Posts Tagged With: Italian Horror

Style Over Substance Abuse… SUSPIRIA (2018) & CRYSTAL EYES Reviewed

Nadia (or possibly Nidia) about to become fashionably late in the wonderful Crystal Eyes.

Supiria (Italy / USA, 2018). Directed by Luca Guadagnino.

To say I haven’t exactly been in a rush to catch Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria would be a significant understatement. It never seemed remotely like a good idea. Dario Argento’s 1977 original is a unique marriage of his seriously neurotic psyche and formidable technical skill set, the remaking (rebooting, re-imagining, whatever) of which makes about as much sense as somebody having another bash at, say, Eraserhead. It did nothing to allay my misapprehensions when I learned that the film was going to star Tilda Swinton (an actress who regularly missteps from the “worthy of attention” to “desperately seeking attention” category) and that the insufferable Thom Yorke, rather than Claudio Simonetti, would be scoring (Radiohead? Why not just have somebody shit in your ear?) Then the new Suspiria arrived, clocking in at a daunting two-and-a-half-hours plus (really, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do with my time…) Friends who did brave it and whose opinions I value had nothing good to say about it. Well, I’ve finally grasped the nettle and can confidently (if not exactly happily) report that, against all expectations, I found it Suspiria, 2018 style to be… not unbearably awful.

Much critical discussion of Pasta Paura, certainly the work of its principal practitioners, has centred on the old “style over content” chestnut. Does style crowd content out of these films or subtly enhance and amplify it? Guadagnino seems to have his own definite ideas in this regard, dialling down the style (in cahoots with DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, production designer Inbal Weinberg and art directors Merlin Ortner / Monica Sallustio he’s come up with a very good looking picture, whose good looks sadly pale into insignificance compared with the all out aesthetic assault of Argento’s original) while cramming in extraneous content. So Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion (sic) is the victim of a religiously repressive Mennonite upbringing (Suzy’s Mom considers her “my sin… that’s what I smear on the world”… BTW, Greta Bohacek as the young Susie bears a pleasing resemblance to Nicoletta Elmi); instead of being bisected by falling masonry, Pat Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets regrettably wrapped up with the Red Army Fraction (yes, that’s the correct rendering of their name) but also gets to deliver the best line in the film (“They’ll follow me out and eat my cunt on a plate!”); and the witches who staff the Markos Dance Academy seem to have exerted an influence over Hitler and co. So far, so… well, I’m still watching, aren’t I?

Guadagnino gets a bit more milage out of the whole terpsichorean thing. Those witches seem to feed off the energies unleashed by dancing (which can also be turned against their enemies) rather than just eating the dancers, as in the original. The routines here are modern, interpretive stuff, as opposed to the classical ballet in Argento’s film (which, combined with some judicious editing, makes easier for Johnson to pass herself off as a dancer). The 42nd Street references (and I’m referring to Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 musical now) are more overtly stated than before and the mousey teacher’s abrupt suicide reminded me of the pianist’s in Pasolini’s Salo.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria doesn’t drag anything like as much as I’d feared it would and Tilda Swinton’s Kind Hearts And Coronets” turn is significantly less irritating than it could have been. Incidental pleasures include a tiny role for Jessica Harper (the original Suzy Banyon) and a somewhat larger one for the marvellous (and far too little seen, these days) Renée Soutendijk from Spetters, constantly snarking away over some malign gag that only she gets. It’s also quite amusing from a 2020 perspective to see these holistic health freaks chain smoking away like bastards.

In conclusion, Suspiria 2018 is nowhere near as appalling as I’d expected, which isn’t to say that I’m likely to ever watch it again…. two-and-a-half hours of my time is more than enough. I sincerely hope we’ll be spared a four hour “Amazon Original” take on Inferno. No need to worry about a Mother Of Tears rehash because as Darrell Buxton has already pointed out, that’s covered in the mystifying, messy and decidedly overripe final thirty minutes of Guadagnino’s film. The whole experience would have been much more satisfying if they’d changed the title / character names and generally cut back on the allusions to Argento’s masterpiece, riffing on Suspiria 1977 in the same way that Midsommar riffs on The Wicker Man. Courting direct comparisons with what is probably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made was never going to work out to this film’s advantage. On the other hand…

Crystal Eyes / “Mirada De Cristal” (Argentina, 2017). Directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano.

During a catwalk show designed to let the world know what a tortured existence supermodels lead (“… trapped in a shop window with no escape”), the obnoxious, coke addled Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) manages to monumentally piss off everybody (going so far as to scar her make up artist for life, with scalding coffee) before accidentally incinerating herself. Most of the tears shed for her are blatantly crocodilian, but an unspecified admirer, somebody who spends their time obsessively watching a VHS compilation of Alexis’ greatest media moments, is also watching out for her legacy. The formidable Lucia Uccello (Silvia Montanari), publisher of the fashion bible Atilla, decides to stage a tribute event on the first anniversary of Alexis’ death, pitting a posse of bitchy models into competition with each other to fill the Jimmy Choos of the former colleague they so despised. In protest or as some misguided tribute of their own, Alexis’ brother and boyfriend decide to steal some of her dresses before they can be used in the show, only for the latter to have his throat cut by a murderous mannequin. He won’t be the last, as the extravagantly disguised killer steadily works his or her way through everybody who was present on that fateful night. Will the tribute show be haunted by this Phantom of the catwalk? Well, what do you think…

Just about any frozen frame from writer / directors Endelman and Montejano’s Crystal Eyes would probably invoke the spirit of Argento’s Suspiria more effectively than is managed during 152 minutes of Guadagnino’s “reimagining”. Clearly conceived without any substantial aspirations whatsoever, this Argentinian effort is an unabashed open love letter to the Italian horror and thriller traditions, a sentiment that will be enthusiastically seconded by legions of admirers around the world. I really can’t abide those Cattet / Forzani desperate Arthouse wannabes, nor those bigger budgeted productions which take the same lazy tack of grafting prime Morricone or Trovajoli cuts onto their “Original Soundtracks” in an attempt to cop some facile giallo cachet, but Crystal Eyes is a different matter altogether, a seriously devotional exercise.

Endelman and Montejano are clearly enthusiastic consumers of all things Yellow and gleefully plunder their favourites for scenes to restage. Carlo Vanzina’s 1985 effort Nothing Underneath (the very title of which riffed on the ol’ “style / substance” chestnut), its sort of sequel Too Beautiful To Die (directed by Dario Piana in 1988) and their end of cycle ilk are heavily referenced, but the directors don’t hesitate to delve right back into the archives of couture slaughter, revisiting Mario Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964) for the murder of one of Lucia’ sexy lesbian “nieces” (it was either Nadia or Nidia but I’m buggered if I can tell one from the other). The film’s climax will bring back welcome memories of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987), too, while Pablo Fuu’s score strikes exactly the right notes for late ‘80s giallo.

Endelman and Montejano were also responsible for the film’s production design and have done a remarkable job recreating the decor of (the original) Suspiria (Lucia’s office comes complete with a dagger plumaged phoenix statue) on the cheap. Cinematographers Cecilia Casas and Vanina Gottardi alternate between the Luciano Tovoli look on Argento’s classic and what Romano Albani wrought on his follow up, Inferno. Outrageous matte shots of city scapes contribute further knowing nods to the influence of Bava and as for that drawer full of Hitchcock artifacts…

Stylistic exercises as sterile as those aforementionend Cattet / Forzani efforts are hardly the most captivating cinematic experiences. Crystal Eyes, in sharp contrast, effectively corrals its cornucopia of stylish genre allusions into a teeming subtext that will tax the brains of those sufficiently versed in the wilder highways and byways of Pasta Paura. It won’t be too hard, for instance, for any horror fan raised on “video nasties” to spot the significance of Lucio the blind lift attendant (Andrés Borghi) and his cataracts, nor to look, er, beyond that and get the reference to a fractured pipe in the basement (send for Joe the plumber!) but how many viewers took Lucio’s blindness as a cue to extrapolate the killer’s identity from what happened in Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971)? I certainly did… and as it happened I was completely wrong, though Endelman and Montejano have a ball leading us up and down such garden paths throughout their picture.

Essentially as camp as a row of tents, this Fray Bentos thriller is played sufficiently straight faced to pass for a convincing latter day spaghetti slasher… which is, if I can stretch a banal geographical point (and for a film as enjoyable as this, why wouldn’t I?) exactly what it is.

The original and still the best…
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Return Of The Mac… Federico Zampaglione’s TULPA Reviewed.

Tulpa aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire (Italy, 2012). Directed by Federico Zampaglione.

The whole giallo stabbing match kicked off (by common assent) in 1963, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much; peaked quantitatively in the first years of the ’70s; qualitatively in 1975 (with Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso); and tailed off after 1987, when Argento chalked up his last top notch picture (Opera) and Michele Soavi made his astonishingly assured directorial debut, Stagefright. Like Irving Wallace in the latter, the genre itself has been pronounced deceased many times but that ol’ death nerve has a habit of twitching back into life, just when you thought it was safe to take another slug of J&B. The results have been decidedly mixed, though once in a yellow moon something as marvellously entertaining as Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano’s Crystal Eyes (2017) turns up… and yes, we’ll be reviewing that one shortly.

Given director Federico Zampaglione’s previous (and for all I know, ongoing parallel) incarnation as an Italian rock star, one might reasonably have feared that his Tulpa (aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire, 2012) would emerge as some kind of glorified, feature length pop promo. What bodes well for the picture is that he conceived its story in collaboration with spaghetti screen-writing veteran Dardano Sacchetti, who’s penned more A-grade gialli than anybody else (with the probable exception of Ernesto Gastaldi).

Tulpa stars Greta Scacchi lookalike Claudia Gerini (Zampaglione’s partner when they made the film) as Lisa Boeri, a high finance woman whose boss Mr Roccaforte (Michele Placido) is a big cheese in the money markets (see what I did there?) Lisa works hard and plays hard, unwinding from the pressures of bitchy boardroom battles by visiting an Eyes Wide Shut styled upmarket swingers’ club, where she has lashings of fun and is encouraged by Kiran, the cadaverous moloko plus-dispensing bar tender / Tibetan Buddhist adept, to free, surrender to and generally indulge her Tulpa. Apparently if I’d paid more attention to Twin Peaks I’d have got the reference but (evidently unlike Signor Zampaglione), I tuned out of that show very early in its run. The Tulpa, we learn, is a concept borrowed from esoteric Tibetan Buddhism and apparently refers to a physical being, generated from sexual energy, which if allowed too much autonomy, can impact on the material world with demonic intensity.

Are Lisa’s bonking exploits responsible, then, for the black hatted and leather macintoshed spectre slicing its way through her co-swingers and boardroom rivals (not to mention throwing hot chip fat in their faces, putting them on barbed wire carousel rides and interring them in coffins with hungry rats)? Needless to say, there’s no shortage of twists and turns along the way though as in many classic gialli, the killer’s identity is eminently guessable. Which is not to say that Tulpa is a classic giallo, exactly… but you know you’ve wasted many 90 minute chunks of your precious time on plenty worse.

During my interview with Dardano Sacchetti he complained that Zampagline had stressed Tulpa’s soft core aspects over the giallo elements of his story. Regular readers of this blog might well agree. Zampaglione directs competently enough and has clearly familiarised himself with the Argento canon (I would hazard a guess that he was particularly taken with Opera) but never comes close to the visual creativity of prime time Argento or the other terror titans with whom Sacchetti notably collaborated, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. Together with his brother Francesco, the director also scored his film, waxing Carpenteresque during stalking scenes and approximating Claudio Simonetti’s cacophonic Suspiria crescendo during the climactic revelations. FZ opted for his actors to deliver their lines in English which obviously made some kind of commercial sense, though this decision ultimately backfires on the movie, with stilted deliveries often distracting attention from the on screen action (it’s a problem that dubbing doesn’t always solve, witness Argento’s Tenebrae, 1982).

“Who the fuck are you, to say that?”

If there is any message lurking behind Tulpa’s veneer of recycled style, it’s that sexual repression, rather than sexual expression, creates demons. Amen to that.

Bond girl sex bomb Maria Gracia Cucinotta apparently produced Tulpa. So, er, grazie, Maria…

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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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“The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect”… FEAR, The Autobiography Of DARIO ARGENTO, Reviewed.

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FAB PRESS. H/B. 279 Pages. ISBN: 978-1-913051-05-1
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Picture the scene… Winter, 1976 and Dario Argento is stopping at the Hotel Flora on Via Veneto. Having proved the industry doubters wrong by scoring an international hit with his debut feature The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (transforming the giallo genre into box office gold in the process) and earning comparisons with Hitchcock on account of that and his follow up thrillers, Argento is putting the final touches to his masterpiece, Suspiria (1977). You might think he’d be feeling upbeat, but no… wounded by the recent defection of Daria Nicolodi with their infant daughter Asia, he’s seriously considering throwing himself out of the window.

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Must be the grit in life’s oyster that yields these pasta paura pearls. Lucio Fulci, of course, had a biblically miserable time of it and Mario Bava, despite his witty, urbane facade, was reportedly an unhappy and deeply neurotic man… quite the Pollyanna, though, when compared to Dario Argento, who confesses in his long-awaited autobiography to anorexia, gluten / lactose intolerance, paranoia, pharmaceutical and sexual excesses, drug busts, bankruptcy and a plethora of phobias including a fear of other people touching his hair, for which reason he’s always cut it himself (who’d have thunk it?) “The foreigner theme to me is fundamental…” sez DA: “I know what it means to be different to others because I’ve lived it”. Growing up, he was taunted by other kids due to his skinniness and no doubt his exotic physiognomy, traceable to his Brazilian mother, the noted fashion photographer Elsa Luxardo.

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Argento’s precocious discovery of Edgar Allan Poe (“In the blink of an eye, without interruption, I went from masturbation to the cult of horror and mystery”) afforded him both a refuge and a pointer to future glories. Despite his family’s film biz lineage, Argento’s was no easy passage to success in the Italian industry. Bird With The Crystal Plumage, now an acknowledged game changer, was made in the face of opposition from hostile executives (“Is it a giallo?” asked the horrified Titanus boss, Goffredo Lombardo) and a cast / crew who were initially unsympathetic to Argento’s technical orientation. His solution? To treat them like the Scout troop he had led in his boyhood. Then began the ceaseless skirmishes with censorship…

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Argento’s unusual life and remarkable Art have always reflected each other, sometimes in ways not immediately apparent to the director himself… he relates that he was mortified when friends pointed out how closely the destructive relationship between Michael Brandon and Mimsy Farmer’s characters in Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971) paralleled that between himself and his wife Marisa Casale, to whom Farmer allegedly bears a close physical relationship. We learn precious little about Marisa but Argento is more candid about e.g. his torrid affair with Marilù Tolo. More importantly, he finally gives something like proper credit to Daria Nicolodi for the influence she has exerted over his life and career. He obviously makes much of their daughter Asia’s successful acting career, nor are we left in any doubt how much he dotes on his first daughter Fiore.

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Most readers will probably be more interested in the inside information and anecdotes from the making of Argento’s films and Fear delivers all that in spades, also taking in side projects, non realised (including opera) productions and such career missteps as 1973’s The Five Days Of Milan (just think, if that had one been a success, this book might well have been titled Historical Drama – The Autobiography). Dario admits towards the end of Fear that his more recent efforts are nowhere near as highly regarded by fans and critics, a fact that he’s already acknowledged by condensing coverage of the sequence from Trauma (1993) to Dracula In 3D (2012) into 35 of the book’s 279 pages. We’ve all speculated on the reasons for this drop off, but anyone searching for a clue might care to ponder Dario’s observation that he made The Card Player (2004) in accordance with the Dogme principle that “special lighting is not acceptable”? Just imagine if he’d taken that principle on board before shooting Suspiria, eh?

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Dogme, my arse…

Ah well, this is a time to praise Argento for his incomparable heyday rather than quibble about his career coda. Given that this is a FAB Press publication, it goes without saying that the production values and presentation are, er, fab and the text is accompanied by personally selected photos from il maestro’s private archive. Fear is a fascinating and disarmingly frank memoir which I concluded in one avid sitting. One minor grouch, I would have liked to hear a lot more about his working relationships with Sergio Leone, Mario Bava and lucio fulci. Maybe in an expanded second edition?

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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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Sex Dwarf, Isn’t It Nasty? THE BEAST IN HEAT Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
(“The World Blu-Ray Premiere Of The Most Bizarre Nazisploitation Shocker Ever!”, no less…)

“Don’t spit on the plate from which you eat your dinner”, John Morghen once told me and while that’s eminently sensible advice vis-a-vis basic culinary hygiene, he was actually responding to my enquiry as to how he felt about being typecast as a series of mentally unstable grotesques. Somebody else who probably thanked God for typecasting (if possibly for very little else) was Salvatore Baccaro (1932-1984). Talent spotted outside a Roman film studio, working as a fruit and veg vendor (a role he plays, fleetingly, in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, 1975), Sal was never likely to be nominated for a Rondo award, unless it was one for the closest physical resemblance to Rondo Hatton (both suffered from the disfiguring condition acromegaly). Baccaro’s brutish features and sawn-off, barrel-like physique earned him 65 roles, many of which turned on the old “beauty and the beast” chestnut, either with gently ironic intent (he beds the exquisite Edwige Fenech in Sergio Martino’s 1976 portmanteau effort Sex With A Smile) or to rather more sinister effect…

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After appearances in, among others, Argento’s Five Days In Milan (1973), the 1974 Dick Randall monstrosity Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks (credited as “Boris Lugosi”, our boy played Ook The Neanderthal Man, above) then Jacopetti & Prosperi’s Mondo Candido (1975), Salvatore found his career-defining (though uncredited) role in Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty (1976). Ramming home, with characteristic lack of subtlety, his message that the Nazis’ obsession with racial superiority made them infinitely more bestial than the “üntermensch” they so despised, Brass shows hookers for Hitler proving their loyalty to the Fuhrer by coupling with non-Aryan, disabled, deformed and otherwise “undesirable” prisoners. Sal features prominently as a randy retard. When I caught up with Salon Kitty courtesy of a University film society in the late ’70s, I counted more walk outs during this scene than for any other public screening of any film I’ve ever attended (though David Cronenberg’s Shivers ran it close).

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Not everybody was so turned off, though. In 1977 (a proper annus mirabilis for Signor Baccaro, who also appeared in Luigi Zampa’s The Monster, Luciano Martino’s Erotic Exploits Of A Sexy Seducer and Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America), Sal was called upon to briefly rehash that Salon Kitty role in Bruno Mattei’s xerox of the Brass film, SS Girls. Later in the year producer Roberto Pérez Moreno decided, for reasons over which we can only speculate, to expand the spectacle of Sal as mutant Nazi sex machine to feature length in Luigi Batzella (as “Ivan Kathansky”)’s once-seen-never-forgotten “The Beast In Heat – Horrifing (Sic) Experiments Of SS Final Days”. Well, half feature length, anyway…

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… footage from When The Bell Tolls, a partisan saga Batzella had directed (as “Paolo Solvay”) in 1970 was stitched in to provide some kind of context against which Salvatore (as “Sal Boris”… are you getting all this? I’ll be asking questions later) can spend the balance of the picture doing his inimitable thing, bonking any women unfortunate enough to be thrown into his cage (and sometimes eating their pubic hair), hamming it up in a Cosmo Smallpiece-like caricature of lust, mugging and smacking his lips into Batzella’s on-rushing zoom lens while all around him other overacting captives are sexually humiliated, tortured, castrated and fed to ravenous gerbils and guinea pigs, all of this presided over by sexy, mega-aphrodisiac wielding SS doctor Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall, who’s also in Mattei’s SS Girls, not to mention Ken Dixon’s The Erotic Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, 1975).

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Dr K seems very, er, enthusiastic about her work. Whereas Sal’s role in the Brass and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Mattei films seemed to be to blur the lines between the supposed “subhumans” and the übermensch who were stealing themselves to have it off with them, here he seems to be Doc’s pride and joy, an… er, end in himself, though it’s difficult to see exactly how his retarded rutting is supposed to further the cause of  Aryan racial supremacy. Clearly, Fraulein Kratsch has taken her eye off the prize. As Bruce Lee advises a kung fu novice during the opening scenes of Enter The Dragon: “It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon… don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory”. Dr Kratsch is missing out on a shitload of heavenly glory here, though she appears to be having a whale of a time, all the same.

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When Batzella (who also edited this thing) finally manages to stitch the old and new footage together into some semblance of a climax, those partisans have very definite views on the Doc’s conduct. Not trusting in a malpractice hearing, they stuff her into Bonking Boris’ cage, exactly where we all knew she’d end up. Unfortunately the kill-joy guerillas shoot them both before the full measure of poetic justice can be meted out.

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Severin’s mission to rehabilitate as many official “video nasties” as possible continues unabated. They’ve done a characteristically splendid job on The Beast In Heat, a movie that’s rarely been topped for tastelessness but whose almost palpable absurdity would make it very difficult for anyone to take too much offence at it, aside from opportunistic muck rakers trying to start moral panics during the early ’80.

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In the featurette Nasty Nazi, Stephen Thrower, a dependably articulate commentator, struggles (as would anyone) to convey the tawdry ridiculousness of the whole affair and wonders how a dapper, urbane character such as Luigi Batzella (pictured above, right) could have been roped into it. I guess the answer is that he had bills to pay like everybody else. No doubt the same was true for The Beast’s OST composer Giuliano Sorgini, previously responsible for the sublime score to Jorge Grau’s masterly Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974). Thrower suggests that TBIH was as much “inspired” by the dishonourable tradition of OTT Italian horror comics (“fumetti”) as by any cinematic antecedents which sets up an interesting feedback loop, given that such comic book fodder (see for instance the controversial case of IPC’s Action comic in the UK) often exists to feed a demand for rite of passage forbidden thrills from kids too young to sneak in and see adult-certified films.

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Of course you get a (French) trailer, plus Naomi Holwill’s exhaustive, alternately informative and amusing feature length SadicoNazista doc, Fascism On A Thread – The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema. The aforementioned Giuliani Sorgini opens proceedings by declaring these films”the lowest of the low”. Other genre luminaries interviewed include directors Bruno Mattei, Sergio Garrone (SS Experiment Camp), Mario Caiano (Nazi Love Camp 27), Rino Di Silvestro (Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) and Liliana Cavani (who reveals that what worried Italian censors most about The Night Porter was the spectacle of Charlotte Rampling on top during sex). Night Porter writer Italo Moscati and Sergio D’Offizi (DP on Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) also have their say, along with actresses Melissa Longo (Salon Kitty and various French stabs at SadicoNazista) and Dyane Thorne (Ilsa herself… now an ordained minister!) plus her husband and collaborator Howard Maurer, along with commentators and academics including Mike Hostench from the Sitges Film Festival, Mikel J. Koven, Russ Hunter, Anthony Page, Kim Newman, Allan Bryce and the inevitable John Martin. Yep, it’s another winner from High Rising Productions.

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“Oh, the subhumanity!”

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Buio Alpha (Before The Darkness)… Mino Guerrini’s THE THIRD EYE Reviewed

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Il Terzo Occhio (“The Third Eye”), 1966. Directed by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini). Produced by “Louis Mann” (Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati). Written by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini), “Dean Craig” (Piero Regnoli), “Phil Young” (=?) and “Gilles De Rays” (?!?) Cinematography by “Sandy Deaves” (Alessandro D’Eva). Edited by “Donna Christie” (Ornella Micheli). Production design by “Samuel Fields” (Mario Chiari). Music by “Frank Mason” (Francesco De Masi). Starring “Frank Nero” (Franco Nero), Gioia Pascal, “Diana Sullivan” (Erika Blanc), “Olga Sunbeauty” (!) (Olga Solbelli), Marina Morgan, Gara Granda, Richard Hillock, Luciano Foti.

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Mino Guerrieri’s The Third Eye concerns itself with the murderous misadventures of an uptight young man who’s dominated by his mother and spends too much time on his hobby of taxidermy… hm, remind you of anything?

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Said young man is a spoilt aristo who goes off the rails when his beloved fiancee carks it. He picks up young floozies and has it off with them in the company of his enbalmed paramour then does away with them, with the collusion of his infatuated housekeeper. Everything’s going swimmingly until his fiancee’s identical twin turns up… remind you of anything else?

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Yep, Mino Guerrini’s The Third Eye is the missing link between Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Jolly Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega / Blue Holocaust / Beyond The Darkness / Buried Alive (1979). That domineering mother figure, who’s absent from the D’Amato flick and only exists as a figment of Norman Bates’ warped imagination (albeit a pivotal one) in Psycho, is present here in the all too fleshy form of Contessa Alberti (Olga Solbelli) and the resentful, calculating housekeeper (Gioia Pascal’s “Marta”), completely missing from Psycho, foreshadows Franca Stoppi’s spectacularly overplayed Iris in Buio Omega.

The Third Eye 3.jpgThese two alpha females go mano a mano over young Count Mino (Franco Nero) but are smart  enough to call a pragmatic truce when his fiancee Laura (Erika Blanc) threatens to eclipse both of them in his affections. At the suggestion of The Contessa, Marta drains the brake fluid from Laura’s car and she ends up dead in a pond. Having witnessed this sorry spectacle, Mino returns to the family chateau to be informed by the local gendarmerie that his mother has died after a fall down the stairs (in fact Marta pushed her)…

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Mino’s definitely had better days but his response to these events, traumatic as they are, can only be classified as overreaction. After Guerrini’s given him a goofy nightmare sequence, he starts picking up a string of strippers and hookers (the first of whom reminded me more than a little of Ania Pieroni) and making out with them until they object to the presence of the mummified Laura, at which point he throttles them to death.

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Screams were heard in the night as the result of him stuffin’…

“I’ve done it again…” Mino confesses to Marta (who’s already mopping up the evidence of his latest homicide) before protesting that he didn’t want to … his third eye made him do it!!! That’s OK then… After Marta has assisted on a few clean ups, she has sufficient leverage over Mino to extract a promise of marriage from him… perhaps a happy, if seriously twisted ending is in prospect? No, because now Laura’s identical twin Daniela (Blanc again, obviously) turns up and things start getting really wiggy!

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For Franco Nero, who’s about to overtake Donald Pleasence and may well live to challenge Malcolm McDowell or possibly overhaul John Carradine in terms of sheer quantity of screen appearances, 1966 was a particularly busy and fruitful year, even by his standards… we’re talking this, Margheriti’s War Of The Planets and Wild, Wild Planet, no less than three important Spaghetti Western’s (Corubucci’s Django, Fulci’s Massacre Time and Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios) and playing the role of Abel in John Huston’s The Bible, among others. The following year, the role of Galahad in Joshua Logan’s Camelot would elevate Franco into the firmament of international stardom, though he continued to maintain a healthy prsence in Italian genre Cinema. It’s a single note performance that he gives here, but perfect for a part in which he’s effectively dominated by the female characters. Veteran Solbelli impresses as the Countess. Gioia Pascal as Marta chews nowhere near as much scenery as Franca Stoppi in Buio Omega but delvers a performance so solid that one is surprised to learn that this, only her second screen appearance (after Franco Indovina’s Menage Italian Style, the previous year) also turned out to be her last.

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Was Guerrini attempting some kind of auteurist statement by naming the character after himself? He directs well throughout, with his own distinctive eye for the camera angles and compositions that will best enhance the telling of his sick little tale, though hereafter he marked time as a filone hack-for-hire.

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Just as Hitchcock, feted for the “tastefulness” of Psycho’s signature shower murder, felt empowered by shifts in Cinema community standards to get a whole lot more brutal twelve years later in Frenzy, so Joe D’Amato (never the most shrinking of violets anyway) had no qualms whatsoever about bringing the viler implications of the Norman Bates legend to the screen in 1979. Mino Guerrini was never going to get away with anything like that level of explicit sadism in 1966 and any grand guignol eruption of guts, filmed as here in black and white, was going to lose much of its impact anyway. Picking up on hints in Riccardo Freda’s Dr Hichcock brace (1962/3), The Third Eye cracks on more in the manner of Italian Gothic (coming right at the end of that particular cycle) than the giallo as which it has sometimes been identified… presumably by pundits who haven’t actually seen it. Last time I checked, it was still available (subtitled) on Amazon Prime, complete with shots from the first stripper killing that were excised from some releases. What are you waiting for, you sick puppies?

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“There’s A Girl In My Soup!” “So What… There’s A Piranha Up My Arse!” CANNIBAL TERROR & Antonio Climati’s THE GREEN INFERNO On 88 Blu-ray.

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1) Don’t Torture A Turtle…

The Green Inferno. BD. Region Free. 88 Films. 15.

Although Eli Roth seemed to be paying his dues by including an Italian cannibal filmography in the credits for his Ruggero Deodato pastiche The Green Inferno, he conspicuously omitted from it the Antonio Climati picture whose title he had pinched. It’s a significant omission because Climati’s Green Inferno (originally released in Italy as Natura Contro in 1988) develops an ongoing argument about the moral dilemmas inextricably associated with The Italian Cannibal Film and the fact that this spilled over into something of an ongoing personal feud between Climati and Deodato makes the whole thing of more than mere academic interest…

The main thrust of this film’s plotting will be all too familiar to regular viewings of Italian man-munching epics, with Professor Korenz (Roberto Ricci) disappearing while on an expedition into the Amazon basin in search of the elusive Eema tribe. Jemma Demien (May Deseligny, who bears a vague, pleasing resemblance to Daria Nicolodi) is your mandatory sassy TV reporter (we’re introduced to when she reports on a head shrinking racket for the mondo-esque TV program “Reality Beyond Fantasy”) aiming to track down the Prof. Inexplicably, she decides to recruit Fred (Marco Merlo) and Mark (Fabrizio Merlo) to the cause. These shiftless sibling adventurers, whose allegedly endearing but actually highly irritating antics include TWOCing planes and driving ludicrously big-wheeled jeeps around, would be better qualified to present the next series of Top Gear… and that’s certainly not intended as a compliment.

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Before you can say “Yanomamo”, however, these good ol’ boys are accompanying Jemma into the jungle, together with their eccentric young scientist pal Pete (never embark on an Amazonian mission without one) played by Pio Maria Federici, who supplies a trumpet accompaniment to (and misconceived witticisms about) the unfolding “action” (if we can stretch a point and call it that). The perils they encounter include frog races, a tussle with an anaconda, attacks by ants, spiders and more of those ubiquitous spiky ball booby traps. Our heroes even have snakes held to their peckers by crime lords who want to find the Eema on account of their alleged inside information on the whereabouts of El Dorado (that old chestnut!) They  manage to break up an organ farming racket en route to their disappointing rendezvous with those Eema types and the discovery of the Professor, who promptly takes off in their plane with Jemma, stranding then so they won’t be able to give away the location of the tribe. “Well, we said we wanted adventure!” one of them quips, though thankfully viewers were spared any sequels. Maybe they never made it back?

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Ruggero Deodate was as fascinated and horrified as anybody by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s epochal Mondo Cane (1962) and its shockumentary sequels. The deadly duo’s 1966 doc Africa Addio (which excites controversy to this day over the provenance of its animal and human death scenes) is often cited as the departure point for his devastating critique of Mondo mores in Cannibal Holocaust, but Deodato seems to have been more focussed, while constructing it, on a couple of mondos co-directed in the mid-70s by Antonio Climati (DP on both Mondo Cane and Africa Addio) and Mario Morra, another protegé of Jacopetti and Prosperi. The films in question were Savage Man, Savage Beast aka Ultime Grida Dalla Savana (“The Last Cries From The Savannah”, 1975)  and This Violent World aka Savage World / Mondo Violence (1976). Both feature the mandatory mix of violence inflicted on both animals and human beings (but how much of it is faked… and how worried should we be about the bits that aren’t?) This Violent World (“banned in 40 countries!”) seems to have registered particularly strongly with Deodato, to the extent that he restages two scenes from it (native women bathe a white man and seem fascinated by his penis / an episode of enforced abortion) in Cannibal Holocaust.

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Japanese poster for This Violent World.

By attempting to grab the Mondo moral high ground, Deodato was laying himself open to charges of having his cake and eating it. Certainly Climati, sensing that the finger was being pointed at him, took note of the animal abuse that litters Cannibal Holocaust and the nudge, nudge marketing which implied that its little known cast had indeed been eaten by cannibals and decided to lob a dissenting brick, in the shape of The Green Inferno, through the wall of Deodato’s cinematic glass house. That’s probably enough mixed metaphors for now…

Serving as his own DP (and making a predictably beautiful job of it, given his CV), Climati shot Contro Natura in the Colombian town Leticia, where Cannibal Holocaust (and also Umberto Lenzi’s coat-tail riding Cannibal Ferox, 1981) had been made. Returning a dubious favour, he copped the Green Inferno title  from a line in Holocaust and also went out of his way to stage scenes in which monkeys, coatis and turtles receive kind treatment at the hands of the protagonists… a very far cry, if not from the Savannah then  from the way in which comparable animals were treated during Deodato’s picture. You don’t have to abuse animals to make a mondo / cannibal picture, seemed to be Climati’s message and although he was a conspicuously late convert to this position, he seems to have won the historical argument, with Deodato and Sergio Martino now endorsing more animal friendly versions of Cannibal Holocaust and Prisoner Of The Cannibal God and Umberto Lenzi accepting (it’s clear that he never entertained any moral qualms on this score) a similarly softened variant of his Cannibal Ferox (all of these for Blu-ray release by Shameless). There are, it’s worth noting, restored shots of monkeys being hit with blow darts in The Green Inferno that had to be trimmed before Vipco got their ’15’ certificate (for a DVD release opportunistically entitled Cannibal Holocaust II) in 2002. There is no record of how a small fish (allegedly a piranha) felt about swimming up and being pulled out of a native porter’s arse.

Bonus materials include a limited edition glossy slip case and booklet with notes by Italian pundit Francesco Massaccesi (these if you buy early enough), remastered trailer, reversible sleeve and Italian opening / closing credits. Most worthy of your attention is Eugenio Ercolani and Giuliano Emanuele’s documentary Scenes From Banned Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Movie, in which Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and Sergio Martino are interviewed about their efforts in this particularly blood stained filone. There have been several documentary investigations of this area in recent years (most of them by the UK’s High Rising Productions) but it’s interesting to see a native Italian take on the Phenom. We’d heard that Lenzi and Deodato buried the hatchet before Lenzi’s death but there’s a significant amount of low-level niggling here, though the notoriously irascible Lenzi reserves  most of his ire for stoking another ongoing feud, with Ferox star “John Morghen” aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Modest as ever, Lenzi declares the decapitation of Johnny in that film “a stroke of directorial genius!” Steady on

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2) … and among the nominees for best screen dialogue, H.L. Rostaine and Ilona Kunesova…

Cannibal Terror. BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

“Can’t you open the fucking door?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Shit… what are you doing?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Fuck… oh fuck it! No fucking idiot could get that door open… made me look a fucking fool!”

… but seriously folks, “Allan W. Steeve”s Cannibal Terror was never nominated for and certainly never received any Oscars, the only accolade it ever actually managed being a place on the DPP’s official “Video Nasties” list. Because, in our youth, we prided ourselves on our consumption of Forbidden fruits, this was just one of the many cinematic atrocities to which we anal retentive types willingly subjected ourselves, back in the day. Now it’s back on our shelves courtesy of 88 Films, certified ’18’ and in an HD restoration that makes it look whole a lot better than it probably ever had a right to look….

The swear fest we just heard comes courtesy of some kidnappers who abduct a child and secrete it in a safe house, in the depths of some jungle or other, while the ransom is sorted out. Their jungle guide advises them that cannibals lurk behind every bush. “They’d love to put you in the soup” she warns “but if we don’t stop, there’s no sweat.” As it happens, there’s perspiration aplenty when their jeep breaks down. Disregarding her own warnings, the guide wanders off into the undergrowth and is promptly ambushed by the locals who, it has to be said, present a less than convincing spectacle…

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Frighteningly authentic Amazonian cannibals. Yesterday.

The “cannibals” (who seem more interested in playing tug-of-war with her raw intestines than actually eating them… understandably enough) overact shamelessly, grinning like loons as they brandish fistfuls of guts at the camera. I get that these extras are no more trained actors than they are genuine South American natives, but couldn’t their pantomime excesses have been a bit more skillfully edited? Apparently not. Further ineptitude in this department ensures plenty of shots of people standing around waiting for cues and gawping aimlessly into space. The magic of the movies, eh?

Despite the loss of their guide the kidnappers make it to the jungle safe-house, and no sooner has their host gone away on a business trip than one of these desperadoes ties his wife to a tree and rapes her (a feat he accomplishes without dropping or even unzipping his trousers). When hubby gets home he takes his guests on a hunting trip, ties the rapist to the very tree against which he had performed this violation and gives a sharp whistle, which is apparently the cannibal equivalent of a dinner gong. The rapist is eaten and his partners in crime tied to poles and carried off to the native village, where they are given the Cannibal Holocaust treatment while the kidnapped kid is led off to play in a cannibal kintergarten. By the time the parents arrive, acting on a hot tip-off, there’s not much left of the ’nappers. “The gangsters got all the punishment they deserved”, the tribal chief assures them, indicating what is supposed to be the severed head of the baddy-in-chief, blinking visibly as he pokes his head through a bit of scenery. “He got all the pain and suffering that was coming to him.” So did anyone who’s ever sat through Cannibal Terror…

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In possible mitigation, those bemused by the absence of any actual cannibalism in Climati’s Green Inferno will find buckets of palpably phony gore here. Cannibal Terror is similarly devoid of violence against animals, though…  at least on-screen (all those innards had to come from somewhere, I guess). Since his days as one of the DPP’s least favourite directors, “Allan W. Steeve” has been outed as an unholy combination of Alain Deruelle and Julio Pérez Tabernero… Jess Franco’s alleged participation in the project has now been ruled out, though apparently Franco acolyte Olivier Mathot (who also appears in the picture as “Monsieur Danville”) directed certain scenes. Sabrina Siani contributes her characteristic combination of significant eye candy and infinitesimal acting talent.

Perhaps we’ll discover some redemptive element in this disc’s bonus materials? Well, aside from a trailer and deleted “erotic” dancing scene with which you might already be regretfully familiar from Severin’s earlier edition of Cannibal Terror, there’s Naomi Holwill’s documentary That’s Not The Amazon! – The Strange Story of the Eurocine Cannibal Film Cycle, in which assembled pundits Allan Bryce, Mikel Koven, John Martin and Calum Waddell (plus cast member Antonio Mayans, who admits it wasn’t always easy to remember which film he was supposed to be acting in at any given moment) attempt to elicit a few laughs from the amateurish anthropophagic efforts that the Lasoeur family were churning out in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Martin summarises the guiding principles of Eurociné’s cannibal dabblings thus: “If you’ve got a bucket of offal and you can stuff it up somebody’s jumper then pull it out again and if you can film in a park somewhere and pretend it’s the Amazon basin, then you’ve got yourself a movie”, further characterising these films as “shoddily executed”… and who am I to contradict the sartorially splendid but increasingly gnarled looking doyen of dodgy film criticism?

As time marches on, those who haven’t seen Cannibal Terror and many of its DPP list-mates might be unclear about exactly what is was that our moral guardians had in their cross hairs during the early ’80s when they predicted the imminent collapse of Civilisation. If that’s you, prepare to be gob smacked!

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Alienated With Extreme Prejudice… And Can You Put Some Chilli Sauce On That? Shedding Light On SHOCKING DARK.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“Can’t you smell that stink of shit?” Geretta Giancarlo Field.

The last time we embarked on a Severinian binge here at THOF we were up to our asses in Bruno Mattei / Claudio Fragasso monstrosities but in a rare display of trash film fallibility, we managed to miss this one. It seemed only right, therefore (and even more appropriate in light of the film’s increasingly relevant and no-doubt sincerely heartfelt ecological concerns) to kick-start our Several Days Of Severin with a look at Mattei’s Shocking Dark (1989), billed by the Sevsters themselves (who certainly know a thing or two about this stuff) as “the most infamous mash-up in Eurosleaze history!”

Never known for their reluctance to pad out a film with stock footage, Mattei and writer Fragasso (billed here under their sho’nuff “Vincent Dawn” and “Clyde Anderson” aliases… in fact Fragasso’s identified as “Clayde” Anderson this time out) commence the proceedings with travelogue shots of Venice while some voice over schmuck wonders what the ravages of pollution will have done to it by the turn of the Millennium… and indeed, who could possibly have predicted that it would be an abandoned wasteland, under the ruins of which elite Marine units battle it out with mutant aliens and time travelling cyborgs? Anybody who’s ever watched a Mattei and / or Fragasso flick before, that’s who! Altogether, now: “Just one gorenetto, give it to me…”

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Though Demons’ Geretta Geretta (billed under the altogether more feasible handle of Geretta Giancarlo Field) and her fellow grunts from Operation Delta Venice Megaforce try hard to emulate the ruffty-tuffty troupers in James Cameron’s Aliens (did I mention yet that Shocking Dark owes rather a lot to Aliens? How remiss of me!) in truth they look more like refugees from a gay porn movie… and not a particularly macho one, either, the way they squeal and blurt every time one of those aliens (which resemble nothing so much as ambulatory kebabs and prove disappointingly easy to gun down) hoves into view.

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Ms Geretta is always agreeably sassy in these things (in 1984 she had graced Mattei and Fragasso’s hysterical Rats: Night Of Terror, of course) but unfortunately she gets killed off relatively early in Shocking Dark, before she can celebrate a heart-warming reconciliation over a hand grenade with the Italian guy she’s spent most of her screen time racially abusing. Otherwise, all of your favourite Aliens scenes are recreated in predictably am-dram fashion… Dr Sarah Drumbull (Haven Tyler in her only screen credit) as the Ripley figure even manages to rescue and bond with Newt surrogate Samantha Raphelson (the similarly uni-credited Dominica Coulson).

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Clive Riche, in contrast to both of those ladies, has kept commendably busy since making his debut here… Christ knows how, given his ripe overacting (one of his more subdued moments, below) as “Drake”, a character driven mad by his earlier run in with the kebab creatures.

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Christopher Ahrens is Samuel Fuller (!), an all-purpose kung fu special forces dude who’s along for the ride to represent the interests of the sinister and corrupt Tubular Corporation (!!), whose property speculation scam and clandestine chemical / bacteriological weapon tests (“cybernetics applied on a molecular basis”) devastated Venice in the first place. Fuller is ultimately revealed as part Ash from Alien, part Terminator (as if his increasingly Arnie-esque tones hadn’t already tipped you off) and is even described as a Replicant… so Mattei and Fragasso have managed to stir a pinch of Blade Runner into this indigestible concoction, too.

“I’m immortal… the most perfect (sic) thing ever created by the Tubular Corporation” announces cybernetic Sammy as Drumbull and Raphelson scramble to escape a nuclear reactor (did I forget to mention the nuclear reactor?) facility that will self-destruct (you guessed) in T-10 minutes. Just as their time is about to elapse, the girls happen upon a time machine (what were the odds on that?) which takes them back to the present day (or the tail end of the 20th Century, anyway) where Fuller follows them for a twist ending that will rip a new asshole in your space / time continuum.

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Much as I love those Severin boys, I’d have to take issue with their assessment of Shocking Dark as “the most infamous mash-up in Eurosleaze history!” It’s an admittedly awesome Italo-schlock milestone but throughout it I get the sense of a director building himself up to such mashed masterpieces as 2004’s Land Of Death (“Cannibal Holocaust meets Predator”) and his 2007 swan-song “everything but the kitchen sink… hang on, there’s a kitchen sink in there as well” zombie brace Island Of The Living Dead and Zombies – The Beginning.

Also known (before James Cameron’s lawyers got wind of it) as Aliens 2, Alienators and Contaminator, initial orders of Shocking Dark were dispatched by Severin in “an extremely unofficial limited edition (Terminator 2) slipcover that will be available until a cease and desist arrives”. Punters picking up that edition might well have been in for a nasty surprise, though I guess if you’re reading this blog you would have been hip to the gag…

Extras include another chunk of Severin’s ongoing interview with co-writers Fragasso and his missus Rossella Drudi (remembering their final collaboration with Bruno Mattei) and a characteristically lively audience with Geretta Geretta / whatever her bloody name is. Plus alternative Italian Titles.

Looking for the perfect junk movie to accompany a late night fast food binge? Naan better than Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark…

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