Posts Tagged With: Riccardo Freda

“They Called Her The Countess…” Twice The Vice In Riccardo Freda’s DOUBLE FACE.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

Arrow’s creditable crusade to afford decent BD releases to as many Riccardo Freda films as possible continues with this timely edition of Double Face (“A Doppia Faccia”), an Italian / West German co-production that initially emerged in 1969 on the very cusp of Germany’s “krimi” adaptations (and alleged adaptations) of Edgar Wallace potboilers and the Italian giallo cycle that was heavily influenced by but ultimately supplanted them.

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Here John Alexander (Klaus Kinski on uncharacteristically restrained form for one of his earliest leading roles) romances Helen Brown (his frequent Eurotrash co-star Margaret Lee) in whirlwind style (and amid some of the crappiest blue screen work in cinema history) but finds time to repent at leisure as his new bride rapidly cools on him in favour of female lovers, most notably Liz (Annabella Incontrera). On the upside, she makes him the beneficiary of her controlling interest in some ill-defined business empire or other, in the event of her death. Some upside… when Helen’s jaguar crashes (in one of the film’s two poorly mounted miniature RTAs) and she’s burned to an unidentifiable crisp, he becomes Scotland Yard’s number one suspect for her murder (somebody planted an explosive device in the jag…)

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As if he doesn’t have troubles enough, John returns to his impressive country pile from a recuperative break to find that sexy hippy squatter Christine (Christiane Krüger) has moved in. Dismissing her as one of his wife’s ditzy conquests, John is lured to a groovy sex / drugs / motorbike party where he catches a blue movie starring Christine and a veiled woman who, her distinctive jewellery and distinguishing neck scar strongly suggest, is Helen. You’d have to be particularly dim not to suspect that John is being set up for something and he’s probably not too dim to have worked that out for himself, but his curiosity and the tantalising suggestion that his beloved, albeit estranged wife, might still be alive propel him ever further down the rabbit hole…

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Like any self-respecting giallo (and this one is, any way you cut it, more giallo than krimi), Double Face owes much to French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose ongoing concerns with thwarted sexual obsession, personal identity and characters who might or might not be dead were adapted to the screen most notably as Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Long before he was sucked into Italy’s giallo feeding frenzy, Freda had shown his affinity for these themes in that 1962 milestone of Gothic Cinema known, not coincidentally, as The Horrible Secret Of Dr Hichcock, wherein their necrophiliac foundations were laid startlingly bare.

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Converseley, the Goth trimmings of that one and it’s non sequential companion piece The Ghost Of Dr Hichcock (1963) infect Double Face, whose entrepreneur class inhabit antique mansions scarcely less sumptuously appointed than that of Dr H himself. Freda has a ball indulging his fussy visual style while driving his compelling narrative forward at such pace that you don’t register how little sense it makes until after the end credit has rolled. DB’s FX scenes are as risible as anything in Freda’s Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire  (1971), Tragic Ceremony (1972) or Murder Obsession (1980) and he stages a visit to The Grand National (Edgar Wallace’s parents hailed from Liverpool, incidentally) in true Am-Dram style but he never bailed (as was his wont) on Double Face (though Kinski briefly did after these alpha males had butted heads)… when you sense that his mercurial mind is tiring of the proceedings, the director amuses himself by sending Kinski out sleuthing in a Philip Marlowesque mac and fedora for a paranoid perambulation down Fritz Lang Street… Freda was a more cultured character than many of his contemporaries and when I see this sort of thing, I can’t help feeling that it’s closer to the passages of stylistic parody and pastiche in  Joyce’s Ulysses than standard cheapjack film thievery.

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Hyped as a Wallace adaptation for its German release, Double Face was actually co-written by our old pal Lucio Fulci, who liked its wobbly plot so much that he rehashed elements of it in his own Perversion Story aka One On Top Of Another (which takes its Vertigo fetish so far as to be set in San Francisco) the same year and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). Nora Orlandi’s beautiful main theme was similarly reworked, to spectacular effect, in Sergio Martino’s extraordinary The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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Speaking of Orlandi (with pals, above), in his bonus featurette OST guru Lovely Jon gives us the run down on the great woman and her circle, with some priceless vintage clips. Better still, the lady herself is then interviewed and proves to be a formidable prospect, who by her own account battled to make her way in a man’s world but never took any shit off anybody. She flatly contradicts Lovely Jon’s assertion that she must have learned much from Alessandro Alessandroni, implying instead that without what he learned from her, Alessandroni would never have amounted to much. She’s particularly catty about another rival, Nino Rota and although she got on fine with Romolo Guerrieri (for whom she scored The Sweet Body Of Deborah, 1968), predictably fell out with Freda over his accusation that she recycled cues from picture to picture. Frankly, he had a point, as acknowledged by Orlandi when she jokes: “Better to steal from myself than from somebody else…”

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… unless they lived in the middle ages, of course, Orlandi happily bandying about the volume of medieval music from which she pinched her most celebrated theme. When it was recycled in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, she had to take steps to ensure that she got paid. Endearingly, she admits to not even knowing who Quentin Tarantino was at the time, though now she believes it enhanced her prestige to have her music associated with him. Why not the other way round? Cultural imperialism is a curious thing…

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Other supplementary materials include Amy Simmons’ video essay on Freda’s forays into giallo, an extensive image gallery from the Christian Ostermeier collection (including the original German pressbook and lobby cards, plus the complete Italian cineromanzo adaptation), original Italian and English theatrical trailers, also a reversible sleeve featuring vintage and newly commissioned Graham Humphreys artwork. The first pressing only will include an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on Double Face by Neil Mitchell.

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Tim Lucas’s commentary track is as erudite and informative as ever, though representing something of a change of tack. Unsure about which of the films many edits (see below) he was going to be discussing, TL delivered a lecture rather than the usual scene synchronised commentary. If you close your eyes or turn the picture off this works OK, otherwise there are points at which Tim discussing scene A while scene B unfolds is as jarring as a Dinky toy traffic accident.

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Lensed by Gábor Pogány (who also shot Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, among many others), Double Face’s bold primary colours, which previous releases have contrived to mute, really pop in this beautiful transfer. At 1:31:26, the main feature runs about four-and-a-half minutes longer than the previously circulated French language / English subtitled bootleg print of “Liz Et Helen” and a full thirteen minutes longer than the Das Gesicht Im Dunkeln version on Universum Film’s epic Krimi DVD box set. I’ve never seen the French version with hard core inserts featuring Franco favourite Alice Arno… hey, what kind of a boy do you think I am?

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When Irish Eyes Are Screaming a.k.a. The Politically Incorrect Way To Wash Your Underpants… Riccardo Freda’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE Reviewed

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Who shivs ya, baby?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

“The times we live in!”, as Lucio Fulci once exclaimed before disappearing in a taxi. “Willy Pareto” (Riccardo Freda)’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire, rushed out during 1971 as a sure-fire cash in on the international success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) didn’t, in the event, get much of a release anywhere. In March 1972 British distributor Ben Rose submitted it to the BBFC for theatrical certification, which was promptly refused on the grounds of its florid sadism. Since then it’s only been available on nth generation bootleg VHS dubs and murky DVD-Rs sourced from them. Now, courtesy of Arrow (a label which has released several Freda titles in the last few years, with Double Face on the way) here’s a spanky new 2K restoration, uncut and rated ’15′(!) The times, indeed…

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Now a more general audience can discover (and bootleg watchers can more clearly evaluate) the sheer oddness of this film, in which a serial killer on the loose in Ireland is defacing the proverbial prettiness of Dublin’s female inhabitants with acid before slashing their throats, to be sure. While TIWTTOF’s ineptly rendered gore scenes (courtesy of Lamberto Marini, who did rather better on Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, among others), nasty and mean-spirited as they undoubtedly are, look more laughable than anything these days, the very wilfulness of e.g. its plotting / dialogue / ludicrous Irish dubbing reaches levels only rarely attained by a select few, among whose numbers we can include the visionary likes of Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen.

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Whereas Freda’s 1980 directorial swan song Murder Obsession aka Fear, et al (alternating as it does phoned in-banality and such audacious visual moments as the climactic recreation of Michelangelo’s Pietá) might suggest that, while making it, he was recovering from a stroke (a stroke that he was conceivably in the full throes of while directing 1972’s batshit bonkers Tragic Ceremony) there are signs here of a director who very much knows what he’s doing (there are crane shots and even helicopter shots) but is winking at us and daring us to get the joke during TIWTTOF’s  more ludicrous passages… dreaming, perhaps, that after all this faddish giallo nonsense has blown over, he’ll be back making “proper” pictures like the lavish costume dramas for which he was noted in the ’50s and ’60s. Guess again, Riccardo…

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The film kicks off with Dominique Boschero, playing the mistress of Sobieski, the Swiss ambassador (Anton Diffring) being bumped off in the first of many not-so-grand guignol FX scenes. The fact that she promptly turns up in the boot of his limo (and is discovered there by a bored-looking, possibly catatonic schoolboy) immediately puts the aryan ferrero rocher slinger in the frame, but why is his chauffeur Mandel (familiar giallo face Renato Romano) acting so suspiciously? Come to think of it, why is everybody in the cast acting so bloody suspiciously? Just about all of them seem to own at least one pair of murderous black leather gloves…

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The murder investigation, by Police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan), is hampered by Sobieski’s diplomatic immunity so he spends a lot of time giving Mandel a hard time, to no avail, then calls in his “secret weapon”… ex-detective John Norton (played by Luigi  Pistilli and seemingly named after his transportation mode of choice). Lawrence recruits Norton to the investigation by sending some of his men round to duff him up, which might seem a perverse tactic… until you consider the circumstances under which Norton (nicknamed “The Beast”) became an ex-detective. As revealed in a recurring Leonesque flashback, this involved the enhanced interrogation of a suspect, so very enhanced that when Norton took a break from beating up on him, the dude grabbed a carelessly placed pistol and blew his own brains out. Yep, that’s definitely gonna piss on your career chips (incidentally, as acknowledged in the audio commentary to this release, the unidentified actor briefly essaying the role of that victim is a particularly fine-looking specimen of manhood).

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Norton’s beastliness is explained by reference to his own wife’s death at the hands of violent criminals, a revelation which fails to make his character any more sympathetic but significantly raises his own status as a suspect. In a clumsy bit of exposition / excruciating dialogue, Lawrence explains the film’s title to Norton… though he’s clearly confusing iguanas with chameleons. Shifting effortlessly from taxonomical error into political incorrectness, Lawrence confidently declares that the killer’s modus operandi is typical of “a woman… or a coloured person!”

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Norton starts dating Helen Sobiesky (the ever lovely giallo icon Dagmar Lassander), apparently unaware (in one of the film’s many improbable narrative spasms) that she’s the ambassador’s daughter. Looks like Dublin’s got no bigger since Bloomsday. He takes her on a date to Ireland’s ravishing coastline and seems to contemplate strangling her and throwing her off a cliff. She’s OK with this. Takes all sorts.

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Meanwhile various other characters are murdered and some gay people are being blackmailed. Or something. A decapitated moggy turns up in somebody’s fridge and every time any pair of spectacles appear on-screen, a burst of Stelvio Cipriani’s most sinister musical theme swells on the soundtrack. During one of the repetitions of the all-important flashback, Pistilli is clearly resorting to that most ludicrous of Francoesque expedients, acting in slow motion! Valentina Cortese’s excellent performance as Sobieski’s wife looks like it belongs in another film and she probably wishes it was. Confused yet?

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Understandably, in view of his long lay off, Norton’s grasp of contemporary police procedure is a bit shaky so he debates the likely guilt or innocence of the various suspects with his elderly mum (Ruth Durley), with whom he lives. I’m reminded of President Carter announcing to a bemused world that he frequently sought advise on nuclear disarmament from his brattish daughter Amy… in fact Norton’s daughter lives with them, too. He mocks his mother’s “Mrs Marples” identification of the culprit, which turns out to be bang on the money. This is no consolation when the killer pays them a visit (in drag) during the film’s genuinely shocking climax, which briefly attains the kind of goofy delirium also seen at the conclusion of Fernando Di Leo’s Cold Blooded Beast, made the same year. Norton intervenes and the killer (whose previous appearances in the film you quite possibly missed if you blink at anything like the normal human rate), apropos of nothing in particular (I mean, he’s already killed plenty of other people) jumps out of a high window, down into the street and through the windshield of a passing car, whose driver seems understandably miffed to find his shredded face puking blood all over the dashboard. It’s suggested that the killer became a misanthrope because he was gay / a slaphead / traumatised by somebody else in his family being a murderer. That somebody else thinks they’ve eluded justice, but there’s a twist in the tail. Award yourself bonus points if you spotted Freda’s cameo as one of the guys who fished Lassander out of The Liffey and… relax. You have been watching Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire.

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Things get a bit iffy on The Liffey for Dagmar Lassander…

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The commentary track, conducted by David “Reprobate” Flint and Adrian J. Smith (author of giallo tome Blood And Black Lace) strikes just the right balance between informative (they made the effort to research and confirm the existence of The Swastika Laundry, in which Dubliners could once tumble their underpants) and fannishly enthusiastic… there really is no alternative to raucous guffawing when confronted by some of TIWTTOF’s unlikelier plot developments and choicer visuals. In a bonus featurette, cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer further accentuates the film’s narrative incoherence, a quality which he found engaging in Sergio Bergonzelli’s In The Folds Of The Flesh but not here. Developing the thesis he previously expounded on the Arrow release of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Lady Of The Lake, he talks up his theme of “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Editor Bruno Micheli talks about learning his craft from his big sister Ornella, how sex scenes removed by the Censor were surreptitiously spliced back into prints, working closely with Freda and how producer Adolfo Donati was the only man allowed to wear a red tie in the presence of Mussolini.

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Dagmar… the Nancy Allen of her day.

We’ve had a few career-spanning interviews with Dagmar Lassander recently and there’s another here, conducted by Manlio Gomarasca, which starts with her oblique entry into the industry and takes in Lucio Fulci’s misogyny, Freda’s snobbery, Tomas Milian’s charisma and Valentina’ Cortese’s thespian caprices.

OST guru Lovely Jon presents a useful 25 minute primer on the recently deceased Stelvio Cipriani, pushing his claim for a place alongside the “big three” of Morricone, Nicolai and Alessandroni. He discusses the influence of Dave Brubeck, talks us through Cipriani’s deployment of music during three key scenes in the film and – evaluating the killer’s acid chucking, throat slashing MO – offers the verdict: “Fucking ‘ell, that’s some really nasty shit, man!” Indeed.

If your fancy is tickled by what Lovely Jon has to say, Arrow are issuing an LP release of Cipriani’s score too!

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… and yes, that’s two reviews in a row where we neglected to mention (until now) that Werner Pochath was in the film under consideration. So sue us!

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Oedipus Wrecks… Riccardo Freda’s MURDER OBSESSION On Blu-ray.

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BD. Region B. RaroVideo. Unrated.

“For Centuries theologians, philosophers and poets have delved into the Universe in search of proof of the existence of The Devil. It would have sufficed to look into the depths of their own souls…” Hieronimus A. Steinback, 17th Century.

Renowned for his neo-realism spurning lavish costume dramas of the ’40s and ’50s, Riccardo Freda is probably better known to readers of this blog as The Father Of  Italian Horror Cinema, no less, though he seems to have been losing interest in his career round about the time that he inaugurated that great tradition with I Vampiri in 1957, going AWOL and leaving its direction to be completed by his cinematographer, a certain Mario Bava. In the same year, a similar disappearing act from the set of Trapped In Tangiers enabled Freda’s assistant on that picture, Jorge (Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue) Grau to make his uncredited feature directing debut. Even when he did stick around physically to complete a picture, the feeling remained that Freda was still, at least metaphorically “phoning ’em in”…

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Made nearly a decade after Freda’s delirious Tragic Ceremony (one of the more mutated manifestations of that great tradition), Murder Obsession (which he signed as “Robert Hampton”) kicks off with Beryl (Laura Gemser) being throttled by a man who was hiding behind her bedroom curtain. Freda’s camera pulls back to reveal a film crew recording this. Yes it was only a movie (… only a movie…) but actor Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi)’s throttling of Beryl has been a little too enthusiastic for comfort. The fact that she responds so casually and the abrupt way in which the “movie crew” set up is so cavalierly jettisoned (there’s nary a mention of the film they’re supposed to be making throughout the rest of this picture) suggest that Freda and quite possibly his screen writing collaborators Antonio Cesare Corti, Fabio Piccioni and Simon Mizrahi are, well, phoning this one in.

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Musing over his potentially murderous method acting, Michael conceives the sudden desire to go and visit his old Mum, Glenda (Anita Strindberg) and invites the cast and crew along to get their collective shit together at her country pile. Greeted by sinister and somnambulistic manservant Oliver (John Richardson) they are ushered into the Jocastaesque presence of Mrs S, who maintains such a tight grip over her son that he explains girlfriend Deborah (Silvia Dionisio, the one time Mrs Deodato) away as his secretary. Deborah subsequently suffers a daft (and interminable) nightmare sequence involving laughable giant spiders and bats, then a phony-looking black mass sequence. Presumably Freda had the notion to invoke the gothic glories of I Vampiri, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) and The Ghost (1963) but once again he’s, you know, phoning it in…

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After a black gloved figure subjects Beryl to another throttling in her bath tub, she once again takes it philosophically and precisely none of Michael’s friends seem remotely alarmed when he confesses that as a child he killed his father during a psychotic episode. Beryl even consents to a little al fresco nookie with him, after which he wakes to find himself cuddling up to her eviscerated corpse. Has he returned to his juvenile psycho killing ways? Difficult to say, as just about everybody in the house is acting suspiciously and seems to own a pair of black leather gloves. Freda’s trying to spread the suspicion around among his red herrings, like a competent giallo director, but… how many times do I have to say it? He chucks in a predictable twist or two about what really happened to Michael’s dad (also played by Petrizi) but you’ve seen this primal scene before (in Profondo Rosso) and adding insult to injury, Oliver and Glenda are respectively awarded psychic powers and mastery of the black arts in an arbitrary spasm of 11th hour script “development”.

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All of this comes as too little, too late for genre icons Richardson and Strindberg, who are disappointingly underused throughout while Gemser, who is given rather more acting to do than usual, clearly isn’t up to it. The proceedings are further marred by a couple of misfiring splatter FX that will have you wondering if the Angelo Mattei who executed them is the same guy who fashioned the submerged corpse that Irene Miracle went skinny dipping with in Inferno. Incredibly, it is.

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The disc’s extras include an interview with Sergio Stivaletti, who assisted Mattei here before getting his big break on Argento’s Phenomena. We also hear Claudio Simonetti’s take on the development of OSTs in Horror cinema, a little puzzlingly as neither of the alternative cuts of Murder Obsession on this release are scored (and I’m trying to be diplomatic here) particularly memorably… the Italian version (clocking in at 1.37.18) is accompanied by lots of portentous plonking around on the piano while the English language variant (1.31.35) “boasts” synthesiser fartings that wouldn’t be out of place on Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast. Supplementary materials are rounded off with an (unsympathetically edited) appreciation of Murder Obsession by Gabriele Albanese, director of Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show, et al) and a low-grade extended rendering of Gemser being attacked in her bath).

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Have I already mentioned how Freda phones this one in? Well, if you can stand a little SPOILER I’ll tell you how the former sculptor redeems himself, right at the death… by restaging Michelangelo’s fucking Pieta is all, before slamming the door on Dionisio’s character and taking his leave of us with an implicit “Up yours, you doubting bastards!” Try phoning that in, smart Alecs…

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As well as being Riccardo Freda’s directorial swan song, Murder Obsession was also the final leading role undertaken by Anita Strindberg… according to some filmographies, anyway. I’m eagerly anticipating clarification on this point and so much else from Peter Jilmstad’s upcoming Strindberg biography, The Other Anita.

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80 Glorious Years: “BARBARA STEELE in L’Aldila”… and in conversation with The House Of Freudstein.

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Friday the 13th of December, 2013 was a lucky day for your humble correspondent Bobby Freudstein, being the day that my longest, most soul-destroying and hopefully final stint of conventional employment mercifully terminated. Invited to what was, doubtless, going to be an unseemly office-closing knees-up, I was prepared with the perfect pretext for non-attendance. “Can’t do it, mate… I’m interviewing Barbara Steele tonight” (talk about a reaffirmation of intent!) “Who’s Barbara Steele?”, came the philistine reply. Another compelling reason not to go… I mean, would you want to socialise, if you could possibly avoid it, with the kind of person who doesn’t know who Barbara Steele is?

To mark La Steele’s 80th birthday, the following is a potted, Italian-biased version of a career-embracing interview that originally appeared, in its entirety, over issues 158 and 159 of Dark Side magazine. The original data file having gone AWOL and my scanner being on the blink, I’m grateful to the lovely Mrs Freudstein for retyping the relevant passages… also to Calum Waddell for hooking me up… and of course to the Queen Of Horror herself, for her participation.

We pick up the interview at the point where Barbara has just stood up Elvis Presley on Flaming Star, occasioning a blazing row with its director, Don Siegel. Having burned her Hollywood bridges, she started over in The Land Of The Big Boot…


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One of the memorable quotes that’s been attributed to you, so many of which seem to be apocryphal, is: “I went to Hollywood with very little and came back with nothing”.

I can’t remember what’s real or not myself, but that sounds about right.

And so, off to Italy… it’s said that Italian directors are more concerned with lighting the iconic face in the beautiful scene than they are with actually directing actors. Did you find yourself having to fall back on your Rank Charm School training?

Italian directors were, for the most part, so generous and enthusiastic and abundant and loving and you just felt it, felt you could do no wrong. When you are in this very safe place and you don’t have this sort of awkward, silent, critical eye around you, you can do something that you really wouldn’t otherwise think of doing. Now Mario Bava was a very conservative, shy and private man, didn’t get too involved with his actors because he was preoccupied as we all know with his camerawork and his lighting and the beauty of his films. He was very removed from his actors.

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Did your own background in the visual arts make you more simpatico with Bava’s vision and better equipped to participate in it?

Well, we didn’t see dailies and you’re not aware of what anything is until you’ve seen dailies. It was only ages afterwards that you got an idea of what was going on. You didn’t see the slow motion, you didn’t see the high contrast, you didn’t see the whole German Expressionist look… you didn’t see it, you just felt it, you just felt the huge intelligence and focus and that he really cared about his framing and so on, that absolutely nothing was random.

Was it disconcerting to find yourself acting on a noisy set with an international cast, some of whom where spouting stuff like “rhubarb, rhubarb” and with all the dialogue being re-dubbed in post production?

Well I never actually heard anybody saying the rhubarb, rhubarb thing! (Laughs) Obviously direct sound is so much better. Italy was extremely noisy in those years, there was always somebody singing songs, repairing a church bell, people having all sorts of crazy arguments… I guess all the walls must have been very thin so they couldn’t possibly do direct sound. Not exactly a disaster, but sad for me because I never heard my voice on these films. By the time they got round to looping the film, I was usually making another one in another country and couldn’t do it and the voice to me is, you know, two thirds of the way or at least half the way there. It’s strange how patterns follow you, or it seems, in such a random way, all your life because my voice has barely been used and you know that’s extraordinarily frustrating.

It’s such a shocking waste of such a distinctive voice… your performance in the pre-titles sequence of Black Sunday is one of the most iconic cinematic moments of all time, but we heard that you remain displeased with it, find it too mannered and would have welcomed the opportunity to do it again and differently.

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I’ve been thinking about that recently, you could really go one or two ways with it, when you’re paralysed with terror because someone is approaching you with death and agony, like the iron mask… your eyes are transfixed, you’re out-of-body and frozen in some kind of other worldly terror, or you can choose to do it the other way, which is to really go berserk! It would be interesting to see it both ways. Actually I think Mario Bava had a very firm idea of how he wanted it and he was right, I think it worked that way.

Well, Asa could afford to be sanguine about it because she was confident she’d return to do more evil deeds… I imagine that somewhat takes the edge off her ordeal (Barbara laughs). As an actress is it more satisfying to see yourself on the screen in moody chiaroscuro or the kind of lurid colour schemes favoured by Roger Corman, for whom you starred in the Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and indeed later by Bava himself?

I think black and white is more satisfying for horror, it reaches much deeper into the subconscious, just as black and white photographs have an appeal truer and more profound than a colour photograph. I don’t know if it’s just because the eye receives colour differently in a darkened movie theatre, I don’t know what happens to your peripheral vision but it always takes one time to accept the colour, however gorgeous it is, you know, however beautiful and well done it is…

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We’re getting more used to it now thanks to colour television, which is really very good now in America, a lot of it so beautifully shot that it looks like Storaro on some of these series, but having grown up on black and white cinema and all the great imagery of the ’40s and ’50s and German Expressionism, etc, there’s nothing for me quite as spectacular as great black and white. I do think that Italian cameramen have a third eye and I can actually identify if a film is Italian, even if I don’t know, just by the way it is lit. The light of Rome, the light of Italy, this transcendental light with these glowing threads that kind of go through it, it seems to be absorbed by film and the Italian cameramen are so sensitive to light, fabulous, as they grew up in this. I think this is why they are so very conscious of light and they talk about it… I mean, even the guy who’s selling you peaches on the market will talk about light, he won’t just say it’s a beautiful day, he’ll say: “Oh it’s a beautiful morning, isn’t the light incredible?” and it is this kind of thing and yeah…voilà!

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Another of your “gothic” directors was Antonio Margheriti… were you aware of the animosity that allegedly existed between him and Bava?

No I was not, though it may have well been the case between them in private.

Another of those myths that’s become associated with you is that you wouldn’t go on to the Black Sunday set one day because you feared that Bava had developed a “see through” film technique that would render you naked on the screen.

Bullshit! Yeah, this was published in that guy’s book about Bava, I couldn’t believe it! How could someone say something so profoundly idiotic?  I mean I was just amazed, it’s the most whimsical and demented thing imaginable… “I’m not coming to the set today in case you’ve got X Ray film”? Just hilarious!

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Bava’s secret “see through” film stock was working only too well…

Supposedly Bava tried several times to get a colour remake of Black Sunday off the ground and apparently he wanted you for The Whip and The Body (1963) in the role that eventually went to Daliah Lavi.

These are things that were never communicated to me, because I was really a gypsy and all over the place. But yes, that’s what I heard and they were films that the French director Yves Boisset really wanted me for and I never heard about. Sometimes you wouldn’t find out until two years after the event…

It would’ve been wonderful to watch the sado-masochistic sparks fly between you and Christopher Lee, though you did later work with him on Vernon Sewell’s Curse Of The Crimson Altar. Another male horror icon you appeared alongside, in Corman’s aforementioned the Pit and the Pendulum, was Vincent Price. How did that go professionally and personally?

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Everyone who ever worked with Vincent Price will tell you that they just adored him. He was such an intelligent, civilised guy, he was just as beautiful a man as he appears to be on film, with his sort of edgy irony rather than cruelty. Very supportive, and of course he loved Art, was a great Art collector, we had a really good communication about Art and yes, I really liked Vincent Price very much. I always said that if he had been an Englishman, or if he had moved to England, he could and would have been one of those titled actors, the Gielguds and so on, he would’ve been one of the great classic actors. I think he had something of an ambivalence about not using more of his powers as an actor in great roles. I know your readers all love Horror and you’re thinking about great roles in that genre but I’m talking about really great roles.

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When you had lunch with people like Price, Lee and Karloff (your other Crimson Altar co-star), would you compare notes on your experiences with people like Mario Bava?

I’ve had lunch with Christopher Lee on several occasions and I’ve taken tea at his house, I mean I’ve met him many many times and I can’t remember our conversations in that much detail frankly, but I just expounded over everything, I mean I don’t remember anything that he said particularly about Mario Bava but he’s very grand and very courteous and it’s marvellous, just too fabulous that he’s still working.

8 1/2 is just the most audacious, ostentatious display of creativity…. it’s about Fellini’s creative block but it’s like he’s saying that even blocked, his work is more engaging than that of others working at full throttle.

Well, what he actually said about this in the movie is in the scene at the press conference when Mastroianni is under the table and this is really true of so many artists, writers and so on. He says “I have nothing to say but I have to say it anyway”.

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Didn’t you have a lot off scene cut from the film?

I did, it is still a very long movie about 3 hours but the first cut was something like 5 and a half hours long! Oh god I did, yes and I’m so upset about it, I think I had about the scenes cut, most of which are very sarcastic about the Vatican. Oh and there’s a little dig at Antonioni where I have a tiny dog called Michelangelo and I’m saying: “Michelangelo, you’re so slow! Faster please, please, come on! Come on!”

He was so slow with the horror film in which he intended to star you alongside Monica Vitti that it never got made!

Ah, that would have been great, would’ve been just marvellous, but fate for actors is like walking on a high wire of luck, you could have one thing that could turn you around completely. The thing about the horror films I did in Italy in those days, of course, they are always set in the past… and why? Because the past has a fairytale quality and they are always done, as we said, very elegantly, beautifully shot, but that feeling of the past, in a strange way…

It gives a film greater longevity, compared to e.g. the later films in the Hammer cycle which tried for a very “early ’70s” feel and look and just look incredibly dated now, whereas something like Black Sunday is completely outside of any temporal frame of reference.

Well yes, they are out of time, you’re absolutely right. They are timeless and it gave them a kind of elegance. It felt, in a strange way, as though it could be truer and more real, because then you step back a bit and you feel you can expect it more as opposed to something being contemporary. Those films are all deeply engrossed in the psyche and l’aldila, the other world… it’s not the horror of, you know, you suddenly see somebody approach you in the dark with a knife… it’s a different horror, it’s psychological. It’s anticipation of the horror that’s about to come, which is always worse than the actuality because in the actuality you can react and you’re caught up in your rage and your blood flowing and everything and you react, the anticipation of the act is always far worse than the act itself.

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Another colour shot from the set of a b/w film… Fellini 8 1/2

Absolutely. In this age of DVD and Blu-Ray collectors’ editions, with all the extras you get on those, it would be nice to think that one day we’re going to see, for instance, your missing scenes from Fellini 8 1/2 or the stuff that was shot for his Casanova…

Well, nothing was ever shot of me for Casanova, whic is a great pity/ My sequence was completely cut before shooting started and it was a phenomenal role. I mean, this was before they invented Viagra and I was this kind of Venetian alchemist wearing this amazing head dress, sat on a throne in Venice, who came up with these marvellous bottles of stuff that would cure anybody of impotence, which would have been just the most spectacular, campy thing on the planet!

Wow! Were you ever connected to any Pasolini projects? That would have been another marriage made in heaven / hell…

No! I loved Pasolini, he used to live just three or five doors down the street from me, I saw him all the time and I just loved his poetry, all of his work, but no, our paths never crossed professionally.

That’s a shame, to me out of all those guys, he was The Master…

I think you’re right.

For a long time there was this dichotomy, a false one in my belief, between worthy Italian Arthouse cinema and that country’s populist “B movie” tradition. Do you sense that we are moving beyond that now when people like Scorsese and Tim Burton are rhapsodising about Mario Bava (and of course Fellini himself was a big admirer of Bava) and a Hollywood heavyweight like Quentin Tarantino is citing Antonio Margheriti and Enzo Castellari as his masters?

I do and I think particularly in American that’s the case, to me what is amazing that so many people are so conscious of the films, I cannot believe the amount of fans they have and the amount of fan mail I get for these films, which are ancient. This is even before there were DVDs, people were collecting videos, it’s just extraordinary because a lot of these films didn’t get any kind of release… just incredible!

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What one hears about Ricardo Freda is that if he really cared about a project he was full on and involved in it, but if he wasn’t he would just phone it in and farm it out to his assistants to complete the picture… which indeed is how Mario Bava made the transition from DP to director.

I never knew that.

I guess Freda was “on it” for the two “Dr Hichcock” pictures he made with you…

He was very “on it”, he was a very theatrical, energised guy, always chomping on a cigar. He had his little tantrums, which actually I quite liked because I could have a tantrum back. It’s a form of communication, you didn’t have to take it as a disparaging thing and he’d have his little things with the crew and this and that but in the end everybody just loved him. To me he was like an Italian opera star, second lead! (Laughs) He was very operatic, in other words, I really liked his theatricality and energy, I really loved Ricardo Freda… he was great.

Another guy who developed a reputation for tantrums and became a horror icon in his own right, relatively late in his career, was Lucio Fulci. I gather you had a good time with Fulci, you must have caught him when he was young and relatively relaxed. He did subsequently develop this reputation for being crusty and difficult and increasingly eccentric…

Yes, I heard that and I was sorry to hear it.

I met him in the last year of his life and he was very charming but absolutely barking, thoough there was a suspicion that he was kind of playing up to that image.

You’re kidding! Dear, oh dear…

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You played two roles in his 1964 comedy I Maniaci and very well, too… it’s a pity you didn’t accumulate more credits in that genre and that those in which you did appear never got any distribution outside of Italy.

I know, I love comedy, very few people can write it these days. I feel, you know, that somebody else had my actress career. I was just like living on the ceiling or something and these sort of things just fell in and I did them and it’s so strange that I’ve ended up with this collection of horror in my past.

Many of the gothic films you made in Italy deal with such taboo subjects… were you aware how the versions of them that got released in English speaking territories were tweaking to eradicate any suggestion of lesbianism, incest, necrophilia and so on?

It’s interesting because there we were in a highly Catholic country and that is where we were doing all that stuff, you’d think it would be the other way round, no?

So Many acerbic and startling statements have been accredited to you and most of them you probably never even said. “I never want to climb out of another freaking coffin as long as I live…”

No I never said that, I really hate that and that’s another one which I REALLY hate which I think was in a French magazine Midi Minute Fantastic or something, the magazine which I gather is now being republished in a series of books, but the one that really infuriates me…

I think I know what’s coming…

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“WTF?!?”

You’ve got to put this straight! I’m quoted as saying in several articles that, I wanted to “fuck the world” and that’s just a word that I don’t use. I probably said something like” “I want to have a love affair with the whole world”…

… or to embrace the whole world…

Yeah, which is completely different but that is just grotesque.

It is grotesque, it’s kind of ironic though that while you would obviously have never said such a thing, that is pretty much the plot of the David Cronenberg picture you appeared in, Shivers… libidomania!

Yes, well, he loved his bodily fluids, did Cronenberg!

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Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Villa Strangiato… Riccardo Freda’s TRAGIC CEREMONY Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Dark Sky. Not rated.

The whole Pasta Paura ball began rolling in 1956 with Freda’s I Vampiri aka The Devil’s Commandment but even at the height of his powers, the capricious Freda would typically lose interest in a project after the first few days’ shooting and delegate its completion to an assistant. This predilection of his proved a felicitous one for the wider world of horror cinema as it gave Mario Bava, the greatest Italian auteur of them all, his directing break polishing off the likes of I Vampiri and Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1962.) Rather less fortuitously, as the increasingly uninterested Freda’s career petered out it threw up the likes of Murder Obsession aka The Wailing / Satan’s Altar (1980.)

History does not record which hack completed Tragic Ceremony At The Alexander Villa (to quote one of its alterative titles, another being Estratto Dagli Archivi Segreti Della Polizia Di Una Capitale Europea / Extracted From The Secret Police Archives Of A European Capital) in 1972, but anyone wishing to make an educated guess might usefully reflect that one of the film’s co-writers, Mario Bianchi, also directed trash epics in various genres (notably the oversexed Exorcist knock-off La Bimba Di Satana / Satan’s Baby Doll, 1982) before settling down to an exclusive output of porn… certainly Freda went out of his way to disown Tragic Ceremony before his death in the eve of the millennium. In all fairness, nobody involved in its making should feel too guilty, the film emerging as an enjoyably goony piece of schlock whose occasional longeurs are easily overcome with judicious use of the fast forward button. C’mon, admit it, you’ve sat square eyed for much worse than this…

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What might indulgently be termed “the plot” revolves around free spirit Jane (Camille Keaton) and her love’n’peacenik pals, sailing, driving around in dune buggies, smoking dope and making out, generally trying to get their hippy asses back to The Garden. Boy, are they in for a rude awakening! Where the fuck are they, anyway? There are allusions to Scotland in the dialogue and at one point, though clearly in the midst of rolling countryside, they seem to be seeking directions to Chelsea (!?!) A menacing gas station attendant (and remember, this is two years before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) warns them in no uncertain terms to stay away from the Alexander Villa but when their buggy breaks down in the middle of a storm, no prizes for guessing where they wash up, seeking shelter and maybe to scrounge a Scooby snack or two. Their timing is unfortunate, to say the least, as Lady A is about to host the biggest bash in the Satanist calendar… and she would have got away with it too, if it hadn’t have been for those meddling kids! There’s just time for Camille to feature in a gratuitous bath scene (unveiling an impressive rack, bearing favourable comparison to that of Traci Lords) before she and her pals blunder into the festivities, with discouraging results.

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For reasons that are not exactly clear, the orgiasts take this interruption as their cue to start slaughtering each other in gory fashion, courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi’s FX expertise.  Particularly memorable is the splitting asunder of one cultist’s cranium… no really, you’ve got no chance of forgetting this bit, as the ensuing “narrative” repeatedly and arbitrarily flashes back to it. Our hapless hippies make like bananas and split, a devil worshipping dude exiting one of the villa’s windows, in flames, as their dune buggy (now conveniently working again) pulls out of the grounds.  The kids congratulate themselves on having escaped intact from the scene of carnage but there’s plenty more weirdness to come (courtesy of a cursed item of jewellery worn by Jane and the crazed camera work of Francisco Faile, which runs through every visual cliche in the book to convey the dual ambience of spaced-out psychedelia and spooky Satanic shit), culminating in a weedy variation on Ambrose Bierce’s ever popular Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. If you can stay awake through all of this, it will probably occur to you that the picture’s rural settings are spookily similar to those in which Keaton would suffer all manner of ill treatment and emerge as a triumphant avenger during her most notorious credit, Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave, six years later. There’s also a “clever trick of the ear” moment when Stelvio Cipriani’s score mutates into some music that a character is actually playing in the woods, which unexpectedly pre-empts a very similar device in Zarchi’s controversial rape’n’revenge opus.

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Such parallels are certainly not lost on Keaton herself, who makes explicit reference to them in the quarter hour bonus documentary Camille’s European adventures. Nice to see that Buster’s niece is in no way apologetic about her oft-criticised, much reviled career in exploitation movies and expresses herself keen to resume it, should the opportunity ever arise (which, let’s face it, probably ain’t gonna happen). Lest we had forgotten, this featurette reveals the full extent of Camille’s Italian CV… in the same year as Tragic Ceremony she played the title character in Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange? and also appeared in a couple of Pasolini knock offs, Giuliano Biagetti and Pier Giorgio Ferretti’s Decameroticus and Mino Guerrini’s Decameron 2. The following year Keaton braved further occult shenanigans in Angelo Pannaccio’s Il Sesso Della Strega / Sex Of The Witch (“I don’t know if anyone has figured out what that movie was about, even to this day”) and also graced Oscar Brazzo’s Il Gatto Di Brooklyn Aspirante Detective (a vehicle for the broad “comic” talents of Franco Franchi) with her presence. In 1974 she essayed the lead role in Roberto Mauri’s Madeleine, Anatomia Di Un Incubo / Madeleine, Study Of A Nightmare before relocating Stateside and taking on the project that effectively killed her career stone dead. Intriguingly, Keaton also reveals that she failed an audition for Zefferelli and turned down the opportunity to work with Tinto Brass. It would have been interesting to hear her recollections of working with Freda but the little she has to say on this subject reinforces the received wisdom that he wasn’t overly conscientious regarding the direction of this picture. Throughout, Keaton comes across as an agreeably down-to-earth Arkansas gal and, approaching 60 at the time this material was filmed, a dead ringer for Hilary Clinton (who of course married that state’s second most celebrated native.) The other extra on offer here is a well psychedelic trailer boasting an In-A—Gadda-Da-Vida soundalike acid rock accompaniment which does not actually feature in the film and tasteful attempts to connect its action with the Manson murder spree, to which there are actually allusions in Freda’s picture.

The main feature looks surprisingly good in anamorphic 1.85:1 and comes with a mono Italian soundtrack and English subs.

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Satanic dudes come horribly unstuck (above and below) in Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremonytragicc_shot3l.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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