Posts Tagged With: Sergio Martino

50 Shades Of Blu… THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH on Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Much  has been made of the “sex killer” angle in gialli… possibly too much. The culprit in what we might as well, for the sake of argument, concede to be the first giallo proper (Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963), though more than a little unhinged, turns out to be murdering on account of very cool calculations about an inheritance. Similar considerations motivate the assassin(s) in Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964), no matter how “sexily” its several slayings are rendered for our delectation… indeed, it frequently seems in that film as though Bava is inviting the audience to get off on the couture slaughter more than the film’s hard-nosed killer(s) is / are actually doing.

It would be perverse to argue that eroticism plays no part in these films and their popular appeal. Certainly during those bonkbusting Carroll Baker vehicles churned out in Bava’s wake by producer Luciano Martino, e.g. Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse from the following year, the jaded jet-setting characters, when they aren’t swindling each other out of large sums of money, are clearly having more and better sex than you ever have… probably took some time out to embezzle money from your company’s pension fund too, the bastards!

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Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, which changed the whole giallo ball-game when it crossed over from domestic to international success in 1970, was the first Italian thriller to prioritise (if not the first to feature) the exploits of a sexually sadistic killer. Even then, Argento’s focussed as much (if not more) on the trauma that had warped this character’s psyche out of shape rather than the lip-smacking relish with which they went about their stabby antics. Consider, furthermore, the motivations of the murderers in Argento’s subsequent films. You might well be surprised at how very few of them are actually out-and-out “sex killers”. But I’m getting ahead of myself… this argument will be developed in a future posting about The Stendhal Syndrome (if I ever get round to writing it!)

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Where were we? Ah yes… early 1970 saw Luciano Martino planning The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh as another steamy chamber giallo vehicle for Carroll Baker, but entertaining doubts about the cost of rehiring the star and another director. He didn’t have to look far for a solution… kid brother Sergio was chomping at the bit to direct his sophomore feature and had established his qualifications with the likes of spagwest Arizona Colt Returns (1970), various mondo documentaries and by shooting additional material to bump up the running time on such films as Hans Schott-Schöbinger’s 1969 adaptation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

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It was on the latter that Sergio discovered a breath-taking young starlet named Edwige Fenech, who promptly became a fixture in Luciano’s pictures, not to mention (jammy sod!) his bed. Add indefatigable screen writer Ernesto Gastaldi and all the ingredients (give or take some hunky love interest / potential killer for Edwige) were in place for a run of classic gialli, kicking off with the revamped, sexed-up Strange Vice, on which Sergio proved beyond dispute that he’d been paying attention during his stint as second unit director on Bava’s 1963 epic of sadomasochism beyond the grave, The Whip and the Body (1963).

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Meanwhile Gastaldi pounced enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s smash but borrowed its fetishistically clad fruit-cake only for that character (newbies beware, things could be about to get a bit spoilerish) to end up playing second banana to an insurance fraud conspiracy (“I told you, the best time to kill anyone is when a homicidal maniac is on the loose!” one conspirator tells another). Audacious stuff…. I mean, is there any cinematic precedent for a serial killer who is simultaneously the film’s principal red herring?

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TSVOMW’s opening intercuts a fatal razor attack on a prostitute with the arrival of the plane that is bringing the Wardhs to Vienna, greeted by a quotation from one of that city’s most famous sons, Sigmund Freud, concerning the potential killer inside all of us. Fenech plays the eponymous Julie Wardh (the “h” at end of her surname allegedly intended to forestall any libel proceedings from aggrieved real life Mrs Wards!), the neglected, bored wife of a workaholic diplomat (Alberto De Mendoza). She is simultaneously stimulated and troubled by salacious memories of her full-on sado-masochistic entanglement with brooding Jean (old Tartar cheek-bones himself, Ivan Rassimov). Their idea of fun, as revealed in sensuous slow motion flashbacks to the accompaniment of a Nora Orlandi theme that can only be described as sacramental, included him beating her in a muddy field (shades of Bunuel’s Belle De Jour, 1967) and – don’t try this at home, kiddies! – bonking her on a bed of broken glass. No wonder Julie is troubled by her cab driver’s stated desire for “perverts” to “get what they deserve”.

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Nor does the life of a neglected ambassador’s wife seem anything like as dull as we are expected to believe, including as it does wild embassy parties where drunken floozies rip each other’s dresses off, prior to one of them being bloodily dispatched in a Hitchcockian shower sequence (“Another girl slashed to death?” remarks Julie’s cynical friend Carol: “We should be grateful that he’s eliminating all the competition!”) Julie is horrified to discover Jean popping up among the ferrero rocher at one such bash but not sufficiently horrified to resist a) succumbing to his erotic menace and b) striking up yet another affair, with smoothie antipodean inheritance chaser George (George Hilton). When somebody starts blackmailing Mrs W about her various extra-marital liaisons, the worldly Carol (Cristina Airoldi) becomes convinced that Jean is playing his old head games with her, and agrees to meet him in a park on Fenech’s behalf… only to get sliced up a treat (I wonder how grateful she was for that!) La Dolce Vita has definitely soured and in mortal fear that Jean has lost it completely, Julie abandons her hubby and absconds to Spain with George. No prizes for guessing that there are several more twists to come…

Aside from her obvious facility for nude scenes (no shit, Sherlock!), Fenech deserves credit for a performance that gets us on the side of a protagonist who is, when you get right down to it, pretty selfish, shallow and unlikable… in many ways a 20th Century rendering of the Balzac character she played for Schott-Schöbinger.

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Martino confesses readily to the influence that Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955, above) exerted over TSVOMW (and what about Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, 1951?) but has waxed ambivalent about The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, to the extent of half-heartedly claiming, when he and fellow ‘B’ movie directors were being feted (at the behest of Quentin Tarantino) during the Venice Film Festival ten years ago, that his picture actually preceded the Argento biggie. In sharp contrast to Argento’s signature use of steadicam, his characteristic deployment of hand-held camera does convey a sense of urgency, plunging the viewer into the thick of the carnage and his restrained use of zoom underscores dramatic moments without descending into Franco-esque overuse. But there’s no doubt where those “through the keyhole” POV shots, which Martino would repeat through just about all of his subsequent gialli, came from. To be fair, Argento himself seems to have been influenced by the scene of Airoldi’s death in the park, restaging it pretty faithfully for Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971.) Martino’s diplomatic comment on this is that both scenes owe a lot to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966.)

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Argento inarguably pinched one of TSVOMW’s central plot devices, by which calculating, opportunistic killers take advantage of a genuinely deranged individual’s murder rampage to deflect suspicion from themselves for Tenebrae (1982) though if anything, Argento tones it down because at any one time in Martino’s flick, there are no less than four killers operating with dovetailing motivations, no less than three of whom are out to get Fenech! Looks like Freud wasn’t just blowing cigar smoke up our asses with that opening quote…

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Shameless continue their drive to upgrade notable titles on their slate to Blu-ray. Having started a bit late in the game, they’ve avoided some of the pitfalls that bedevilled various early-adopting competitors, some of whose remasterings were looking distinctly variable in quality for a while there. It could be argued that Shameless have had less opportunity to cock one of these up because they’ve so far only done so few, but now that this aspect of their operation is picking up it looks like they’ve learned well from the mis-steps of others. Those having been made, DNR is currently considered less desirable than an “authentic” level of upfront graininess and if you can live with that, opportunities are now opening up to grasp hitherto unguessed-at cinematographic subtleties in some of your favourite films. Arrow’s recent(ish) Deep Red was a particular delight in this regard and the efforts of Emilio Foriscot and Florian Trenker are done similar justice here. No sound problems for audiophiles to have hissy fits over, either.

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Bonus materials comprise the Martino interview and Fenech profile from the previous Shameless release, plus a mini-doc in which most of the significant participants in TSVOMW have their say, the latter lifted from Italian label No Shame’s early DVD edition. Justin Harries’ “fact track” also reappears from that original Shameless release and alternates entry-level giallo observations with some interesting speculation about how the various men in Mrs Wardh’s tangled love life correspond to Freud’s tripartite model of the human mind. I used to get a lot of flack for bringing this kind of thing into the discussion of exploitation movies but in case that’s too high-brow for you, Harries also describes Martino’s film as Sex In The City with added murder.

Another home run from Shameless!

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ALL THE COLOURS Of Blu… Sergio Martino’s Classic Occult Giallo On Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

When Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage parlayed Mario Bava’s giallo formula into the stuff of international crossover hits in 1970, every spaghetti exploitation director worth their salt (and several who weren’t) scrambled to get a piece of the slasher action by setting killers in broad-brimmed hats and dark macs onto scantily clad ingenues. Sergio Martino surfed this filone particularly adeptly, aided and abetted by the most scantily clad and beautiful ingenue of them all, his producer brother Luciano’s room mate Edwige Fenech. The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s box-office smash and established a template in which Fenech’s neurotic character would jet set around the world in her attempts to live down the sexy skeletons in her closet and escape the homicidal nut job on her tail, only to discover that just because she’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that several of the men in her busy love life aren’t conspiring in various permutations and with miscellaneous motivations to do her in. Fenech wasn’t available (probably knocking out a few period sex farces) for Martino’s second giallo of 1971, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, which ran along disappointingly formulaic lines and proved conclusively that Anita Strindberg and Evelyn Stewart together couldn’t make up for the absence of one Edwige Fenech.

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Thankfully she was back for the following year’s All The Colours Of The Dark aka Day Of The Maniac / They’re Coming To Get You / Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh Part 2, et al, in which Martino would extend the giallo’s frontiers exponentially. Fenech’s Jayne Harrison in this one is even more screwed up than the spoiled Mrs Wardh and with considerably more justification. Cooped up in Kenilworth Court, Putney, she’s suffering post traumatic stress disorder following the car crash in which she lost her baby (and it’s only later that we learn that she witnessed the fatal stabbing of her mother when she was seven) but gets precious little emotional support from her cold fish, workaholic pharmaceutical salesman boyfriend Richard (George Hilton). He obstructs her sister Barbara (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro)’s efforts to set Jayne up with a psychoanalyst, insisting that she just pull herself together and keep taking the tablets (… but are they, as claimed, just vitamins?) Jayne is plagued by nightmares in which her various traumas are juxtaposed with all manner of Satanic psychedelia (good news for us because she tends to get over them by taking a shower in her nightshift… woah, baby!) and things go from bad to worse when a guy who resembles the assassin from her dreams (Ivan Rassimov, looking even more striking than usual in a pair of shocking blue contact lenses) starts stalking her. Her chic new neighbour, Mary (Marina Malfatti), waxes blasé about this (“Strange men have been following women since the stone age, Jayne!”) but does propose a novel solution to our heroine’s malaise, i.e. that she attend a black mass (?!?) Although much has made up to this point of Jayne’s indecisive character, by a flick of scripter Ernesto Gastaldi’s pen she decides there and then that she wants to participate in precisely such a shindig RIGHT NOW!

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“Chill-O-Rama”, huh?

In a gothic folly that will be only too familiar to fans of Toyah Wilcox’s The Blue Meaning album, Jayne gets down with the Satan worshipping junky set (I think this is what we’re supposed to infer from the calamine lotion daubed liberally over their faces) and during a Rosemary’s Baby-inspired scene, is taken (to the accompaniment of Bruno Nicolai’s ravished acid rock theme) by cult honcho J.P. McBrian (Julian Ugarte from Paul Naschy’s breakthrough picture Mark Of The Wolfman, 1968). Now “J.P McBrian” might strike you as a disappointingly pedestrian moniker for a Satanic cult leader, but he’s knobbing Edwige Fenech so the dude’s doing alright for himself, OK?

Far from her being mitigated by these occult dabblings, Jayne’s problems are exacerbated when, at a subsequent ritual orgy, she is implicated in the killing of Mary, who had apparently grown terminally jaded about life and delivered Jayne to the sect as her replacement. I love the way the Satanic acolytes shuffle round each other in a little dance routine while all this is going on. Now Jayne’s stalker (Rassimov) reveals himself as “Mark Cogan”, the murderer and former lover of her mother, who had been an enthusiastic participant in all these occult shenanigans (foreshadowing a plot point in Argento’s Opera)… “Now you’re one of us, Jayne…” he glowers: “It’s impossible to renounce us!”

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The plot descends into pure paranoia at this point, with the news that McBrain is a Big Cheese at Scotland Yard, though this is immediately revealed as a figment of Jayne’s increasingly traumatised, drug-addled and brain-washed imagination (check out the totally surreal “breakfast with dead people” vignette… did it really happen?) Turns out that significant characters have been motivated by all-too materialistic considerations (i.e. an inheritance) but, at the very death, Martino can’t bring himself to impose a purely logical wrap-up on the narrative. Once the mandatory shop window mannequin has been chucked off a roof, Fenech’s final (and almost certainly post-synched) lines, delivered with her face turned away from the camera, indicate that genuine psychic forces are awakening within her, an awakening which is going to either empower or destroy her… or is this is just one more level of delusion? ATCOTD’s ambiguous and haunting conclusion ensures that the viewer will keep turning the film over in his / her own mind after watching it, like a nightmare from which (s)he is struggling to wake. An inveterate mix’n’matcher of genres, Martino set the ball rolling here for a synthesis of straight giallo and the supernatural that would be handled to more influential effect by Dario Argento just a few years later…

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If you think you’ve read something very like the above review on this site before, congratulations on a) your excellent taste in blogs and b) being such an attentive, retentive reader. The first time we ran Sergio Martino’s occult giallo past the viewing panel here at HOF it was on the German Marketing-Film DVD, which occasioned a certain amount of moaning about its not-exactly anamorphic presentation and the fact that its 5.1 option was only available on the German language sound track… foreskin durch technik, indeed. The Shameless BD fits our TV screen much more agreeably, albeit with no Surround option whatsoever (though Nicolai’s black music theme still lit up our left and right frontal speakers, not to mention our Woofer, to diverting effect.) The digital upscale significantly enhances the beauty and subtlety of Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography, while noticeably boosting the graininess of certain passages… ah well, to quote an irate French chef from a P.G Wodehouse story, I can take a few roughs with a smooth and if you’ve had the Marketing-Film edition on your shelf for a few years now, you’ll certainly be wanting to upgrade to this.

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Extras include a bunch of trailers for Fenech / Martino oriented Shameless releases and Doors, a spooky (and apparently prize-winning) short by Michele De Angelis. Hi, Michele! There’s a new interview with the ever-affable Martino, in which he sings the praises of his regular repertory players (“If you’ve got a winning team, why change it?”) and recalls the memorable occasion of his first meeting with Edwige Fenech, apparently resplendent in leather trousers (and looking far more fetching in those, one imagines, than Theresa “Mock Turtle” May ever managed to.) Once again, Sergio assures us that he felt no disappointment when the divine Fenech took up with his brother Luciano (yeah, whatever) and acknowledges the passionate devotion of giallo fans. He describes how the process ATCOTD was shot in led to framing problems and recalls that ten minutes were cut out of the film’s tricky climax when it played in Roman cinemas. Most amusingly, he opines that when snooty critics condescendingly refer to him as a craftsman, it makes him “feel like a carpenter.” Undeniably though, such moments in ATCOTD as the Lewtonesque “bus shot” (actually a “black cab shot”) are, er, very well crafted…

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It’s always a pleasure to hear the thoughts of Diabolique magazine mainstays Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, who contribute a characteristically enthusiastic and knowledgable commentary track here. Their excitement about contributing to a Blu-ray edition of what is clearly one of their favourite films (and why wouldn’t it be?) registers almost palpably. While ATCOTD, for all its manifest merits, is thematically skinnier than e.g. Borowczyk’s The Story Of Sin (for which the Diaboliquel duo contributed an exemplary voice over to Arrow’s release), this disc is all the better for their efforts and yes, Kat does get to vent her ongoing obsession with Mathew Lewis’s The Monk. Hey, why not pick up a copy of that Gothic classic, stick some Bruno Nicolai on your stereo as you leaf through it and knock back a glass or two of absinthe while you’re doing so? Go on, you’ve earned it!

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Say what the fuck?!?

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Dolly Birds Of Ill Omen… Edwige Fenech in Andrea Bianchi’s STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, Reviewed

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“Elementary, my dear Edwige!”

DVD. Region 0. Shameless. 18.

Having graced the gialli of such luminaries as Mario Bava, Sergio Martino and, er, Giuliano Carnimeo, the lustrous Edwige Fenech concentrated increasingly on her persona as the Queen of “Sexy Comedies” as the ’70s wore on. In 1975 she deigned to appear in one last theatrical giallo (she did collaborate with Martino on several slick TV thrillers from the ’90s onwards) though she was hardly tempted back by a prestige production. Strip Nude For Your Killer, directed by sleaze specialist Andrea Bianchi in 1975, is not the scuzziest Italian slasher ever lensed (that accolade must surely go to Giallo In Venice, directed by Bianchi associate Mario Landi in 1979), nor even the most floridly titled Italian thriller (step forward Roberto Montero’s The Slasher Is A Sex Maniac, 1972)… it’s not even its director’s wildest screen offering (gotta be Burial Ground / Nights Of Terror, the cheesy 1981 zombie movie with added incest subplot) but nobody could deny Bianchi’s willingness to go that extra mile in living up to its lowest common denominator handle, marrying schlock horror with sleazy sex to hypnotically delirious effect in a down market, glamour-modelling milieu that could never be confused with the genre haute couture slaughter of Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964.)

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Magda (Fenech) is a top photographer at Milan’s Albatross modelling agency, but would like to take up modelling herself. Studio manager Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo, which translates roughly as “Kid Newcastle”!) turns her down on the grounds that she’ll “have a more secure career behind the camera” or some such nonsense. Credibility flies out of the window at the suggestion that any self-respecting model agency would turn down Edwige Fenech… I mean, in what universe?!? Sure, she’s had most of her luscious raven locks lopped off for this one, but the unflattering crop some stylist has imposed upon her can’t detract from the rest of her legendary charms, which are amply showcased throughout in a series of costume changes that are highly contrived even by the gratuitous standards previously set by Fenech’s bootylicious body of work. Political correctness soon follows credibility out of that window as Magda attempts to change Carlo’s mind with a quick blow job (“You said a mouthful” leers Carlo, while she pleasures him.)

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No Ernesto Gastaldi here, but scripter Massimo Felisatti (who allegedly insisted on Bianchi taking a fictitious co-writing credit so that he could share the blame!) keeps the mechanical plot on track as a series of murders decimates the staff of the appropriately named Agency. Who is the athletic, biker-garbed (though car-travelling) assassin that’s bumping off the agency folks and hacking off their body parts? Well, it sure ain’t Eddie Kidd!

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To find out the truth the viewer must run a grungy gauntlet comprising gory murder and mutilation, incest, casual sauna sex, lesbianism, anal rape played for laughs and a fat, sweaty guy getting it on with his blow up doll… thankfully he leaves his nappy-like pants on for his killer, and there’s abundant and more pleasing exposure from such genre stalwarts as Femi Benussi and Erna Schurer. Plenty there to “get your corpsuckles going”, to paraphrase another of Carlo’s insufferable would-be witticisms.

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The killer’s identity and motivation are wrapped up with a botched abortion (as in Massimo Dallamano’s 1971 effort, What Have You Done To Solange?) but award yourself a couple of bonus points if you anticipated the kinky twist by which the killer has been avenging the surgical death of her sister… who just happened to be her lover, too! (Jaded as I am, even I didn’t see that one coming…)

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Strip Nude is undoubtedly, as promised in the liner notes of an earlier, Blue Underground release: “sleazy, nudity-filled gore a go-go giallo fun… that delivers wave after wave of guilty exploitation pleasure”! Berto Pisano’s cheesy score serves as the perfect accompaniment to what is undoubtedly a great trash treat, if not a great giallo. Just imagine, for example, what Dario Argento could have done with the scene in which Magda is menaced in the darkened photo studio… having said that, Argento did pinch the Strip Nude plot point by which the killer can only do their murderous stuff to the accompaniment of the sound of running water, for his misfiring 1993 stab at the American mainstream, Trauma. SNFYK’s dress code departure, kitting out the culprit in biker leathers, has also exerted a clear influence on Ken Hughes’ crypto giallo and official “video nasty”, Terror Eyes. Admirably encapsulated by another quote from the sleeve of that BU edition, Strip Nude is undoubtedly “ultra trashy fun!”… with knobs on! Indeed, I could have done without the near subliminal (but not quite subliminal enough) glimpses of Castelnuovo’s junk. Was Fenech suffering cash flow problems when she signed on for this one? The indignity of the film’s freeze frame ending (reflecting on the perils of unwanted pregnancy, so graphically spelled out in the preceding 90 minutes, Carlo announces that “it’s better not to take any risks” and, as Fenech struggles, attempts a forceful back door entry!) seems to have made her mind up and hereafter she would appear in no more cinematic gialli (unless you really stretch a point and include Ruggero Deodato’s 1988 “old age creeping up on you” horror effort, Off Balance / Phantom Of Death… but we won’t).

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No Orchids For Marilù… the Shameless Blu-Ray of Umberto Lenzi’s ALMOST HUMAN Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

As well as fascists, ultra-leftists, fascists posing as ultra-leftists and ultra-leftists posing as fascists, Italy’s “years of lead” (the violent ’70s, give-or-take) were stoked by disgruntled southern peasants who’s been drawn to the northern cities by the promise of the Italian “economic miracle”, only to turn to crime after finding the streets paved with shit rather than gold. In one of this disc’s bonus interviews, Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare (original Italian title) director Umberto Lenzi posits another explanation for this chaotic decade, namely that it was French criminals who brought kidnapping, drug dealing, bank robbing, et al, to Italy… an improbable claim but one that also surfaces in Enzo Castellari’s seminal Poliziotteschi effort High Crime aka The Marseilles Connection (1973) and Contraband, Luci Fulci’s late (1980) entry in the cycle, the latter of which panders to a romantic conception of the mafia’s origins as a patriotic opposition to the Napoleonic occupation of Italy. Almost Human (1974) is not a mafia movie (though Lenzi made plenty of those) and its protagonist is not mobbed up, nor is he any kind of a heroic patriot… Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian in top, scenery-chewing form) is part of the aforementioned economic flotsam and jetsam… he’s a snivelling psychopath with a chip on each soldier and a burning desire to strike back at everybody who’s responsible for his personal and social inadequacy, i.e. everybody but himself!

The action starts with Giulio fouling up a bank heist by shooting a cop who merely wanted to write him a parking ticket (his trigger-happiness will be a recurring motif throughout this film.) Beaten up and called “a shit head” by local Mister Big Ugo Majone (Luciano Catenacci) and his boys, Giulio resolves to prove them wrong and join the criminal super league. As explained to impressionable stooges Vittorio (Gino Santercole) and Carmine (a nicely nuanced Ray Lovelock), his master plan includes the kidnapping of Marilù (Laura Belli), the daughter of rich industrialist Porrini (Guido Alberti.) After they’ve pocketed the ransom they’ll kill her anyway to cover their tracks. “Listen, there’s only one thing that matters…”, Giulio insists: “… either you’ve got a load of money and you’re somebody cool, or you haven’t got a place to pee!”

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The kidnap is eventually effected with the connivance of Giulio’s long-suffering girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg)… boy is he punching above his weight here, but Iona’s hung up on this bit of rough and that’s all there is to it. After her boyfriend has been gunned down, Marilù tries to seek refuge in the home of a bourgeois family who are sexually assaulted, strung from the light fittings and machine-gunned for their trouble. Carmine, who had initially experienced cold feet, participates enthusiastically in all this carnage after Giulo has plied him with pills.

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Giulio ties up an irksome loose end by sending Iona’s car to the bottom of Lake Cuomo, with her in it. investigating this rum series of events, Commissario Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) notices that one guy keeps cropping up again and again and finally it clicks that Giulio was the guy taunting him at the scene of a cop stabbing. “I’m interested in this man..” he tells his superior, in a telling turn of phrase that suggests Grandi’s personal affinities with his quarry: “… he’s a psychopath!” Takes one to know one, I guess, but the law requires something more solid than the strong circumstantial case he is building. In the words of the title… “Milan Hates: The Police Aren’t Allowed To Shoot” But we are talking about Henry Silva here…

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Grandi is literally hobbled as the climax to the kidnapping drama plays out. Having shot the ill-fated Marilù and both of his accomplices, Giulio unloads a clip into the Commissario’s leg before disappearing with the ransom money. Later he’s sitting at a sidewalk café in his expensive new threads, sipping “French champagne” and trying to recruit a new crew of dead beats when Grandi, walking with the aid of a stick, turns up and shoots his way through the legalistic Gordian knot. “Call the chief and tell him that ex-detective Grandi just killed a murderer”, Dirty Henry tells a gob smacked copper. Giulio expires, appropriately enough, atop a pile of garbage.

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Producer Luciano Martino’s in-house writer Ernesto Gastaldi (better known as a giallo specialist) penned this hard-hearted effort in accordance with Lenzi’s obvious love for the likes of Mervyn Leroy’s Little Caesar, William Wellman’s Public Enemy (both 1931) and Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932.) Its story owes another obvious debt to No Orchids For Miss Blandish, the 1939 James Hadley Chase novel  filmed under that title by St. John L. Clowes in 1948 and as The Grissom Gang by Robert Aldrich, just three years before Lenzi lensed Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare… he lensed most of it, anyway. The edge-of-your-seat car chases sequence, orchestrated by the legendary Rémy Julienne, has been cut in by the cost conscious Martino from the previous year’s The Violent Proefessionals, directed by his kid brother Sergio. This would be the first of many times that Julienne’s footage got recycled in various crime slime epics… hope he was remunerated every time rather than accepting a flat payment (though I rather doubt it!) All of this kick-ass action is nicely complimented by a downbeat Morricone score with a memorably staccato main theme.

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Of the significant bonus material on this disc, the featurettes Like A Beast… Almost (interviews with Lenzi, Lovelock, Gastaldi and Santercole) and Milian Unleashed (an audience with the film’s charismatic star) will be familiar to anyone who invested in the No Shame DVD release back in the noughties and the latter has already appeared on Shameless’s own DVD release of Almost Human. Pride of place goes to a new Umberto Lenzi interview, in which the grumpy old man of Italian genre cinema is on vintage form. He talks animatedly about how that cinema drew its inspiration from successful American models and – while remaining infra dig with the intelligentsia –  effectively bank rolled the Arthouse efforts of Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, et al. He moans about Kathryn Bigelow pinching his President-masked bank robbers and Sergio Martino stealing his favourite editor (Eugenio Alabiso.) Amusing (sort of) anecdotes include how film noir icon Richard Conte missed the first day of shooting because he died, obliging Lenzi to recruit Silva at short notice in what turned out (with apologies to Conte’s nearest and dearest) to be a masterpiece of serendipitous casting.

Lenzi ‘fesses up re his reputation of being a hard ass with actors but contends that if you don’t impose your will upon them, the shoot is going to hell in hand cart. His memories of working with Milian (on several pictures… he compares the relationship to that between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski) are particularly compelling. Apparently the actor used to drive him mad by improvising while the camera was rolling, though Lenzi is big enough to admit that these unsolicited contributions were sometimes inspired. More alarmingly,  he reveals that Milian’s method acting approach prompted him to hit the pharmaceuticals pretty hard in his attempts to clinch the character of Giulio’s Little Casar. We at The House Of Freudstein are reminded of Laurence Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man (1976)…

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presented in HD, Almost Human looks almost totally marvellous,  though pronounced grain in certain shots (a few obvious second unit cutaways) are the price we have to pay for such technical advances. It’s an imperfect world, made even more so by the recent passing of Tomas Milian. This Shameless release serves as a timely tribute to an enormous talent, showcased in a role that is, even by his less than sedate standards, truly demented.

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Stay tuned to this frequency for further bulletins from our roving Crime Slime reporter…

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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!

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“The Ruthless Logic Of Commercial Production”… THE SERGIO MARTINO INTERVIEW

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Sergio Martino interviewed in March 1997.

Were you surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino was one of your biggest fans?

When I first read his comments in Giallo Pages, yes – but after reflecting a lot on it, I realised that he was paying tribute to myself and also to a whole generation of Italian film-makers who knew, above all, how to improvise,  and use their imaginations to overcome restricted resources and shooting schedules. Tarantino started off in “low budget” cinema himself, so he appreciates only too well what it takes to get good results under these circumstances.

Are you aware of the increasing “cult” status of Italian genre films in America, England and Europe?

Yes, because with increasing frequency I’m hearing from journalists like yourself, who want to interview me about films I’ve made in the past… I hope that in the future I’ll get to make some more that will also be of interest to you!

Me too, but the present state of the Italian film industry isn’t very promising… what is the reason for this? And can you see any remedy?

The present state of Italian genre cinema is, indeed, very sad. The cause of our decline has been the massive economical and technical superiority of Hollywood, which you can only fight with improvisation and imagination for so long. The investment sources that we used to have in Italy have just dried up. If we could get a million and a half dollars to make an action film, then perhaps we would again be able to get the attention of the international market, but there is no Italian producer in a position to risk such a sum. Perhaps the future lies with more European co-productions, though these bring difficulties due to differing languages and national taste.

Have you managed to keep making movies during these last few difficult years?

I’ve been offered opportunities to shoot a few films on which the budgets would have been disgraceful, so instead I’ve been concentrating on making TV series.

I believe that in the early days, you worked as an assistant to the great Mario Bava… how do you remember him, and what did you learn from him?

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I worked on the shoot of Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963) as a production assistant. I remember his technical ability, his expertise in constructing scale models and how skilfully he used lighting and camera positioning to make up for certain deficiencies in the acting department. He had previously worked as a cinematographer, so he knew that a shaft of light or a lower positioning of the camera lower could heighten the dramatic impact of a line. Also, he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and would never shoot anything superfluous. If a film was to last 90 minutes, he would scarcely shoot any more than that.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti and Umberto Lenzi on some of their films…

I have very positive memories of them as two real pros, who had mastered the technical side of film-making.

Your earliest directorial credits were “mondo” efforts such as Mille Peccati… Nessuna Virtu (1969) and America… Cosi’ Nude, Cosa Violenta (1970)… how do your remember those?

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Extraordinary memories. These films allowed me, while very young, to live through unrepeatable experiences… this was the time of the youthful rebellion in 1968, the hippies, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation and the first men on the moon…

You also worked in a genre, which is a descendent of the “mondo” documentaries… cannibal movies: how would you compare and contrast your Mountain Of The Cannibal God with the cannibal pictures of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato?

I saw one of Deodato’s films, though unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. It was made before my Montagne Del Dio Canibale…

That would be L’Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, then…

 … but it was trying for the same sort of ambience. I think Lenzi’s films in this genre  were made after mine, but I must confess that I haven’t seen them. I think that between all of them there was some affinity… once one such film has been successful, the producers obviously want you to come up with something similar.

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Did you, your cast and crew encounter any real dangers in the jungle?

The only problem was the wasps, really. I made Montagne Del Dio Canibale and The Great Alligator in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The most effective jungle scenes were actually shot in the botanical garden of Kandj, in very comfortable circumstances. I remember though, shooting in the cave in Montagne Del Dio Canibale… it was so hot and humid, even more so under the lights. In addition, we’d just had to climb 500 metres up a mountain!

Because she’s such a big star, did you have problems convincing Ursula Andress to have all that crap rubbed all over her?

Ursula had already experienced a lot in life and made other films in the jungle, so she was not worried on that occasion, nor indeed  in the scene with the python, which she insisted I shoot without using a double.

How do you respond to the charge that such films are “racist” or “cruel to animals”?

Racism? This is a first for me, but the things critics come up with never cease to amaze me! As far as I’m concerned, these films were inspired by American adventure cinema of the 4O’s like King Solomon’s Mines, and other American and European adventure cinema. I can understand the “cruelty against animals” charge, but the scene in which the python strangles the monkey, for instance, was shot almost by chance. Admittedly, the monkey was put next to the snake, but it had every opportunity to escape… there was nothing inevitable about it being killed. Anyway, in the jungle the law of life is the law of survival. I don’t believe, moreover, that the makers of all these “respectable” nature documentaries we see on TV just shoot what they find… I think that many of their violent scenes of jungle life are contrived and reconstructed.

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Were you surprised that your brother Luciano put some of your footage from Montagne Del Dio Canibale into Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive?

Not at all – it’s the ruthless logic of commercial production. Would it be more just to shoot another scene of violence to animals? So it seems right to me to re-use the footage, as it suited the purposes of that film so well.

Is it more or less difficult working with a producer who is also your brother?

As with any other situation, there are both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have managed to keep working in a field that is otherwise rather precarious, and I am allowed to make my films with a certain autonomy. The disadvantage is that, I’ve made so many films with my brother that other producers are less inclined to call me for their projects.

How would you define the term “giallo” and assess the Italian thriller’s influence on the thriller genre internationally?

It’s obvious that directors like Romero and De Palma have been influenced by their viewings of Italian gialli. In essence, these are thrillers based not only on the intricacies of uncovering the identity of the culprits, but also on the use – and, at times misuse – of violent imagery. As for myself, the biggest influence on my own gialli has been Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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That influence is very apparent in a film like Your Vice Is A Closed Room… what are your favourite and least favourite of your own entries in this genre?

My least favourite would certainly be Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery, my favourites are All The Colours Of Darkness and – my absolute favourite – the sequence at the end of Torso in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there.

Was Kendall cast as an hommage to her role in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

Suzy Kendall is an excellent actress, and at that time she was very bankable, internationally. The film was shot in English, and her casting was partly motivated by this, though of course the fact that she had been in Argento’s film was also a major factor.

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Do you agree with the assessment that Torso represents a transition from the stylish gialli of the ‘60s and early ‘70s to the brutal “splatter movies” that came later?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t recall the kind of films that were being made at the same time or just afterwards… in fact I followed Torso up with a comedy and two tear-jerkers.

How did you find the experience of working with Carlo Ponti?

It was a very positive experience. There was a great deal of trust between us. I was then a very young director, and not particularly self-confident… it’s fair to say that I became one of his pupils. Unfortunately we only made a few films together… three, and all successful. Soon after this, he had his tax problems, and could not work as a producer in Italy for a long time. A pity from my point of view, but above all for the Italian film business, because he was one of the most intelligent producers we ever had.

What did you think of the alterations that American distributors made to your films, e.g. Joseph Brenner with Torso, the way that All The Colours Of Darkness lost its opening nightmare sequence in America, and the way that more gore was added to Island Of The Fishmen?

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For a long time, I was not even aware of this. I was later told that these changes were made to make the films more appealing to an American audience. It’s not that the distributors found the content of these films below par, just that different audiences are looking for different things.

The theme of female masochism in your The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh echoes that in Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh, which as we mentioned earlier, you worked on…

Possibly so… the films shared the same writer, Ernesto Gastaldi. But the real inspiration for Strange Vice, of course, was the commercial success of Argento’s first film.

What was Nora Orlandi’s inspiration for the haunting theme music to that film?

Nora Orlandi is a woman of great musical sensitivity and passion. I thought it was right to use her because she would be better able to interpret the sensations of the female protagonist.

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Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery and Delitti Privati are both, in their different ways, “TV gialli”. Is the genre suited to this medium?

In a TV series, which runs longer than a feature, it’s more difficult to keep suspicion moving between the various characters… the plot must be much more intricate to hold the viewer’s interest and persuade them to tune in next time. In the case of Delitti Privati, I think we managed this quite well.

Sergio Stivaletti worked on Etruscan Cemetery and other  of your movies… how do you rate this FX man-turned-director?

He’s a young man with a fantastic talent. I think that it’s a good move for him to start directing, and I’m sure that he will be successful.

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Giovanni Lombardo Radice from Etruscan Cemetery told me that he found you a very “cold” director, but later realised that you had made him give one of his best performances… do you have a set way of working with actors?

I think that the rapport between director and actors is determined, above all, by the quality of the story and by adherence to the truth of the characters’ motivations. In genre films the stories are often very mechanical and the characters are moved not by true reactions to the situation, but by the necessities of moving the story along. For example – why, in giallo films, do so many beautiful and vulnerable girls sleep alone in sinister, isolated  castles instead of comfortable and secure hotels in the towns nearby? Because otherwise, it would not be possible to generate any suspense. The characters are motivated by the will of the writer and the director. In this respect it is difficult to communicate to the actors how they should be interpreting their roles, when it’s mainly a matter of mechanics. Perhaps my “cold attitude” towards actors in certain films was determined a little by my own natural timidity, but also from my awareness of the limitations on creative possibilities in these circumstances, where all you want from them is a routine “fearful” expression, or whatever. If Lombardo Radice believes that this brought out the best in him as an actor, so much the better.

Was it important for you to keep a regular cast (e.g. Edwige Fenech, George Hilton) from picture to picture?

It produced a great sense of camaraderie among us, which probably helped everybody to give their best to the production.

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What are your memories of working with Fenech?

Very agreeable and positive. I hope to work with her again in the future.

What did you think of her appearances in gialli made by other directors, like Giuliano Carnimeo and Andrea Bianchi?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge the work of my colleagues, in the giallo field or elsewhere. I will say though that these are excellent professionals, who have worked well in most genres, not just the giallo.

Do you think Fenech is better as a giallo ingenue, or a comedienne?

Her sunny face and Mediterranean beauty inclines me to think she’s more suitable for comedy. On the other hand, Delitti Privati demonstrates just how well she can do in a dramatic role.

Any memories of Barbara Bouchet?

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Another actress with a great comic talent. I think it’s a real pity that she doesn’t seem able to get roles in the cinema and on TV these days. She works mainly in the theatre, now…

Presumably you used international actors like Marty Feldman, for example, in Sex with A Smile, in an attempt to make the Italian comedy a less domestic affair and more saleable abroad?

Yes, obviously. Marty Feldman in particular was a great comic. In fact, at this time Italian comedies did have a certain amount of international success, and actors like Buzzanca and La Fenech became quite marketable.

Your cop films – like Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia (The Violent Professionals) with Luc Merenda – were criticised for being “fascistic”…

I remember that in Italy at the start of the seventies there were moves in  parliament to disarm the police, and sociologists were arguing against putting people in prison. But the man in the street wanted strong, decisive action against crime. All the cop films of the time had this same theme, like the American films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson – are they, then, “fascistic”?

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In 2019: After The Fall Of New York, you tried to put a new slant on the hackneyed “after The Bomb” scenario, with Wagnerian allusions, and so on…

To be honest, although the Wagnerian tone is a suggestion that pleases me, I’m not sure how intentional it was.

Well, you’ve got a character named “Parsifal” in there, for starters… what are your memories of the Westerns you made?

Arizona Si Scateno was my first non-documentary film. I remember with nostalgia how green I was in those days. I think that with Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) I made a good film with some beautiful sequences, though it came a little too late in the great “spaghetti western” cycle.

Can you tell us something about Claudio Cassinelli’s tragic death during Vendetta Del Futuro (Hands Of Steel)?

More than ten years later, it still feels like an iron in my soul! Claudio was one of my dearest friends, a sensitive and gentle person. The circumstances of his death were really absurd… I don’t want to go over it all again, because no amount of that will bring poor Claudio back. I prefer to cherish the beautiful, personal memories I have of him.

What can you tell us about your 1993 film Craving Desire, with Serena Grandi?

It’s a film that I was able to make after the TV success of Delitti Privati. Serena did play a part in that film, though the star was Vittoria Belvedere. Serena had already played some small roles for me at the beginning of her career, so I knew very well how good she was.

Has Queen Of The Fishmen been completed yet? Is Edwige Fenech in it, as announced?

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The film was shown, with some success, at the Cairo Film Festival in 1996. It’s a kind of fairytale that uses repertory footage from Island Of The Fishmen and 2019.  La Fenech did not appear in the film, because at the last moment she decided that she couldn’t face wearing a heavy costume in the equatorial climate that we would be shooting in.

Why do you use two American-sounding pseudonyms (“Martin Dolman” and “Christian Plummer”) instead of the customary one?

The name “Plummer” was used only for the abridged version of Etruscan Cemetery, the feature that we “salvaged” from the TV series. At this time there were so many films by “Martin Dolman” on the market, we thought that another pseudonym was in order, so as not to devalue the name.

Any future projects that we should be anticipating?

Some TV projects, then another “giallo” serial.

Sergio Martino, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

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In Memoriam, Luciano Martino (22.12.33 – 14.08.13)

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

Who Dies In A House Like This? YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 18.

Perhaps more than those of any other director, Sergio Martino’s gialli have covered a diverse range of styles and approaches. 1972’s Your Vice Is A Locked Door And Only I Have The Key (fair trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?) emerges as something of a chamber piece (perhaps big brother Luciano, Sergio’s producer, was feeling the need to trim the budgets a bit at this point) borrowing its story template from the much misadapted Poe yarn, The Black Cat and grafting on elements of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955.)

That florid handle quotes one of Ivan Rassimov’s endearments to Edwige Fenech inMartino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971.) Whether viewed under that title or alternatives including Excite Me or Gently Before She Dies, Martino has seasoned his malevolent moggy mischief with more than a pinch of melodrama, recasting Poe’s gothic fragment as a superbitch showdown between Fenech (as Floriana, sporting a shorter hair style than we are accustomed to) and the Titian haired Anita Strindberg as neurotic Irene, holed up in a Padovan country villa with the latter’s drunken husband Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), a dissipated, mother fixated writer suffering terminal block. For once Fenech plays not the wide-eyed ingenue, rather “a loud-mouthed little ball breaker” (“Finally I got my moment of wickedness”, she remembers), an appropriately feline predator who arrives in that ironic Snow White bob to stir the final drops of poison into Pistilli and Strindberg’s already severely dysfunctional diptych. Careful, Edwige… Strindberg could probably cut your throat with those cheek bones!

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The picture opens with Oliviero humiliating Irene at a swinging party for trailer trash hippies where Dalila Di Lazzaro (in her alleged screen debut) drops her pants and starts dancing on a table.

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Jeez, it’s donkey’s years since I was invited to a party at which Dalila Di Lazzaro danced naked on a table… anyway, two of his jailbait girlfriends are subsequently murdered with a scythe. Oliviero proclaims his innocence to Irene but, paranoid that he will be fitted up by the police, he persuades her to help him wall up the evidence in their wine cellar. It’s at this most inconvenient juncture that Floriana invites herself to stay with them. Lecherous Oliviero is delighted at the way his “snotty little bitch” of a niece has grown up and she’s soon bedding both of them, with the milkman thrown in for good measure! Irene sensitively confides in her that Oliviero is “sexually retarded and afraid of impotence” (ooh, catty!) Meanwhile “Walter” (Ivan Rassimov, still going through his peroxide period) lurks menacingly in the shadows… if only they’d awarded Oscars for lurking menacingly, Ivan would have collected a shelf load. Elsewhere a prostitute becomes the latest scythe victim before the assassin (a completely unknown character) is himself killed.

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Irene hates Pistilli’s cat Satan and when it savages her doves, she carves its eye out with a pair of scissors. Nice. Later she’s grossed out by a delivery of sheep’s eyes for pussy’s dinner (hmm, Sheep’s Eyes For Satan… that’s not a bad title for a giallo, actually!) Stalked by the moggy she maimed, goaded on by Floriana, then discovering Oliviero’s endlessly retyped intention to bump her off and wall her up, she cracks and grabs those scissors again… it would be unfair to spell out the murderous final steps of this dance macabre, suffice to say that if you’ve ever read Poe‘s Black Cat or sat though one of its innumerable Italian (or other) screen adaptations, you won’t need telling how the crimes of the last surviving baddy are ultimately brought to light.

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At this point it’s customary to invoke the “(Film X) has never looked better” cliché and that is certainly the case with this 2K restoration of YVIALRAOIHTK, which showcases the subtlety of DP Giancarlo Ferrando’s palate in admirable fashion, reminiscent of how beautifully Arrow served Luigi Kuveiller’s work on their recent 4K restoration of Argento’s Deep Red. Nor has Bruno Nicolai’s OST ever sounded better, whether you’re listening to the original English or Italian soundtracks in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio.

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“What about bonus materials?”, I hear you ask (must get these walls insulated!) Unveiling The Vice, in which Martino, Fenech and co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi look back on Your Vice, will be familiar to anybody who’s seen the No Shame DVD release from several years ago. In it, Fenech recalls her own and Strindberg’s embarrassment about the lesbian scenes and waxes nostalgic about the enormous onion omelettes she was fed on set. Tasty stuff. Through The Keyhole is a new interview with the director, who’s on charming and engaging form as usual. He talks about how the film’s title originated from audience response to that Rassimov line in Mrs Wardh (“We thought it would be a captivating title, full of depraved innuendos”) and talks of the “inspiration” he took from the real life Fenaroli murder case of 1958, a notorious insurance scam. Martino expresses amazement at the level of fannish activity devoted to him on social media, where he believes that he is over praised, while conceding that when his films were released contemporary critics significantly underrated them. When he’s reminiscing about collaborators (including the ill-starred  Pistilli) we learn interesting stuff about the discovery of Fenech and how her face and figure went against the grain of what he wanted in a giallo heroine, only for him to be persuaded otherwise by her acting talent.

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Arrow are really pushing these “visual essays” and here you get not one but two of them. Michael Mackenzie’s Dolls Of Flesh And Blood: The Gialli Of Sergio Martino opens with the suggestion that Martino be recognised as a peer of the “big three” giallo directors, Bava, Argento and Fulci, though I’d have thought most genre buffs have long accepted him as a member of an actual “big four.” Mackenzie works hard trying to flog his “M-gialli vs F-gialli” thesis and there’s some impressive deployment of split screen techniques whereby the action from as many as four films is unfolding simultaneously to illustrate whatever point he’s making. In his The Strange Vices Of Ms Fenech, Justin Harries alternates such academic observations as “Sartre viewed through an exploitation lens…” with barely concealed lusting after the focus of his dissertation. Well, who can blame him? The accompanying cavalcade of clips and cheese cake shots is very predictable but none the less welcome for that… slightly less welcome is the innovation of Mr Harries hogging centre stage, mugging and gesticulating for much of the time that they’re playing out. No slight intended against Justin’s photogenic credentials, I’m just not sure that we want anyone – however finely chiseled – interrupting our view of Fenech. He does admittedly fill in some interesting biographical minutia for our girl while he’s at it, too.

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Eli Roth also gets to wax enthusiastic about Martino without really telling you anything that you didn’t already know. He drops a clanger of misattribution but redeems himself at the end with an amusing personal anecdote.

There’s no booklet, all the written stuff all having been reserved for the expensive Arrow box which teamed this title with Fulci’s The Black Cat. The reversible sleeve features classic YVIALRAOIHTK artwork and a newly commissioned artwork by Mathew Griffin… dunno about you guys but I always tend to go classic.

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The Sergio Martino Weekender concludes tomorrow evening, with… The Sergio Martino Interview!

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Edwige Fenech Gives Mutant Nazi Sex Midget The Boner Of The Year… SEX WITH A SMILE Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Skyline. Unrated.

Justly feted as one of the masters of giallo (see reviews of The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Torso elsewhere on this site) Sergio Martino was also a nimble genre jumper, diving fearlessly and  proficiently (as was required from any journeyman director of his generation) into several other filoni. The “Sexy-Comedy” proved a particularly fertile furrow for his plough and his favoured giallo ingenue Edwige Fenech doubled, of course, as the Queen of Sexy-Comedy. Her only serious rival in both genres, Barbara Bouchet, shares prominent billing (though no scenes) with her in this 1976 portmanteau effort, Martino’s take on Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). It seems fitting to kick off our Martino weekender with a look at Sex With A Smile (aka 40 Gradi All’Ombra Del Lenzuolo), as this prolific field of spaghetti endeavour has so far received pretty short shrift here at The House Of Freudstein… and perhaps we’re about to find out why.

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The title of the first episode, One For The Money, actually short changes Enrico Montesano, who manages to seduce the glacially beautiful Barbara Bouchet on three separate occasions in return for money which… well, I’ll leave you to discover the twist for yourself if you’re not already familiar with it. Suffice to say, this is a well constructed little piece of ribaldry, probably the best segment of the picture. Which means, of course, that everything goes downhill a bit, thereafter. Marty Feldman and Dayle (Spermula) Haddon star as The Bodyguard and his client, the latter finding her love life thwarted by Marty’s tendency to see kidnap plots everywhere. Feldman was cast to enhance the international box office appeal of SWAS but for me he’s the most irritating thing in a film that’s chock full of “broad” performances. I’ve enjoyed him in plenty of other things but his lame attempts to do Buster Keaton here come across more like Buster Cretin. In Catch It While It’s Hot Alberto Lionello is a chauffeur being mercilessly prick teased by his aristocratic mistress Giovanna Ralli, a situation which resolves itself in another entertaining if not exactly unguessable twist.

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In Dream Girl, Edwige Fenech is the town hottie driving the horny locals crazy (“She’s giving me the boner of the year!” drools Salvatore Baccaro), none more so than Tomas Milian, nebbishly cast against type as the schmendrick getting completely lost in his nerdy daydreams about her. When he phones his fantasies in to the divine Edwige she starts getting hot pants herself, coming over all twitchy while watching a Dracula movie whose lighting is highly suggestive of that on Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963), in which Christopher Lee starred and Martino served as assistant director. The ultimate, accidental beneficiary of her stoked libido, however, turns out to be Baccarro. Yes – spoiler alerts be damned – “Sal Boris”, the mutant Nazi sex midget from Luigi Batzella’s “video nasty” The Beast In Heat enjoys carnal knowledge of Edwige Fenech… there’s hope for all of us!

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This instalment might have made a good closer but regrettably Martino opts to wind things up with a mutt of an episode entitled A Dog’s Day in which Aldo Maccione saves dotty Sydne Rome from suicide and seems set for a carnal reward, only to fall foul of her protective Alsatian… the same one from Suspiria? Or is it Dicky himself from The Beyond? Buggered if I know…

Italian comedy travels about as well as Gorgonzola and my Skyline video of Sex With A Smile, having sat gathering dust on the shelf for some decades now, doesn’t look that fresh either. I have to admit, I just don’t get the “Comedy” component of “Sexy-Comedy”… which is fine, as I’m sure your average Italian hipster would similarly struggle to get any chuckles out of Keith Lemon (and why wouldn’t they? That guy is about as funny as popping a hemorrhoid!) As for the “Sexy” bit.. well, we’re talking international language here. Martino’s celebration of the physical charms of Haddon, Rome and Ralli requires little explanation, though it might need justification in some politically correct quarters. As for the naked vistas he affords us of Bouchet (impressive) and Fenech (quite jaw dropping)… forget about it!

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Skyline Video found themselves dragged into the whole “video nasties” brouhaha when they released Ruggero Deodato’s sexually violent essay in crude class struggle, House On The Edge Of The Park. Although that one has now been released (albeit with cuts) on DVD by Shameless, I suspect that this Martino effort would struggle to get certified today, cutting perilously close to depicting, as it does in at least three of its episodes, women who mean Yes when they say No and rape as suitable subject matter for comedy. Nothing remotely funny about that, Sergio. Different times, different mores as several UK radio DJs could no doubt have told you…

The Sergio Martino Weekender continues tomorrow evening, with all eyes on Edwige Fenech…

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“Stupid Dolls Of Flesh And Blood”… Sergio Martino’s TORSO Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

Faced with the problem of replacing talismanic female lead Edwige Fenech (who was probably knocking out a sexy comedy or two at the time) for 1973’s I Corpi Presentano Tracce Di Violenza Carnale (“The Corpses Show Traces Of Carnal Violence”), Martino made a virtue of necessity by casting Derbyshire dolly bird Suzy Kendall, who had become something of a giallo icon herself since starring in Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Here Martino and stalwart scripture Ernesto Gastaldi cut back on the frenetic over-plotting and globe-trotting of their previous collaborations to render their most Argentoesque effort yet… stylishly shot yet boiled down to its brutal, basic ingredients, this is something like the quintessential giallo. Distributed, retitled (as “Torso”)  and marginally recut by Joseph Brenner for the American grindhouse circuit, the film’s pared down focus on psychosexual violence twitched the death nerves of American film goers who were about to embrace Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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Much has been made of the connection between gialli and the subsequent American slasher cycle… by reducing things to a simple-minded body count mechanism and concentrating on predominantly attractive, sexually active female victims, Torso probably deserves as much credit (if that’s the appropriate word) for this cultural exchange as Bava’s Bay Of Blood (1971), whose plot is more easily recognisable in the first couple of Friday The 13th movies.

After a kinky photo shoot involving doll mutilation (?) has played out under the titles, we are introduced to Kendall’s character Jane. She’s studying Renaissance Art at Perugia University, whose student body for the Academic Year 1973-4 seems to consist exclusively of refugees from America’s Next Top Model. Before they’ve learned to distinguish their Perugino from their pudenda, however, the girls start getting strangled and carved up by a balaclava clad assassin. Cristina / Conchita Airoldi (as Carol) is offed in even more memorable style than she was in Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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After a pot-fuelled heavy petting session with two hippies turns sour (as is so often the case), she wanders off into the foggy woods (like you invariably do on such occasions) and ends up strangled, stabbed and drowned in a muddy swamp. Sex and drugs, then killed in a forest? You couldn’t have a clearer template for the stalk’n’slash cycles “have sex and die!” rule. Brenner astutely recognised the significance of this death scene, bumping it up in the running order so it plays under the film’s titles, to the accompaniment of a howling fuzz guitar riff (imported from Bruno Nicolai’s score for the Leon Klimovsky flick, Night Of The Walking Dead.)

The only lead the police have is the killer’s preference for red and black scarves as strangulation aids. Martino manages a little in-joke by casting Ernesto Colli (one of the several assassins in Mrs Wardh) as the campus scarf vendor who attempts to blackmail the killer, only to be squashed under the latter’s car (after all, “death is the best keeper of secrets…”) Meanwhile sweet Danni (Tina Aumont), in best Bird With The Crystal Plumage style, is struggling to recall the half-glimpsed clue that’s tormenting her… did she see her obsessive wannabe boyfriend wearing a black on red patterned scarf or a red on black patterned scarf at the time of the first killing? Her uncle Nino is quite sure of one thing… that Danni and her sexy pals should try and take their minds off things by spending a weekend at his remote, cliff-side manner in the country. Uh-oh…

The lecherous villagers are suitably impressed when all this tantalising totty rolls up. Sample comment: ” “Cor… look at all those knockers!” (Yeah Einstein, two per girl… though admittedly that might change when – to paraphrase the marketing for Shameless’s DVD release – “the whores meet the saws!”) Katia (Angela Corvello) and Ursula (Carla Brait from Giulio Carnimeo’s Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?, 1972) are having a hot and heavy lesbian fling so it’s no surprise when they go the way of all sinful flesh, where they’re soon joined by Danni.

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Because Jane arrived separately and retired to bed early with a sprained ankle, the maniac is initially oblivious to her as she eaves-drops, horrified, on the sawing up of her pals into handily disposable portions of sexy student. The killer boasts an impressive array of cutting tools, but it’s not clear whether his armoury includes a strange vice (yuk, yuk!) Our anguished heroine impotently watches the townspeople below and tries to alert them to her predicament by reflecting the sun off a mirror, but no dice. All she manages to do is reveal her presence to the killer, after which she spends about half an hour playing hide and seek around the house’s ornate fittings and among the butchered remnants of her pals… a fetishistic expansion of one brief, tense scene in Bird With The Crystal Plumage where the killer lays siege to Kendall’s apartment… yep, she’s in a locked room and only a psychotic maniac has the key! All the windows are (in)conveniently barred against burglars… cue the “through the keyhole” shots that Martino so obviously loved in BWTCP and with which he litters all of his gialli.

But who is the killer? No giallo epic would be complete without the expected massed ranks of suspects. Doctor Roberto (crime-slime mainstay Luc Meranda) spends a lot of time loitering menacingly for no apparent reason… art lecturer Professor Franz (John Richardson, who’s been gracing spaghetti exploitation flicks since Bava’s Black Sunday in 1960) seems unnecessarily obsessed with the correct way to depict the gory martyrdom of Saint Sebastian… brooding student Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) has been stalking Daniela and attempts to throttle a prostitute who laughs when he fails to rise to the occasion…

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… even kindly Uncle Nino (Carlo Alighiero) is an incestuously inclined voyeur… and maybe we should be worrying about the peeping tom milkman (“Ernie”, by any chance?) who seems to have emigrated from the set of one of Martino’s “sexy comedies”. Just about all of these guys seem to sport one of those racy little red / black neckerchiefs, too …

All is finally resolved with the mandatory ludicrous psychosexual revelation… “I killed them because they were dolls… just stupid dolls of flesh and blood!’ howls the culprit (calm down, calm down!), flashing back to the unfortunate (and hilariously rendered) childhood incident in which his kid brother went arse over tit off a cliff after a game of doctor’s and nurses went horribly wrong. Incidentally, the final confrontation between the characters who turn out to be killer and hero respectively is a full-on punch-up that wouldn’t be out of place at kicking-out time in a Glasgow hostelry and very much suggests the influence of the contemporary kung fu craze. When I interviewed Martino he declared his “absolute favourite moment” from all his films to be “the sequence at the end of Torso, in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there”… not half, matey! Edwige Fenech… who needs her?

The Shameless edition of Torso undoes Brenner’s revisions and restores footage that was never dubbed for English language releases. You can stand a few subtitles, can’t you? If not, I’ll be round with me hacksaw…

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Who you calling a stupid doll? You’ve got a fucking sock on your head!

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Heart Of Glass… THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

Un altro giorno, un altro giallo here at The House Of Freudstein…

In 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage emerged as an unexpected international crossover hit, single handedly inspiring nothing short of a renaissance for the giallo genre coined by Mario Bava in 1963 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much / The Evil Eye. Luciano Martino was just one of the many film makers looking to cash in the revitalised killing-by-numbers craze. He had already produced Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah in 1968 and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet, So Perverse the following year but liked the idea of bringing in similar films on a lower budget, employing home grown talent.

He didn’t have to look too far, finding exactly the kind of ambitious young director he needed in kid brother Sergio; the choice of an alluring leading lady was a similar no-brainer, i.e. his current squeeze, Edwige Fenech, with whom Sergio had already shot additional footage to fill out Hans Schott-Schöbinger’s The Sins Of Madame Bovary (1969); and scripting duties fell to the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who had previously penned the above-mentioned Carroll Baker vehicles for Luciano among giallo credits including Elio Scardamaglia’s The Murder Clinic (1966) and Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970). Gastaldi had also directed one of the early gialli, 1965’s Libido, himself. The feature on which Luciano teamed them – The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) – pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s smash hit and shows that Sergio wasn’t sleepwalking through his stint as second unit director on Bava’s 1963 epic of sadomasochism beyond the grave, The Whip and the Body (1963).

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The film’s opening intercuts a fatal razor attack on a prostitute with the arrival of the plane that is bringing the Wardhs to Vienna, greeted by a quotation from one of that city’s most famous denizens, Sigmund Freud, concerning the potential killer inside all of us. Fenech plays the eponymous Julie Wardh (the “h” at end of her surname allegedly intended to forestall any libel proceedings from aggrieved Mrs Wards!), the neglected, bored wife of a workaholic diplomat (Alberto De Mendoza.) She is simultaneously stimulated and troubled by salacious memories of her full-on sado-masochistic entanglement with brooding Jean (old Tartar cheek-bones himself, Ivan Rassimov.) Their idea of fun, as revealed in sensuous slow motion flashbacks to the accompaniment of a Nora Orlandi theme that can only be described as sacramental, included him beating her in a muddy field (shades of Bunuel’s Belle De Jour, 1967) and – don’t try this at home, kiddies! – bonking her on a bed of broken glass. Eat yer heart out, 50 Shades Of Grey…

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Nor does the life of a neglected ambassador’s wife seem anything like as dull as we are expected to believe, including as it does wild embassy parties where drunken floozies rip each other’s dresses off, prior to one of them being bloodily dispatched in a Hitchcockesque shower sequence (“Another girl slashed to death?” remarks Julie’s cynical friend Carol: “We should be grateful that he’s eliminating all the competiton!”) Julie is horrified to discover Jean popping up among the ferrero rocher at one such bash but not sufficiently horrified to resist a) succumbing to his erotic menace and b) striking up yet another affair, with smoothie antipodean inheritance chaser George (George Hilton.) When somebody starts blackmailing Mrs W about her various extra-marital liaisons, the worldly Carol (Cristina Airoldi) becomes convinced that Jean is playing his old head games with her, and agrees to meet him in a park on Fenech’s behalf… only to get sliced up a treat (I wonder how grateful she was for that!) In mortal fear that Jean has lost it completely, Julie abandons her hubby and absconds to Spain with George (many of Martino’s gialli feature a lot of jet-setting, reflecting their status as international co-productions aspiring to success in as many territories as possible.) No prizes for guessing that there are several more twists to come…

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Martino confesses readily to the influence that Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) exerted over TSVOMW (and what about Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, 1951?) but has been ambivalent about The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, even seeming to claim half-heartedly at one time that his picture actually preceded the Argento biggie. His characteristic deployment of hand held camera conveys a sense of urgency, plunging the viewer into the thick of the carnage and his restrained use of zoom underscores dramatic moments without descending into Franco-esque overuse, all of this in sharp contrast to Argento’s signature use of steadicam. But there’s no doubt where those “through the keyhole” POV shots, which Martino would repeat through just about all of his subsequent gialli, came from. To be fair, Argento himself seems to have been influenced by the scene of Airoldi’s death, restaging it pretty faithfully for Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971.) Martino’s diplomatic comment on this is that both scenes owe a lot to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966.) Argento inarguably pinched one of TSVOMW’s central plot devices, by which a calculating, opportunistic killer takes advantage of a genuinely deranged individual’s murder rampage to deflect suspicion from himself (“I told you, the best time to kill anyone is when a homicidal maniac is on the loose!”) for Tenebrae (1982.) In fact if anything he tones it down because in Martino’s flick, at any one time there are no less than four killers operating with dovetailing motivations, no less than three of whom are out to get Fenech. Yep, there are nearly as many killers as red herrings… Looks like Freud wasn’t just blowing cigar smoke up our asses with that opening quote!

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This handsome “Shameless fan edition” is beautiful remastered in 16:9 anamorphic wide screen and comes with an all-new Sergio Martino interview and Introduction plus fact track and visual essay by Justin Harries, Fenech bio and trailers for other Shameless releases.

Fenech has made the mind-boggling observation that she doesn’t remember TSVOMW having any particularly erotic overtones. Strange, indeed… eroticism is undoubtedly, if not in the jap’s eye of the beholder, a subjective business, but the frequent showers that Edwige takes herein, be they in hot water or crystal cascades of broken glass (while mounting a persuasive portrayal of a woman in the throes of sexual ecstasy) certainly registered with this scribe and commenced the honourable tradition of her endless ablutions (by which Fenech became the most fragrant and freshly scrubbed actress in cinema history.) Martino states in the bonus interview that such scenes were easier to get past the Italian censor than love-making ones and that he often shot the latter specifically to provide the censors with their pound of flesh for extraction, leaving intact the scenes which he considered more important. He even declares himself disappointed that Fenech’s bonking scenes have been restored to DVD editions of his films. You won’t be.

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