Posts Tagged With: Jesus Franco

A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake You… SEVERIN, THE EARLY YEARS.

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Daft, Gregory, Cregan and friends… another humdrum day at the Severin office.

A feature in the current issue (#185) of Dark Side magazine celebrates Severin’s first decade of digital debauchery by interviewing that label’s enterprising, taboo-busting, trash-obsessed honchos David Gregory and Carl Daft. The following archive interview (recently rediscovered wedged behind a toilet cistern during the demolition of a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema) catches them just a couple of years or so after the label’s launch. These interviews should be read in conjunction to get the whole picture… or (to paraphrase Mr Gregory) if you want to be tickled by the whole chicken…

To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Isaac Newton so sagely pointed out in his Third Law Of Motion (familiar to all of our readers, no doubt, from their GCSEs). Isaac’s axiom holds just as true in the realm of censorship as it does in the sphere of physics, so it was inevitable that the savage suppression of horror and exploitation video from the early ’80s onwards would provoke a commensurate outbreak of fan activity dedicated to keeping the flame alive until the dawning of less censorious times such as those that, give or take, we currently enjoy. Some of us hacks have managed to turn a modest living from our endless journalistic musings on the hysterical history of “video nasties” and similarly contentious titles but other, even more twisted individuals, have taken things several sinister steps further.

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Consider David Gregory and Carl Daft, two eminently agreeable, middle class boys growing up in the more respectable parts of Nottingham, whose quest for forbidden filmic fruit would, in time, blaze a legendary trail across the annals of DVD (and subsequently BD and download) distribution. “By the age of 10, Carl and I had seen many of the nasties before the police started snatching them up” avows Gregory, in a truly blood chilling confession. “But it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which I think made the biggest impression on me. Even at the early age I was able to tell there was something about the stench in the atmosphere of that film which made it quite special, despite the lack of gore. Anyway, after The Video Recordings Act devastated the industry we became avid collectors of pre-cert video tape, scouring the shops of Nottingham for hidden gems.”

“There was always that exciting possibility that you would find a video shop and he’d bring out this big box of nasties and be selling them for a few quid a piece” agrees Daft, smacking his lips like a true connoisseur of cinematic Evil. The boys’ delvings in the dark hinterland of video brought them into contact with a distributor for whom Gregory shot the local interest documentaries Nottingham At War and Nottingham At The Cinema… the latter is particularly nifty and both sold well in Robin Hood’s native city.

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Dave’s main focus, though, remained on cinematic sleaze (he had already made Scathed, as short starring Warhol “superstar” Holly Woodlawn in 1995) and, together with Carl, he put together the Exploited label to distribute their kind of movies on VHS. This soon had them butting heads with the BBFC. Deranged, Axe and the G.G. Allin doc Hated all got cut, Deadbeat At Dawn and Maniac were rejected outright… hassles that would become, as we shall see, a recurring motif in this narrative.

At the dawn of the digital age the boys collaborated on the seminal doc Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and would raise the bar for DVD bonus features with their contributions to exploitation releases on various labels… their two-part Ban The Sadist Videos! retrospective on “nasty”-bashing hysteria, spread over Anchor Bay UK’s Box Of The Banned sets, was a particularly commendable effort and clearly came straight from their heart.

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Carl and Dave were also very active in the heroically failed (in 2002) legal attempt to overturn the BBFC’s ban on an uncut ABUK edition of Last House On The Left and their affiliations with Anchor Bay in The States ultimately spawned a close working relationship with Maniac director turned DVD distributor Bill Lustig, with whom they absconded to form the legendary Blue Underground label.

Their milestone US releases would include unexpurgated versions of Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America, Night Train Murders (which at the time was still a taboo title here in Blighty), Mark Of The Devil et al, alongside epic box sets dedicated to Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead series and the collected works of Mondo godfathers Jacopetti and Prosperi. During this period Dave and Carl also took on the completion of Jim Van Bebber’s Charlie’s Family, which turned into a hair raising experience for all concerned.

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Meet The Team.

In Summer 2006 Dave, Carl and partner John Cregan split to start releasing films under the Severin banner. Initially concentrating on sexploitation efforts, their release slate subsequently widened to take on every aspect of exploitation cinema. When we spoke, Daft and Gregory were bringing the sleaze home with the inauguration of Severin UK…

You must have been proud of what you achieved at Blue Underground… can you tell us something about your  reasons for splitting?

DG) I think BU had reached a stage where we could no longer carry on as we had for the previous few years. Not only were titles that Bill was interested in pursuing getting scarcer and more costly to produce, but also the market had steadily been getting smaller and more packed with competition. Having said that John, Carl and I wanted to broaden our horizons a bit, gain some independence and pursue production and saw potential for a variety of films that were not being exploited by the other boutique cult labels. Initially this was soft core erotic films from France, Italy, Germany, Australia, etc. We figured these films could still find an audience and they did. We committed to do some featurette work for Bill after we split, most notably on The Stendhal Syndrome and Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, but that definitively dried up some time ago.

Tell us about Severin’s UK launch. Why now? does the (yawn) “credit crunch” make this a particularly difficult time to undertake such a venture?

CD) We are launching in the UK with Polanski’s What? An amazing new transfer of The Master’s rarest film, complete with a slew of extras. It’ll be a terrific special edition. We’ll follow up with Felicity, Vanessa, Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter. Although erotica and horror will always be on our radar we are broadening our output and will be releasing everything from war epics like Enzo Castellari’s Eagles Over London to Ozploitation biker classic Stone.

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There is a school of thought that the  distribution business is recession-proof, that in tough times people would rather stay in and watch a DVD than go out to a restaurant or the pub. I think there’s some truth in that but it seems that cash is tight everywhere at the moment and consumers are being extremely cautious as, indeed, are the retailers, so it is bound to have a knock-on effect on sales. We have been toying with the idea of launching in the UK for a while but given our previous headaches with the BBFC and the Video Appeals Committee , had never quite mustered the enthusiasm to do so. When we found out that What? was available for UK distribution, we thought this was a strong enough title with which to launch in the UK and as the BBFC had lightened up considerably in the last couple of years we felt that we wouldn’t be spending half our time arguing with them like before so decided the time was right.

Do you think / fear, given your track record, that your stuff will be marked out for special scrutiny at the BBFC? And do you retain the same appetite as of yore for litigation in these matters?

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CD) The BBFC views every title on its own merit, surely? No, I don’t think we will be singled out for attention in that respect. Where our name will be noted, as this also answers the second part of your question, is that The Board will consider its position very carefully before issuing us a cuts list, as I have made it clear that I won’t tolerate any cuts whatsoever and I will tak any such decision to appeal. Just after the Last House appeal, , Robin Duval issued a cuts list for the Jim Van Bebber short My Sweet Satan. I wrote him back saying I didn’t agree with his decision and that unless he waived these unnecessary cuts there would be no option but to reconvene the Video Appeals Committee. Knowing that I was deadly serious and probably still scarred by the experience of Last House On The Left he backed down and passed the film uncut. As it happened I never even released the title, but I had made my point.

Presumably it will be a badge of honour for you to get former “nasties” like Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter released uncut in the UK…

CD) Most of those titles are now passing uncut due to the abolition of the 10 year rule after the Last House hearing. Bloody Moon is a nice one for us to do as it was one of our favourite “nasties” back when we were kids. It’s funny to think that here we are, 25 years later, mastering it in  Hi-Def and putting it out on DVD for the first time ever with the enthusiastic involvement of its legendary director Jess Franco.

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Any amusing anecdotes about your encounters with the legendary Jess?

DG) I can safely say that I am a big admirer of Jess Franco these days and that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a man who has always done things his way no matter what the criticism levelled at him. Not too many film makers can say that. The more you see of his work, the more you realise that this guy is an auteur. Of course some of his works are more palatable than others but that’s the joy of being a Jess fan, you have to see as much as possible to discover and admire the true gems… plus he’s funny as shit and great company, as long as you don’t mind passively inhaling about twenty cigarettes in the course of a few hours!

I believe you’re going to be releasing stuff over here in NTSC rather than Pal. Kindly talk us through some of the technical and commercial issues involved in this decision.

CD) Yes, unless we are contractually obliged to release in Pal we will be releasing everything in NTSC here in the UK in the exact same versions as we do in the U.S. Most of our titles are appearing on legitimate DVD for the first time in the world and it’s a very expensive process to go back to the original film and audio elements to create a new master, more so now that we are mastering in hi-def, so if we can split that cost across two territories instead of one then that makes sound commercial sense. Virtually all UK DVD players can play NTSC and as most of our releases are Region O then it shouldn’t create any problems for the consumer.

As Severin, has sexual material caused you more or less censorship hassles than horror / violence previously did in your principal markets?

DG) The censorship in the US is different from the bollocks that we had to put up with in the UK. It still exists though, even if not in the form of a state censorship board. Certain bigger stores and online retailers won’t touch certain products for fear of upsetting any puritan customers they might have and as a result some of our products can only be stocked in the more liberal outlets.

Tell us about the problems you had with the Immoral Women sleeve in some US outlets and the people who refused to subtitle Emanuelle Around The World…

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CD) One of the bigger retail stores ordered Immoral Women but it seems that the box copy on the back and its suggestion of bunny love were too much for one employee somewhere in the Mid-west and an official complaint was filed by this poor soul. It then became an HR issue for the company which, under American law, can become very onerous. To them it was far easier to send all copies of the film back rather than risk a law suit. With Emanuelle Around The World there is a uniquely D’Amato-esque scene in the XXX version which involves some dubious sexual activity. When the subtitle house got to this point in the movie they immediately had the tapes couriered back to our office for fear that the Republican decency police would have then sent to Death Row for the good of the community.

As veterans of all those scrapes with the BBFC, it must be a bittersweet experience for you to see Last House On The Left finally released uncut in the UK on another label… were you also as amazed as I was to see some of your Franco titles… I’m thinking particularly of The Sexual Story Of O… released unexpurgated over here?

CD) The BBFC has certainly lightened up compared to what it was even five years ago. There are still problems but if you compare it to how things were under Ferman’s reign, it’s nothing. It’s also annoying when you consider that we went to all that effort and expense to challenge the BBFC over Last House On The Left, only for the Video Appeals Committee to over-rule us and demand further cuts, then five years later the offending footage is no longer considered dangerous to the UK public… but another company gets to benefit! I mean, what could possibly have changed so much in British society that footage which was unacceptable five years ago is now OK?

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The sexualised violence in Sexual Story Of O would also have caused problems even under Duval but now we are seeing the likes of the hardcore version of Caligula being passed at ’18’ so that is definitely a good sign. Next stop has to be hard core at 18 that one might struggle to be “exceptionally justified by context” (the Board’s guideline) I’m thinking Malabimba and Beast In Space XXX at 18!

Well, if Caligula is now OK uncut at 18, what about some of the more out-there Black Emanuelle titles? I mean, what’s the difference?

CD) The two titles that would cause most controversy, Emanuelle In America and Emanuelle Around The world are both owned by Studio Canal / Optimum in the UK so unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to chance our arm with The Board even if we wanted to. I heard that Optimum submitted the full version of World without realising everything that it contained. The BBFC politely informed them that some of the contents were unacceptable in the UK and they promptly withdrew it. I would like to challenge the Board’s acceptance of hard core at 18 with some of our other titles though, under the test of “exceptionally justified by context.”I think the hard core elements of Beast In Space and Malabimba are most certainly exceptionally justified by their context. I am not sure that the BBFC would agree, maybe we’ll see what the Video Appeals Committee thinks.

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Joe D’Amato once told me that he much preferred soft core to hard core, personally… where do your own inclinations lie?

DG) John is our connoisseur of the world of soft core whereas Carl and I are more horror guys… John certainly agrees with maestro D’Amato. Polanski said to Peter Coyote when they were prepping Bitter Moon that the difference between erotica and pornography is that erotica is teasing with a feather whereas in pornography you use the whole chicken.  I think that’s a fair assessment.

After years of watching bootleg videos that turned out to be cut, where you as surprised as the rest of us were to see just how explicit some of the sex stuff was in Malabimba? And are you satisfied that the mythical “hard core out takes” from its remake / sequel Satan’s Baby Doll are indeed a myth?

DG) Actually, after we completed our Satan’s Baby Doll disc we discovered that the hard core version had been unearthed in Germany so it does exist, despite the director’s claims to the contrary. We procured a copy of the footage and it was it was in such bad condition we’re not sure that it’s even releasable. Malabimba, well that’s got to be the sleaziest film in our catalogue… until The Sinful Dwarf comes out next year, that is! I’d never seen it before we started Severin. Wow… we had to have this movie!

Is there any juicy stuff you could tell us about spaghetti sleaze Hall-Of-Famer Mariangela Giordano?

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DG) It would have to be off the record!

Kudos to you for the two Black Emanuelle boxes… was Laura Gemser approached to contribute to those?

CD) She certainly was but she’s retired from public life. She’s not embarrassed about it at all, in fact she requested copies of the box but she’d just rather not spend the rest f her days reminiscing about those years and she now lives happily just outside of Rome, where she breeds Llama apparently!

None of them named Pedro, hopefully… it’s clear that you boys conceived youthful affections for such actresses as Olivia Pascal (below), Glory Annen and the scandalously underused Joni Flynn, Is there any sign that these DVD releases are gaining any of them an unexpected cult afterlife on the convention circuit? No such option for Sirpa Lane, unfortunately…

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DG) I don’t think any of them are aware of it but it’s nice their work is being introduced to a whole new generation of admirers.

CD) Glory was happy to participate in the release of Felicity. We approached Olivia Pascal for Vanessa but she took the Laura Gemser route, preferring not to talk about the past (she’s a big name on German TV now). We tried to locate Joni Flynn but alas without success.

Are there any particularly underrated / directors stars whose work you’re planning to push?

DG) Looking forward to reintroducing some great Patrice Leconte movies into the US market. Not very Severin, you might think, but then we never wanted to limit ourselves to one genre. Leconte makes great films and we’re proud to represent them over here. We’ll also be doing more Castellari because there are still some masterpieces that remain unreleased on video… and there’s always more Franco.

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CD) Rino Di Silvestro!

What were the problems with the Lucio Fulci bonus interviews that were withdrawn?

CD) Antonella Fulci didn’t think they portrayed her father in the right light. Although she really had no legal basis to demand that we pulled the interviews, we decided that it just wouldn’t be right to have Fulci’s family upset with any of the releases of his films. We intend to do more Fulci titles in the future so we figured it would be best to keep her on side.

Well done for releasing Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero. Was it always the plan to extend your remit beyond sex films to the likes of that, The Inglorious Bastards, Stone et al or was it just that you couldn’t restrain yourselves when these great exploitation titles came up?

DG) I think if we’d continued with our main concentration as soft core that our output would become stale and diminishing returns would set in. When films like Inglorious Bastards and The Hairdresser’s Husband et al came along we saw it as the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons. There’ll be plenty of horror, action, in Severin’s future and plenty of sleaze too so we certainly won’t be abandoning our roots. More D’Amato, Borowczyk, etc… all great film makers in their own right and as a fan of Film I see no reason why they shouldn’t be represented alongside Leconte or Fulci. Ironically, our release of Sette Note In Nero (as The Psychic) was one of our biggest failures, commercially… very few people bought it.

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That’s scandalous! It’s a fabulous picture… from your various hob-nobbings with Quentin Tarantino, did you manage to glean whether his long mooted remake of Fulci’s film is still a goer?

CD) Much was discussed during the interview but no mention fo The Psychic. We flew Enzo Castellari out to meet with Castellari for our recent release of Inglorious Bastards. Quentin had organised “Enzo Castellari Night” at The Silent Movie Theatre where Joe Dante and Eli Roth were among the guests as two of Enzo’s films had rare theatrical screenings in LA. The following day we were treated to a three hour sit-down conversation between the two great directors covering everything from their respective cinematic influences to Quentin’s ideas for his remake of Bastards, which is now in production. The first part of this interview appeared on our release of the original IB and we will be splitting the remainder across future Castellari releases.

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Miles of smiles as Ingloriuos Bastards director Enzo Castellari and stars Fred Williamson, Bo Svenson hang out with the Severin boys.

You’ve revealed the true identity of Emmanuelle’s author, exposed what Hanna Barbera animators get up to in their spare time and demonstrated conclusively that unsolicited Borowczyk sequels and zero-budgeted Star Wars knock-offs are not comfortable bed-mates… are there any more scoops that you’re waiting to slap us around the face with?

DG)… that even a sleazy film like Christianne F can be made sleazier in the hands of an Italian exploitation master like Rino Di Silvestro (Hanna D is a jaw-droppingly tasteless exercise in “don’t do drugs, kids!” propaganda)… that you will at the very least need to take a shower after watching The Sinful Dwarf, but more likely need psychiatric help to banish some of the imagery from your mind… that Polanski was a bit loopy when he made What?

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Last time we spoke, Dave, you announced that you were “on the verge of grabbing a camera and running out to shot a feature.” Now you’ve done that, with Plague Town… what’s the lowdown?

DG) Plague Town was an exhilarating experience and I’m very happy with it. I set out to make a horror film initially following a generic formula but them pushing it into a stylistic direction that is not so formulaic. So essentially we start on a note of familiarity before moving into territory which is unexpected. For example I think the main victim, Rosemary, is genuinely unique. She came out exactly as I had imagined her, a beautifully elegant but exceedingly creepy and extremely violent young lady. And we tried hard to create some memorable death scenes, the kind of thing you really haven’t seen before and in this I think we succeeded. We’ve just had a couple of  private preview screenings and the response has been very positive. We’re working with Dark Sky Films (the producers) on a release schedule for the film in the U.S. It will be on DVD in the first half of 2009.

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Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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Happy Birthday, Sweet Freudstein (With Big Thanks To Irene…)… THE 1st HOUSE OF FREUDSTEIN ANNUAL REPORT

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It’s turned into the purtiest Blog you’ve ever seen… and just a year old, today!

In the latter part of 2015 I was already doing a music blog, the now defunct Boot Room Of Ozymandias. Only available to a small circle of fellow Prog Rock enthusiasts, it was, frankly, a bit crap. It did, however, afford me the opportunity to learn the tricks of the blogger’s trade while dropping most of my clangers away from the public gaze.

The yen to do a film blog was kindled in me by none other than Irene Miracle. The lovely and talented star of Inferno, Night Train Murders et al was well chuffed with the interview we’d done (which appeared in issue #167 of Dark Side magazine) and wondered if there was any chance of getting it on-line. Her admirers around the world (particularly her fanatical Japanese following) would just lap it up, she assured me. I asked DS editor Allan Bryce if he would consider running this piece on the web site of his august organ but at the time he was experiencing some problems in that department and about to change web master. When I mentioned this to Irene, she asked me why I didn’t consider setting up my own film blog. Why not indeed…

At the end of 2015 I closed The Boot Room (though that re-emerged, mutated and upgraded, as http://www.theozymandiasprogject.wordpress.com in May 2016… I wish I could devote enough time to making that as it good as it should be but hey, I’ve only got one pair of hands and 24 hours in a day) and on 01.01.16 officially launched http://www.houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com upon an unsuspecting world, leading off with the aforementioned Irene Miracle interview. She wasn’t bullshitting about how well it would go, either. A year on, she’s still fighting it out with David Warbeck for the laurel of most-visited posting and yes, many of the days on which she’s scored particularly strongly seem to coincide with days when we’ve had a lot of Japanese visitors. A woman of indisputable discernment, here’s wishing Irene every success with the various projects she has in development, notably Bangkok Hardtime.

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(http://www.dawnland-movie.com/ChangelingTheMovie/IreneMiracle)

Me Me Lay (or Lai, depending on what source you consult) grabs the bronze, unexpectedly (to me, anyway) relegating Lucio Fulci to fourth place and our look at Soledad Miranda on Severin BDs registered as the fifth biggest draw for most of our first year. Any Severin coverage tends to generate a strong response, actually and their Barbara Steele triple bill BD leap frogged Ms Miranda on the day of La Steele’s birthday, 29.12.16. Soledad certainly did her ratings no harm at all by the imperious manner in which she shrugged her kit off in the gif we used to advertise that posting on social media. Oh go on then, here it is again…

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Our Top 10 postings for 2016 are rounded out by Torso (anything Martino and / or Fenech related seems to be well received), our survey of Italian Exorcist knock-offs and two more Severin releases. Gregory and Daft’s brain-boggling Zombi Holocaust / Doctor Butcher set narrowly edged out their Burial Ground for both the number 9 spot and our pick as HOF Release Of The Year.

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This just in from our medical correspondent… Butcher stuffs Strange!

You’ll be seeing a lot more of that kind of stuff in 2017… I can take a hint, you know! In the meantime it would be nice if some of our less favoured postings started to pick up a few viewings in the New Year… I was particularly pleased with my breezy account of the Freudstein family cinema outing to check out Doctor Strange (this at the behest of my rabidly Cumberbitch daughter)… currently residing at the very bottom of our chart!

Despite the odd minor disappointment it’s been a good year,  in which we’ve made a lot of new cyber friends (and even met some of them) and had rather a jolly time e.g. celebrating the month of Scalarama, reporting from Nottingham’s spiffing Mayhem Film Festival and mounting well received Weekenders devoted to Paul Naschy, David Warbeck and Sergio Martino (with preparations for new ones in 2017 already underway.) We’ve scoured every corner of the globe for cinematic treats ranging from the Art House (The Quay Brothers) to the outhouse (Jesus Franco), from gothique Italian horrors of the ’60s to contemporary releases like Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies and leavened the mix with such occasional mainstream / big budget efforts as the aforementioned underperforming Doctor Strange. We try to cater for all tastes here at The House Of Freudstein…

… which means that in 2017, among more weekenders, major interviews, reports and reviews we’ll be hoping to cover a lot of stuff we haven’t really touched on in our first year… a few Spaghetti Westerns wouldn’t hurt… and  Poliziotteschi… yeah, you can expect a tidal wave of Crime Slime any time soon.

In the meantime, thanks for your support and Happy New Year from we Freudsteins…

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Thanks, Pal!

Categories: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Oh, Soledad Mio…” A FISTFUL OF FRANCOS on BD From Severin

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Vampyros Lesbos. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18. 

She Killed In Ecstasy. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Bloody Moon. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Devil Hunter (c/w Alain Deruelle’s Cannibal Terror… “Two Gore Horrors To Rip Out Your Guts!”) Blu-ray. Region free. Severin. Unrated.

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The Freudsteins barely had a chance to recover from Birdemic: Shock And Terror before those Severin boys had thrust another bunch of review discs into my hot little hand… though I won’t be screening these for the offspring, constituting as they do a random trawl through the cinematic crimes of the late Jesus Franco, sometimes cited as “the most boring director in the world.”  I can’t say JF’s prodigious outpourings mean anything like as much to me as the films of Lucio Fulci, but he commands a similar level of devotion from his fans on account of similar wilfulness and waywardness in his life and work and the obsessiveness with which he stubborny pursued his skewed personal vision, via a distinctly oddball aesthetic.

As with Fulci (in fact far more frequently) this often obliged him to take on quicky, fly-by-night productions, the proceeds of which helped finance his more heartfelt projects. The latter category is represented here by Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy (a 1971 brace which he effectively shot simultaneously on the same sets and locations and with an interchangeable cast, most importantly their extraordinary star,  the beautiful and doomed Soledad Miranda), the latter by contemporary bandwagon jumpers Devil Hunter (a 1980 attempt to emulate recent Italian cannibal shockers) and Bloody Moon (a 1981 entry in the slasher stakes.)

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“Nadine… Oh honey, is that you?”

Vampyros Lesbos is a predictable (at least in outline) sapphic variation on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Intercourse is more beautiful when it’s between two lesbian women” opines Franco in one of the disc’s bonus feature and one is disinclined to argue the point.) Gerry Halliwell lookalike Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) takes the Jonathan Harker role, travelling to Istanbul (the film was mostly shot in Germany but Franco freights it with travelogue shots of the Turkish capital) to facilitate Countess Nadine Carody (Miranda)’s inheritance from her benefactor Count Dracula, no less. The Countess doesn’t dwell in a musty castle – when Linda’s first sets eyes on her, she’s swanning around spectacularly in a skimpy white bikini and wastes no time persuading her to go skinny dipping.

“It’s fun to lie naked in the sand… especially with another person.”

“Yes.”

No fear of daylight or running water for this vampire, then and her other unorthodoxies extend to performing in a cheesy girl-on-girl nightclub act seemingly based on the Pygmalion legend for the delectation of its bored looking bourgeois patrons. The seduction of  Linda and her induction into the wild world of vampirism proceeds as a matter of course.

Dr Alwin Seward (Dennis Price) is a psychiatrist whose patients include former Countess Carody lover / victim Agra  (Heidrun Kussin), though his interest in tracking down Nadine turns  out to be rather less heroically motivated than it initially seems. Franco himself pops up as Agra’s estranged husband Mehmet, who gets over this romantic mishap by torturing and butchering women in his cellar… a plot point that never satisfactorily connects with the rest of the film’s fractured narrative and has been introduced, one suspects, solely to bump up the running time to feature length (and furnish Franco with a little fun.)

Sceptics might take all of this as confirmation of their hard wired Francophobia but I must confess that I enjoyed watching this edition of Vampyros Lesbos more than I can remember enjoying previous releases of the film, or indeed any Franco film. Severin have triumphed by sourcing the German (subtitled)  version, which is not only claimed to be the favourite cut of Franco (a director whose filmography is proverbially complicated by the alternative edits in which his various films tended to be released) but it looks absolutely fantastic, a stark contrast to the nth generation video dubs via which many of us originally tried to get to grips with the Franco mystique and so much more conducive to an acceptance of Franco’s narrative, er, looseness.

As for the music, Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab serve up a sexadelic treat… think “Richard Alpert & The Marijuana Brass” with heavy Hammond and soaring sitar. Readers are strongly advised to get their hands on the Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party Soundtrack album if at all possible, comprising as it does groovy sounds from the Franco / Miranda films reviewed here and their subsequent collaboration The Devil Came From Akasava.

Among the bonus materials, Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco) is his usual erudite and eloquent self. He doesn’t say much about Soledad Miranda on this disc (but read on), that’s left to Amy Brown (the obsessive web mistress of soledadmiranda.com). Of course you get all the expected trailers and bits of business, including a clip which suggests that Franco was the inspiration for Yoda(!)

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Narratively, She killed In Ecstasy is a more straightforward affair, proceeding along the “revenge killing” plot-line that Franco would employ many times, both previously and subsequently. Miranda begins the film in memorable style. In a folly of a castle in Alicante, she models a metallic brassiere as she mooches around a collection of unnerving anatomical exhibits. Her husband, Dr Johnson (Fred Williams) enthuses about the medical advances he has achieved by breaking taboos against experimentation on human subjects.  Is Franco fulminating here against the reactionary backwardness of his native Spain, with Miranda as the Sadean woman in the vanguard of revolt? Whatever, contemporary audiences wouldn’t need to have particularly long memories to find such subject matter questionable in a German co-production…

… and Dr Johnson’s superior’s feel pretty much the same way. One by one Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg and Franco himself denounce Dr J’s hubris and conspire to strike him off. Nonplussed by this unexpected turn of events, our maverick medic goes into a steep decline and despite Miranda’s best efforts, ultimately succumbs to suicide. Whereupon his widow takes it upon herself to seek out and seduce his inquisitors, exposing the sexual kinks that lurk behind their facade of bourgeois respectability before killing them off in their turn. On the lam from the law she dies in a car crash, the amateurish staging of which is more than made up for, impact wise, by the reflection that this is exactly how Miranda would meet her actual demise, some months later.

What a loss…. in this film, a much more conventionally told story than Vampyros Lesbos, so much rests on Miranda’s ability to render the delirium raging within her character. She renders an extraordinary reverie just after she’s offed Muller, flashing back to love making with her husband accompanied by some of the most elegiac music I’ve heard from Bruno Nicolai, who shares scoring duties here with Hubler and Schwab.

Thrower has much more to say about Miranda in the supplementary material here, complimented by the reappearance of Amy Brown’s tribute to the late actress, which really gives you an idea of her capabilities over and above the dark eyed angel of death. Brown reveals her gifts for comedy, singing and dancing and a surprising (on the strength of her Franco collarborations) sunny sweetness which suggest she really would have had a career at least as successful as that of the similarly versatile Edwige Fenech, had she not perished in that car crash in 1970.

Another lovely BD transfer… kudos to the Severin boys.

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Bloody Moon is an altogether more formulaic effort, following comprehensible, not to mention tediously predictable, giallo / slasher lines… and yes, all the killings are all prefaced by shots of the moon. Miguel’s sister having tuned down his incestuous advances at a ludicrous al fresco disco, he contents himself with stealing first some girl’s undies then a Mickey Mouse mask so that he can surreptitiously seduce their owner. At the height of her passion she rips the mask off to reveal Miguel’s scabby face and screams her displeasure, which he curtails by carving her up with a pair of scissors. All this is filmed P.O.V. style a-la Halloween, so it comes as no great surprise when the next thing we see is one of those “five years later” captions. Miguel is discharged from a booby hatch into the care of his sister, who’s admonished to “keep your eyes open and any reference to that unfortunate night … he might not be cured” (seems the procedure in Spain is not exactly super stringent in these cases.)

Erected on this nonsensical basic premise is a saga of intrigue over an inheritance at a mysterious language school on the coast, populated by, among others, a sinister shears-brandishing gardener, Antonio the tennis ace / super stud, the suspicious looking smoothie proprietor and a bunch of tedious girls who lust after Antonio’s body and spend their time in puerile discussions of their sexual experience. Meanwhile Miguel’s dumpy sister is exciting him to the point where he loses control, grovelling and slobbering over her chubby legs. “Can’t you see they won’t let us love each other?”, she chides him: “Everyone around us is judging us … if we could just get rid of everyone!” Cue polystyrene boulders, gratuitous animal maltreatment and the sawmill decapitation of a witless floozy who’s too busy enthusing about hot blooded Latin lovers and S/M to try and escape.

Meanwhile back at the language school the plot resolves itself, after a fashion, with some indecipherable revelations about who inherits from whom. Inevitably, the proprietor of the school is revealed as the killer. What’s more Miguel’s sister is revealed as his lover, and – best of all – she announces her total contempt for Miguel and his incestuous attentions, following up with some catty observations about his complexion. Unfortunately for her, Miguel has been eavesdropping on all this. Dusting off his trusty chainsaw, he reduces his tormentors to grungey gouts of gushing gristle.

Again, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good a Franco film can look when competently transferred to Blue-ray. For your money you also get a trailer and a mini-interview with Franco.

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The Devil Hunter (1980… aka The Man Hunter / Mandingo Man Hunter / Sexo-Canibale) was originally to have been directed by Amando de Ossorio (he of the atmospheric “Blind Dead” series) but when he dropped out the property devolved into the careless hands of Franco, here employing his trusty “Clifford Brown” alias. Utilizing the sets, locations, general tone and certain cast members from his 1979 film Cannibals / White Cannibal Queen, Franco mounts an objectionable, albeit entertaining (if you’re in an undemanding mood) sexist, racist fantasy in which starlet Laura Crawford (Ursulla Fellner) is abducted and spirited away to an unspecified Third World locale where the natives live in fear of the eponymous Devil, offering him frenzied tribal dances and chained maidens in supplication.

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The Devil, when he finally turns up, is a major disappointment, being nothing more than a tall black guy with ping pong eyeballs. But boy, can he eat pussy … no, really, he actually eats it!! Meanwhile Fellner, in chains (a major Franco fetish), is being raped by one of the kidnappers, while gang-leader Gisela Hahn (from Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination) enjoys the spectacle from her hammock. Back in civilization, Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti), in low-rent Indiana Jones threads, is picking up a hefty fee to liberate this damsel in distress. He’s flown out to that unspecified Third World jungle in a helicopter, then, true to Franco form, he spends an eternity wandering around in the undergrowth not actually doing anything much. Eventually he arranges with the ’nappers to swap the girl for a suitcase stuffed with money. They keep the girl and try to shoot Cliver, but anticipating this turn of events, he has stuffed the suitcase with worthless paper (unfilmed Franco scripts, perhaps… if such a thing exists).

Now the bad guys start getting picked off by The Devil (Hahn’s head is beaten in with a rock) and the natives prepare Fullner for consumption … none of this being anything like as interesting as it might sound. Cliver scales the cliff on top of which the sacrifice is to take place and incredibly, his cliff-scaling exploits are rendered by that staple expedient of the old Batman TV series, i.e. Franco’s camera is laid on its side and Cliver is filmed crawling across the floor! It’s for the individual viewer to decide whether this is more or less ridiculous than the spectacle of Al with his arm… supposedly amputated by natives… conspicuously tied behind his back in Franco’s Cannibals. Whatever, Cliver makes it to the cliff-top and, after a perfunctory wrestling match, hurls The Devil to his death, saves the gal and pockets the money. The natives are so chagrined at the death of their idol that they trash his totem pole. Thankfully, the world was spared a sequel in which they turned their worshipful attentions to Indiana Al. Extras include the expected Franco mini interview and another with thesp Bertrand Altmann.

Cannibal Terror

If Devil Hunter looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray,  its co-headliner on this disc, Cannibal Terror (1981) probably looks better than it ever deserved to look. This is the “video nasty” that notorious Producer Marius Lasoeur arranged to have shot, guerrilla-style on the set of Franco’s Cannibal. As cobbled together in post-production, its plot follows a similar kidnapping / jungle rescue theme to Devil Hunter. There are endless ugly scenes of “natives” scarfing down offal, a rape scene which plays out without the perpetrator even unzippping his trousers and plenty of shots of people hanging around, gazing goonishly into the mid distance. The following exchange may stand as representative of the dialogue herein.

“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!”

By the time the kidnap victim’s parents -acting on a hot tip-off -arrive in the jungle to confront the kidnappers, the latter have already been eaten by the cannibals. “Those gangsters got all the punishment they deserved”, a handy-dandy tour guide assures them, indicating what is supposed to be the severed head of the chief baddy: “He got all the pain and suffering that was coming to him.” So did anyone who managed to sit through this piece of garbage, a shoe-in for the accolade of very worst film among all those that exercised the attention of the DPP in the 1980s.

Nominal director “Allan W. Steeve” was long long believed to be a certain Julio Perez Tabernero but a bonus interview here with one Alain Deruelle (“Video nasty? Weird lot, the Brits”) seems to suggest that he might be the guilty party, though not clearing the matter up beyond reasonable doubt… well, would YOU admit to directing this clinker? Franco animatedly disavows any involvement in it (or another, comparably putrid Lassoer atrocity, Zombies Lake) in an easter egg interviewette. The balance of the extras comprise the theatrical trailer (astonishing to contemplate that this actually played theatres) and a hysterical “spicy deleted scene” which they really should have left it. It’s absolutely dreadful but quite a hoot, as opposed to the soporific shit you have to endure in the final cut… conclusive proof, if nothing else, that Jesus Franco wasn’t “the most boring director in the world.”

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Socket To Me, Baby… Looking Back On THE BLIND DEAD

“The Templars in De Ossorio’s films are the perfect embodiment of fascism, because they are both soldiers and priests.”

– Lucio Fulci in conversation with the author.

Allo Darlin'...

“Allo, darlin’…”

The Order Of The Poor Knights Of Christ And The Temple Of Solomon (The Templars to thee and me) was founded by one Hugues de Payens in 1118, with the mission statement of protecting pilgrims in The First Crusade, and they quickly evolved into a kind of medieval SAS (“‘the Militia of Christ”). Although each Templar Knight took a Benedictine vow of personal poverty, the organisation itself grew massively rich on donations from various religiously inclined groups and individuals. Meanwhile in The Holy Land, the Knights were being exposed to various strands of Jewish, Muslim and Gnostic mysticism… reputedly they even had links with the legendary Hashishim or Order Of Assassins. Whatever, they were said to have absorbed all manner of esoteric knowledge and, on a more secular level, used their increasing riches to become involved in what was essentially  the birth of international banking. Due to their connections with the Cathar heretics of Languedoc, it was even suspected that these knights were intent on setting up their own theocratic state in that region of France. Certainly, King Philip IV thought they were getting too big for their military boots, a decision presumably influenced by the fact that he owed them a fistful of francs. In 1307 Philip arrested, tortured and executed all the Templars he could lay his hands on and put pressure on The Pope to disown the Order, which was official disbanded by Clement V in 1312. History is written by the victors and the devil worshipping atrocities claimed by Philip to justify his actions are best taken with a pinch of salt. The Templars have remained active, if nowhere else, in the annals of conspiracy theory, which detects their dark hand at work everywhere, shaping the course of human destiny on behalf of a secretive, sinister elite. A lively literary and now cinematic sub-genre flourishes, enriching (if not The Order) the likes of Dan Brown and Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, 2006).

Of more interest to Freudstein followers is the cycle of Spanish movies detailing the darker side of the Templar story, spearheaded by a quartet of classic horror flicks from Amando De Ossorio (and collected in a spanky Blue Underground DVD box set which you might still be able to pick up if you hunt around a bit.) De Ossorio was born in Galicia anytime between 1918 and 1925 (accounts vary… strangely, he was also reported as deceased several times before actually breathing his last in Madrid on 13.01.01) and earned his living from shorts, documentaries and industrial films before making his feature debut with the paella western Tomb Of The Pistolero in 1964. Jack Taylor once told me that horror films, with their attendant hordes of damsels in distress, were one of the few ways of expressing anything vaguely sexual in the buttoned-down, uptight milieu of Franco’s Spain. De Ossorio’s first credit in this genre was the sexy (Anita Ekberg starring) vampire effort Malenka in 1969. Night Of The Sorcerers (1974) is a ludicrously schlocky leopard cult / zombie epic whose purported African setting (actually a park in Madrid) provided the perfect pretext for plentiful sub-National Geographic female nudity and The Loreley’s Grasp (1974, a particularly busy year for our man) was based on an old Germanic myth about a beautiful siren luring sailors to their deaths on The Rhine. Most profitably though, De Ossorio returned to certain Galician local legends that had haunted his childhood, those of the terrifying Templars. Whether he personally added the element of blindness to these scary stories is a moot point.

FOH 4

Ossorio’s La Noche Del Terror Ciego / Tombs of the Blind Dead  (1971) reveals that instead of Templars rescuing maidens, the maidens need rescuing from them when, having been initiated into sinister occult practices during their stint crusading around The Holy Land, they return to 13th Century Spain with a drastically revised take on knightly chivalry. The Templars ride into town, select the juiciest local nubiles, throw them over their saddles and ride back to their clubhouse, where the girls are crucified and slashed by the swords of jousting knights, whose colleagues stand around looking on sternly, with their arms folded, looking for all the world as though they about to break into a rendition of “Templar rap”. Instead, they dive in on the unfortunate victims’ punctured boobs, gulp down their blood and hack out their hearts before messily gobbling them down. These shenanigans are supposed to secure eternal life for the Templars, but party-pooping villagers break up their revels to string the naughty knights up so that crows can peck out their eyes. A know-it-all historian in “the present day” (i.e. early ‘70s Spain) tells  protagonists Roger (César Burner) and Betty (Lone Fleming) all about it and predicts the vengeful return of the Templars. To nobody’s great surprise – and the delight of gore-hounds everywhere – this is precisely what happens.

Sexually confused Virginia (María Elena Arpón / “Helen Harp”) jumps off a train after her girlfriend Betty (Fleming) starts flirting with hunky Roger  and camps down in a derelict Templar monastery, where her crop top and hot pants are enough to raise the dead (did the trick for me too, actually!) Centuries of decomposition have reduced the Templars to skeletons, but they’re still pretty sprightly  and – despite the tufty little beards growing out of their jawbones  and their dusty duffel-coats, which make them look like trad jazz-loving CND activists – they’re certainly not pacifists! Scrambling out of those tombs in the banks of fog that always roll down during this sort of thing, they ride around on their skeletal horses in slow motion (to the accompaniment of Anton Garcia Abril’s spell-binding score, which mixes mumbling monks, tolling bells and the echoing of horses’ hoof beats and would become one of of the most memorable features of the ongoing Templar series), using their supersensitive hearing to locate fresh victims. After snuffing a couple of cuties who were reckless enough to wander into their cemetery territory, the Templars hijack a train and put its passengers to the sword – cue the oft-censored shot of a babe in arms being soaked in its mother’s blood.

FOH 1...

That’s about it as far as plot is concerned and there are some passages that do drag a bit, but these are mitigated by the chuckles to be had at the the early ‘70s fashions on display and, a propos of nothing in particular, De Ossorio tosses in a soft focus flashback to sixth-form sapphic shenanigans. There’s an equally gratuitous rape scene, though the perpetrator immediately meets a well deserved messy fate at the boney hands of the censorious Templars. The suspicion lingers that De Ossorio didn’t get all the footage he wanted, on account of budgetary or scheduling problems, or whatever… certain plot threads remain undeveloped, for instance the suggestion that Templar victims can return from the dead to transmit their contagion to others. This Romeroesque touch is never embroidered in the film nor indeed anywhere else in the subsequent Templar series. It also has to be said that the film’s final shots are oddly chosen and anti-climactic…

Return Of Evil D

… though they did leave the door open for  the Templars’ sophomore outing, El Ataque De Los Muertos Sin Ojos / Return of the Evil Dead (1973). The revisionist opening of this one displays a cavalier attitude towards the Templars rulebook, as vengeful villagers with flaming torches, rather than ravenous ravens, put out the eyeballs of Spain’s coolest ghouls. “Do you think you will find your way back without eyes?” they are taunted. No problem, actually and their mummified remains are soon gatecrashing an ill-advised “modern day” festive re-enactment of their dastardly deeds, with predictably drastic results. After the Templars have taken time out to punish an adulterous coupling (the girl’s escape attempt climaxes in the shocking revelation of a zombie horse to a disbelieving switchboard operator) and massacre the festival revellers, not to mention some incongruous “comic” sequences involving the lazy governor and his improper relationship with his housemaid, the balance of the picture unfolds with the rescued girl from the initial attack cooped up among a squabbling bunch of characters (including Lone Fleming from Tombs) besieged in a church (making De Ossorio’s constant denials that he was influenced by George Romero sound a bit feeble). In a direct lift from Night Of The Living Dead, one guy makes a run for his car and ends up as the centre-piece of Templar barbecue. Corrupt mayor Fernando Sancho trues to ensure his own escape by decoying the Blind Dead with a defenceless tiny tot (boo! hiss!) and there’s a well-sustained, suspenseful sequence in which Murdo (the mandatory gibbering village loon) loses his head over a girl, quite literally, leading her through an underground series of passage-ways, only to be greeted by sword-wielding undead Knights at the other end. Finally the Templars petrify and crumble in the morning sunlight, hunky Tony Kendall leading what’s left of the human characters between their desiccated husks to freedom, in a tense “resolution” reminiscent of that to Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Le Monde

Our favourite visually challenged, deceased dudes notched up their hat-trick of screen appearances in El Buque Maldito (also 1974, aka Ghost Galleon / Horror Of The Zombies). Unfortunately this is the weakest entry in the series by a long  chalk or, shall we say, several fathoms, despite an enthusiastic endorsement from late Cramps front man and trash movie connoisseur Lux Interior. Ossorio is on the record as attributing the Templars’ slow motion movements to “a displacement in the space / time continuum”. Perhaps this would explain why they turn up in Ghost Galleon, sleeping in their coffins on board… well, on board a ghost galleon, which has apparently been sailing the seven seas since the 16th Century, stuffed with their ill-gotten loot and accompanied by a perpetual pea-soup fog. You can bet your ass that when the ghost galleon’s course is crossed by a smaller boat packed with drug-crazed, bikini-clad, lesbian glamour models (De Ossorio also throws in the now mandatory recreational rape scene) the puritanical Knights are soon out of their coffins, waving their swords and slaughtering swingers left, right and centre. From their point of view this is made easier by the fact that although they’re moving as slowly as ever, their potential victims have pretty much nowhere to run except elsewhere on the galleon. The downside though, from the viewers’ perspective, comprises a completely static “plot” and the conspicuous absence of those slow-motion skeletal horse-rides that worked so well in the previous two instalments. Jack Taylor and the last surviving bimbo model have the brain wave of driving the Templars back into their coffins with fire then slinging them overboard. At this point the eyes of the horned skull which the Templars worship start glowing red and their vessel (laughably rendered by a model that will have all Spinal Tap fans thinking “Stonehenge!”) bursts into flame. The two survivors  struggle to the shore and collapse on the beach, only to find themselves surrounded by the clutching deadsters. The freeze frame closing shot suggests that there’s no stopping the Templars though, in truth, this substandard effort suggested they were washed up in every sense of the term.

Seagulls copy

After their living death on an ocean wave, the Templars took to the sea so well that they spend 1975’s La Noche De Las Gaviotas / Night Of The Seagulls bumming around the beach, brandishing buckets and spades, holding bloody beach barbecues in honour of a Lovecraftian fish-god (OK, so I was kidding about the buckets and spades). Only briefly do we get atmospheric shots of them riding their horses through the surf, and far too sparing use is made of Anton Garcia Abril’s Templar theme, one of the series’ trump cards (here largely supplanted by irritating tinkly incidental muzak). Otherwise, thankfully, it’s back to Templar basics. In the pre-titles sequence Medieval honeymooners are sacrificed to the Deadites’ grotesque amphibian gargoyle god. In “modern times”, Dr Henry Stein and his wife Jean (Victor Petit and Maria Kosti) arrive to take over their new practice, whose regulars are rural retards from central casting. Everybody fears the coming of darkness, especially Teddy, De Ossorio’s gooniest village loon yet (“Teddy’s afraid … they always beat teddy!”), though relatively sympathetically treated. The doc and his wife eavesdrop on an eerie torch lit beach procession, unaware that it’s intended to placate the Templars with the sacrifice of a virgin, who’s been taken away from her wailing family by black-shawled old biddies.

The Steins make friends with one pretty village girl called Lucy, whose own number soon comes up in the lottery for virginal sacrifices. Henry frees her, prompting a Templar siege of his home. With Lucy out of the picture, Henry matter-of-factly tells his wife: “It’s obvious that they need another victim for their ceremonial rites … and it looks like they’ve chosen you!” That’s some bedside manner you’ve got there, doc… After the expected atmospheric horse-back chase, the Steins upturn and smash the Blind Dead’s idol at which point The Templars return, visibly crumbling, to their coffins, for a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, though Seagulls is undoubtedly a better note for them to bow out on than Ghost Galleon.

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La cruz del diablo 2

The aforementioned Blue Underground box set, comprising these four films (and plentiful bonus material), is touted as the  complete Blind Dead saga, but a truly complete account of The Templars’ horror film exploits would also have to include John Gilling’s directorial swan song, The Devil’s Cross (1975), in which they populate the troubled protagonist’s dreams. Readers might recall my interview with Paul Naschy, in which he complained bitterly that Gilling had hijacked this picture from him.

Unfortunately we must also account for one of Jesus Franco’s sloppier offerings, in which he tried to jump the Templar bandwagon approximately a decade after it had stopped rolling. The Internet Movie Data Base identifies Franco’s Mansion Of The Living Dead as a 1985 production, though I’m more inclined to trust the bad film boffins from Severin, who put it out on DVD in 2006 and claim it as a 1983 effort. Admittedly Franco’s fractured filmography (in which films are typically re-edited and ransacked to be combined with footage from other, completely unconnected efforts, even unto porno editions) lends itself to precisely such confusion. It could also be reasonably suggested that, sorry Jess, with films of this calibre… nobody really gives a toss! MOTLD “boasts” similar production values (OK, the cinematography is actually quite nice in this one, even if that zoom lens is as overworked as ever) and plot mechanics (down to the “comic relief” peeping Tom character) to Franco’s insufferable “video nasty” (one of three) Bloody Moon, which was shot in 1982.

Allegedly based on a novel by one D. Khunne (one of Franco’s many pseudonyms) the story, such as it is, kicks off with four topless waitresses of varying attractiveness (including Franco’s muse Lina Romay / “Candy Coster) arriving from Munich at a luxury holiday resort in the Canary Isles, with the primary intention of getting shagged by as many men as possible ( “The Sadean Woman” according to Jesus Franco!) Unfortunately there are no other guests, male or otherwise, and equally mysteriously, the hotel seems to be staffed by just one guy, the mean and moody Carlos Savonarola (“Robert Foster” / Antonio Mayans). Undaunted, our hot pants wearing “lovelies” quickly pair up for some hot’n’heavy (though never, at least in the Severin release, quite crossing over into hard core territory) girl-on-girl lovin’. “This vacation is gonna be unbelievable” predicts Candy as her lover laps away at her… truer than she knows! Needless to say, Carlos is soon grabbing himself a piece of the sweaty action, though he hastily breaks off from another spot of cunnilingus with the observation “My God – it’s 4 o’clock…. I’ve got to go and feed a sick woman” (change your douche, darling!) Turns out he’s actually got to go and torment his rather butch-looking wife Mabel (Mabel Escano) with some food which she can’t reach from the corner of the room in which he’s chained her up.

Just in case the girls haven’t twigged yet that something rather rum is going on, their next sunbathing session is rudely interrupted by a near miss with a flying meat cleaver. “Who would want to murder four hotties like us?” asks one of them, indignantly. Who indeed? A fan of good acting? Their efforts to crack this mystery involve wandering around the hotel corridors endlessly in various states of undress. Is that a shadow, a tuft of hair or something more sinister protruding from between Candy’s ample cheeks at one point? (“Emergency delivery of toilet paper, please, to the mansion of the living dead!”)  When the girls finally tire of those corridors, they stroll off separately to the island’s nearest dilapidated church, which turns out to be Templar HQ… and yes, the mouldy monks are well up for chastising some promiscuous females.

Jess's Mansion

Now, Amando De Ossorio really made an effort to get his Blind Dead dudes looking like mummified corpses, but Franco’s budget obviously only extended to a few white sheets, a couple of joke shop skull masks and, because there weren’t enough of those to go around, a bottle of calamine lotion to splash on the faces of the other ghouls. Though not looking too impressive, these guys wax eloquent about their unholy intentions… “Our brother Savonarola has brought another sinner to the court of the Cathars, the saintly men with white robes and black hearts” (Ooh-er) …“I propose that she is put to death while she enjoys carnal sin, so that her desirable body many join the ranks of Satan’s servers… she will receive the mark of the accursed semen”. Sounds like a plan.  The unfortunate victim is stripped of her sparkly hot pants and enthusiastically raped and stabbed by the Templars, whose legs don’t seem to have suffered any discernible decomposition over the Centuries (their todgers still up to the job, too!) “Bless you and damn you…” intones the top Templar: “Enjoy the mortal sin… may your sins never be forgiven!” I bet he says that to all the girls…

Candy discovers Mabel, still chained to the table, and learns of the sadistic way in which Carlo has been treating her. “We work in a topless bar… we’re waitresses showing off our boobs!” is her helpful opening conversational gambit, and she further advises the hapless captive that this career option is very  “in” at the moment. It’s probably at this point that Mabel decides to eat the rat poison which her husband has thoughtfully left for her. None of this seems to dampen Candy’s ardour for Carlo, who announces that he’s one of the Templars and has recognised her as a reincarnation of the Princess Irina (an ongoing character in Franco’s tangled mythos) who had cursed the Cathars while they were burning her at the stake, condemning them to an eternity of living death. You crisp the chick, you gotta pay the price…

I won’t give away the ending, because a) I don’t want to spoil it for you and b) it made absolutely no sense whatever to me. Severin present Mansion Of The Living Dead in a lush 2.35:1 transfer, enhanced for wide screen, which is probably better than it deserves. English subtitles compliment the Spanish language soundtrack and as bonus material you get a featurette, The House That Jess Built, in which Franco and faithful cohort Candy / Lina are interviewed and the director attempts to explain the theological underpinning of his work. Luis Bunuel he ain’t… I’d usually give a film like this the dreaded “for completists only” but the aforementioned Internet Movie Data Base suggests that even completists give it a miss! A nod’s as good as a wink to…

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