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Desperate DANIELA! The Indestructible Ms DORIA Remembers Her Time As Fulci’s Favourite Victim…

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The first time she set foot in the House Of Freudstein (during the prelude to that gothic meisterwerk The House By The Cemetery, 1981) Daniela Doria had a knife rammed through the back of her skull by the demented zombie doctor residing in the cellar… way to spoil a furtive bit of hanky panky there, Doc! If you’re reading this blog, you probably won’t need me to enumerate the unspeakably grisly demises that this beautiful and charming actress has suffered at the hideous hands of lucio fulci. To mark her birthday, we’re posting these selected highlights from an interview conducted in 2018. Thanks for the murderous memories, Daniela!

Daniela, when did you realise the extent of the ongoing cult following for these films that you made all those years ago? Did it come as a surprise to you?

Yes, it was a great and wonderful surprise for me to find out how many admirers and followers they have, especially Fulci’s films. When I was appearing in them I knew I was working with a great teacher and a great professional but I didn’t realise that this genre had so many fans. I’m really happy that his films have been seen by so many people, people all over the world.

How did your working relationship with Fulci begin?

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My first film for Lucio Fulci was City Of The Living Dead (1980). When I attended the audition I was very tense and nervous because I’d been told that although Fulci was a top director, he did not have a good character. The moment I met him he put my mind at ease and after a few days he let me know that he had chosen me. After our first collaboration, he would call me for every film he was starting and ask: “Are you ready to die again? I’ve got a new way of killing you that you’ll like…” He was a very witty and intelligent person with a great sense of irony.

Fulci arouses strong reactions in people. It’s said that he would get very mean and angry on set. He is often accused of misogyny. What was your experience of working with him over four films?

If a person made a bad impression on him, that was it, he would always be unpleasant with them. He never hid his dislike of people. If he did have a misogynistic streak, it would have been because of love affairs that had ended badly, but he never showed this side to me. I admired him very much, we got on very well and I looked forward to breaks in the shooting when we would talk and he’d relate many anecdotes to me. With me he was always very sweet and gentle, but he was a perfectionist and when things were going wrong on the set, he would get angry and start screaming.

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Were you aware of the tension on The Black Cat between Fulci and Patrick Magee?

There was no good relationship between Patrick Magee and Fulci. Right from the start, Magee wanted to do his own thing and struggled to follow Fulci’s instructions. So Lucio treated him very badly, especially since all the hours we spent in make up meant that we could not afford too many retakes.

You’ve spent a lot of time being made up by Fulci’s FX men, notably the De Rossis…

Giannetto De Rossi was an artist and a fantastic person! He was a reassuring presence during the strongest scenes and when I had anxieties about the effects. Wearing all that plaster on your face to make a mask is not the most comfortable experience.

As with his make-up men, Fulci kept calling on such key, behind-the-camera collaborators as Sergio Salvati, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Massimo Lentini…

Fulci had an incredible love and esteem for all of these people. Between them there was a very strong harmony and mutual trust. They would communicate things to each other with a glance and Fulci was always very satisfied with their contributions. I don’t recall him criticising anything they did, they were present in all of his films and like a second family for him…. collaborators and great friends. I remember the cinematographer Sergio Salvati with great affection, he was very sweet and kind to me, during breaks in shooting he would always give me advice on how to look my best for the camera.

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Let’s discuss some of these famous death scenes… in City Of The Living Dead you’ve got this fake blood getting in your eyes and notoriously, you had to stuff your mouth with animal offal and spit it out…

The special effects in Fulci’s films were great and became their strongest selling point. For the blood that comes out of my eyes in City Of The Living Dead, I had two little tubes at the corners of my eyes, connected to a pump. Somebody on the back seat of the jeep operated a pump to blow the blood out. Those pipes were merely irritating but having all that raw offal in my mouth was absolutely disgusting. If I think too hard about it, I feel like vomiting!

Just before that you were making out with Michele Soavi, who also came to a sticky end. Where you surprised when he went on to become a respected director in his own right?

It was a very pleasant surprise to find out that this shy blond boy had become a famous director. I must say that, apart from our passionate kiss, I did not share much with Michele because on Fulci’s set you were not allowed to chat… absolute silence reigned.

Did you become friends with or register any lasting impression of any of your co-stars in the Fulci films?

The one who struck me most was Giovanni Lombardo Radice… for his acting, for the strong scenes he had to make, for his strong personality… I’ve always remembered this and held him in high esteem. Unfortunately, when I returned to Milan I lost contact with everybody, I did not maintain any friendships in the film world.

Giovanni was your male equivalent in these films, always suffering some horrible death. In The Black Cat you suffocate and are eaten by rats. It looks as though a lot of effects were applied to your “corpse”… or was that a mannequin?

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No, there was no dummy to replace me. After my “death” I was subjected to hours and hours of make up to get that result. It was the same when we were turned into zombies for City Of The Living Dead… hours and hours to create face moulds, in plaster, which we had to wear.

It’s obvious from watching The Black Cat that you actually went on location to the UK rather than shooting everything on some Roman sound stage…

We did go to England and we were there for a long time. On a day when there was a break in my shooting schedule, I went to a breeding farm in London to buy an Airedale Terrier puppy. When Lucio saw it he fell in love with him and sent me out to buy one for him too, so I took my puppy’s sister. I called mine Trevor and Fulci called his Violetta. I kept the two of them together in my room, in breach of the hotel’s rules. They were pests and within a very short time, had destroyed the room. Then I returned to Italy with them and when Fulci had finished filming, he came to my house to take Violetta. It was very painful for me, difficult to give her up because I had grown so fond of her.

Your scenes in the other Fulci films were a mixture of location and sound stage work…

Yes, we shot some scenes in Roman studios but there were also location visits to get the exteriors. When we went to Savannah, Georgia to do City Of The Living Dead we shot for several days in a cemetery. At first it was quite unsettling to be there in the middle of all these graves but after a few days we hardly noticed and would sit among them during the break, eating our lunches.

You’re disposed of quite quickly at the beginning of The House By The Cemetery… any memories of that one?

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The house where we shot that scene was really eerie and I remember being nervous in there, also that it was very difficult to set up that knife going into the back of my head.

Fulci reserved your most horrible, drawn out death for The New York Ripper… obviously the mutilation is all done via prosthetics but again it looks like you’re getting stage blood in your eye…

My death in that one was very strong and had a big impact. When my mother went to the cinema to see the film, she kept her eyes closed throughout that bit. For me there was just the discomfort of laying still while all these effects were applied to me.

I know that Jack Hedley subsequently disowned the picture… how did you get on with him?

It was a little embarrassing to find myself in bed, half naked with a stranger. I didn’t speak English so it was impossible to make much of a connection with Jack.

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Were you aware of the censorship problems that Fulci’s films suffered, especially in the UK?

Fulci was one of the most controversial and most censored filmmakers, but he didn’t worry about things like that… on the contrary, he was always trying to come up with new and more gruesome things.

How do you feel now about violent movies? I don’t know if you have kids but if you do, would you let them watch such films?

If I had children and they liked watching horror films, I would let them do it, absolutely. I have two beautiful sisters whom I love dearly and they will only watch horror and the more bloody and shocking it is, the happier they are. Such films have too much of an effect on me, though. I close my eyes through the bits I don’t like so it seems pointless to be watching the film at all…

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Have your sisters watched your performances in this genre? What did they think?

They adore Fulci. They don’t like to see my characters beings badly tortured, but they are very proud that I worked for such an extraordinary master. When Fulci started making Manhattan Baby he called me, as always, but on that occasion I had to say no, unfortunately. I had finished with the film world for personal reasons. It was a short adventure but a great one!

Daniela, please tell us something about how you are living now and what you get up to these days…

I’ve been working in a dental practice for a few years now, I enjoy it and get on well with my colleagues. The office is located in the most fashionable street of Milan so I’m always looking in the gorgeous windows of the top designers and I often run into actors and people from the entertainment world.

Do people ever stop you in the street and ask: “Hey, aren’t you the girl from…?”

Sometimes they ask me if I’m an actress because they saw me in some movies, but they can never remember which ones! These days I am known as Daniela Cormio. My husband and I share a passion for motorcycles which we indulge as often as we can. Every year we travel around Europe for the whole month of August it’s fantastic! I love reading, especially thrillers and I love watching TV series, for example Gomorrah on Netflix but sorry, like I said before, I cannot watch horror films!

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Blow & Arrows… Psychedelic Stone Age Sword & Sorcery In Lucio Fulci’s Completely Crackers CONQUEST.

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DVD. Region Free. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

A long time ago (or some time in the future), in a galaxy far, far removed from any traditional notion of narrative coherence…

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As anecdotes of decadent rock star lubriciousness go, there are few fruitier than the one involving Marianne Faithful and a fast-melting Mars bar, though for me even that is topped by the rumour that at the height of Fleetwood Mac mania, Stevie Nicks retained the services of an assistant whose sole duty comprised blowing cocaine through a straw and up her bum (imagine the feverish response, down at your local DWP premises, to the news that Stevie Nicks was handing out blow jobs!)

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“Break out that tit tape Pablo, it’s the new Lucio Fulci film!”

Both ladies have wearily denied said stories and I bet if you asked Ocron  (as portrayed in the film under consideration here by Sabrina Siani) whether she deployed members of her werewolf entourage to blow cocaine through her metal mask and up her nose she’d deny that too, though irrefutable evidence to the contrary is clear for all to see in lucio fulci‘s completely crackers Conquest (1983), where we also find her sucking the brains out of severed heads (“I shall open his temple of secrets”), writhing around ecstatically while wrapped up in her pet python and ordering her minions (those werewolves, augmented by a troupe of Village People rejects) to seek out and destroy the heroic Ilias (the New York Ripper himself, Andrea Occhipinti) who’s on some ill defined quest to clean up her mystical realm.

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Flushed by an Indian summer of career success after his ultra-violent horror / giallo collaborations with Fabrizio De Angelis but irked by the latter’s increasingly parsimonious production style, Fulci jumped at a two picture deal being waved by Giovanni Di Clemente, the fruits of which where this picture (co-written by Clemente) and (hardly a novel experience for Fulci) another contractual dispute.

16665350_10211026433731202_7271214655543610993_oConquest is an object lesson in how “high concept” drove spaghetti exploitation films of this period and how those concepts themselves were ransacked from whatever movies had recently done well at Italian box offices. John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian (1982) had been a predictable success, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) a rather less predictable one. Conan… Quest… put ’em together (follow me closely here) and what have you got? Conquest! But what about a story to live up to this toweringly high concept? Well, the film is an Italo-Spanish-Mexican co-production and one could be forgiven for thinking that maybe Fulci, Di Clemente and the other writers chewed a few peyote buttons (second review in a row where I’ve mentioned mescaline) while dreaming up its narrative. God only knows what DP Alejandro Ulloa (who had already lit Perversion Story and on whom Fulci would call again for The Devil’s Honey) was on when he came up with the look of Conquest, i.e. washed out colours viewed through a haze of smoke and a lens liberally daubed in vaseline. Claudio Simonetti’s Techno OST only compounds the confusion of the bewildered audient.

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Sorry, where were we? Trying to capture the elusive storyline of Conquest? Well, Ilias is dispatched from the primordial arse end of nowhere on his equally elusive mission by tribal elders who equip him with a magic bow (which seems to shoot sun rays) and pack him off to the opposite arse cheek of this smoky, vaselined dimension, where he hooks up with the extravagantly muscled Mace (Jorge Rivero), who’s built like a brick shithouse, is an early adopter of animal rights consciousness (Conan the Vegetarian?), boasts an Eibon tattoo on his craggy forehead and is a dab hand with stone age nunchuks… good job really, because Occhipinti’s Ilias is a bit of a weed in comparison (I’m lovin’ that heavy Bronx accent, though).

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Together they take on those coke-snorting werewolves and their fetish clad mates, mummies, jelly tot like zombies (Fulci hedging his bets, there) who crucify Mace and throw him off a cliff into the sea (don’t worry, he’s rescued by friendly dolphins)… Mace even gets into a nunchuk duel with an evil version of herself, who turns out to be the dreaded Zora (Conrado San Martin), some kind of demon dude in a terracotta warrior outfit who’s been summoned up by Ocron. She also broils her underachieving werewolf lieutenant and other random “highlights” include cave chicks being ripped limb from limb and some of the most nauseating “weeping bubo” make ups in screen history. Much of this was excised by those killjoys at the BBFC for Conquest’s video releases on the Apex and Merlin labels, but this Anchor Bay edition is completely unexpurgated. You have been warned. A closing caption advises us that “any reference to persons of events is purely coincidental”. Yeah, no foolin’…

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Considered a disappointment on its release – when none us could have guessed just how bad things were going to get for Fulci – Conquest now looks like one of his last consistently entertaining films. It’s a crowded field, but in the competition for loopy Lucio’s most breath-takingly bonkers offering, I’ve got this one dead heating with A Cat In The Brain. What’s not to like?

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Hate Island… Bruno Mattei’s ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD Reviewed.

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DVD. Region 1. Intervision (Severin). Unrated.

Former crud film cohort Claudio Fragasso having struck out for relative respectability with the likes of the Palermo-Milano movies, the indefatigable Bruno Mattei hitched his star to those of producer Gianni Paolucci and writer Antonio Tentori (a duo which would resurface to discouraging effect in 2012 on Argento’s Dracula In 3-D). The first fruits of their partnership, 2006’s  The Jail: A Women’s Hell is a predictably wild and thoroughly non-PC WIP effort, but things took a quantum leap into the cinematic trashosphere with a brace of zombie flicks that Mattei would shoot back-to-back (possibly simultaneously) in 2006… Island Of The Living Dead and Zombies: The Beginning, fitting titles to close out the illustrious CV and indeed, life of the last pasta splatter man standing.

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IOTLD (which borrows its name from the working title of what would become Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters) kicks off with an 18th Century prologue, in which conquistadores and priests are attempting to bury plague victims in a cave (or is it a church?) on a Caribbean island, hindered by the fact that native voodoo rites are returning many of them from the dead as flesh-eating zombies, which necessitates the pre-titles sequence of Fulci’s seminal flick being replayed no less than three times. While the zombies are tucking into those priests, the conquistadores emerge only to discover that their town has been torched (conspicuously rendered by stock footage) and adding insult to injury, they are attacked by (what were the odds on this?) a passing band of vampire pirates (just in case you can’t spot where that idea came from, IOTLD is a “La Perla Nera Production”)…. some days you just wish you hadn’t bothered getting out of bed, right?

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In “the present day”, a down-on-their-luck team of treasure hunters happen upon this unchartered island, which just appears out of the fog. Lucky for them, the pirates’ treasure is still stashed here. Not so luckily, the place is still crawling with zombies (possibly also vampires and / or pirates, though things now move along at such an incomprehensible lick, it’s difficult to tell). Captain Kirk (!) played by Ronald Russo, refuses his crew’s pleas to radio for help (you keep thinking that he’s going to be outed as some kind of zombie sympathiser in a boffo plot twist, but it never happens… he just made a stupid decision for no apparent reason) and when most of the crew leave for a reccy of the island, zombies invade the boat and the engineer blows it up by pushing the red button apparently installed to do precisely that (like the levers in an old Universal flicks that could always be relied on to level Baron Frankenstein’s castle, when required.)

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Mark (played by astonishing George Galloway looky-likey Gary King Roberts), an obvious Night Of The Living Dead enthusiast, teases Sharon (Yvette Yson) that the first zombie they see (in a jungle graveyard) is “coming to get her” and of course it is. Tao (Miguel Franco) piles into the deadster with his best kung fu moves but the result is a predictable Shaolin 0, Voodoo 1. Sprinkled amid the regular anthropophagous attacks via which our happy treasure hunters are gradually whittled down, there’s the discovery of treasure chests and dusty grimoires which add to the ever proliferating theories competing with each other to explain wtf happened on the island, the novel spectacle of a zombie’s arm being regenerated after it’s been shot off, a throwaway reference to Olga Karlatos’ eye popping demise in Zombie Flesh Eaters, casks of wine which contains maggots and which makes those foolish enough to drink it hallucinate vividly (e.g. a reworking of the bar tender scene from The Shining)… there’s the Dawn Of The Dead-patented conceit, already recycled in Zombie Creeping Flesh, whereby reckless showboating when surrounded by ravenous zombies only gets you eaten and, in lieu of ZCF’s “soft shoe shuffle in a tutu” non-sequitur, treasure hunting Snoopy (Jim Gaines) is waylaid by a seductive flamenco dancing zombie… or is she a vampire? Dunno, give up… throw in a spot of The Fog, a reminder of Mrs Bates in her swivel chair and there you have it.

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After the remaining hallucinating crew members have all killed each other, sole survivor Sharon puts out to sea in a home-made raft but is declared DOA by the helicopter medics who recover her… only she isn’t, the final shot revealing her to be a zombie or a vampire pirate or fuck-knows-what. Of course all of that (plus any remaining scraps of sanity) fly out of the window as the story picks up in Mattei’s perversely titled Zombies: The Beginning. Those seeking further enlightenment (but destined for deeper confusion) should click here… and may God have mercy on your soul!

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Severin’s Carl Daft assures me that Island Of The Living Dead and Zombies: The Beginning have been gutted and recut by producer Paolucci into an “all new” motion picture experience. The mind fair boggles…

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Into The Spiderverse…… lucio fulci’s THE BEYOND In A Spanking New Shameless Edition.

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BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

It’s highly likely that if you’re reading a Blog entitled “House Of Freudstein”, you won’t need me to regale you with the plot of lucio fulci‘s The Beyond (1981). Just in case, though… a woman inherits a New Orleans hotel that’s apparently been built over one of The Seven Gates of Hell (d’oh, what were the odds on that?) and everyone around her starts dying. Very messily indeed. Lots of other mysterious shit happens and eventually she and her potential love interest find themselves in Hell. Literally. That’s all, folks…

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Not much of a plot, is it? The enduring appeal of Fulci’s Horror masterpiece resides elsewhere than its highly disjointed narrative… in its regular, relentless outbreaks of mortifying violence and the sheer eldritch atmosphere with which it drips, thanks largely to the spellbinding score of Fabio Frizzi and exquisite, delicate / doomy photography of Sergio Salvati. Salvati buffs will have much to ponder in this handsome new 2k scan from Shameless, during the preparation of which the original colour elements of the film’s unforgettable prologue (in which an occult-inspired artist is chain-whipped, burned with quicklime and crucified by a posse of outraged rednecks) were discovered and for the first time ever, remastered.

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Usually screened in a sepia-tinted variation (that must have cost them a few squid… see what I did there?), this sequence has also been released in various territories in full colour and black and white variations. In this edition you’ve got  the choice of kicking the film off in any of those, plus the wholly new option of a golden “sepia on colour” (or the digital equivalent thereof) rendering. You can even, should you wish to, view all four versions simultaneously though I wouldn’t advise imbibing psychotropic drugs before doing so, unless you’re planning on spending the next few months in a rubber room.

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These new perspectives on the prologue are at the forefront of Shameless’s attempt to convince you to cough up for yet another edition of The Beyond, but as an added inducement there’s a supporting compliment of tasty bonus materials, some of which you might or might not have already encountered in earlier releases. The audio commentary from stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck is a bittersweet affair in which a desperately feeble-sounding Warbeck maintains his customary wit and charm in the face of his own impending death. In an alternative commentary track, DP Salvati discusses many aspects of the film, over and above his lighting of it in collaboration with a trusty crew of fellow Fulci regulars (particularly interesting to hear from him that Al Cliver’s role was originally intended for Ivan Rassimov). Interviewees Giorgio Mariuzzo (who co-wrote the film with Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti), Fulci’s close personal friend Michele Mirabella (“He fed me to the tarantulas but it helped to pay the mortgage”) and beautiful Cinzia Monreale are not, of course, short on stories of Fulci’s legendary eccentricities and contrariness, indeed a clip of him taking time out from the shooting of Demonia (1990), which has been floating around since bootleg VHS days, captures the great man in particularly florid form.

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Apparently Mariuzzo’s wife, the widow of Elio Petri, told him how highly Petri regarded lucio fulci as a technician. Taste makers, particularly in his own country, never afforded Fulci the same level of acclaim as Petri and co, but fuck ’em… nearly 40 years after the event, The Beyond (and many of his other films) are still being avidly consumed, analysed and cherished.

The soul that pines for eternity shall, indeed, outspan death.

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When Italian FX Aces Turn Director… WAX MASK / KILLER CROCODILE 1 & 2 Reviewed.

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Wax Mask. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
Killer Crocodile / Killer Crocodile 2. BD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

By the early 1980s Italy ruled the ‘B’ movie waves, churning out over three hundred titles per year to fuel an insatiable international appetite for horror, action and exploitation all’Italiana… a Roman empire the extent of which Trajan himself could scarcely have dreamed. By the end of that decade, however, the Italian film landscape was as bleak as any depicted in the post-Apocalyptic epics that constituted its final filone

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It doesn’t take an Edward Gibbon to trace the causes of this spectacular fall from grace. Tightening censorship in key European markets meant that enevelope-pushing outrages like Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) were now out of the question. Along with the consequent blanding out of Italian genre efforts, there was increased leisure buck competition from the deregulation of domestic TV under Silvio Berlusconi and increasing incursions into exploitive subject matter by the US Majors whose budgets Spaghetti exploitation mavens could never hope to match.  Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote more films than anybody else during the industry’s most lucrative years, identifies the short-term thinking and profit-taking priorities of Italian producers as a crucially detrimental factor. If they’d invested instead of constantly cutting budgets, by this account, pasta paura could have become as big a deal as the spaghetti western… and Sacchetti didn’t shy away from identifying the poster boy for this myopic modus operandi as Fabrizio De Angelis, for whom he and Lucio Fulci collaborated on several low budget classics in the late ’70s, early ’80s. “De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks”, Sacchetti told me. “He’s a cheap-skate…” chipped in Fred Williamson, alluding to FDA’s later tactic of ditching seasoned pro directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari to direct his own pictures (as “Larry Ludman”):  “…. it has nothing to do with creativity. He doesn’t want to pay people to do something he thinks he can do, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well“. When I interviewed De Angelis, he defended himself from such charges as follows: “I’ve always given other directors bigger budgets than I give myself. I pay as much as anybody else and many of the people who complained came back to work for me again, so I can’t be that bad”.

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Sure enough, Sacchetti was back on board (as “David Parker Jr”) to co-write Killer Crocodile (1989)… not that it took much writing, emerging as a transposition of a certain Stephen Spielberg film (and ultimately Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, if you want to get pedantic about it) from Amity Island to the swamps of the Dominican Republic. Just in case anybody missed the Jaws allusions (or the fact that this whole film is one big Jaws allusion), Riz Ortolani’s score reverberates with all the obvious John Williams pinches.

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Environmentalist Kevin (Anthony… son of Richard… Crenna) and his crew discover that the Dominican waterways are clogged with something way worse than plastic bags and bottles. Irresponsible radioactive dumping, facilitated by a corrupt local Judge (Hollywood heavyweight Van Johnson in one of his final screen credits) has produced the eponymous super-sized saurian, impressively rendered (when you consider the likely budget) by Italy’s FX supremo Giannetto De Rossi, despite his words to the contrary (“It’s a laughing stock!”) in one of the bonus featurettes on this set. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi completes a quartet of holdovers from the gory, glory days of Lucio Fulci.

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With all that talent on hand and everything De Angelis had osmosed from his proximity to the likes of Fulci and Castellari (whose brother Enio Girolami steals the show as Captain Ahab-like crocodile hunter Joe), it’s no surprise that Killer Crocodile emerges as an efficient, satisfying piece of throwaway entertainment, smoothly shot by Federico Del Zoppo in the American TV movie style that was becoming increasingly prevalent at this time. If all that sounds a bit too blandly slick for your tastes, rest assured (and here comes the SPOILER ALERT!) that De Angelis winds things up (things notably including the title creature’s leathery ol’ head) with a revival of the classic “outboard motor” gag from Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), another picture he produced back in the golden age… but what kind of egg is that hatching on the banks of the bayou?

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Laser focussed on the bottom line, FDA arranged the simultaneous shooting of Killer Crocodile 2 (1990) and detailed its direction to Giannetto De Rossi. History doesn’t record whether he was instructed to “make it snappy” but presumably De Rossi got the job on the grounds that he could be paid even less than the producer would pay “Larry Ludman”! Otherwise the crew’s pretty much the same (Giovanni Bergamini replaces Del Zoppo as DP) and so is the story. Corrupt corporate types are still dumping radioactive waste in that river, still with the connivance of scumbag politicians, one of whom is planning to open a leisure complex on a particularly hideously polluted stretch. Investigative journalist Liza (“Debra Karr”, would you believe?) is on the case but it’s not a particularly compelling one. Looks like they didn’t shoot enough footage of the crocodile to fall back on before it was definitively destroyed at the end of Part 1. There’s a great bit where it crashes through the side of a hut to snack on some low level bad dudes but such moments are few and far between. De Rossi is obliged to pad things out with a bunch of flashbacks to the original’s “greatest hits” and mucho over-baked exposition, though admittedly Ms Karr does look distractingly good, wandering around the jungle in a wet sports bra after her guide tried to rape her and was promptly eaten by the croc. Kevin and Joe arrive halfway through the picture to try and rescue her but blink and you’ll miss Joe. Having delivered the brazen line: “We’ve got to get a bigger boat”, Kevin is left to contrive the coup de gras, in the absence of any handy outboard motors, via a fistful of dynamite.

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Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t really live up to its predecessor (how many sequels do?) but I was glad to be reacquainted with this brace, my VHS copies of which (sourced from German satellite channels) disappeared many moons ago down the ravenous collecting maw of leathery old Darrell Buxton. Severin present the films with their customary panache and  a slew of of tasty extras, notably Naomi Holwill’s fine feature length De Rossi doc The Prince Of Plasma, featuring contributions from the man himself, plus collaborators Luigi Cozzi, Massimo Vanni and Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, also pundits Allan Bryce, Calum Waddell, Rachael Nisbet and Russ Hunter. In his standalone interview featurette, De Rossi is engagingly self deprecating regarding his work on these films. DP Federico Del Zoppo also has his say. The recollections of Anthony Crenna (now identifying as Richard Anthony Crenna) chime with those of many a non-Italian actor regarding his bemusement at being required to act sans direct sound and the virtually non-existent Health & Safety culture. Pietro Genuardi develops this theme further, claiming that a local drowned when operating the croc maquette underwater before detailing his own colourful experiences on location and attempting to return to Rome from it. You also get trailers and a few deleted sequences from the sequel. Nice.

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Wax Mask (1997), although it evolved into another (and rather more effective) FX-man-turned-director effort, was originally conceived as an attempt to revive the flagging Italian Horror tradition via another means, i.e. by assembling the dream team of Dario Argento (producing), Lucio Fulci (directing) and that man Sacchetti, writing (the latter has some very interesting things to say about the genesis of this project and the motivations behind it in our interview elsewhere on this blog). Of course Sacchetti was subsequently sacked (and replaced by Daniele Stroppa) when his proposed Mummy vehicle failed to find favour with Argento, whose enthusiasm for all things Gaston Leroux (below, left) at this point (which would attain its abysmal fruition in DA’s Phantom Of The Opera, 1997) re-routed the project in the direction of Leroux’s Waxwork Museum Mystery and its various cinematic offshoots. Tragically, after putting much work into that, Fulci died shortly before shooting was due to commence. Having been turned down by Fulci’s preferred successor, Claudio Fragasso (who collaborated with Lucio on the certifiably insane Zombi 3, 1988), Argento promoted long time FX man Sergio Stivaletti to make his directorial debut, resulting in the artefact under consideration here.

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Reflecting its convoluted origins, Wax Mask incorporates various strands of the Italian Horror / Thriller tradition, notably Gothic and Giallo, emerging as an attempt (no doubt Argento’s) to propel the two geriatric genres over the line into the 21st Century. Its action commences in Paris at the beginning of the 20th (“31st. December 1900” says the caption, but surely that’s a mistake?) where a little girl witnesses her parents being butchered by a masked figure with a robotic hand. Years later, two bravos partying in a Roman brothel strike a bet about whether one of them is brave enough to spend a night in a spooky wax museum (shades of Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabra). The designated dude duly dies of fright when confronted with a Medusa tableau. Was he the world’s biggest girl’s blouse or did something altogether more sinister occur? While we’re pondering that one, Sonia Lafont (Romina Mondello) turns up at the wax museum looking for a job and becomes obsessed with the contents of proprietor Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein)’s gloves. Turns out she was the little girl who survived the film’s brutal prologue… how sensitive of Volkoff, after taking her on, to open a new display which recreates that crime in suspiciously accurate detail. And why do the new wax figures always look so much like people who’ve recently disappeared from the streets?

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Wax Mask looks quite ravishing due in no small part, one imagines, to the participation of Fulci stalwarts Sergio Salvati (DP) and Massimo Antonello Geleng (production design). Maurizio Abeni’s lush music vindicates the decision to go with an orchestral score rather than Simonetti-style synth rock and the surround sound option on this disc will give your home cinema setup quite a workout. As you’d expect from a Stivaletti film (and with the sterling support of the ill-fated Benoit Lestang) the FX are pretty impressive and the director continues to explore the possibilities of CGI, which he’d first tackled in Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), not least with the startling eruption of a Terminator-like animated death’s head figure during the film’s denouement.

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The question inevitably arises (as it previously did with the likes of Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi) as to how much of the film Stivaletti actually directed, considering that Argento spent so much time on set (and apparently Hossein, a director in his own right, wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forward with advice). It’s a question that’s thoroughly addressed in this edition’s plentiful bonus materials, interviews with several of the creative principals throwing much light on Wax Mask’s protean progress from the drawing board to the screen and providing fascinating insights into the proverbial “personal and professional differences” with which the Italian film scene is freighted. Argento talks of how his attitude towards Fulci developed from mistrust into “love” and opines that if he had lived, Wax Mask secondo Fulci would have been “wild”.  Anyone who was puzzled by Alan Jones’s critical volte face on Fulci after the early ’80s will find Jones’s comments here interesting. We also get some clues as to what a Fulci-directed Wax Mask might have looked like and Stivaletti rues the stick he got from the ol’ Goremeister’s fans (and allegedly his daughter Antonella) for coming up with something different. Not, perhaps, the most reasonable of criticisms. There’s also a trio of “behind the scenes” featurettes that you might have seen on previous DVD editions. If not, all the better.

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Two interesting facts about Robert Hossein (above) emerge from the supplementary materials assembled here. Firstly, that he actually appeared in productions of Pigalle’s legendary Theatre Du Grand Guignol and also that he is (at least by Argento’s reckoning) a total fanny magnet! David Gregory moderates a commentary track from Stivaletti and his son Michelangelo, who’s there to help Dad out with his English and point out his own, intra-uterine film debut.

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I’d dispute Severin’s billing of Wax Mask as “the last great Italian gore film of the 20th Century” but it’s a consistently watchable and entertaining one and the compelling extras on this disc, constituting a revelatory delight for the cognoscenti of pasta paura, turn it into an indispensible purchase. My copy came with a bonus CD of Abeni’s OST.

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The two FX men-turned-directors are pictured below during their triumphant recent appearances at Manchester’s ever wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films.

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Uh Oh, Chongo! It’s THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE Next…

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DVD. Warner. Region 2. 18.

Now there’s a title that will baffle all but the most fossilised of our readers… as for the rest of you, try and imagine, if you can, a time without wall-to-wall children’s TV, when the biggest thing on your mind coming home from school was the new episode of Scooby Doo. Saturday mornings, meanwhile, offered the dubious delights of The Banana Splits…

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One day in 1967, Hanna-Barbera executives brainstormed a new kids show to be based loosely around the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In format. So far so good, but this was 1967 after all… who can guess what psychoactive substances had been slipped into the water cooler and what havoc they wrought on the neural networks of the participants as they fleshed out this promising premise to encompass a pop group comprising guys in furry mutant animal suits, apparently living in a basement that is besieged by little girls playing mariachi music and malevolent pre-teen go-go dancers? All sounds well dodgy now, but perhaps the tripping executives reasoned that such outré ingredients would distract from the utter lameness of the episodic cartoon series buried in the mix, the stiffest stuff ever to emerge under the esteemed H-B banner… I’m talking The Arabian Knights, The Three Musketeers and the justifiably short lived Micro Ventures (honourable mention though for the live action cliff-hanging effort Danger Island, starring a young Jean-Michael Vincent and featuring Kim Kahana as Chongo)… this  whole mess served up to the accompaniment of moronic bubble gum pop, corny sound effects and incessant canned laughter. Like it says in the song… lots of fun for everyone! So how come Scooby Doo remains an institution (regularly repeated / rebooted and now celebrating its first half Century) while The Banana Splits have ridden a Banana Bluggy to oblivion since the final episodes were shot in 1970? Perhaps Danishka Esterhazy’s 2019 feature can throw some light on what happened…

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… perhaps not. The Banana Splits Movie unfolds in a parallel universe where, according to writers Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas (who quite possibly  imbibed from that same water cooler), The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (to give the show its full original title) continued its run successfully into the present day. Of course this has necessitated a few tweaks along the way. The program is now shot in South Africa (no reason why not, I guess) and the cartoons, Chongo and co, those mariachi moppets and The Sour Grapes Bunch (who at least get a name check) have been expunged from the format in favour of an audience participation game show. Most radically, The Splits themselves (joined here by a human co-presenter named Stevie) are now animatronic creations rather than guys in flea bitten furry costumes, hard wired to fulfil their primary directive “the show must go on”.

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When spiteful Stevie breaks it to the ‘Nanas that an obnoxious new executive is cancelling the show, they go totally Westworld on his ass and those of all the other adults in the studio audience. The kids are chained to their seats and obliged to watch a procession of grown ups whom we’ve been egged on to dislike (of whom there are no shortage) being dispatched in inventive, Grand Guignol fashion. One guy has a lollipop rammed down his throat, another’s face is burned off with an improvised flamethrower, yet another is torn limb from limb on a wheel of fortune and the ol’ “saw the dude in half” routine takes a distinctly literal turn… fun for everyone, indeed!

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Needless to say, some partypooping do gooders ultimately put a stop to the Splits’ splatterfest but they’re murderous cyborgs so maybe, you know, they’ll be back. In the bonus featurette The Banana Splits: Behind The Horror various cast and crew members recall what a great laugh they had making the picture. Director Esterhazy does her best to convince us that it only expands on the inherent creepiness of the original characters. Really? Never mind, TBSM helped 90 minutes or so to pass in undemandingly enjoyable style and now that I’ve watched it I’ll put it right there on the shelf next to Zombeavers, so I’ll know where to find it in the extremely unlikely event that I’ll ever want to watch it again.

Whatever next? The Phantom Flan Flinger turns to serial killing? Or maybe…

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“Chainsaws In Outer Space… Why Not?” The NORMAN J. WARREN Interview.

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Although I’ve enjoyed his company on several subsequent occasions, my interrogation of Norman J. Warren took place at and around the second Black Sunday film festival in Ashton-under-Lyne in February 1990, when the Freudstein interviewing technique was even less polished than it is now. The complete (ish) transcript appeared in A Major Horror Magazine but another rag commissioned me to adapt our conversation into the following profile, which they never actually used or paid me for… which was nice of them. Nearly (ouch!) 30 years later, their loss is hopefully your gain, dear readers. Beyond Terror and Norman’s Fiend Without A Face reboot remain tantalisingly unrealised projects but maybe one day? Like chainsaws in outer space, why the hell not?

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In the mid-60s, the young Norman J. Warren had begun his career assisting Anatole and Dimitri De Grunewald on the likes of Rod The Mod, a documentary look at the trendy life and times of the equally youthful Mr Stewart. “Like a lot of other people in their late teens / early twenties, I was desperate to direct, and couldn’t understand why the establishment wouldn’t give me the chance to do so”, Norman laughs: “It’s only later on when you realise why they didn’t! So out of sheer frustration I made a short film called Fragment in 1965. I’d already made other amateur efforts, but I decided to do Fragment properly, on 35mm and so on and I managed to talk several independent cinemas into screening it. It was just pure luck that one of those cinema managers, Bachoo Sen and a guy called Richard Shulman had just gone into film production. They’d decided to start with sex films because it was an obvious way to make a quick buck and because it was low budget. They were new to production, they wanted a director who was not too experienced, thus couldn’t give them a hard time, and of course somebody who was enthusiastic enough to do it for very little money. They gave me a call, made me an offer and I said yes immediately, without knowing what it was!” (Laughs)

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What it was, was Her Private Hell… “a black and white film made in 1967, and I dread to think what it would look like now. The whole thing was so naive, but I was grateful for the chance to actually direct a feature film and make all the mistakes that you inevitably do, which is how you learn your trade. The second one, Loving Feeling (1968) – which is about a disc jockey who destroys his marriage because he takes advantage of all these girls who are throwing themselves at him – looks a lot more polished, though I was still making mistakes in that one”.

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One of the biggest mistakes Norman made was not scrutinising the small print closely enough. “Bachoo never spent an awful lot of money on his productions, but he spent a hell of a lot on his contracts! Eventually I tried to challenge him for money, after working seven days a week, virtually 24 hours a day for two years on two films… I did the story for Loving Feeling, edited Her Private Hell, did all the sound… and I hadn’t been paid anything, apart from the odd fiver here or there for something to eat. Whenever I said I needed some money to get a taxi home, he’d would drive me home in his own car – I never seemed to get any cash! When it came to the crunch, a solicitor told me the contracts had been so beautifully written, that I really had no claim on anything! We ended up reaching a settlement, and it worked out that I’d been working for £20 a week, which – depending on what your job was – mightn’t have been bad money for that time, but if you think what I’d been doing, the responsibility and the hours I was working… also, how much money Bachoo made on these pictures! Her Private Hell, for instance, cost something like £18,000 to make and in one cinema alone in the Charring Cross Road, where it played for 14 months, it was taking £5,000 a week! Then of course it went around the entire country, and was sold to foreign territories. I dread to think how much it must have made, the profit must have been absolutely enormous, but I didn’t see any of it. Bachoo later relocated to The States and called me asking if I wanted to direct this terrible picture, Nightmare Weekend, for him. I didn’t take him up on his offer, even though I really wanted to get back into directing, and having seen the finished result, I think I made the right decision! Once again, it was a sex film disguised as a horror movie. Of course in a way I’m terribly grateful to him because he gave me the chance to direct my first feature film, to get through that enormous barrier you have to surmount to be accepted as someone who can actually direct a feature-length film… but I don’t want to go through all that again! I learned my lesson the hard way”.

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Loving Feeling was the debut movie for Euro-sex bomb Francoise Pascal, who claimed in the documentary version of David McGillivray’s book Doing Rude Things that she needed twenty brandies before she could bring herself to take her clothes off… a version of events that Norman disputes: “She was very young, and she wasn’t shy at all. She didn’t have a very big part, but she was a very attractive girl in those days. I wasn’t aware of any brandies or embarrassment…. in fact the problem, as I recall it, was trying to get Francoise to keep her clothes on!”Another of Norman’s leading ladies displayed no such willingness to drop her drawers in the cause of Art: “Georgina Ward was a very grand lady, actually, came from a very wealthy background. I don’t know what happened to her. She was in another sex film made by the producer Hazel Adair, who used to write that soap opera Crossroads. She was very coy, didn’t want to do any nudity, so we brought in a body double for the sex films. David McGillivray mentions something like this in his book, though he might have been referring to Lucia Modugno, the Italian actress in Her Private Hell. We received some very beautiful photos of her aged about 17, but they turned out to be very old photos, because when we met her at the airport, I actually thought she’d brought her mother with her! I was very sorry for Lucia, because once we started filming she realised she was to old for the part, and didn’t really have the figure… of course she was surrounded by all these young girls. It was very sad”.

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“After a while, you run out of things to do with a bed…”

“David was right when he said that sex films weren’t a genre I enjoyed working in, though this wasn’t out of any sense of prudery. I actually found the genre very restricting… the story lines just revolved around people taking their clothes off and going to bed, and after a while you run out of things to do with a bed, you know, camera angles and so on. A lot of people got labelled and never did anything else, and when the British sex films came to an end, they just faded out with them! So after the second one, although I was offered the chance of doing The Wife Swappers, which was eventually done by Derek Ford, I refused, and more or less put myself out of work, as far as directing was concerned, for several years, until the opportunity to direct Satan’s Slave came along. After that one I knew that this was what I really wanted to do, which was nothing to do with money, just because it was a much more satisfying experience all round”.

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“I think some of the younger fans are not only amazed that there was a British industry in those days, but that these sort of films, with such graphic content, were being made here… reflects Norman: “Those who’ve managed to see an un-cut foreign print of Satan’s Slave, for instance, are quite shocked that a movie like that could have been made in this country and that it could have been seen commercially in cinemas… they all were, that’s something I’m very proud of, that they were all shown theatrically”.

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After the disappointment of The Naked Eye (a project on which Norman was to have directed Cushing and Price for AIP) falling through, Satan’s Slave (1976) was conceived in a rush of frustrated enthusiasm and tackled by all concerned in a spirit of D.I.Y. gusto. In it, aristocratic Michael Gough presides over a cult dedicated to the revival of an ancestral witch via human sacrifice, a batty plot culminating in one of those trusty “So, it was all a dream… hang on, no it wasn’t!” moments. Terror (1978) commences in similar fashion before the witch-hunting action is revealed to be a film-within-a-film but (you guessed) the cast and crew are soon being bumped off in gruesome fashion. With Norman and writer David McGillivray (who’d already written several of Pete Walker’s “terror pictures”) both under the recent spell of Argento’s Suspiria, Terror places even less emphasis on narrative cohesion than its predecessor, concentrating instead on a succession of spectacular designer deaths.

terror-1978-film-04553e9b-38be-4b3d-add3-97849bd1d85-resize-750.jpg“David was very good indeed to work with”, remembers Norman: “because he never got offended when I wanted to make changes. A lot of writers feel that their work is set in marble and they don’t want any changes, but David (laughs)… maybe he’s just been very lenient with me, but he’s never had any complaints when I’ve thrown out lines or changed scenes around completely. David appears in Satan’s Slave and he has a smaller role in Terror, he’s the TV reporter in that one. I know those films contain some violent scenes and they get a bit gory at times, but there’s no viciousness about them. My sole intention was to entertain, and to me they’re sort of light-hearted films, in a way…”Something of that playful spirit is captured in the title of All You Need Is Blood, the “making of…” documentary, which David Wyatt shot on the set of Satan’s Slave. “It was shot in the hope that the BBC would broadcast it as a programme about the making of his low budget film, but all they did was take out shots from it’s opening, in which Michael Gough is conducting a black mass, and use it in a religious programme about the growing menace of Satanism – as though it was the real thing!” Ain’t it reassuring to know that your license money gets spent so responsibly?

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Always the first to acknowledge his films’ weaknesses, Norman states that with the plots of these gory little epics “we fell into the trap of making things incredibly complicated, which gave us problems half-way through when we realised it was so complex that it was actually quite difficult to work out what was going on”. This is one reason why Beyond Terror, one of the projects Norman is working hard to develop (along with properties entitled Darkland and Skinner), is an expansion of his 1978 smash-hit.

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I remind him (as if he needed any reminding) that Terror was the top-grossing film in Britain on its release in 1978: “Yes it was! This tiny film, which cost scarcely more than £80,000, was Number One for a week, and when it opened all over America, in towns like Chicago and Oklahoma, it actually broke box office records! In Chicago it packed them in all the cinemas for a week!”

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In between Satan’s Slave and Terror, Norman took a stab at science fiction with Prey 77 (featuring the ever saucy Glory Annen, above), a virtual three-hander in which a lesbian couple’s rural idyll is rudely interrupted by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger who turns out to be the vanguard of an alien invasion force. When I suggested that the film had been influenced by Jose Ramon Larraz’s Vampyres (1974), which shares its country setting, small cast and indeed one of its actresses, Sally Faulkner, Warren demurred: “No, I haven’t seen the Larraz film unfortunately, in fact I don’t think I was influenced by anything for Prey, outside of its tiny budget… plus I had literally three weeks preparation, including writing the script. In some ways the small scale of everything was actually a positive thing, because despite the brief schedule I was able to spend time with all the principle actors, building the characters and so on, and I think you can see that in the finished film. Sally is particularly good, the way you suddenly start realising, she’s the crazy one!”

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Norman’s career continued in a sci-fi vein (featuring additional Glory Annen) with 1979’s Outer Touch: “That one was quite successful in America, where it played as Spaced Out, but it didn’t do very well in Britain. Basically, it’s a science-fiction comedy, and making it taught me just how difficult comedy is – the most difficult, I think, of all the genres. It’s totally about getting the timing right”. Norman’s next picture, Inseminoid (1981), was straight SF with no comic trimmings. 20th Century Fox certainly weren’t laughing when they got the idea that it was an attempt to cash in on Alien. “Nick Maley and his wife Gloria came up with the idea for Inseminoid as a showcase for his special effects expertise, which really is quite amazing. This was before they or anyone else had seen the Ridley Scott film and we were genuinely very surprised, when we saw Alien, that there was this similarity to the script we were about to shoot. Anyway, Fox wrote to us, not quite demanding – but ‘requesting’ – to see Inseminoid when it was finished, so we let them screen it and they themselves decided that it wasn’t a rip-off. They sent us a very nice letter, which the producer Richard Gordon has still got, in which they said they were happy for us to go ahead, wished us luck and said they thought our film was very good, considering its budget. Indeed, in a way it’s rather flattering when these comparisons are made between Alien and Inseminoid, because they had a budget of $20-30 million and we made ours for $2 million. This was possible because we shot it in Chiselhurst Caves in Surrey rather than on a set, which was cold, damp and claustrophobic, but gave us stuff that we could never have afforded to build”.

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Norman also recalls the extent to which this picture benefited from the trojan efforts of his players, particularly two well-known actresses: “Stephanie Beacham was a joy to work with, and Judy Geeson (above) was an absolute dream – she was just so enthusiastic, involved in the whole production. I don’t think she had more than two or three days off in the entire schedule and even on those days she insisted on turning up, simply because she didn’t want to miss anything that was happening. I caught up with Judy recently in Hollywood, and happily she’s now over some of the personal problems she’s been suffering… she told me it’s amazing how many people she meets bring up the subject of Inseminoid, even today”.

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Several contemporary and subsequent reviews of Inseminoid questioned why there was a need for quite so many chainsaws in pursuance of interplanetary exploration, to which Norman smilingly responds: “Why wouldn’t there be?” There’s really no answer to that, so I changed the subject to the film’s VHS re-release by the revived Vipco label, which was hyped along the ridiculous lines of being “The greatest ever bunk-up in outer space” (or some such nonsense) shortly before the company went belly-side up again in the wake of such disastrous releases as The Nostril Picker. “It wasn’t just that they were putting out rubbish, they was putting out too much, too soon”, opines Norman: “You only had to do a few sums to see that it was quite crazy, because putting out a video is not that cheap, and there weren’t enough people buying those things to offset that sort of cost. It’s very disappointing when these things blow up, but when it does happen, it’s usually their own fault. Richard Gordon is now desperately trying to find out where the master has gone…” (we heard that Vipco mastered some of their stuff from VHS!) “… and who is making money on the copies that are still floating around”.

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As for the promised “bunk-up” that never actually transpires… “That’s down to the way some people misunderstood the insemination sequence, where there’s a sort of plastic tube that’s going into Judy, and people got the mistaken impression that it’s the alien’s penis but we never intended that, because if he’s an alien, why would he have a penis that’s compatible with a human being?” “Or made out of plastic?” I add, helpfully. “Yes, that was supposed to be some kind of artificial insemination equipment, and we shot that sequence very impressionistically, to be like a dream, because I know that if we had shot it straight, it would have played like a rape scene and been cut out. So it has this sort of abstract quality to it that the censors didn’t mind”.

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In the mid-80s Norman found himself making a brace of pictures for producer Maxine Julian, whose penny pinching ways made for a couple of dispiriting experiences: “We had to fight to stop Bloody New Year (below) going out as ‘Time Warp Terror’, not that this improved the film very much! It was a terrible disappointment to me – there were just so many problems with the production, and Maxine didn’t even like horror films, she was only interested in saving money and making it in as short a space of time as possible. It was a wasted opportunity, because the script was pretty good”.

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The other fruit of Norman’s Maxine Julian period, that classic of camp espionage cinema Gunpowder, used to turns up regularly on UK TV in the early hours of the morning. “That’s exactly where it belongs!”, he laughs: “Maxine had made some strange arrangement by which we were shooting in Macclesfield, not an easy place to do things, and she was only casting people who lived within driving distance of Macclesfield (because she wouldn’t pay for hotels) and yet didn’t have a Cheshire accent. For some reason she had us shooting in November / December, so doing scenes on the river with a boat and a helicopter, the biggest problem was to stop the actors going completely blue, you know? All the time, the budget was shrinking before our very eyes. She was sending back important props that we hadn’t finished with, then she went and bought stock footage, so there’s a wonderful scene in where you get this giant army helicopter landing and all these men pouring out of it, then cut back to our footage and there five men coming through the trees… if you look carefully at the battle scene, you’ll find that the same people are on both sides! There was one scene, I’m not joking, where she wanted to indicate a submarine by having somebody walk around in this pond, holding a bit of drainpipe above the surface, looking like a periscope! I said we’ll never get away with this, I point-blank refused to shoot it!” (Laughs)

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“Those two knocked my enthusiasm a bit” admits Norman: “I enjoy working in the low budget field, but even I have my limits. The one lesson I did learn is that you’ve got to have a producer who loves what you’re doing as much as you do, who’s not just an accountant. I decided that I’m never going to work like that again – even if it put me out of directing again for a long time, I just couldn’t stand to do another Gunpowder or Bloody New Year”.

fiend_without_face_poster_02.jpgKeeping himself going with commercials, rock videos and educational films for the BBC (precisely none of which concerned the menace of Satanism!), Norman has been preparing his long-mooted remake of / sequel to seminal 50’s alien invasion stop-motion fest Fiend Without A Face: “It’s now in what will hopefully be the final re-write stage, just a matter of tidying up and working on the characters, taking on some comments that Richard Gordon has been making and hopefully when that’s concluded, within the next month or so, we’ll be ready to take it to the next stage. The alarming thing is what a painfully slow process it is. When I sat down and realised how long I’d been tinkering around with Fiend, it scared the life out of me, but then the likes of Shallow Grave, Jacob’s Ladder and even Forest Gump were knocking around for years as scripts before they were finally shot. Funnily enough, Bob Keen’s movie Proteus is now going through, and Bob just reminded me that he was originally contacted about that movie when I was supposed to be directing it. I’d forgotten because it was called Shaper or something in those days. We couldn’t get it off the ground then because the shape-shifting effects proved too alarming, cost-wise, for possible backers”.

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Undeterred, Norman won’t be sparing the special effects in his new version of Fiends: “It’ll employ a combination of stop-motion, animation, some computerised effects and, on top of that, probably some straight forward old-fashioned physical effects, where it’s all done right there in front of the camera. The monster brains will be recognisably like the old ones, but we’re writing them to be much more nasty, they’re really vicious little things this time out. They’ll also be much harder to kill… remember in the first film, they were stopped by blowing up a nuclear power station? That shows you how naive people were, back in the ‘50s!”

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Meanwhile, the quest to secure financing continues: “When I was trying to set up Beyond Terror I encountered a lot of resistance to the idea of making a genre film. The moment you mention horror or science fiction you could almost feel this barrier coming down, they really didn’t want to be associated with it. Undoubtedly, recent increases in censorship have contributed to this attitude, but I find it such a perverse one because horror has always been the most successful genre, it’s just gone on for ever. If you talk to any video distributor or supplier, and people who have film libraries, they say the most profitable things for them are the horror pictures – they never seem to date. People will rent a horror picture when it’s donkey’s years old, whereas they won’t necessarily be doing that with one of the current big releases in ten years, or even a couple of years time. This a genre that I enjoy very much and, although I’m always looking for opportunities in The States, I’d really prefer, if possible, to do it in Britain, because everyone acknowledges that we’re capable of producing very high quality work over here. Despite everything, the horror film hasn’t gone under. It keeps fighting back… I think it’s going to be with us forever!”

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Norman, photo-bombed by fanboy git. Yesterday.

 

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Loads More Mister Nice Guy… NORMAN J. WARREN Celebrated On Indicator’s BLOODY TERROR Box Set.

maxresdefault.jpg“I’m very pleasantly surprised by this ongoing interest in my work, not just for me but because it’s bringing attention to all the films that were being made during that period. I think some of the younger fans are not only amazed that there was a British industry in those days, but that these sort of films, with such graphic content, were being made here. Those who’ve managed to see an un-cut foreign print of Satan’s Slave, for instance, are quite shocked that a movie like that could have been made in this country and that it could have been seen commercially in cinemas… they all were, that’s something I’m very proud of, that they were all shown theatrically”. Norman J. Warren, in an interview from the Freudstein archives…

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BD. Indicator. Region Free. 18.

Nice guys, proverbially, finish last. The career of Norman J Warren (by general assent, just about the nicest guy you’re likely to meet) never quite took him into the Premier League of genre directors. Then again, neither did that of his contemporary and peer Pete Walker… and Walker was definitely not the nicest guy I’ve ever encountered during my three decades-plus as a hack journo. The release of this limited edition (6,000 units) Indicator BD box comes as an opportunity to praise Norman, not to bury him… to fondly salute a body of work in which enthusiastic cinephilia, rugged resourcefulness and sheer bloody minded determination  trumped slender resources in a manner that’s both redolent of its era and eminently watchable today.

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The Terror mounts. In Terror.

Like Walker (albeit with markedly less enthusiasm), Warren lost his directorial cherry making soft core sex films before graduating to the chillers with which he really felt comfortable. This long overdue HD upgrade of Norman’s Horror / Sci-fi output (give or take 1979’s Outer Touch / Spaced Out ) disregards his skin-flick phase though there are smutty traces of it in e.g. Terror (1983), one of whose two films-within-a-film, “Bath Time With Brenda”, plays like a more or less affectionate memoir of his, Walker’s and indeed their shared screen writer David McGillivray’s experiences in the skin trade… you’ll notice that at no point in her ablutions does sexy Brenda (the larger than life Tricia Walsh) actually remove her bra.

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Main features wise, Bloody Terror emulates Anchor Bay’s DVD set from 15 years ago… alongside Terror you get Satan’s Slave (1976), Prey (1977) and Inseminoid (1981), all looking significantly better for their HD upgrades. Indicator have also thrown in a badly conserved and frankly ropey-looking print of 1987’s Bloody New Year (the original elements of which were accidentally destroyed!) for NJW Horror completists. If you’re already familiar with this label’s Night Of The Demon and William Castle box sets, you won’t be surprised to learn that they’ve also packed the thing with a bewildering amount of extras… on which, more later.

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Satan’s Slave is your basic “reincarnation of the ancestral witch via human sacrifice” effort, the best example of which remains (and probably always will) Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan / Black Sunday (1960). The presence of Michael Gough as its presiding cultist Alexander Yorke probably makes Vernon Sewell’s Curse Of The Crimson Altar (1968, above) a more pertinent comparator, though here Gough’s got nothing like the cast of Horror A-listers (Karloff, Lee, Steele) he had to play off in Sewell’s picture… would’ve been a different story altogether had female lead Candace Glendenning (who plays his niece Catherine) not (reportedly) turned down the Linda Blair role in The Exorcist (d’oh!) As it is, she’s now best known for this one, Pete Walker’s The Flesh And Blood Show and Jim O’Connolly’s ‘s Tower Of Evil (both 1972)… not a bad little legacy from our obviously warped Freudsteinian perspective. Catherine doesn’t let a little thing like her Mum and Dad being immolated in a car crash, en route, spoil her enjoyment of the hospitality at Uncle Alexander’s place, where she’s romanced by creepy cousin Stephen (Martin Potter), whom we earlier saw sexually assaulting a previous guest before slamming her head in a door. Satan’s Slave was predictably butchered by the BBFC back in the day but here restored in not one but two distinct variants (compared and contrasted in a companion featurette). The “export version” features a more protracted and delirious rendition of the sexual assault described above, while Norman’s preferred “director’s cut” soft pedals that scene but has all the BBFC cuts restored. Both versions feature sleazy Steve (deservedly) getting a nail file jammed into his lecherous eye before the distinctly guessable twist ending. Spoiler, you say? It made a right bloody mess of his face, I can tell you…

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“Ooh, that’s gotta hurt…”

If Satan’s Slave scours the ’70s for some scrap of Gothic sensibility, Warren’s subsequent films played out in increasingly contemporary and even futuristic milieus. Sure, Terror kicks off with further witch hunting shenanigans but these turn out to be scenes from a film being screened for its cast and crew… you might even recognise the odd film journalist in there. Rest assured, several of the assembled subsequently suffer a series of grisly demises. Norman has freely admitted that he had recently seen and was under the spell of Suspiria when he conceived this one, as is evident in the film’s occasional stabs of saturated primary colours but more obviously in its abandonment of narrative logic as the designer deaths pile, thick and fast, upon each other. Terror’s no Suspiria but it’s great fun.

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“If you pick them, they’ll never get better…” Prey.

Between Satan’s Slave and Terror, Norman’s gory predelictions took a turn for the Sci-fi  in Prey. Released in 1976, the same year as a certain Nic Roeg / David Bowie collaboration, this one could be neatly summarised as “the man (Barry Stokes) who fell To Earth, dabbled in cross dressing then started eating his way through the human race, starting with a lesbian couple (Sally Faulkner and Glory Annen) who are trying to get away from it all in the country”. Beset with familiar pacing problems, Prey packs enough non-sequitur splatter and scuzzy sex to win the coveted HOF seal of approval.

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Norman’s knack for anticipating big budget Sci-Fi efforts continued with Inseminoid (“Horrorplanet” in The States), a film which caused the bods at 20th Century Fox serious consternation on account of its perceived similarity to Alien. Warren insists that it was arrived at independently of the Ridley Scott blockbuster and I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt a) because he is, as I keep saying, such a nice guy and b) because of the characteristically lengthy and bumpy gestation endured by Inseminoid… nowhere near as traumatic a confinement, of course, as that suffered by Sally Geeson when impregnated by some alien booger while she and fellow astronauts are excavating the remains of a dead civilisation on a planet very, very far away. Norman got maximum space location bang for his buck by shooting in Chislehurst caves and Inseminoid looks mighty fine in scope dimensions. Nice electronic score by John Scott, too…

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Bloody New Year (1987) has, for reasons mentioned above, been sourced from a 35mm print that looks like it was soaked in alien jizz on that faraway planet. By this point Norman was still trying to get his Fiend Without A Face reboot off the ground while working as a hired gun (in this instance for producer Maxine Julius). At the time of writing the FWAF clips and allusions with which Bloody New Year is peppered remain the closest he has come to realising that particular dream project. The film itself concerns a bunch of yooves in horrible ’80s apparel who, fleeing a funfair rumble, find themselves on a remote island where sinister secret Ministry of Defence experiments have put a serious dent in the space / time continuum. Plenty of potential in this scenario and BNY has it moments but ultimately not even the ever enthusiastic NJW could do much with the resources made available to him here.

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Never saying die, NJW continues to seeking that elusive next feature break while busying himself with small projects, many of them represented among the extras on this collection. Norman J Warren Presents Horrorshow (2008) can be neatly summarised as Tales From The Crypt meets Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell, with Norman presiding as horror host over the linking sections. He trades once again on his elder statesman status in the “Norman J. Warren & The Ghost” edition of the “Turn Your Bloody Phone Off” audience advisory series and narrates the trailer to somebody else’s still unrealised (as far as I can work out) House Of Mortal Sin update Daddy Cross.

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Just about anybody who’s ever collaborated with Norman is represented here in an interview, director profile or commentary track. The ever-enchanting Stephanie Beacham is as good VFM as ever, remeniscing about her time on “Insecticide” and as for the perma-jolly Trevor Thomas… I’ll have a pint of whatever he’s on, please! Tasters of unrealised projects, extended scenes, “making of”s … and so many interviews! After absorbing the contents of this box, you might well decide that you never want to see another interview with Norman J. Warren as long as you live! (*)

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You even get one of the lucrative TV commercials that Norman regularly churned out for board games in the run ups to Christmas (in this instance Whipper Snappers from 1977). Still no Rod The Mod, though… the 1965 short Fragment, present on previous releases, has been lost in the shuffle this time out…. and when, oh when are we going to see the full length Bath Time With Brenda?

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Keep your eye on Norman J. Warren, one nice guy who hopefully isn’t finished just yet.

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(*) So obviously our next posting, arriving imminently, will be… The Norman J. Warren Interview!!!

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Hope I Choke On A Chicken Bone Before I Get Old… THE LEGACY On Indicator Blu-ray.

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The Poles sure have a way with these things…

BD. Indicator. Region Free. 18.
Released 29/07/19.

By the mid-70s Roger Daltrey had missed out on joining The 27 Club and – contrary to the iconic line he spat out during My Generation – was facing the serious prospect of growing old before he died. In search of new challenges he took up a movie career… but how far would it take him? A starring role in Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975) was the most obvious shoo-in ever and his next eponymous turn, in cuddly Ken’s Lisztomania (the same year) could have been written off as just another spasm of wilfully provocative casting (the same film features Paul Nicholas as Richard Wagner, Ringo Starr as the Pope and Rick Wakeman as – who else? – Thor…)

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For God’s sake Rog, put it away…

How to make the jump to big(ish) budgeted international pictures? Well, Daltrey was ideally placed to lend the producers of The Legacy (1978) his impressive country manor to shoot in, on the proviso that they award him a prominent part in the picture. Noblesse oblige and all that…

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Given how well this fitted in with the producers’ Omen-copying brief of American money, picturesque UK locations, a strong cast and a series of spectacularly violent designer deaths (all whipped into something approaching a coherent script by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster), they bit Daltrey’s arm off. Actually, they choked him on a migrant chicken bone but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

58882.jpgThe Legacy is best viewed as a quintessentially batty American fantasy about how arcane aristocratic interest groups in little old England manipulate money and power to control the world. David Icke probably watched it before dreaming up some of his more florid conspiracy theories. Decent Americans Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) and her partner Pete (Sam Elliott) fly from LA to England on the strength of some ill-defined job offer and end up enjoying (but not a lot) the hospitality of Ravenhurst Manor after their motorbike has been “accidentally” run off the road by mysterious toff Jason Mountolive (John Standing). Five other guests arrive at the same time, all of them affluent but distinctly shady characters. All of them wear distinctive gothic rings and Maggie gets one too, after an abrupt encounter with a decrepit old geezer concealed behind a surgical curtain. Ominously, she can’t pull it off (as the actress said to the bishop…)

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When swimming ace Maria Gabrielli (Olympic swimmer turned glamour model and briefly actress Marianne Broome) drowns in the Manor’s swimming pool (her remains and all the subsequent ones are neatly disposed of by Nurse Adams, a show stealing performance by Margaret Tyzack), Maggie and Pete decide to bail, only to discover that all roads lead back to Ravenhurst, where the supernatural game of Ten Little whatevers now begins in earnest.

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Clive, the music biz big knob (I thought I told you to put it away, Rog!) chokes on a chicken bone (strangely enough, as he was eating ham) and expires while Nurse Adams is improvising a gory tracheotomy on him… seems a darkly ironic way to do away with a singer. Karl (Charles Gray), having shown Maggie a portrait of Elizabethan witch Margaret Walshingham that’s a dead ringer for her, is consumed by a backdraft from an open fire and his charred corpse fed to the hounds. Barbara Kirstenburg (Hildegard Neil) is punctured by multiple shards of glass from an exploding mirror, which leaves Jacques Grandier (Lee Montague) to shoot it out with Maggie and Pete for acquition of the dying Jason Mountolive’s Satanic legacy. There’s a nice ambiguity to the closing scene, which was never ruined by any clumsy sequels…

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… which suggests that The Legacy underperformed at the box office. No matter, here’s the film’s UK BD debut, in a characteristically spiffing Indicator limited edition (3,000 copies), just crying out for rediscovery and reassessment. Sangster does a great job of passing the nonsensical plot off as vaguely plausible, the photography (split between Dick Bush,  Alan Hume and – for the underwater stuff – Michel Gemmell) and camera operation (courtesy of Ian Henderson) are exemplary and former documentarian Richard Marquand handles the action with a facility that foreshadows his later direction of The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and reinforces the impression that somebody had just seen and been very impressed by Dario Argento’s then-recent Suspiria (1977). I mean… decrepit bed-ridden Satanists in forbidding mansions, lingering overhead shots of swimming  women, people punctured by shards of mirrors and climactic death falls through ornate glass panels… where have we seen those before? Pity Marquand didn’t have access to The Goblins, Michael J. Lewis’s score being a bit by-the-numbers “scary”.

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Speaking of legacies, Ross and Elliot met on set, romance blossomed (slowly… see how chastely they kiss) and are still married today.

legs_post_cat_2.jpgAs you’d expect from an Indicator release, the main feature looks and sounds just fab (in a choice of standard definition UK theatrical cut and HD, marginally tightened US variant… you also get a “compare and contrast” featurette) and is loaded with extras. Kevin Lyons provides the well-researched audio commentary (must have a good collection of books about horror cinema) and award-winning editor (the recently deceased) Anne V. Coates recalls her work on The Legacy, for which she also directed some uncredited second unit stuff. Second unit director of record Joe Marks recalls his contributions, moans about the stuff that he didn’t get credit for and opines that he doesn’t regard Roger Daltrey as a musician (this must be why they run those disclaimers about the opinions of contributors not being endorsed by the label and its affiliates). Robin Grantham discusses the many make-up creations he came up with for the film. You also get the expected trailer and image gallery but, most interestingly, 27 minutes of Between The Anvil And The Hammer (1973), a “day in the life of the Liverpool police force” effort directed by Marquand for the much missed Central Office of Information.

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Richard Marquand (1937-87) and friends…

I haven’t had the chance to scrutinise the 40-page booklet that will accompany this release but am reliably informed that it comprises a new essay by Julian Upton, an archival location report, Jimmy Sangster on The Legacy, extracts from the novelisation, an overview of critical responses, an introduction to Between the Anvil and the Hammer and film credits… choke on ’em!

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Brain Salad Surgery… DEATH WARMED UP, Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“We’ve got an emergency here… a break out of psycho patients!”

Mad scientists…. a crazy bunch of bastards! Am I right or am I right? From Frankenstein to Moreau, Butcher to Dolittle, they’ve actually done very little to improve the human condition (which is generally their professed intention), more often than not opening up unprecedented vistas of dystopian degradation while trying. To be fair to Dr D, inter-species communication has proved to be a real boon but there’s always an exception to prove the rule and the rule, reasserted in spades in David Blyth’s Kiwisploitation epic Death Warmed Up (1984), is that disregard of medical ethics, no matter how lofty the reasoning behind it, bears catastrophic fruit, often in the form of psychotic survivors of speculative brain surgery running amok…

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Here, self proclaimed medical messiah Dr Howell (Gary Day) has decided to extend his surgical experiments on rats’ brains to human beings, confident that he can “make Death obsolete”. Pointing out the worrying side effects of these procedures (which will become all too painfully obvious as the plot unwinds), his colleague Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) demurs. Incensed by such lily-livered shilly-shallying, Howell brainwashes Tucker’s son Michael (Michael Hurst), by unspecified means, into going home and blasting Mom and Dad away with a shotgun (just as they were settling down to an agreeable spot of middle aged-nookie… he could at least have let Mom and Dad finish, out of simple courtesy!)

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Several years later Michael is released from the high security booby hatch to which he had, not unreasonably, been confined. He seems to have picked up the pieces of his life admirably well. While he looked even sillier than Angus Young as a schoolboy assassin, the grown up, bleached blond Michael more closely resembles Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner… quite the cool dude. He’s got a foxy girlfriend, Sandy (Margaret Umbers, whose swimwear stylings will interest all serious students of bactrian podiatry) and two great mates, Lucas (William Upjohn) and Jeannie (Norelle Scott). Together they embark on a happy-go-lucky holiday trip to a remote island but instead of sun, sand and sex, his friends are in for death, destruction and dismemberment… Michael forgot to mention that their destination is the location of Dr Howell’s Institute for Trans Cranial Applications, where he’s heading with vengeance uppermost in his damaged brain. As “luck” would have it, the Doc’s pissed-off patients start kicking off just as they arrive and Michael must fight his way through a horde of mutilation-bent mutants –  led by the relentless Spider (David Letch) – en route to the climactic confrontation with his Nemesis…

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“I’ll get you, you bastards!”

Over the Tasman Sea, Australian censors did’t get this film’s punk rock / comic book aesthetic of OTT outrage and Death Warmed Up found itself banned on the grounds of “excessive violence” (nowadays they’d probably be more worried about its stereotypical “comic” depiction of a Sub-Continental convenience store propreitor). Whatever, Peter Jackson obviously managed a squint at it, as cursory examination of his early gore trilogy eloquently testifies (thankfully David Blythe never made the jump to mega-budgeted muppet monstrosities). On account of this obvious influence, DWU has latterly been hailed as some kind of trailblazer for Antipodean atrocity, though it obviously owes its own debt to George Miller’s Mad Max I and II. Its sub-Blake’s 7 production design also brings to mind (to my twisted mind, anyway) that 1979 Lee Cooper commercial with the Gary Numan music…

… and of course Blyth’s cautionary tale of medical missteps would make for a tasty double bill viewed alongside Anthony Balch’s uproarious Horror Hospital (1973, below).

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Extras include interviews with David “Spider” Letch (who comes across as a benign, avuncular figure now that his eyebrows have grown back) and a double header with director Blyth and writer Michael Heath. Those two also provide optional audio commentaries to the main feature and also a reel of (sometimes mysteriously) deleted footage. As well as the expected trailers and TV spots, you can also watch original NZ 4×3 VHS cut, should you choose to do so. My copy came in an attractive slip case featuring the original poster art work by King of Quad, Graham Humphreys.

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The main feature is a bit grainy and there are some sonic imperfections but what do you expect, given the provenance of this picture… I mean, how slick do you want your Punk Rock, anyway?

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