Posts Tagged With: Italian Gothic

Je Te Tue … Moi Non Plus! 7 DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE Reviewed

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BD. Region B.  88 Films. 15.

1973  was an especially busy year for prolific journeyman Antonio Margheriti, during which he contributed to the direction of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dracula brace (officially credited to Paul Morrissey) and still found time to knock out the risible Hercules Vs Kung Fu… also the item under consideration here. Prolific as he was, this is just Margheriti’s second and, it turned out, final giallo, one which owes more to Mario Bava’s (and indeed Margheriti’s own) gothique efforts than it does to, e.g. Blood and Black Lace (1964.) If anything, it’s a less florid variation on Bava’s Lisa And The Devil (which was made and promptly buried in the same year.) 7DITCE opens with the same “body in the box in the cellar” McGuffin as Margheriti’s only other Italian slasher, Nude… Si Muore / School Girl Killer / The Young The Evil And The Savage (1968.) Once that body has been secreted in the cellar of Drakenstein Castle, no less, young heiress Corringa MacGrieff (Jane Birkin, looking particularly succulent but conspicuously dubbed) turns up at the very familiar looking (to Italian exploitation buffs) “Scottish” castle. Corringa’s aunt, the family matriarch, announces that she’d rather die than sell her niece’s inheritance, an ironic prelude to the imminent kill-fest. In swim the expected shoal of red herrings… James the Byronicaly cool but totally insane cousin who allegedly killed his sister when they were both children (Hiram “Satyricon” Keller, in a role analogous to the one taken by Alessio Orano in Lisa And The Devil)… Doris Kuntsmann as Suzanne, the intriguing, bisexual French teacher (who takes little care to conceal her amorous designs on Corringa)

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… Dr Franz (Anton Diffring… just being Anton Diffring!)… not to mention James’ pet gorilla (despise Margheriti’s rep as an FX ace, the ape is rendered via poverty row suitmation)… Serge Gainsbourg as “the police inspector” doesn’t get much screen-time (perhaps he came as a package deal with Birkin) and spends most of it struggling with his dubbed Scottish accent  (“There’s bin a Muuuurder!”) and visibly failing to get interested in a role which the screen writers couldn’t even be arsed to attach to a name. The talismanic Allan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi) is also pretty much wasted as “Angus.” Venantino Venantini is “the Reverend Robertson”… or is he? Matters are further muddled  by a pointless family legend about vampires, which manages to find its way into Corringa’s dreams and bump up the running time a bit.

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Meanwhile the culling of the clan MacGrieff cracks on apace. Only that darn cat witnesses all the killings… and pussy ain’t saying nothin’! Lady Alicia, Corringa’s Mum, is smothered with a pillow. Then Corringa, during her nocturnal wandering through the castle’s many secret passageways, discovers the rat-nibbled corpse in the cellar. While that’s giving her the heebie-jeebies she is attacked by a bat… I bet she wishes she’d never thrown that bible on the fire! Angus rescues the eponymous feline from the family crypt, only to have his throat slashed. Just before his wife Maria (the matriarch who won’t sell the castle) discovers him making out with Suzanne, the bilingual, bisexual teacher, Diffring asks her “are you excited by all the blood that’s flowing around here?” Sure thing. Aided by an overwrought Riz Ortolani score, Margheriti builds nicely to a frantic climax, as Diffring gets his throat slashed, closely followed by the guy in the gorilla suit (what, precisely was the point of having him in the movie, anyway?) Then Suzanne cops it. That body in the box turns out to be the real Reverend Robertson and the killer (guess who?) is explaining his ludicrous motivation to Corringa, prior to killing her, when Inspector Gainsbourg pops up and guns him down. Entertainingly  corny stuff. Somebody really ought to make a board game out of this one!

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Troy Howarth (you might remember him from such voice overs as…) provides the commentary track here and told me he’s interested in knowing what I thought of it. Well, he’s clearly studied hard at the school of Tim Lucas and that’s no bad thing, especially when you contrast it with e.g the commentary on 88’s Burial Ground disc, which seems to catch the “film expert” who delivers it in the first throes of early onset Alzheimer’s. Howarth is avuncular, authoritative and strikes a nice balance between fact and opinion. On the odd occasion when I don’t agree with his opinion, he expresses it so cogently that I’m obliged to re-examine and clarify my own, which is always a useful exercise. Sometimes, as Troy himself concedes here, he does rather overdo details from the CVs of actors who play only a marginal role in the proceedings but genre fans can be a pretty anal bunch and I’m sure there are many of them who’ll appreciate this stuff more than I do. Howarth yacks entertainingly and amusingly throughout and with just one brief outbreak of dead air, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he came prepared, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a run through before the tapes started rolling. I’ve taken all of this on board and will put it to good use in the unlikely event that I’m ever offered another commentary gig.

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One aspect of this film that TH deservedly flags up is the superb job done by cinematographer Carlo Carlini and indeed, there are shots here that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Mario Bava film. I’ve never had much to say about this in my previous scribblings on the subject of 7DITCE, then again, the film has never looked this good. My comments about one or two of 88s previous BD transfers have been a bit sniffy (and rightly so) but they’ve done a cracking job with this one… ravishing stuff!

Bonus materials (aside from that commentary track and the expected reversible sleeve) comprise English and Italian trailers and an interview with Margheriti’s so Edo. He’s quick to scotch any rumours of bad blood between Mario Bava and his father and, talks of a childhood visit to the set of Seven Deaths and his father’s efficient way of getting the best out of his low budgets. He even attempts to name the guilty man inside the gorilla suit, only for memory to fail him… maybe next time, eh?

JANE BIRKIN

Yum…

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… yum!

 

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Barbara’s Castles… THREE BARBARA STEELE FILMS on one Severin BD

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Blu-ray. Severin. Regions A/B/C. Unrated.

Also known as Night Of The Doomed, Faceless Monster, Orgasmo and Lovers from Beyond The Tomb (translating the Italian release title, Amanti D’Olretomba) and made in 1965, just before the Italian Gothique cycle abruptly gave way to spaghetti westerns and gialli, this is Mario Caiano’s self declared attempt (albeit under the pseudonym Allen Grunewald) to pay hommage to the creepy monochrome classics of Freda, Bava, Margheriti, et al. Severin’s appropriately gaudy sleeve quotes Monsters At Play (who they?) to the effect that Caiano actually surpasses the achievements of Mario Bava in this endeavour and while that claim is palpably far fetched, Caiano has undoubtedly authored a strong entry in the genre here.

As is traditional, Barbara Steele (her surname misspelled in the film’s poverty row titles) essays a double role, appearing first as Muriel Arrowsmith, whose life at Hampton Castle (supposedly somewhere in England but easily recognisable from a million other Italian fright flicks… its very name suggestive of former Freda glories) is intolerably dreary due to scientist husband Stephen (Paul Muller) spending most of his time in the lab, experimenting on frogs. Muriel spices things up by meeting gardener / stud David (Rik Battaglia) for Lady Chatterley-type trysts in the greenhouse. Betrayed by leper-faced servant Solange (Helga Line), these lovers are chained up in the castle’s dungeon, tortured with pokers and acid and eventually electrocuted. Needless to say, before she pops her delectable clogs, Muriel vows vengeance from beyond the grave and also lets slip that she has willed the castle to her mentally infirm step-sister Jenny.

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Time passes and when we return to Castle Hampton, Stephen has restored Solange’s beauty with his experiments and a pint or eight of Muriel’s blood (further shades of Dr Hichcock) and is now hitched to Jenny (Steele again), whom of course he’s planning to bump off. For a mere step-sister, Jenny bears a remarkable resemblance to Muriel, excepting only her blonde locks (don’t you hate it when dark-haired beauties go blonde? Angelina Jolie, Beatrice Dalle, Penelope Cruz… just don’t do it, girls!) As Jenny’s obsession with a portrait of Muriel propels her to learn the truth about what happened to her sibling, Stephen and Solange’s plans to do do away with her are given added urgency. Jenny’s conundrum (Is she just mad? Are they really out to get her? And is there some kind of supernatural higher power operating?) drive her to the brink of (yet another) breakdown and hunky shrink Dereck Joyce (Lawrence Clift) is called in to restore her rationality, though his self-proclaimed belief in paranormal phenomena hardly qualify him as the ideal candidate for the job.  When Doctor Dereck gets a bit too close to the truth for comfort, Stephen arranges to electrocute him in his bath, though it’s butler Jonathan (Giuseppe Addobbati) who ends up taking the fatal shock. This is just about Jonathan’s only appearance in the picture and his character seems to have been conceived (by Caiano and co-writer Fabio De Agostini) purely to save Joyce’s bacon and supply sinister Stephen with the pretext for one of his best one-liners in the picture: “Ten minutes ago that man was a picture of health… now he’s ready for the worms!”

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Impatient with all this pussy footing around, the vengeful shades of Muriel and David finally put in an appearance… Jenny is rescued from the fatal transfusion that would have topped up the rejuvenation regime of Solange (who consequently crumbles into a skeletal state) and Stephen is trussed up in his burning castle, from which Jenny and Doctor D escape, no doubt to live happily ever after. Defying the meanest of resources, DP Enzo Barboni (who would shoot Sergio Corbucci’s Django the following year and went on to become a spagwest director in his own right) performs chiaroscuro wonders with the contours of Steele’s wonderful face throughout and he and Caiano’s efforts are well rendered in a crisp 1.66:1 / 16×9 HD restoration from the negative that keeps an inevitable degree of frame damage to the barest minimum. The film’s OST is provided by Ennio Morricone but his first horror outing is surprisingly forgettable, given that he had already scored A Fistful Of Dollars.

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In terms of Nightmare Castle-related extras, in addition to UK and UK trailers you get an interview with director Caiano (and assorted pets) which is reasonably engaging but only serves as the appetiser for an audience with Barbaric Steele herself, Baroness Barbara of Birkenhead (complete with snarling eyebrows)… exactly the kind of coup that we’ve come to expect from the Severin boys. Steele has reportedly been reluctant, in the past, to acknowledge her Italian horror credits but shows no such qualms here, reminiscing freely about her reign as the Queen of Italian Gothique, though predictably she has a lot more to say about her relatively brief working relationship with Fellini. Most tantalisingly, she mentions the unrealised horror project in which Antonioni planned to star La Steele alongside his muse, Monica Vitti. Currently clocking in (by my reckoning) at 71 years of age, she still looks beautiful and still comes across in this indispensable featurette as more than a little bonkers… Steele crazy after all these years…

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… and that’s really not the half of it as far as bonus materials go on this disc! As supporting attractions you get no less than two additional gothique Steele vehicles, Massimo Pupillo’s Terror Creatures From The Grave (1965) and Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabre (1963), each with their own associated supplementary stuff. Pupillo’s Ibsenesque saga of leprous undead vengeance is at least as good as Nightmare Castle. Margheriti’s effort is even better (generally regarded as the cream of the Bava wannabes… bogus Edgar Allan Poe attribution notwithstanding) and probably would have taken lead billing here if not for the damaged and compromised nature of the only print available, retitled Castle Of Blood for the U.S. market… a tantalising glimpse of the lost original.

You’re probably thinking that those two deserve reviews in their own right and you’d be correct… but I’ve stalled reviewing this essential BD release for too long already. Keep checking here, it’s my intention to revisit and expand this posting. But don’t hold your breath and in the meantime… buy this disc!

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The Night Evelyn Came Back In A Pawn Film: Arrow’s KILLER DAMES Box Reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

Arrow’s tasty “Killer Dames” limited edition box set collates a giallo brace from the  elusive Emilio P. Miraglia… 1971’s The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave and the following year’s The Red Queen Kills 7 Times. The mysterious Miraglia never returned to the Italian whodunnit genre thereafter… indeed, he managed only one more movie, the spagwest Joe Dakota (1972) before concluding a directorial career that had begun five scant years previously, after an apprenticeship that included assisting Carlo Lizzani, Steno and a certain Lucio Fulci. In both of the films under consideration here he cross fertilises familiar giallo tropes (high fashion, slick “modern” settings and the louche lifestyles of affluent swingers) with elements from the earlier Italian gothique cycle (cobwebbed castles and dank dungeons, inheritances and family curses, closeted mad characters, bats in the belfry and ghosts.) Incorporating any kind of supernatural element can be the kiss of death for a giallo… see, for instance (come to think of it, don’t bother) Mario Colucci’s Something Creeping In The Dark (1971) or Giuseppe Bennati’s The Killer Reserved 9 Seats (1974)… though Antonio Margheriti’s Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eye, (1973) just about pulls it off. Thankfully Miraglia handles his ghoulies with similar aplomb and also packs Evelyn with lashings of the old ultra-violence and kinky sex a-g0-go… hardly surprising when you consider that writer Massimo Felisatti later penned Andrea Binachi’s deliciously grubby Edwige Fenech vehicle Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975.)

Django The Bastard and Crimes Of The Black Cat alumnus “Anthony Steffen” (Antonio De Teffe) was the son of a Brazilian diplomat, which (sort of) makes him ideal casting for the role of depraved English aristocrat Lord Alan Cunningham, who shares Hugo Stiglitz’s questionable sexual predilections from Night Of A Thousand Cats not to mention his lurid Austin Powers wardrobe and woodentop levels of thespian attainment.409b834edd73e414becf1d4d43904c1b.jpg

This guy haunts the swinging night spots of an England that has never existed outside the imagination of Emilio Miraglia, cruising for dolly birds. They’ve got to be red heads, mind you, and to check that they’re not cheating him with wigs, he makes a point of tugging sharply on their tresses. Any gold digging ginger bint not sufficiently discouraged by this suggestion of sadism (not to mention Steffen’s collection of cheese cravats) is taken to his country pile, encouraged to try on leather thigh boots, then soundly thrashed with a bull whip before His Lordship succumbs to convulsions and unconsciousness. Lord C’s politically incorrect attitude towards the fairer sex can apparently be traced back to the infidelity of his dead wife Evelyn (rendered by endless flash back shots of her running around bare-assed in slow motion, to the accompaniment of a Bruno Nicolai theme that vaguely recalls the famous one his mate Ennio Morricone furnished for Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker!) Round about this point it starts dawning on the astonished viewer that Lord Cunningham is actually being presented as a sympathetic character… yes, you’re expected to start rooting for this loopy libertine! Ah well, it was 1971… and of course his antics make it very easy for him to be framed for murder.

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Evelyn’s brother Albert (Roberto Maldera) who works as groundsman at the mansion, is blackmailing his employer about the apparent disappearance of all these girls. The noble nut case is on the verge of branding one such unfortunate pick up when a surprise appearance by Evelyn, notably decomposing, causes him to throw a particularly epic mong attack. His psychiatrist (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) urges him to quit the mansion and try to get over Evelyn before he goes totally off his rocker (hm, that particular stallion has already departed the paddock, methinks…)

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Slimy cousin George (“Rod Murdock” = Enzo Tarascio), a sexually ambiguous weekend hippy who’s next in line to inherit the family fortune (worth keeping an eye on, then) prescribes a recreational visit to London’s Krazy Kat club, a joint that panders to every psychedelic, swinging cliche in the book. Here Lord C. witnesses a hysterical strip routine by flame haired floozy Suzy (Erika Blanc), who exits arse-first from a coffin to shake her considerable booty in alarming fashion. Blanc complains in a bonus interview on this set that she was given no terpsichorean direction and had to make up her routine on the fly (should have received a credit for choreography… and probably an Oscar!) This scene is lent an extra level of surreality by the fact that its instrumental acid rock accompaniment clearly has no connection whatsoever with what is being played by the strip club house band, whose singer can be seen (but not heard) wailing away animatedly. His Lordship gets Suzy home and subjects her to the usual indignities. After her apparent disappearance, he causally drops Albert another wad of hush money.

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Never one to let a little brush with psychosis cramp his social style, Lord C throws a kicking garden party at the mansion, with another groovy beat combo entertaining the guests. Here he meets, is impressed by and instantly proposes to Gladys (Marina Malfatti.) Although slimy George will be permanently disinherited by this development, he seems to be all in favour of the match if it will sort out his cousin’s mental problems (perhaps he isn’t so slimy after all?) In fact, unwelcome reappearances by dead Evelyn, further fiendish twists, a series of double crosses and shocking revelations (not to mention a pile of corpses) ensue. Miraglia just about manages to restrain himself from throwing the kitchen sink into this overheated mix , but when all the surviving participants adjourn around His Lordship’s swimming pool for a climactic punch-up, the giallo gods have contrived to fill it with sulphuric acid(!)

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The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave did so well at the box office (as The Night She Rose From The Tomb, States-side…) that Miraglia was immediately required to knock out a follow up along similar lines and for all the haste with which it was put together, The Red Queen Kills 7 Times (The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times to U.S. punters, who were offered “blood corn” to nibble during both of these films) emerges as a more than adequate successor, another ghastly goulash of horror, supernatural and sleazy sex elements unfolding in an ersatz foreign location with liberal plot pinchings from Jayne Eyre, lashings of J&B product placement shots, another groovy Nicolai score and another elusive Evelyn. If TNECOOTG is a cheap and cheerful reimagining of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, this one actually predates the Scream franchise! Another improbable but hugely entertaining saga, TRQK7T kicks off in “Castle Wildenbruch” (an impressive, for real Bavarian fortress) with two little  sisters asking their granddad (Rudolf Schündler) about a particularly lurid painting that hangs on one of its walls. He happily fills them in on the family curse… having been stabbed six times by her sister, the mythical “Red Queen” came back from the grave to return the favour, slaughtering six others into the bargain.

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This grisly event has apparently been repeated every hundred years, with the next repeat pencilled in for 1972. As “luck” would have it, by then one of the sisters (Kitty) has grown up in the most delightful way, in the shape of giallo stalwart and all-round luscious babe Barbara Bouchet. The other (Evelyn) has allegedly decamped to The United States, though a flashback reveals her dying after a teenage punch up with Kitty led to her falling into the castle moat. Kitty’s sister-in-law, Francesca (Malfatti again) was a witness to this apparent accidental homicide (helped Kitty hide Evelyn’s body in the castle crypt) and has been a conspirator in the cover up ever since. A slobbering greebo dope fiend has his suspicions though, and in another echo of TNECOOTG, he starts blackmailing Kitty .

The first 20th Century victim of the Wildenbruch curse is poor old granddad, who suffers some kind of thrombo after a red cloaked female appears in his bed room. No doubt the casual observer could mistakenly chalk that down to natural causes, but before long folks at the couture house where Kitty works as a photographer (cue much gratuitous female flesh) are being bumped off in a variety of grisly, er, fashions. This kind of establishment has always been a hotbed of depravity in giallo land, and TRQK7T doesn’t disappoint. The rarely clothed models who populate this one (including, among their number, a young Sybil Danning ) are a bitchy, manipulative bunch, intent on doing each other down and shagging their way to the top. In effect this means getting into the pants of fast-rising agency executive Martin Hoffmann (Ugo Pagliai, who would later wash up in Al Festa’s totally bonkers Fatal Frames, 1996), a guy whose wife currently resides in a booby hatch. He’s now an item with Kitty, but the girls don’t rate her as much of an obstacle: “Little Kitty’s so uptight, she isn’t exactly burning up the short and curls” observes Lulu (Danning), sensitively.

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It’s hardly surprising that she’s she’s uptight, given the escalating mortality rate at the agency. First to go is its chief executive Hans, stabbed to death by the Red Queen in a local park while out dogging with Lulu. There had been bad blood between him and Martin, who now inherits his job  and the mantel of chief suspect. Suspicions are hardly allayed when Elizabeth (Martin’s basket case wife) is sprung from the funny farm, only to be impaled on its security fence by The Red Queen. Another agency employee is stabbed in the back of a props van, the junkie blackmailer is dragged to his death by a car apparently driven by Her Majesty… and so it goes on.

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Bouchet looks fab throughout, wide-eyed and wide mouthed, divinely decked out and constantly under threat of becoming unlucky seven. She gets sexually assaulted when that junkie blackmailer adds rape to his repertoire and also gets sliced up a treat in a great psychedelic dream sequence, reminiscent of similar ones in  Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks At Midnight and Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (not to mention Murder Rock.) Before the blackmailer’s death, Kitty learns that this campaign of persecution against her is being orchestrated by somebody else. Various other developments prompt her to go looking for corpses in the castle crypt, where she is soon menaced by rats and rising water levels, cue further emoting from the lovely BB. The film’s climax turns on revelations about Evelyn’s identity and exactly what happened on the day Kitty’s sister allegedly shuffled off her mortal coil in the cast moat… all of which is about as credible as the plot of TNECOOTG (i.e. not very)  but it remains a treat to see this rare giallo finally available in a beautiful UK edition.

One of the hobby horses with which I currently attempt to bore people to death is the issue of whether certain films of a certain vintage look any better, or (let be whispered) possibly worse on Blu-ray than on DVD. Sometimes with all those extra pixels all you gain is grain, with the option to smear equally unappealing DNR doodads all over it. Are the contents of this box set sufficiently better looking than NoShame’s impressive Italian DVD release from about ten years ago to justify their purchase? In a word… yes, in no small measure due to the lush cinematography of Gastone De Giovanni (Evelyn) and Alberto Spagnoli (Red Queen.) Kudos also to art / costume director Lorenzo Baraldi, who pulls off a low budget miracle in the staging of the second film’s watery finale.

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Baraldi’s reminiscences feature prominently on the bonus materials for this set, alongside interviews with Erika Blanc (growing  old disgracefully… she’s clearly pleasantly crackers), Sybil Danning (looking good and projecting an imposing presence) and Marino Mase, plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it micro-interview with Bouchet. Each of the films gets amusing and informative commentary tracks (the Jones / Newman team taking The Red Queen, while Evelyn is handled by Troy Howarth, who emerges as an unapologetic bum lover.) Stephen Thrower contributes sage observations on each of them. Of course you get the expected trailers, there’s an alternative “count down” title sequence for TRQK7T  and one of those reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Some of this stuff already appeared on the NoShame box. What you don’t get from that is the collectable Red Queen action figure but hey, nobody’s perfect and there’s ample compensation in the form of a limited edition 60-page booklet containing new writing on the film by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and one of my favourite bloggers, Rachael Nisbet.

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Though claiming that his contribution to these films was essentially to distract viewers from their insubstantial contents, Baraldi speaks highly of Miraglia and confirms that the director’s disappearance from the scene (which Thrower wonders about in his corresponding piece) was the result of an unfortunately early demise… another manifestation of the Wildenbruch curse? Whatever, Miraglia’s extant gialli, while not quite hitting the genre heights scaled by Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino, show immense promise and it’s deeply regrettable that his premature passing robbed us of the opportunity to see how this particular talent might have developed. As it is, Arrow’s Killer Dames box serves as an ample memorial to his cruelly truncated legacy.

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The night Barbara met Bob Freudstein…

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