Posts Tagged With: Mayhem Film Festival

Stop Making Sense… TLE’s 4K Restoration Of SUSPIRIA on CultFilms Blu-ray, Reviewed (No “Green Puke”… Guaranteed)


BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Cultfilms. 18.

Synapse have been trailering their Suspiria restoration for something like four years but TLE’s rendition kind of crept up on the rails to emerge in a dead heat with it. Before most people have enjoyed the opportunity to watch even one of these efforts (let alone both) there has already been a lot of online argy-bargy, involving screen grab comparisons, about the relative merits of each, not all of which has been politely conducted. Indeed, more heat has been generated than light, along with a certain amount of alleged “green puke”. I’ve already blogged about TLE’s version on the big screen. Suffice to say, I detected no green puke whatsoever and I’m speaking as one who’s intimately acquainted with the sight, smell and yes, the taste of verdant vomit, given that we’re still cleaning up the Doc’s basement here after last year’s House Of Freudstein office party. Now’s our chance to evaluate how well TLE’s big screen triumph has translated to little silver discs, courtesy of CultFilms…

… but first, a warning from the director himself: “I am Dario Argento. Welcome! You are about to see Suspiria, a film in full Dario Argento style. It’s full of emotions, fright and fear. I hope you are ready to receive all of this”. Bring it on, my sinister-looking, half-Brazilian pal…


… and a hundred or so minutes later, to nobody’s great surprise, we’ve watched the release of the year, beating off such strong competition as Arrow’s own Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Phenomena and Don’t Torture A Duckling sets, a series of Sergio Martino gialli on BD from Shameless and any amount of tawdry Severin treasures. Suspiria will light up your TV to truly gob-smacking effect and sounds even better than it did at the Mayhem Festival back in October… if you’ve invested in a 5.1 set up you’ll be able to join Suzy (Jessica Harper) and Sarah (Stefania Casini) in following the footsteps of Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and co as they clunk around the hidden recesses of the Tanz Akademie, doing God knows what.

A few random thoughts that occurred while my senses were being battered “in full Argento style”. Doesn’t Pat Hingle (Eva Axén) have an… er, unusual walking / running style? Why does everyone make such a big deal out of her being so spectacularly murdered during the film’s most celebrated set piece without ever mentioning her friend, who was simultaneously bisected by falling glass and masonry? And does Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) really believe that such grotesque carnage can be attributed to “questionable friendships”?


“Nothing to see here, move along…”


Joan Bennett in her Holywwod pomp.

Although people often moan about the alleged plotting implausibilities of Argento’s subsequent Phenomena, does the plot of Suspiria actually sustain serious scrutiny? The notion that a coven of witches could operate under God-fearing society’s radar by operating a dance school where they kill and possibly also (it is strongly suggested) eat the students makes about as much sense as Anton Diffring’s fugitive plastic surgeon opening a circus then shagging and killing all of his glamorous female performers in Circus Of Horrors (1960). Fortunately, the oneiric impact of Horror cinema has never turned on the dictates of logic or the banalities of “common sense”. Stop trying to make sense of it and just celebrate the arrival of Argento’s masterpiece in a format that befits its status as arguably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. At the same time, we are served a saddening reminder of how very far the director’s stock has slipped in the meantime. One very much doubts that, forty years after their original releases, fans are going to be buzzing over the prospect of e.g. Phantom Of The Opera, Giallo, Dracula in 3-D or, more pointedly, Mother Of Tears being revived and restored.

One question continues to nag at me, though… if it ever came to a knock-down, drag-out scrap, who would emerge victorious from a playground showdown between Suspiria’s knickerbockered Little Albert and Bob Boyle from House by The Cemetery? Readers views are welcomed…


You calling my pint a puff, like?


Is one talking to me or chewing a brick?

Extras wise, we get a couple of Cine-Excess featurettes that you’ll already be familiar with if you bought Nouveaux’s previous UK Blu-ray release of Suspiria, ditto the Jones / Newman commentary track. The original bonus materials comprise a 27 minute interview with the director and a fascinating hour(ish) long featurette on the actual restoration process.

In the interview, Argento sticks steadfastly to one of the taller tales he’s ever spun, the one about the uncredited actress playing Helena Markos requiring no make-up because she actually looked like that in the first place (sure thing, Dario!) While we can dismiss this as a mischievous bit of whimsy, it’s harder to forgive the way that Daria Nicolodi has, once again, been written out of history vis-a-vis the writing of Suspiria, reversing the trend in previous editions (notably Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary 3 disc DVD set) to increasingly acknowledge her input.


“… she even came with that skewer through her neck!”

In the riveting restoration featurette, TLE’s Torsten Kaiser talks us through “before”, “during” and “after” samples from key (in the technical rather than narrative sense) scenes from the movie, giving us the merest glimpse of what a Herculean labour it was to render such cinematic beauty from what was a pretty ropey bunch of elements. Throughout Herr Kaiser talks about what was done without giving too much away about how it was actually done. Maybe’s he overestimating the degree of technical savvy  at which the average viewer (certainly I) is (am) operating. Perhaps he calculates (correctly, in my case) that the average viewer is incapable of getting his head around such technical stuff. There could also be an understandable desire to keep the more sophisticated tricks of his trade to himself…

… whatever, for further invaluable insights from Torsten, check out the upcoming interview with him in Dark Side magazine. One of the things we discuss there, of which there is no mention in this featurette, is the magic moment at about 1:17:24 of Suspiria (in this presentation) where Professor Milius (Rudolf Schündler) tells Suzy that you can destroy a coven by severing its head, cue the spectacle of Dario Argento’s face, popping up in a window reflection as he directs the scene. Very noticeable in the previous Nouveaux Blu-ray, its been significantly “dialled down” this time around… and I kinda miss it!


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SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?


Suspiria, 1977. Directed by Dario ArgentoProduced by Claudio Argento and Salvatore Argento. Story by Daria NicoldiScreenplay by Dario Argento and Daria NicolodiCinematography by Luciano TovoliEdited by Franco Fraticelli. Production Design by Giuseppe Bassan. Musiby Goblin. SFX by Germano Natali. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.


… you wait forty years for a 4k restoration of Suspiria then two turn up at the same time! Over in The States, Synapse’s Don May has been struggling manfully with his for something like a tenth of that period but CultFilms have stealthily beaten him to the punch with their European release of TLE’s take on the most visually beautiful of all Horror Films. Before either of them had aired in public there was much internet discussion and comparing of screen grabs with the intention of establishing which version would prove most successful in correcting the technical errors (too fiendishly complicated to go into here) that have marred previous releases. May’s strongest hand all along has been that Luciano Tovoli, the film’s cinematographer, has supervised his Suspiria… then again the CultFilms / TLE rendering was overseen by Dario Argento himself, who’s presumably entitled to a view on how the film should look and sound.


Ultimately we’ll all have to pay our money / take our choice and as long as each version is only viewable in its own territory, one of the first things we Europeans (semi-detached and otherwise) will have to go on is this October and November’s Cultfilms UK mini-tour.  After its premiere at the BFI during the London Film Festival on 06/10/17, the TLE Suspiria rolled into Nottingham on the 14th October for a centrepiece Saturday late night screening at the Broadway Cinema’s peerless Mayhem Film Fest (full Festival report now active on this Blog).

Kudos to Festival co-curators Chris Cooke (who had previously told me that presenting such a restoration was a personal dream come true) and Steve Sheil, who introduced “Argento’s masterpiece” by asking how many audience members had never seen the film before. As it happened, a significant proportion of the audience admitted to being “Suspiria virgins”…


… and what a way to lose their cherries! If the Synapse version is going to look any better than this, we’ve surely got to be talking infinitesimal degrees of cinematic lusciousness. Miraculously, considering the extent of the repairs that were reportedly needed, not a hair nor a scratch now sullies the candy coloured phantasmagoria of Argento’s vision. As for those much called-for corrections to the film’s pallet… suffice to say, you’ll feel an overpowering urge to lean into the screen and lick the marzipan walls of the Tanz Akademie, hopefully grabbing a kiss from Jessica Harper before returning to your seat and getting beaten up by the ushers.


Soundwise, the film (not least Goblin’s celebrated score) is every bit as loud and frantic as you knew it was going to be… if a little flat. Was there something up with The Broadway’s speakers? Nope, various films of varying quality (none better than Suspiria) made effective use of the venue’s surround sound speakers throughout the Festival. Is it just that Suspiria was conceived, reasonably enough, without reference to the state of audio technology 40 year’s hence? Was there a problem with the relevant elements? With the sonic aspect of this restoration? With my ears? Will the Synapse jobby sound a little punchier? Watch (or should I say listen to?) this space…

Don’t get me wrong… it doesn’t sound crappy, it’s just not quite the outright audio assault for which Suspiria is famed. No matter, I didn’t begrudge one iota of the expense required to get me home after leaving this particular late, late show with those virgins’ applause ringing in my ears. They now knew what they’d been missing and I was reminded, after years of video / DVD / BD over-familiarity, that Suspiria is quite possibly The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. I don’t imagine too many visitors of this Blog are going to give me to much of an argument on that one.

Now for the contentious bit…


What constitutes a giallo?  Various definitions have been offered. From the get-go we’ll dismiss the philistine broad stroke one that encompasses virtually any Italian exploitation picture. We’re talking here about those thrillers, descended in equal parts from the yellow (“giallo”) covered paper backs published by Mondadori and co, German krimis and Hitchcock, whose rule book was developed by Mario Bava during the ’60s and upgraded by Argento throughout the following decade.

So if we were to have a, er, stab, at definition, it would look something like this. A  killer is at large (usually in an urban Italian setting) and the viewer is challenged to work out his / her identity. His / her motivation can be madness, sexual sadism, an inheritance… it scarcely matters (and the motives revealed, even in some of the genre’s classier entries, are frequently risible nonsense) because the style and severity with which the crimes are perpetrated and filmed are more important than who is killing whom and why. Subjective shots from the killer’s point of view will keep you guessing, anyway, as flashy visuals continue to be prioritised over narrative coherence. The cops generally take a powder in these films, leaving the sleuthing to some obsessive amateur who, more often than not, has half-glimpsed an all important clue but is struggling to make sense of it. Just in case this recipe isn’t already sufficiently un-PC, among the bloodily dispatched victims we will typically find a disproportionate compliment of attractive young women.


You don’t have to honour every one of these rules to qualify as a giallo. Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987) throws the whodunnit element right out of the window (we’re aware of the killer’s identity even before he inaugurates the movie’s sequence of killings) yet is frequently cited as one of the genre’s last great entries. Some gialli do admit cops, e.g.  Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (tellingly also known as The Police Require Assistance, 1974), Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975) and Alberto De Martino’s Strange Shadows In An Empty Room / Blazing Magnum (1976). Some of the grubbier gialli substitute smut for style (most notoriously in Mario Landi’s unpalatable Giallo In Venice, 1979) and setting their events outside of the Italian urban milieu has not discounted Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Womans Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Umberto Lenzi’s totally barmy Eyeball (1975) or just about all of Sergio Martino’s powerful entries in the genre… so why should its Bavarian setting disqualify Suspiria, a film which in every other way adheres to the genre’s golden rules?!?

So it’s not contentious at all, actually… It’s a no-brainer. It makes no difference that the question “Who’s the killer?” is answered with a shrieked “Witch!” I always get slagged off for arguing this and no doubt will be again, but if it looks like a giallo, struts like a giallo and cuts its way through its victims like a giallo, then it’s probably a giallo… and Suspiria is a giallo. Yes, it’s a turbo charged giallo with heavy Horror overtones, supernatural schtick and cinematic style to burn. But hey, let’s try not to hold that against it, eh?


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At The Mountains Of MAYHEM (aka Dreams In The Art House / The Doom That Came To Broadway)… Nottingham’s 2016 Horror Fest Reviewed


The 12th annual Mayhem Film Fest at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema (13th-16th October), as curated by Their Dark Lordships Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil, was a total triumph, tenebrously topped-and-tailed with spicy squirts of HP (Lovecraft) sauce. The gentlemen of The Duke St Workshop (a noted “Spooktronica Outfit”, Mr Cooke informs me) opened the proceedings in grand style, weaving a mesmerising electro web as Laurence R Harvey declaimed selections  from the “Tales Of H. P. Lovecraft” to a projected backdrop of unsettling imagery. Festival closer The Void (directed by festival guests Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski) plundered a grab bag of gory imagery from the glory days of Lucio Fulci and Stuart Gordon in the service of a crowd pleasing concoction that I can best characterise as “Assault On Cthulhu Hospital.”

Interstitial treats included Julia Ducournau’s much-hyped Raw (in which the cannibalism that’s allegedly had previous audience members carried out on stretchers was considerably less appalling to me than the conformity brutally enforced by the anti-heroine’s moronic fellow students) and a UK premiere for The Mo Brothers’ Indonesian actioner Headshot (“The film that puts The Raid In The Shade!”, doncha know.) I’m calling bullshit on Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh, which aspires to avant-garde outrage but melts down into a sub-Jodorowsky mess… after which Steven Barker’s The Rezort got things back on track via its winning “Westworld with zombies” formula (Barker introduced the film and later fielded questions from the audience, none of whom had the nerve to point out that his film’s boffo climactic plot revelation had been pinched from Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh!) And so to Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, about which I would simply like to say… !!!!!!!??!

Gabriele Mainetti’s They Call Me Jeeg Robot garlands its familiar Italian cop film narrative with tropes imported from Japanese anime as its lowly-criminal-turned-accidental-superhero protagonist struggles to reconnect with the human race that he’d given up on… a similar tale, differently handled, in Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not A Serial Killer, your basic everyday story of a sociopathic slacker (Max Records… you heard what I said, Max Records!) and his up-and-down relationship with a superannuated serial killer (Christopher Lloyd, no less) that also boasts the most out-of-left-field plot twist in recent memory. O’Brien and writer Christopher Hyde did the Q&A thing, post screening. Carles Torrens’ Pet rang the changes on its basic The Collector storyline with a female captive who’s not what she initially seems… brief outbreaks of torture porn notwithstanding, this one was ultimately undone by the unbelievability of its lead characters (still not sure whether this was attributable to how they were performed or how they were written… possibly all of the above.)


In the face of much ironic / post modern festival content, Sean (The Loved Ones) Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy played things straight, its classic take on demonic possession going down very well indeed with the assembled Mayhem revellers. Don’t Kill It is a sub-Sam Raimi offering from Michael Mendez, whose fiendishly simple plot conceit keeps the violent thrills coming thick and fast. It also boasts a wonderfully self mocking performance from Dolph Lundgren as demon hunter Jebediah Woodley. The narrative of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s much-anticipated return to the J-Horror field, Creepy, unfolds at a leisurely pace as its protagonist drifts gradually and inexorably into the (frankly unfeasible) trap set by his, er, creepy neighbour. I missed much of The Ghoul, so apologies to director Gareth Tunley, yet another of the festival’s star guests.

Mayhem began as a short films festival and honours its roots every year with a collection of the same. This year’s two-hour strand of promising cinematic sketches ranged from Tristan Ofield’s bonsai Sci-fi epic White Lily to the black comedy of Conor McMahon’s Stranger In The Night (not to mention the brown comedy of The Procedure!)

We were further treated to two late night retro screenings, Mario Bava’s Alien-inspiring mini masterpiece Planet Of The Vampires (remastered under the supervision of flavour-of-the-month Nicolas Winding Refn and – lest it be forgot – Lamberto Bava) and a timely, touching projection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s epochal Blood Feast with a special filmed introduction by The Godfather of Gore himself, so recently lost to us.

Incidental festival delights included the film introductions and knockabout musical-themed goody bag giveaways conducted by the redoubtable Sheil / Cooke double act and the chance to meet some social media friends in the flesh (great to spend a cozy hour or two with @CosiPerversa), coin a few new friendships and renew fond old acquaintances with the likes of David and Eva Reprobate, Carl Severin, the very FAB Harvey Fenton, the hot-rockin’ Morrows, Ewan and Mike from Arrow… big hello to the Shudder crew, too.

‘Twas particularly sweet to be in the team that won the traditional pre-closer quiz (nay, “Flinterrogation”) along with Carl, Eva, charming chanteuse Robyn Taylor and the agreeable dude whose name currently eludes me (sorry!) If I’ve forgotten anything or anybody else… well, I’m getting on a bit now! Still hopefully sprightly enough to make it to Mayhem 2017… see you there?

(Look out for my extended Festival report in an upcoming issue of Dark Side magazine…)


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It’s all very well (has been rather jolly, in fact) watching Scala-type screen filler on DVD/BD and posting Scala-related reviews, features and interviews online but it has its limitations. Imagine my disappointment, for example, on playing the outboard motor scene from Doctor Butcher to Mrs F who, instead of whooping enthusiastically and commenting on the finer points of Maurizio Trani’s FX work, opined: “Uurgh, that’s horrible! Don’t ever show me that again!” 😦

No, to truly invoke the spirit of Scalarama you’ve got to get up off your sofa, leave the house (I freely admit, I’m not a great advocate for either of those activities) and sit yourself down among the great unwashed to enjoy a trash film with a live audience. Admittedly Phil “Hedgehog” Tonge barely qualifies as “live” but it was nice to remake his acquaintance as we shared the awesomeness that was the aforementioned Doctor Butcher M.D. playing at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema under the Scalarama banner on the evening of Saturday, 17th of September, this year of Our Lord 2016.

Kudos to the mighty men of Mayhem, The Reprobate and Severin (whose incredible Doctor Butcher BD is reviewed elsewhere on the site) for bringing this bastard offspring of Times Square and the Tiber terror mills to The Broadway, a venue so uptight and PC under a previous regime that it banned Hong Kong knockabout fare for its perceived slights against the LGBT community and declared that De Palma’s Dressed To Kill would never sully its screens under any circumstances (it subsequently did, uncut!) Certain sensitivities must be observed though and I noticed that in advertising for the event the Doc’s C.V. had been amended from “depraved, sadistic rapist” to “depraved, sadistic maniac”… sounds like a much more agreeable chap now, doesn’t he?


I was hoping that Severin’s Carl Daft might be manning the Butcher Mobile outside and handing out barf bags to punters, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, Theatre 4 was just about sold out and in their introduction Chris Cooke, then Dave Flint did their best to whip up a little 42nd Street grindhouse atmosphere, while cautioning viewers that they probably wouldn’t get away with public sex or overt drug use. There was a rumour that somebody had taken a crap in one of the urinals, but this turned out to be a short lived and highly localised urban myth. Shame, really…

These provisos notwithstanding, the audience did guffaw enthusiastically along to their favourite scenes and lines of dialogue. “The patient’s screams disturbed my concentration so I performed removal of the vocal cords” and “I’m determined to have your brain!” went down particularly well and inevitably the most popular scene was…

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An unwholesome good time was had by all and before exiting into a Nottingham disfigured by the antisocial antics of alcohol addled townies (a spectacle that probably had more in common with the heyday of 42nd Street than anything which had gone on in the polite environs of The Broadway) we were thanked by Mr Cooke, who took the opportunity to plug the imminent Mayhem Fest (13th-16th October) and announce that they’ll be screening upcoming Severin release The Killing Of America in its newly discovered longer cut on the eve of the American Presidential election.


Enjoy yourselves, it’s later than you think…

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