sangue), with optional English subtitles and a trailer. You’ve possibly also seen the interviews with Michel Soavi and Joe D’Amato on other releases. In the latter, the genial director explains yet again (possibly for the benefit of News At 10 journalists) that he never actually killed anyone in any of his films, i.e. that there are these things called “special effects” (even if they’re not always all that special). Montefiori talks some more about his working relationship and friendship with D’Amato and of his often anonymous work as a script doctor (well, despite his best efforts, the scripts often died on their ass!) Evaluating the development of his Klaus over the two films, he sagely offers: “My character doesn’t have any lines… he just rasps and whines!” Indeed.

My copy came with the limited edition accompanying soundtrack CD but there was no sign of the T-shirt. Still, bloggers can’t be choosers… and anyway, I could never carry it off as jauntily as Darrell Buxton does.

With this / these release/s the Severin boys strike another retrospective blow against the “nasty” witch hunters who contrived to spoil their fun in the 1980s… and you’ve gotta love ’em for it!

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“Bong!”

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The Gates Of Delirium… Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD on 4k.

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Ol’ Purple Eyes is back…

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

City Of The Living Dead (1980), initiating Lucio Fulci’s celebrated “Gates Of Hell trilogy”, was only his second Horror film and clearly evidences the crash course in H.P. Lovecraft recommended to him by co-writer Dardanno Sachetti after their collaboration on that unexpected international box office champ, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979).

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Evil New England clergyman Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself in a Dunwich cemetery, thereby opening the very Gates of Hell (the initial manifestation of which is a bunch of grungey zombies clawing their way out of their graves). All of this is witnessed by psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) during a drug crazed seance in New York City, resulting in convulsions and her apparent death. Presiding medium The Great Theresa (Adelaide Asti), an authority on The Book Of Enoch, warns the investigating cops that “at this very precise moment, in some other distant place, horrendously awful things are happening… things that would shatter your imagination!” 

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After Mary’s been rescued from living internment by bibulous hack reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George), they set off for Dunwich, intent on closing those Gates Of Hell before All Saints Day, when Hell’s dominion over the Earth will be irreversibly completed. Hooking up with Dunwich psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren), they learn that Theresa wasn’t bullshitting about those “horrendously awful” things, principle among which are the gruesome demises of genre icons Daniela Doria (who vomits up her entire gastro-intestinal tract), Michele Soavi (skull ripped off) and (as misunderstood vagrant sex-case Bob) John Morghen, who gets treated to an impromptu spot of amateur brain surgery by a red neck vigilante. Penetrating the bowels of Dunwich cemetery (and indeed of Father Thomas himself), the surviving protagonists Mary and Gerry save the day… or do they? Your guess is as good as mine, on the strength of COTLD’s proverbially baffling conclusion.

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This film has already appeared in so many editions (several from Arrow alone) that the above synopsis is probably superfluous, though one entertains the hope that it might galvanise some new viewer, in some other distant place, into connecting with the imaginationshattering milieu of Lucio Fulci, much as Alan Jones’ accounts of these films in Starburst magazine galvanised Your Truly, oh so many years ago. What’s important these days, I guess, with each successive reissue, is the quality of both the film transfer and any supplementary materials. Subjecting the negative of a 1980 film to 4k scanning, while shedding further, er, light on the subtleties of DP Sergio Salavati’s handiwork, is arguably an upgrade too far in terms of ramping up screen grain... you pays your twenty quid and you takes your choice. Sound wise, we’re offered the usual language alternatives and a 5.1 option… Arrow’s previous steel box edition offered 7.1 but I’m not certain that my home set up (nor those of most people) extracted any discernible benefit from that anyway… suffice to say Fabio Frizzi’s celebrated score fair throbs from the speakers this time out.

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The pizza girl’s here…

It’s the sheer breadth and depth of its extras that ultimately promote this City Of The Living Dead from a debatable purchase to an indispensable one. You’ll already be familiar with some of those… audio commentaries from Catriona MacColl and John Morghen (the latter moderated by Calum Waddell) and Waddell’s video interview with Carlo De Mejo… from previous editions. The disc is creaking with a veritable cemetery load of cracking new stuff, though… Stephen Thrower’s take on these films is always worth listening to and here he challenges the received wisdom that Fulci couldn’t get a gig after the success of Zombie Flesh Eaters (what’s indisputable is that producer Fabrizio De Angelis was slow to see the possibilities and continued to think small even after he did reconvene with Fulci). For once Thrower’s presentation, as diligently researched and passionately felt as ever, takes a back seat, given the wealth of primary sources testifying on this set. Among the most compelling is a lengthy new interview with Dardano Sacchetti, in which the irascible writer pursues his familiar theme of De Angelis’ short-sightedness while throwing out all manner of interesting insights re what was going on behind the scenes. Never one to hold back on his opinions, it would seem that Signor Sacchetti is not the biggest fan of Catriona MacColl. 

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“Oui, whatever…”

MacColl herself is duly interviewed, sounding a lot more French than I remember from my own encounter with her (then again that was nearly 25 years ago and she’s spent the intervening quarter Century living in Paris)… interesting  to hear that when she wasn’t being buried alive and showered with maggots, Catriona was required to dub and scream over multiple takes of the same shots, prior to the definitive editorial decisions being taken. 

Camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati talks, among other things, about the difficulties of making sunny Savannah, Georgia look like an autumnal New England location, neatly illustrated by his private “behind the scenes” 8mm footage, for which he also supplies an audio commentary. Production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng also talks about “the Savannah problem” and his own difficulties breaking the ice with Fulci, after having been parachuted in by producers Medusa over the director’s original pick, Massimo Lentini. Fulci’s misgivings were predictably assuaged by Geleng’s amazing work on this picture.

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Cinematographer Sergio Salvati clearly loved Fulci but acknowledges and regrets the director’s sadistic treatment of some of his actresses… also his overuse of the zoom lens. As an unexpected bonus, Salvati supplies some fascinating incidental revelations about how The Beyond’s stunning denouement was contrived, against all the odds, in the face of producer De Angelis’s constant budget cutting.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice / John Morghen (these days sporting a beard of Biblical proportions) reiterates that he never had any problems with Fulci but confesses that he’s never been able to watch Daniela Doria’death scene all the way throughGino “Bombardon” De Rossi talks us through that and several other of his gory FX tours de force for City Of The Living Dead et al. He also mentions the prank played on Fulci, referenced by several of the participants in these featurettes, by which maggots were placed in the ol’ goremeister’s pipe. De Rossi initially got the blame for this, but turns out the culprit was actually Christopher George, who obviously figured that one good maggotty turn deserved another.

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Father and son acting team Venantino and Luca (“Jon Jon”) Venantini recall their experiences on the picture, which have become somewhat sanitised in the telling, compared to the version they offered in Mike Baronas’ documentary Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered. Venantino, clearly still very much a character in his late ’80s, now resembles an over-baked spud. Luca’s obvious love and concern for his dad make for touching viewing. There’s also a previously unseen interview with Fulci’s go-to OST man Fabio Frizzi, who suggests that Fulci’s personal sufferings made him a person of substance.

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Fulci fan boy Andy (Ghost Stories) Nyman, though obviously not a member of the inner circle, recounts his encounters with Giannetto De Rossi and Richard Johnson in appropriately enthusiastic style and the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger contributes another of these here video essays, concerning Fulci and his seminal role in the busy Italian zombie cycle.

Among the more predictable extras are the alternative US “Gates of Hell” credits sequence and assorted trailers and radio spots. The extensive image gallery features over 150 stills, posters and other ephemera from the FAB Press and Mike Siegel archives. You also get reversible sleeve options (choose between Charles Hamm and pals in all their original glory and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter), a double-sided fold-out poster and 6 lobby card reproductions. As usual we HOF drones haven’t set eyes on that stuff yet, nor the limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford and Roberto Curti, an archival interview with Fulci and contemporary reviews.

Just make sure you grab your copy before All Saints Day, or there’ll be Hell to pay…

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Where Is Thy Sting? ZOMBI 4 On Severin Blu-Ray.

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BD/CD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“If you want to open the door to Hell today, these four words you must say…”

“Why are you stopping at the best part?”

The Fulci / Mattei / Fragasso Zombi 3 (1988), recently reviewed in these pages, wasn’t the only Latin living dead epic laying claim to that title… Andrea Bianchi’s astonishing Burial Ground / Zombi Terror / Nights Of Terror (1981) got there first and Jorge Grau’s even more prodigiously multi-titled Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974) was at one point, via some inscrutable worm hole in the space / time continuum, deemed to be a sequel to a George Romero film made five years after it. Romero was presumably happy enough with his own “Dead” series and anyway, Dawn Of The Dead co-producer Dario Argento’s attempts to quell the flow of ersatz sequels fell at the first legal hurdle, with Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979). Thereafter Fulci’s participation in the Guadenzi-produced Zombi 3 granted that film and its successors some kind of “official bootleg series” imprimatur, right up to Claudio Lattanzi’s Killing Birds (1987) being rechristened Zombi 5. Thankfully, we’re not concerned with the last-named clinker this time out, turning our attention instead to Fragasso’s Zombi 4, originally released (in 1989 according to IMDB, though this is disputed) as After Death (“Oltre La Morte”).

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For this one Fragasso, again masquerading as “Clyde Anderson”, was back in the Philippines with a specific brief to come up with something that might recoup the losses that producer Franco Guadenzi had sustained on Zombi 3. Already disenchanted with his experiences on that one and 1980’s Zombie Creeping Flesh / Virus (which he had conceived as a reworking of Dante’s Divine Comedy, only for it to turn out more like a feature-length, gored-up episode of The Goon Show), he was desperate to finally put his stamp on the zombie genre but inevitably came up against the usual under-resourcing (with only acrobatic Filipino extras and psychotropic banana liqueur in plentiful supply). His access to cameras (and indeed, DP Luigi Ciccarese) was restricted to night time because Bruno Mattei was using them to shoot one of his Strike Commando movies during the daylight hours. History predictably promptly repeated itself and Fragasso concluded principal photography with a Zombi 4 that was, like its predecessor, significantly short of feature length.

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The sore thumb prologue that was subsequently shot on an Elios studio soundstage is successful at bumping up the film’s running length to respectable proportions, less so at explaining WTF is going on and why. It involves a team of Western cancer specialists (naturally turned out in military fatigues and armed to the teeth) confronting a voodoo priest who has just conducted a black magic ritual that climaxed with his wife being sucked down into to Hell. The boffins are here to provide a rationalist, humanitarian alternative to such superstitious practices, so naturally their enlightened response is to blow the voodoo dude away with blazing machine guns. He’s already threatened to “persecute you after my death… I’ll come looking for you, to feed on your intestines!” and he wastes no time making good on his promise. His wife also pops back up from Hell, made up exactly like one of Lamberto Bava’s Demons and spitting green goo with great gusto… clear so far?

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If this outlandish, spastically directed introduction suggests that Fragasso had gone native, imbibing the heady influence of Philippine and Indonesian indigenous horror product (H Tjut Djali’s Mystics in Bali from 1981 springs to mind), as soon as every cemetery on the island has disgorged hordes of shrouded, bloodthirsty zombies the subsequent narrative settles into a series of more familiar tropes… “The dead will feed on the living”… “It’s not Tommy, he’s one of them, now”… all present and correct. We get the zombies warded off with a wall of fire, the crazed military man who loses it and jumps into the midst of the living dead, the little blonde girl who survives the opening massacre…with the novel twist that this one doesn’t turn up in the jungle twenty years later as the glamorous queen of the tribe that has adopted her: this one turns up (in the passable form of Candice Daly) twenty years later, returning to the jungle to discover what happened to mom and dad. Why she’s accompanied by a couple of Miami Vice refugees and a boatload of Vietnam vets-turned-mercenaries (including the immortal Nick Nicholson from Apocalypse Now and Platoon, looking like Al Cliver’s less couth kid brother) is something that larger brains than mine are going to have to figure out… ditto, why gay porn icon Jeff Stryker (billed here, marginally more believably, as Chuck Peyton) is wandering around equally aimlessly in the jungle with Massimo Vanni and some bird.

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“It’s not Tommy… he’s one of them now!

There are incidental laughs to be had from an arcane “Book of the Dead” that was clearly knocked up by the props department about two minutes before it appears on screen, and a “Third Gateway to Hell” (ulp!) which is rendered by the budget-scrimping spectacle of several while candles arranged in a circle (dunno about you, but I’m shitting myself…) The film’s pulsating AOR score (which was included in my copy as a bonus disc) is supplied by Al Festa of Fatal Frames infamy and dear old Al could himself conceivably have played a part in Zombi 4’s hysterical “climax”, in which Daly sacrifices herself (apparently by pulling out much of her hair and one of her eyeballs) to stem the rising tide of undead, while Peyton / Stryker is ravished by some voodoo dude’s fist…

Jeff's Action Figure.jpgChuck / Jeff (who apparently secured this role on account of actor-turned-casting director Werner Pochath’s infatuation with him) gets his say in the extras and comes across as a very likeable bloke, still optimistic about getting a mainstream break (“I’m still breathing, I’ve still got a shot!”) Good for him. In the meantime, he poses with his anatomically correct action figure (shown in modestly clothed mode, above) and reflects sadly on the premature death, via homicide, of his co-star Candice Daly. She’s commemorated in her own micro-interview slot and you also get some “making of” footage.

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Severin’s BD transfer looks every bit as good as we’ve come to expect and rounding out the extras, Fragasso and his work / life partner Rossella Drudi argue that screen zombies represent the growing immigrant / refugee underclass (well, maybe…) and – more compellingly – that the “fast moving zombie” furrow that has been so lucratively harvested by The Living Dead et al was originally ploughed by them and Umberto Lenzi… whom they eventually concede did it first, in 1980, with Nightmare City.

In certain markets, Nightmare City has been roped into alternatively numbered “Zombi” sequences along with the likes of Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous and Absurd, Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust, Tonino Ricci’s piss-awful Panic, and even Jess Franco’s Virgin Among The Living Dead and Revenge In The House Of Usher….

… and still they keep on coming.

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Nature, Pink In Tooth And Claw? CANNIBAL FEROX On Shameless Blu-Ray

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Yes Johnny, he gets off on ecology,

BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

In the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who’s unfamiliar with the “plot” of Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981)… Lorraine De Selle, Zora Kerova and some bloke head into deepest Colombia in search of  evidence to support De Selle’s  academic thesis that Third World cannibalism is “bat shit”… i.e. fake news, disseminated to further the agenda of wicked western corporations and ideologically unsound imperialists. The following hour and a half establishes pretty conclusively just how wrong she was on this score, but the film ends – SPOILER ALERT! – with her safely back in the Groves of Academe, presenting her thesis as proven, having decided that the locals were driven to avenge themselves on “Naughty Mike” (as Giovanni Lombardo Radice refers to his character), who came to the Amazon basin on his own search for emeralds and cocaine and, having overindulged in the latter, tortured and killed the natives in an effort to find those elusive gems.

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The most notorious Gino De Rossi special effect in this former “video nasty” reminds me of a very non-PC joke about two hippy chicks… though I couldn’t possibly repeat it in polite company. Women being strung up by hooks through their breasts… a native having his eye prised out with a knife… sexualised violence… a woman being kicked in the head… disembowelment… cannibalism… the machete amputation of John Morghen’s penis (then hand) and the slicing open of his skull so that natives can feast on his coke-crazed brain… all of this was removed from Replay’s “soft” VHS version, to which the BBFC awarded an unofficial ’18’ certificate in September 1982 (which proved to be a pretty pointless exercise for all concerned, as both versions subsequently ended up on the dreaded “nasties” list). The BBFC take a relatively relaxed view of such simulated splatter shenanigans these days but there is, of course, another outstanding issue with Ferox and its cannibal kin…

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Animal wise, the “soft” version forfeited such Mondoesque moments as the dismemberment of a live turtle, snakes eating and attacking coatis and lizards, a monkey falling foul of a hungry jaguar, natives gutting and eating a crocodile and most of the scene in which Morghen’s character, a propos of nothing in particular, stabs a small pig to death. “Do you get off on ecology, huh, twat?” he asks Lorraine De Selle when she censures him for this gratuitous act of butchery. Well yes, she did… and as we have seen, the BBFC entertain serious reservations about such conduct, too. By 2001 the Board were certifying all manner of ex-“nasties” and other betes noirs of the departed James Ferman’s tenure, but before Vipco got the nod for a VHS / DVD release they were required to make an additional excision to the animal violence, i.e. “six seconds of a tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep”.

The BBFC are legally obliged to take account of The Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937 and the Animal Welfare Act (2006) but in the intervening years there’s been serious disquiet about the content of Italian cannibal films, even among hardened gore hounds and much dispute on social media forums about ethical vs authentic versions of them.

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Make them die within the provisions of the Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937…

And so, following in the wake of such recent Shameless releases as Ruggero Deodato’s “preferred” version of Cannibal Holocaust and what Sergio Martino describes as an “improved” Mountain (formerly Prisoner) Of The Cannibal God, here comes Cannibal Ferox redux. While Deodato and Martino seem to entertain genuine misgivings about some of the things they’d gotten up to half a lifetime previously in South East Asia and up The Amazon, you suspect Lenzi didn’t really give a monkey’s cranium for animal rights, happily agreeing to anything that would squeeze a few more dollars out of a film that, it’s common knowledge, he despised.

So, what’s in and what’s out? Natives chewing on butterflies and live larvae are here, because the relevant legislation only applies to vertebrates. Ditto the skewering and stamping on of spiders. Because “quick clean kills” are not legally prohibited, you get the decapitation of a turtle that the natives are preparing for supper and the BBFC have deemed the thrashing around of what’s left of the unfortunate critter to be “a post mortem nervous reaction, akin to a headless chicken running around a farmyard”… and equally revolting. There still seem to be shots of that “tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep” and although the subsequent scene of said Coati being attacked by a large snake has been re-cut to eliminate the actual kill (remaining footage runs in slo-mo to maintain the film’s 93 minute running time) you still see its desperate attempts to avoid capture, which is pretty distressing stuff. There are further abridgements to a jaguar killing and dragging a monkey off into the foliage, natives gutting a small crocodile and the notorious pig stabbing scene in which Signor Radice / Morghen refused to participate. A clumsily contrived and totally gratuitous snake / lizard fight-to-the-death has completely gone, the narrative proceeding at this point straight to Johnny’s big seduction scene (“I had you nailed down the minute I saw you…”, etc) with Zora Kerova.

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So there you have it. A Cannibal Ferox that’s sufficiently compliant with the law to piss off completists but is still unlikely to persuade Morrissey to trade in his A Taste Of Honey DVD to get a copy…. this might prove to be one of Shameless’s most divisive releases yet.

Extras-wise, Lenzi and a heavily bearded Lombardo Radice continue their war of words from beyond the grave… Lenzi’s, anyway (his interview here is possibly the last one he ever recorded). A comparison feature shows how much better the 2K scan of Ferox’s 16mm negative looked after colour correction. The results are pretty grainy but Shameless argue, with some justification, that this is better looking and more authentic than certain other releases, with their “blingy shimmer” of Digital Noise Reduction. Whatever, if you pre-order this one (and there’s still time to do so as I post this) you get a barf bag into the bargain, all the better to turn you lounge into a 42nd Street grind house for an hour-and-a-half… but no monkey spanking, OK?

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“What cannibalism?”

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DEATH Winks At Weirdness And SMILES ON A MURDERER… Joe D’Amato’s Gory Gothic Folly Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Arrow. 15.

Life certainly smiled on Joe D’Amato (b. 15.12.36), a man who spent most of it consummating his love for Cinema, cranking out literally hundreds of movies in various genres and of varying merit, under scores of pseudonyms, travelling the world and disregarding the strictures of censors, taste makers and film snobs alike, doing just as he pleased, before checking out under what were apparently “A1” circumstances on 23.01.99. “He wanted to shock and entertain and he spent a life time doing just that”, as Kat Ellinger has it in a 22 minute video essay that appears among the supplementary materials on this must-have Arrow release.

Sure, he died young(ish)… if he’d continued another for twenty (or even ten) years, D’Amato would have racked up a tally of credits that must surely have stood as an insurmountable world record, making even the indefatigable Jesus Franco (the director with whom he is most frequently compared) look like a feckless slacker. Joe packed more into his 62 years than most of us could manage in several incarnations and loved every minute of it. As I discovered when I was privileged to breakfast with him in October 1995, he was a larger than life, joyous and thoroughly charming bloke. It’s a cliché, which I’m as guilty as anyone else of overusing, but the world really is a significantly duller place without Joe D’Amato.

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Although he’d already shot several films for other directors (notably Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange? in 1972) under his given name of Arisitide Massaccesi and directed or co-directed a bunch of spaghetti westerns and Luigi Batzella’s The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) anonymously, plus More Sexy Canterbury Tales (his directorial debut in ’72) as “Romano Gastaldi” and Diary Of A Roman Virgin (1973) under the soon-to-be-legendary D’Amato brand, it was not until the same yea’s La Morte Ha Sorriso All’Assassino, the film under consideration here, that our man (previously keen not to queer his DP pitch) signed off a film he’d directed under the name by which his Mama knew him.

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Proudly announcing his arrival as a for real director, artful Aristide packs Death Smiles On A Murderer with mannered visual tricks, deploying fish eye lenses, slow motion, enigmatic cutting, extreme close-ups and vertigo-inducing repetitious zooms… it’s as though he’s trying to remind us that he once served as Godard’s assistant on Le Mépris (1963), though the results bear more comparison with the works of the aforementioned Senor Franco, a comparison underlined by the presence of Klaus Kinski (fresh from Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath Of God), improvising manfully with flasks and bunsen burners while D’Amato furiously attempts to figures out how to fit him into the narrative before time runs out and Kinski’s off to whore himself in some other atrocity…

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… did I say “narrative“? Well frankly, precious little of that emerges from this succession of odd directorial flourishes. Tim Lucas opines on his commentary track that DSOAM is more of a poem than a narrative. It’s worth noting that Mario Bava made his most baffling picture and one of Lucas’s favourites, Lisa In The Devil, in the same year… there was definitely something in the air – or the drinking water – in Rome during 1973. Lucas makes a good fist of trying to explain what’s going on but is often reduced to describing things that you’ve just seen happen. Various people on IMDB have attempted to come up with a synopsis for DSOAM, if you check out some of these attempts it might spare you the effort of watching it ten times over before you get some kind of inkling. One finds oneself sympathising with Attilio Dotessio’s Inspector Dannick when he confesses: “I begin to doubt that I’ll ever solve this mystery… it just doesn’t add up!”

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For what it’s worth, here’s what I managed to figure out. In some ill-defined “period” setting, Franz von Holstein (perennial Italian screen lowlife Luciano Rossi) rapes his sister Greta (the bum-chinned Ewa Aulin from Candy) which she regards, rather worryingly, as the commencement of a love affair. She subsequently strays, however, from the fraternal bed and into the arms of local toff Dr von Ravensbrück (perennial Italian screen smoothie Giacomo Rossi Stuart). Blaming the von Ravensbrücks for his sister / lover’s subsequent demise, Franz re-animates her with the aid of an Ancient Incan incantation (as you do) and sends her back to the Ravensbrücks’ country pile to seduce various members of the family before revealing her true, rotting corpse’s face (cueing a grand mal-inducing flurry of zoom shots) and killing them.

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Kinski’s Dr Sturges figures out what is going on (by inserting a needle into the unflinching eye of Greta) and subsequently manages to reanimate a corpse of his own with the aid of that incantation, only to be bumped off by unknown hands. Murderous mission accomplished, Greta returns to Franz but their loving reunion doesn’t go to plan – Greta throws a cat into his face, initiating a seemingly endless scene in which the moggy rends his flesh and gouges his eyes out, a scene described by Lucas as “beyond taste and terror”…

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… a description which might just as well serve for the whole picture. So what’s it all about, Aristide? When I interviewed the director he told me that he “was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film” rather than getting hung up on narrative coherence, also that the casting of Klaus Kinski was instrumental in achieving his desired effect.“For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him… because he was crazy!” Indeed… and a succession of post-mortem revelations continue to suggest that this craziness was a) genuine and b) sometimes manifested itself in repulsive ways.

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D’Amato’s success in achieving that “certain atmosphere” visually, complimented by Berto Pisano’s score (enthralling in its own sub-Morricone kind of way) effortlessly anticipates the subsequent delirium of D’Amato’s  Beyond The Darkness… in other words, you need this one in your collection, dear reader.

Additional extras include interview material briefly excerpted from Roger Fratter’s documentary Joe D’Amato – Totally Uncut, in which JDA talks some more about working with Kinsky and expresses sadness on hearing that Luciano Rossi had become a street person, in and out of institutions (indeed, he was dead with in six years of D’Amato)… also a recently filmed, career-spanning interview with Ewa Aulin, who speaks fluent Italian and these days looks like a librarian or a headmistress.

The first pressing of this edition apparently includes new writing on the film by Stephen Thrower and Roberto Curti… not that we humble horror hacks ever get to see any of that stuff.

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Drill Dos And Drill Dont’s… Umberto Lenzi’s SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS Reviewed

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DVD. Shriek Show / Media Blasters. Region 1. Unrated. Out Of Print.

Fashion designer Mario Gerosa (Antonio  Sabato) and his new bride Giulia (Uschi Glas) find their honeymoon bliss interrupted by an inconsiderate serial killer who, clad in the regulation black gloves and clothes, is working his way through all of the women that stayed at a holiday resort on a certain date… a list which includes Giulia. The other women on it are dispatched in various ways (strangled, bludgeoned, drowned, drilled, etc) but all of the victims have one more thing in common. Each of them is found clutching a piece of jewellery in the shape of a silver half-moon. When an attempt is made on Giulia’s life, Mario takes up the mantle of amateur sleuth…

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Released as Das Rätsel Des Silbernen Halbmonds (“The Riddle Of The Silver Half Moons”) in West Germany, this 1972 thriller from Umberto Lenzi is a fascinating film for anybody who’s interested in the way that country’s “krimi” cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations shaded off into the Italian giallo. Towards the end of the ’60s, Rialto tried to revive their long-running but fast-flagging Wallace series with Italian co-productions but the first fruit of this arrangement, Riccardo Freda’s Double Face (1969), flopped. No further entries were attempted for a couple of years and by the time this film and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange (also 1972) completed Rialto’s run, Dario Argento had scored an international crossover hit with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970… itself spuriously passed off in Germany as an adaptation of a novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace, Edgar’s son and literary executor) and the pasta men were very much in the ascendancy. Owing more to the sadism of Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964) and Argento’s aforementioned debut, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (the alternative title deriving from something Sabato finds on the grave of somebody he’d previously regarded as chief suspect) is a million miles removed from the Sunday afternoon gentility of the krimi, Lenzi throwing in oodles of gratuitous nudity and fearlessly tackling the contemporary drugs scene… fearlessly and rather recklessly (at one point a hippy dude beseeches Sabato to stop interrogating his friend, who is undergoing “a bad trip” on account of some heroin he’s just injected)… what would Eddi Arent have said?

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Torn between two traditions (one of them, admittedly, only recently established) and officially adapted by Lenzi and frequent Fulci collaborator Roberto Gianviti from an obscure Wallace yarn, SBO / TROTSHM owes at least as much to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous In Black and veteran spaghetti exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti also had an uncredited hand in its concoction. One could be forgiven for expecting a bit of a dog’s dinner but Lenzi, who already had something like thirty directorial credits under his belt at this point, keeps the story rattling along in involving fashion and mounts the brutal kill scenes with characteristically gleeful gusto (he would subsequently prove perfectly capable of phoning ’em in… witness the extraordinary mess that is Eyeball, 1975).

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Although his male cast ranges from workmanlike (Pier Paolo Capponi as Inspector Vismara) to (just about) acceptable (Sabato), Lenzi is superbly served by a very strong female cast, though he’s happy to kill off giallo icon Marina Malfatti (The Fourth Victim, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, All The Colours Of The Dark) within minutes of introducing her character. Perhaps he saw her as the film’s “Marion Crane” character?

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Marisa Mell also gets bumped off in pretty short order (with a handy-dandy power drill, during a scene to which Brian De Palma pays the sincerest form of flattery in Body Double, 1984) but plays twins in this one so at least we get to see more of the gorgeous Ms Mell. Uschi Glas (who, like Mell, had previous krimi form) is an appealing and perky heroine with a pleasing penchant for sexy / ludicrous early ’70s outfits

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On the minus side, Riz Ortolani’s “original soundtrack” lazily recycles themes already familiar from Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse and Lucio Fulci’s One On Top Of Another aka Perversion Story (both 1969). Bonus materials include a brief interview with Lenzi, in which he angrily dismisses accusations of Argento copying, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it chat with Gabriella Giorgelli (which, to be fair, probably lasts as long as her appearance in the film), liner notes, a gallery and trailers, not only for the main feature but also Lenzi’s Eaten Alive (1980) and a particularly chuckle-inducing one for his Spasmo (1974).

Riding the crest of an anti-clerical wave that peaked in 1972 (Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling and Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die?, to name but two, were released in the same year), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a solid effort that any self-respecting giallo fan will want to catch. Time for a remastered Blu-ray release, methinks…

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… And Duly Regurgitated. David Cronenberg’s Debut Novel CONSUMED, Reviewed.

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Consumed by David Cronenberg. Fourth Estate. P/B. 358 Pages. ISBN 978-0-00-729914-0. 

The cover boasts a generous testimonial from Stephen King, no less, identifying Consumed as “an eye-opening dazzler… as troubling, sinister and enthralling as (Cronenberg’s) films”. I’d go along with the latter part of that quote, while qualifying my assent with the observation that it’s been quite some considerable time since any Cronenberg film has troubled, enthralled or dazzled me.

Like a lot of other people, I found myself fascinated by Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981), while wondering when Cronenberg was going to hitch his undoubted fierce intelligence and the maverick morbidity of his imagination to some kind of coherent narrative sensibility. In 1983 he veered between extremes… his genuinely troubling, sinister and enthralling Videodrome (a hi-concept hallucinatory gore-fest, unencumbered by anything so mundane as a storyline that stood up to cursory scrutiny) was followed in rapid succession by The Dead Zone, which benefited from the narrative discipline of Stephen King’s source novel (and presumably the commercial discipline demanded by heavyweight producer Dino Di Laurentiis) but uncharacteristically side-stepped the brain tumour imagery that King himself employed in the book and with which one might well have expected Cronenberg to have a field day. He finally managed (again under the influence of a heavyweight producer, in this case Mel Brooks) the long-awaited synthesis with The Fly (1986), the perfect Cronenberg picture and a tremendous film by any yardstick. I didn’t have long to savour that before the director and I definitively parted company…

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… the rock on which we foundered was Naked Lunch (1991). Given that William Burroughs’ stated intention for his 1959 act of literary terrorism was to upgrade The Novel’s arsenal of narrative techniques to the point where they matched those of Cinema, the point of adapting it to the big screen was always going to be, at best, a moot one. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how Cronenberg was going to render the moral and literary complexities of a book that had been horrifying and tantalising me in equal parts for decades. Well, there was some nonsense about “sexual ambulances”, then Roy Scheider ripping off a Mission Impossible-style latex mask to announce himself as Dr Benway (ta-da!) Oh dear… we’d been giving Cronenberg credit for his intelligence all these years and now he was repaying us by insulting ours. I never felt the inclination to seek out any Cronenberg pictures after this and those I did find myself accidentally exposed to on TV did nothing to convince me that I was missing much.

DC got my attention again with Consumed, which I picked up in a remainders shop three years after its initial publication in 2014. This time he’s attempting the reverse trick of rendering that Cronenberg sensibility via the printed page. So you won’t be at all surprised to discover within it a bunch of preposterously-named characters, travelling the world to have sex with celebrity cannibal intellectuals, contracting hitherto unguessed at venereal diseases and seeking out the assistance of a VD professional whose daughter is herself engrossed in a drawn-out process of auto-cannibalism. The protagonists’ lovingly chronicled hi-tech communication appurtenances only serve to further alienate them from each other, in the style of J.G. Ballard characters… irresponsible avant-garde surgeons slice their way merrily through human tissue that is, apparently, on the verge of collapsing into unspeakable insect horrors (still can’t resist a bit of Burroughs, ol’ Dave) and as for Dick… there’s plenty of dick herein – much of it diseased and deformed – and Philip K. even gets a personal name check on page 227. At several points Cronenberg seems determined, for some reason, to shoe-horn Samuel Beckett into the mix, too (that whirring sound you  hear might just be the irascible Irish minimalist rotating in his grave).

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Now, wearing your literary loves so brazenly on your sleeve isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Will Self and Martin Amis, among others, have done very nicely for themselves by, er, channeling the influence of some of the above-mentioned writers. What’s more, Cronenberg is an accomplished and assiduous pasticher… this is, after its own wilful fashion, well written stuff. It’s just that after the sound, fury, calculated unpleasantness, deliberate ennui and all the rest of it, the reader gratefully lays Consumed down with an overwhelming sense of: “So what?” Charlie Brooker covers this beat with so much more wit and emotional resonance. Presumably intended to hit with the impact of some mortifying cancer or exotic new STI, Cronenberg’s novel registers merely at the level of an irritating head cold. Ironically, when I tackled Consumed I was too depleted by flu to abandon it in favour of more rewarding activity, e.g. surfing the TV for old episodes of Quincy ME.

Having previously discussed with the late, great Joe D’Amato the debt that Videodrome might or might not owe to his Emanuelle In America, I was intrigued to find Cronenberg naming this novel’s outlaw lifestyle philosopher, who might or might not have eaten his girlfriend’s brain, “Aristide”. As I struggled to finish Consumed, I kept consoling myself with the prospect that this character might just be about to rip off one of those Mission Impossible masks, revealing himself to be none other than jolly Uncle Joe… but (spoiler alert) no such luck.

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“It’s A Very Nice Book… Very, Very Interesting!” Stephen Thrower’s Fulci Tome BEYOND TERROR Recast In Truly Epic Proportions

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Blessed is he who approaches in search of knowledge…

Beyond Terror – The Films Of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower. FABPress. H/B. ISBN 9781903254844

Given the dispiriting circumstances of his personal encounter with Lucio Fulci (detailed  for the first time herein), Stephen Thrower’s magnificent Beyond Terror – The Films Of Lucio Fulci emerged as a veritable phoenix from the flames when first published by Fab Press in 2000. Two decades(ish) later, pains-takingly revamped and thoroughly revitalised (“120 new pages… 80,000 words of all new writing!”), it now soars to peaks only previously occupied by Tim Lucas’s Mario Bava meisterwerk All The Colors Of The Dark.

Thrower is a thoughtful and passionate writer (there can’t have been too many reviewers of The House By The Cemetery who concluded their appraisal with a line like: “In a subtle way, the end is just as terrible a trap for Bob as it was for John and Liza in The Beyond; he’s returning forever to a house that can never be home”) so I’m looking forward to acquainting myself over the coming weeks and months with the ways in which his takes on various aspects of Fulciana have evolved. Most obviously, though, the updated version comes with completely new sections and gives a thorough going-over to stuff that was only hinted at, first time out.

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The hugely expanded survey of Fulci’s comedies is very welcome (though for me, personally, there’s more than a trace of “he watched them so I don’t have to” wrapped up in this welcome). Similarly, the new section on Fulci’s sound track composers is impressive stuff, though I believe Keith Emerson’s contribution to Murder-Rock merits more than the dismissive brush off it gets here (these things ultimately boil down to personal taste, of course and I freely admit that my position on this subject has always been – very much – the minority one). While I’m quibbling, I wonder about the relevance of Julian Grainger’s filmographies of all the major players in Fulci’s films – an undeniable feat of scholarship and gluteal fortitude – in the age of IMDB, although no doubt there are those who’ll find use for it. It goes without saying that the revamped BT is stuffed to bursting with more colourful, rare and distressing stills, posters and behind-the-scenes shots than you could comfortably shake an eye-poking stick at.

There’s a mouth-watering round up of (thirty!) Fulci projects that were mooted but never made and Thrower’s access to the BBFC’s archives yields fascinating insights into the thought processes of those tasked with cutting or denying certification to Fulci’s films at a time when such matters were virtually equated with national security. Hm, I wonder which film occasioned them the most consternation…

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It says “Exit”, Alessandra… do not entry!

The addition (to the special edition) of an interview with LF is a nice touch though (to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies) I would say that, wouldn’t I? Said special edition also comes in a beautiful wraparound reproduction of The Beyond’s Book Of Eibon (which, regrettably, doesn’t burst into flame to the accompaniment of Fabio Frizzi music after you’ve read a couple of particularly portentous passages… no doubt Stephen and Harvey Fenton are working on that for a possible third edition) and with a DVD collection of trailers for 37 of Fulci’s 54 directorial credits. If that’s not enough for you (hard to please, huh?) there’s the option to run them with a commentary track by the author and an accompanying booklet throws up whole new and bewildering vistas of ultra-specialist film studies, detailing the use of alternative trailer takes from the ones that actually made it into the movies and offering glimpses of scenes that were abandoned altogether.

This is film scholarship run wild and we’re all better off for it. Do you wanna buy the book? If not, you’re probably reading the wrong Blog. If so, Save yourself twenty years or more of angstily anticipating some future edition. Get it while you can.

Woe be unto him who acts the tightwad over this…

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Mace liked it so much, he went out and got ink…

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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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