Posts Tagged With: Severin

“Spirits Of The Vilest Roman Emperors”… Jess Franco’s SADIST OF NOTRE DAME and SINFONIA EROTICA On Severin BD.

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Director / star Jess Franco ponders a knotty moral issue in The Sadist Of Notre Dame…

The Sadist Of Notre Dame. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Sinfonia Erotica. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

During the darkest days of “video nasty” witch-hunting, I was often required to debate the subject on TV chat shows (Kilroy… John Stapleton… Right To Reply… I’ve done ’em all) which pitted me, on more than one occasion, against a certain holy-rolling side-kick of the dreaded Mary Whitehouse. During one such exchange I pointed out to her that significantly more serial killers claimed inspiration for their misdeeds from The Bible (it’s usually The Book Of Revelation) than from horror films. “Oh, that old cliché!” she blustered. “That’s a mealy-mouthed way of admitting that it’s a fact!” I shouted at her, as the mic was yanked away from me and pointed at another concerned worthy.

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Jess Franco’s The Sadist Of Notre Dame (1979) follows the murderous career of precisely one such bible-bashing nutcase, in the slabbering shape of… Jess Franco! Yes, this is Franco’s A Cat In The Brain, though actually preceding that notorious cinematic car crash by 11 years. While Lucio Fulci’s flick faces few serious contenders in the “unintentional comedy” stakes, TSOND is undeniably a much better film. Stick a frame around that last sentence because I’m not going to be making a habit of comparing Lucio Fulci unfavourably to Franco. As well as starring their own directors, both titles incorporate large chunks of films each had already made, though Sadist is content to raids Franco’s Exorcism (1974) in contrast with the several films Fulci cannibalised for A Cat In The Brain, some of them not even directed by him in the first place.

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Exorcism stars JF as the disturbed Mathis Vogel, who mistakes the Grand Guignol performance of a Satanic mass for the real thing and is moved to avenge its “victims” by killing the performers. The rise of legal porno cinema rendered this kind of picture pretty much redundant at the time and Exorcism went largely unreleased. Parisian producers Eurocine tried to recoup some of their losses by enlisting Franco to shoot hard-core scenes (in which he enthusiastically participated) to be added to 25 minutes of the original footage and released as Sexorcismes. Franco’s original footage was also reworked, without the benefit of porno material, as Exorcism And Black Masses… none of this to any significant commercial success. Exorcism and Sadist (sometimes “Ripper”) Of Notre Dame have both been released as “Demoniac” (Redemption attempted to release the Sadist variant… I think… under that title on VHS in the UK during the 90’s, kicking off a real shit storm. Black House Films have now released a UK blu-ray of Demoniac, though I haven’t seen it and can’t vouch for its contents). Still with me?

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By 1979 Franco and his new muse Lina Romay had returned to Spain, after years of exile, to take advantage of the rapid liberalisation that followed the death of our hero’s namesake, the Generalissimo. Still trying to retrieve something from the Exorcism debacle, Eurocine (in co-production cahoots with Spanish company Triton) requested another reworking of its footage, which Franco saw as the ideal opportunity to vent his fury at Catholic hypocrisy, now that he was free to express himself freely on this and any other subject that took his fancy.

The Sadist Of Notre Dame begins with new footage in which the Vogel character (still played by Franco but now named Mathis Laforge) is incarcerated among a bunch of winos and deadbeats in a Swiss Sanitorium. Escaping in (appropriately enough) a garbage compactor, he arrives in Paris and naturally enough, for a defrocked cleric, he gravitates towards the eponymous cathedral, stabbing to death the first prostitute who fastens onto him (“The Court of The High Inquisition sentences you to death!”) before extending his range to the killing of women who arouse his libido by indulging in such sinful activities as… (ulp!)… disco dancing!

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Not wishing to hide his light under a bushel, Laforge pens a fictionalised account of his murderous moral crusade (entitled “The Return Of The Grand Inquisitor”) and visits the offices of Venus Editions to see if editor Pierre De Franval (Pierre Taylou) will publish it in his flagship quasi-literary bongo mag The Dagger In The Garter (“We specialise in erotic bondage drama stories…”) Having been fobbed off, Laforge is leaving the office when he overhears De Franval and his secretary Anne (Romay) mocking him… more significantly, he learns that she and her flat mate Maria (Monica Swinn) are organising a sex show and orgy at a deconsecrated church for a couple of kinky aristocrats and their swinging pals, news which stokes Laforge’s self-righteous ire and reconnects us with the original  narrative of Exorcism and its tragic conclusion.

The protagonist’s interrogation of his victims, his tormented self-interrogations and his confessional exchanges with former seminary class-mate Relmo (Antonio De Cabot), now an officiating prelate at the Cathedral, make for a more bleakly compelling experience than Fulci wandering around muttering about Nazism and sadism, although TSOND does have its moments of unintentional comedy, e.g. the aforementioned and seemingly endless disco dancing sequence and the one in which some old Count (Claude Sendron) gets his masochistic rocks off as one of Anne’s pals walks all over him. I’m sure he’s having the time of his life but such pursuits, however ardently enjoyed, invariably come across as ridiculous to non-participating observers and are consequently best kept private, a point underlined by another scene of pale, flabby individuals involved in a half-hearted daisy chain.

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Severin have done the usual stalwart job with this 4k scan of the best available elements, discovered (I always love this bit) “in the crawlspace of a Montparnasse nunnery” and the bonus materials won’t disappoint, either. There’s a short interview with the doyen of French B-movie critics Alain Petit… a mini video essay from Robert Monell, curator of the inimitably named “I’m in a Jess Franco State Of Mind” blog… and who better than Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions and The Flowers Of Perversion) on familiar passionate, informative and insightful form, to talk us through the labyrinth of alternative versions and discuss whether TSOND is a variation on Exorcism or a new film in its own right? Best of all though is the eye-opening, fly-opening featurette The Gory Days Of Le Brady, covering that legendary sleaze cinema (pictured below) and its neighbours in the Parisian equivalent of New York City’s The Deuce. Sample quote: “If you slipped on some sperm and fell over, everybody would just laugh”. A word of advice, dear readers… such floor deposits will probably be frowned upon down at your local multiplex.

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Meanwhile, “transferred in 4k from an uncut 35mm print donated by The Institutuo De La Sexualidad Humana in Madrid” (sure thing, boys), Severin present Franco’s Sinfonia Erotica (1980). If Sadist Of Notre Dame was a somewhat misleading title for a film whose title character agonises over his killings rather than wallowing in them and in which the naming of another character as De Franval is nothing more than a throwaway, Sinfonia Erotica is authentically one of Franco’s many muted adaptations of “the divine Marquis” (Thrower concedes in one of the extras on this disc that any truly faithful adaptation of De Sade’s literary excesses would be unreleasable in any market), specifically an amplification of the De Bressac interlude from Justine Or The Misfortunes Of Virtue.

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Is it just me or does the bottom of that engraving resemble a VHS tape?

Martine De Bressac (Romay, hiding behind her Candice Costa alias) is driven back to her family estate by Doctor Louys (Albino Graziani) after her husband’s libertine antics have driven her to a nervous breakdown. What she discovers on her return is hardly conducive to recuperation. Her husband the Marquis (Armando Borges) is embroiled in a gay affair with a dissolute young nobleman named Flor (Mel Rodrigo). As if this wasn’t sufficient complication, on the very day she returns, the runaway nun Norma (Susan Hemingway) is discovered unconscious on their grounds, apparently having been raped.

Under threat of return to the hated convent, Norma reluctantly agrees to join the Marquis and Flor in their bed, also in a plot to drive Martine completely insane and murder her. Amid the expected soft core bonkathon (including, uniquely in Franco’s filmography, man-on-man action) sub-plots (in every sense of the term) emerge and it becomes a, er, toss-up as to who’ll do away with whom first. Perversely, the more Martine learns of the Marquis’ murderous intentions towards her, the hotter she seems to get for him (spending much of the film frantically masturbating) and when (SPOILER ALERT!) she emerges as the only survivor of the menage a quatre, it  transpires that this is the culmination of a vengeful masterplan by Doctor Louys, rather than the fulfilment of her own desires. Like Norma, she’s escaped from the frying pan only to find herself in the patriarchal fire.

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Franco delivers this perhaps unexpected feminist message with a thoroughly characteristic disregard for the rules of “well made cinema”, to the strains of Franz Liszt, to boot. My recent reviews of the prolific director’s films have increasingly featured a line to the effect that “this is one of his more watchable efforts”… but have I been lucky enough to keep getting progressively “more watchable” Franco flicks? Or is true, as is often asserted (“You can’t say you’ve really watched any Franco film until you’ve watched all of them”, in the formulation of Tim Lucas) that you more you watch, the more you get it?

Again, Severin have effected the best looking version of Sinfonia Erotica that’s currently possible. Special features include another excerpt from the long last interview session that JF ever gave (to Sev’s David Gregory), featuring his reflections on his doomed relationship with first wife Nicole Guettard, plus another audience with Stephen Thrower, who traces the development of Franco’s De Sade obsession through the course of his career. I’ve never made any secret of my long-running Franco-scepticism and he’s never going to supplant Fulci  in my heart, but Thrower’s thoughtful commentaries and a succession of excellent Severin releases are, slowly but surely, converting me to the cause.

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Black Emanuelle Goes Beyond The Pail And Off The Bristol Chart… VIOLENCE IN A WOMAN’S PRISON on Severin BD

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

In an archive micro interview among the extras on this characteristically cracking Severin release, director Bruno Mattei offers the profound observation that “Violence In A Women’s Prison is a film about the imprisonment of women”… no shit, Sherlock! Up to their old tricks, Mattei and frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso shot this one (also known as Emanuelle Reports From A Women’s Prison / Caged Women) simultaneously with another “Gemser in jail” epic, Blade Violent aka Women’s Prison Massacre in 1982. Mattei handled most of VIAWP while, down the block, Fragasso concentrated on BV. If there was anything particularly tricky to shoot, each would help the other out and the continuity girl apparently commuted between the two on roller skates… a wonderful snapshot of how things worked at the height of the soon-to-deflate spaghetti exploitation boom.

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As you won’t have too much trouble gleaning from one of those alternative titles, the plot here involves Emanuelle Sterman (as she appears to be surnamed this time out) masquerading as one Laura Kendall (prostitute, dope peddler and pimp murderer) to go undercover for Amnesty International and report back on the human rights abuses in a high security prison, godknowswhere. There’s a local peasant dude called Miguel who turns up to deliver fruit and veg, from which I imagine we are supposed to infer that these events are unfolding somewhere in Latin America… Miguel doesn’t figure in any significant way for the rest of the picture, although it’s suggested at one point that he has a speed boat in which the good guys might be able to escape (what, was he a contestant on Bullseye or something?)

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It looks for a while as though their isn’t going to be too much in Emanuelle’s report, over and above the predictable sapphic shenanigans and some stereotypical depictions of brutish bull dykes and limp-wristed faggots, for Amnesty to get incensed about… I mean, “If you don’t get out of bed you can’t have any coffee” must rank pretty low on the scale of crimes against humanity. The outrages begin to escalate, though, when our heroine decides to up the ante by dumping a bucket of shit over the head of a guard who winds her up during slopping out. A rather messy fight scene ensues, to the obvious delight of Warden Rescaut (another mesmerisingly intense performance from the brilliant Franca Stoppi) and Emanuelle is consigned to solitary confinement in a dungeon, where she is soon (this is a Bruno Mattei flick, remember) attacked by a pack of ravenous rats.

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Chief Warden Dolores (Lorraine De Selle) invites the Governor of the men’s prison next door (Jacques Stany) over to party, their love-making spiced up by the spectacle of a couple of his (floridly overacting) inmates violating one of hers. The gay character Leander (Franco Caracciolo) is lynched by fellow prisoners, inflamed by spectacle of an unattainable floozy flaunting her charms through the window of her cell. Kindly Doctor Moran (Gabriele Tinti, Gemser’s real life spouse and frequent film partner) reassures Leander, before he gives up the ghost, that he’ll be able to look Jesus in the eye…

Under the tender care of the Doc, who’s serving time for the mercy killing of his wife, Emanuelle recovers miraculously quickly, only to be outed as the Amnesty mole that De Selle and Stany have been looking out for (perhaps stashing her draft reports under her mattress wasn’t the smartest of ideas…)

In a ringing endorsement of her accusations, Emanulle has a bell lowered over her, which the guards beat on with their truncheons until she confesses (ding dong!) She’s then put in a hospital ward to recover but this is only to lull her into a false sense of security while De Selle administers incremental doses of poison to her. How being raped by  Stany fits into their “lulling” stratagem is anybody’s guess.

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Anyway, during a general uprising in which several guards and inmates are killed off (“Who will feed my pet cockroach?” are the dying words of one old lag), The Doc and Emanuelle attempt an escape, but never do manage to find Miguel’s speed boat (“Ooh, let’s see what he could have won!”) The film seems to close with them being marched to execution but there’s a final twist which, if a bit abruptly sprung, is quite clever by the general standard of these things. Mattei was so pleased with this one that he attempted to W.I.P. audiences into another frenzy with The Jail: The Women’s Hell, a thinly disguised remake, 24 years later.

Extras comprise the aforementioned short Mattei interview, an amusing radio spot and an interview with Fragasso and Rossella Drudi that’s split about 50 / 50 between VIAWP and their broader joint career… the usual moaning (all perfectly justified, I’m sure) about “the usual swindles”.

While never quite attaining the levels of surreal and sadistic delirium that Joe D’Amato and Jess Franco always brought to W.I.P. and affiliated genres, Mattei rings enough sleazy bells (quite literally in one scene) to satisfy devotees of this stuff and with another scenery-chewing performance from Stoppi (below) and both Gemser and De Selle registering at their career foxiest, it’s another winner from the ever reliable Severin stable, scanned in 2k from a pristine inter-positive so you can wallow like never before in this fevered festival of feisty faecal fist-fight action… you lucky people!

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Making Love On The Wing… EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS On Severin Blu-Ray

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Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals aka Trap Them And Kill Them (1976) is generally regarded (though sketchy information on shooting schedules and subsequent retitlings confuse the issue) as Joe D’Amato’s fourth “Black Emanuelle” effort, after he’d hi-jacked the franchise from Adalberto Albertini. It’s also Joe’s maiden co-production with Fabrizio De Angelis for their company Fulvia Cinematografica, though the partnership only survived for one more film (1978’s Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade).

This improbable yarn is presented as “a true story” courtesy of one Jennifer O’Sullivan, whose investigative reporter role is taken on by Gemser’s Emanuelle, which involves her in sneaking around mental hospitals with a camera concealed in a teddy bear (?) She comes over all tabloid moralistic when a nurse is bitten while molesting a disturbed female patient (“She’ll be OK but she lost her breast… she had it coming”) but has no qualms whatsoever about pursuing a scoop by masturbating the same patient (Dirce Funari), who boasts a distinctive tribal tattoo on her pubic area. When she mentions this to hunky anthropologist Mark Lester (!) he invites her back to his place but not with the intention of showing her his etchings… oh no, he shows her anthropological footage of castration and cannibalism, which somehow convinces her to sleep with him. The Prof is played by Gemser’s husband and frequent screen partner Gabriele Tinti and I often wonder if that’s how he wooed her in real life! It would be useful to know such stuff…

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I’m told that Ruggero Deodato got really pissed off, when he watched Calum Waddell’s Eaten Alive documentary, at my suggestion that D’Amato pre-empted his Cannibal Holocaust here with the use of the film-within-a-film device and by setting the action of E&TLC in South America (even though his crew never got anywhere near there)… no disrespect intended, Ruggero but hey, facts is facts!

Anyway, Emanuelle successfully seduced, she and The Prof abscond to Tapurucuara, Amazons (actually the Fogliano Forest on the outskirts of Rome… honestly Joe, you are a one!) to hook up with Donald and Maggie McKenzie (Donal O’Brien and giallo stalwart “Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro), who are encountering a few difficulties in their relationship (“You’re just a tramp!” he chides her. “You’re an IMPOTENT!” she spits back, cuttingly albeit ungrammatically). Annamaria Clementi (as the idealistic nun Sister Angela) and Mónica Zanchi (as the nymphomaniac Isabelle) have also packed their pith helmets for the expedition.

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These guys’ soap operatic interactions are put firmly into perspective when the cannibals turn up to dismember and eat them and various camp followers, all recorded in excruciating albeit incompetently rendered detail by D’Amato, to the accompaniment of an OST that sounds like some demented, retarded ancestor of Groovejet. Of course, various people take time out from dodging cannibals to have sex and watch each other having sex and only in a Joe D’Amato film could you ever hope to see a lesbian tryst observed by a chimpanzee who’s savouring the spectacle while puffing away contentedly on a Marlboro… you can finally cross that one off your bucket list!

The denouement is a total hoot, with Emanuele and The Prof looking on from the bushes, calmly swapping anthropological observations as their friends are done away with (O’Brien torn limb from limb, particularly unconvincingly, in a cannibal tug-o-war). Eventually Emanuelle’s moved to discard her clothes and rescue Isabelle by impersonating a water goddess, a spectacle that has to be seen to be disbelieved… likewise Gemser’s lumpen closing soliloquy, delivered as though she’s in the throes of a major stroke  (“Maggie and Donald with their…” what, now?) I guessed those who dubbed this scene must take their share of the blame, though Gemser makes for a truly statuesque (in every sense of that term) presence throughout the film’s alleged climax and indeed, everything that precedes it.

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Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals did enjoy a theatrical release in the UK (minus all the gore), playing to packed houses of old guys in dirty macs. Severin’s release is, as you would expect, uncut, though one imagines there could well be versions floating around in some territories that have been recut with hard-core inserts, standard operating procedure for D’Amato. Their 2K scan from original vault elements is the best I’ve ever seen this film to look, even though the improved picture quality does make the stroboscopic alternation of day and night shots within certain scenes even more obvious (the amount of times the characters say something along the lines of “We’ll wait until dawn” with the sun beating down on them!) 

Severin have put together a really strong slate of extras here, reflecting the kind of colourful characters that used to gravitate towards Joe D’Amato productions. Aside from the predictable trailer you get an audio interview with Gemser, from whose reminiscences it’s clear how much she misses the late director. In the video interviews, Monica Zanchi remembers her wild life and times and the fun she had on D’Amato shoots. Annamaria Clementi also seems to have had a ball but now, working as a casting director, she reflects rather ruefully on missed opportunities. Nico Fidenco (who looks like he’s just stepped off the deck of a luxury yacht) recounts the improbable career trajectory that took him from failed director, via unlikely crooning idol to OST composer. Best of all, Donal O’Brien piles on the anecdotes in an opinionated “must see” memoir. My copy included a CD of the original soundtrack, too. Great stuff!

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Where Is Thy Sting? ZOMBI 4 On Severin Blu-Ray.

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BD/CD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“If you want to open the door to Hell today, these four words you must say…”

“Why are you stopping at the best part?”

The Fulci / Mattei / Fragasso Zombi 3 (1988), recently reviewed in these pages, wasn’t the only Latin living dead epic laying claim to that title… Andrea Bianchi’s astonishing Burial Ground / Zombi Terror / Nights Of Terror (1981) got there first and Jorge Grau’s even more prodigiously multi-titled Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974) was at one point, via some inscrutable worm hole in the space / time continuum, deemed to be a sequel to a George Romero film made five years after it. Romero was presumably happy enough with his own “Dead” series and anyway, Dawn Of The Dead co-producer Dario Argento’s attempts to quell the flow of ersatz sequels fell at the first legal hurdle, with Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979). Thereafter Fulci’s participation in the Guadenzi-produced Zombi 3 granted that film and its successors some kind of “official bootleg series” imprimatur, right up to Claudio Lattanzi’s Killing Birds (1987) being rechristened Zombi 5. Thankfully, we’re not concerned with the last-named clinker this time out, turning our attention instead to Fragasso’s Zombi 4, originally released (in 1989 according to IMDB, though this is disputed) as After Death (“Oltre La Morte”).

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For this one Fragasso, again masquerading as “Clyde Anderson”, was back in the Philippines with a specific brief to come up with something that might recoup the losses that producer Franco Guadenzi had sustained on Zombi 3. Already disenchanted with his experiences on that one and 1980’s Zombie Creeping Flesh / Virus (which he had conceived as a reworking of Dante’s Divine Comedy, only for it to turn out more like a feature-length, gored-up episode of The Goon Show), he was desperate to finally put his stamp on the zombie genre but inevitably came up against the usual under-resourcing (with only acrobatic Filipino extras and psychotropic banana liqueur in plentiful supply). His access to cameras (and indeed, DP Luigi Ciccarese) was restricted to night time because Bruno Mattei was using them to shoot one of his Strike Commando movies during the daylight hours. History predictably promptly repeated itself and Fragasso concluded principal photography with a Zombi 4 that was, like its predecessor, significantly short of feature length.

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The sore thumb prologue that was subsequently shot on an Elios studio soundstage is successful at bumping up the film’s running length to respectable proportions, less so at explaining WTF is going on and why. It involves a team of Western cancer specialists (naturally turned out in military fatigues and armed to the teeth) confronting a voodoo priest who has just conducted a black magic ritual that climaxed with his wife being sucked down into to Hell. The boffins are here to provide a rationalist, humanitarian alternative to such superstitious practices, so naturally their enlightened response is to blow the voodoo dude away with blazing machine guns. He’s already threatened to “persecute you after my death… I’ll come looking for you, to feed on your intestines!” and he wastes no time making good on his promise. His wife also pops back up from Hell, made up exactly like one of Lamberto Bava’s Demons and spitting green goo with great gusto… clear so far?

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If this outlandish, spastically directed introduction suggests that Fragasso had gone native, imbibing the heady influence of Philippine and Indonesian indigenous horror product (H Tjut Djali’s Mystics in Bali from 1981 springs to mind), as soon as every cemetery on the island has disgorged hordes of shrouded, bloodthirsty zombies the subsequent narrative settles into a series of more familiar tropes… “The dead will feed on the living”… “It’s not Tommy, he’s one of them, now”… all present and correct. We get the zombies warded off with a wall of fire, the crazed military man who loses it and jumps into the midst of the living dead, the little blonde girl who survives the opening massacre…with the novel twist that this one doesn’t turn up in the jungle twenty years later as the glamorous queen of the tribe that has adopted her: this one turns up (in the passable form of Candice Daly) twenty years later, returning to the jungle to discover what happened to mom and dad. Why she’s accompanied by a couple of Miami Vice refugees and a boatload of Vietnam vets-turned-mercenaries (including the immortal Nick Nicholson from Apocalypse Now and Platoon, looking like Al Cliver’s less couth kid brother) is something that larger brains than mine are going to have to figure out… ditto, why gay porn icon Jeff Stryker (billed here, marginally more believably, as Chuck Peyton) is wandering around equally aimlessly in the jungle with Massimo Vanni and some bird.

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“It’s not Tommy… he’s one of them now!

There are incidental laughs to be had from an arcane “Book of the Dead” that was clearly knocked up by the props department about two minutes before it appears on screen, and a “Third Gateway to Hell” (ulp!) which is rendered by the budget-scrimping spectacle of several while candles arranged in a circle (dunno about you, but I’m shitting myself…) The film’s pulsating AOR score (which was included in my copy as a bonus disc) is supplied by Al Festa of Fatal Frames infamy and dear old Al could himself conceivably have played a part in Zombi 4’s hysterical “climax”, in which Daly sacrifices herself (apparently by pulling out much of her hair and one of her eyeballs) to stem the rising tide of undead, while Peyton / Stryker is ravished by some voodoo dude’s fist…

Jeff's Action Figure.jpgChuck / Jeff (who apparently secured this role on account of actor-turned-casting director Werner Pochath’s infatuation with him) gets his say in the extras and comes across as a very likeable bloke, still optimistic about getting a mainstream break (“I’m still breathing, I’ve still got a shot!”) Good for him. In the meantime, he poses with his anatomically correct action figure (shown in modestly clothed mode, above) and reflects sadly on the premature death, via homicide, of his co-star Candice Daly. She’s commemorated in her own micro-interview slot and you also get some “making of” footage.

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Severin’s BD transfer looks every bit as good as we’ve come to expect and rounding out the extras, Fragasso and his work / life partner Rossella Drudi argue that screen zombies represent the growing immigrant / refugee underclass (well, maybe…) and – more compellingly – that the “fast moving zombie” furrow that has been so lucratively harvested by The Living Dead et al was originally ploughed by them and Umberto Lenzi… whom they eventually concede did it first, in 1980, with Nightmare City.

In certain markets, Nightmare City has been roped into alternatively numbered “Zombi” sequences along with the likes of Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous and Absurd, Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust, Tonino Ricci’s piss-awful Panic, and even Jess Franco’s Virgin Among The Living Dead and Revenge In The House Of Usher….

… and still they keep on coming.

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ZOMBI 3, Death 1… Lucio Fulci Vs The Novichuckle Brothers.

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BD/CD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Few sounds are more welcome, after a gruelling night assisting The Doc down in his basement laboratory, than the resounding thud which accompanies a new batch of Severin Blu-rays arriving in the HOF in-tray. The resulting reviews always proceed along similar lines, too, usually to the effect that although 88 Films have already released an HD edition of the title in question, the Severin job looks significantly better and packs more compelling extras… so it is that those who’ve read my review of 88’s Zombi 3 (all four of you) may well experience a profound sense of deja vu during the synoptical element of that which follows. Prepare once again not to laugh at the gags that fell so flat last time…

Bacteriological weaponry and international espionage supplant Richard Johnson’s perverse medical dabblings in Fulci’s Zombi 2 / Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) as the root of this particular undead uprising, when a bungled attempt to burgal a canister of “Death 1” leads to bubonic infestation for the thief and everybody else in the hotel where he was staying. The inevitable ABC-suited SWAT Team arrives to shut down the hotel and liquidate all its residents. Another cinematic debt, to Romero’s Day Of The Dead (1985) immediately becomes evident in the ongoing squabble between scientists and the military over how to contain this outbreak. Ignoring the boffin’s advice, the soldiers cremate the first batch of victims and – before you can say Return Of The Living Dead (1985) – a busload of sex-crazed vacationing girls is being buzzed by a flock of zombie seagulls.

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Mattei (left) and Fragasso (right) prepare to baste another turkey (“To me… to you…”)

The increasingly ridiculous narrative unfolds to the Greek chorus accompaniment of “Blue Heart”, a right-on radio DJ whose infuriating, interminable eco-babble provokes one imminent zombie victim to complain: “I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint sometimes and every so often I like to piss on a bush, OK?” As the crisis escalates, Blue Heart’s bulletins are periodically punctuated by lists of emergency hospitals, read out by a guy glorifying in the name of Vince Raven… the same name given to Alice Cooper’s character in Claudio Fragasso’s Monster Dog (1984). Jeez, people rattle off learned theses every time Quentin Tarantino pulls off this kind of shit…

Anyway, “plot” is pretty soon reduced to an ever decreasing number of survivors running around in ever decreasing circles, a succession of run-ins with hyperactive zombies and “decontamination squads” blowing away anything that moves. Of course the “unexpected” shooting of a heroic male lead is duly trotted out… yep, he fell for the oldest trick in the book of the dead! Assorted other “highlights” include the moment when a character with the munchies opens a fridge, only to be attacked by an even hungrier zombie head that flies out at him, on obvious wires, from behind the McCain oven chips. The staging of this magic moment reminds us that when Zombi 3 was originally announced, several years earlier, it had been conceived as a 3-D production.

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No doubt our degenerate readers will also derive much diversion from the Caesarian birth of an undead baby that immediately sets about gnoshing on the midwife who delivered it.

The surviving human characters fly off in a Romero-esque chopper, vowing: “We’re coming back… to win! Otherwise, humanity’s done for!” But the climactic, crowning idiocy is yet to come, riffing on the unforgettable voice-over outro to Zombie Flesh Eaters as Blue Heart is revealed as a badly made up zombie, broadcasting immortal vibes: “New horizons have opened up… this is now the New World, Year Zero, so there’s lots of work to be done. I’ll dedicate the next record to all of the undead across the world…” (“Zombietastic, great mate!”) Cue Stefano Mainetti’s anthemic AOR credits music, seemingly culled from a “Now That’s What I Call Hair Rock!” compilation.

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DJs get BJs?

Desperately attempting to cling onto his fast-slipping Horror maestro laurels, original director Lucio Fulci gave Zombi 3 (1988) his best shot, only to succumb to a triple whammy of deficient pre-production, liver failure and (exacerbating that) the murderous climate of The Philippines, where it was shot. “The producers were very strange people…” he told me at Eurofest 1994: “… I had to escape from there on an aeroplane!” Strange or not, producer Franco Guadenzi panicked when he saw the stump of a movie that Fulci had managed before his abrupt departure. Second unit director Bruno Mattei (who was already directing at least one other movie, simultaneously) and co-writer Claudio Fragasso were pressed into service to shoot additional footage and bring the project up to a respectable running time (without the benefit of any of its lead actors, who had fulfilled their contractual obligations and had no intention of returning). Between the two of them, the Chuckle Brothers of Italian exploitation cinema managed to finish off Zombi 3… in every sense of that term. The first casualty was Bava / Margheriti stalwart Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi), who’s credited as “plant director” although all his scenes got lost somewhere in the shuffle.

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Given Fulci’s personal and career problems at this point, the track records of the other two (Mattei had already taken “credit” for their collaboration on another living dead travesty, 1980’s Zombie Creeping Flesh, though Fragasso would subsequently astonish the world with Troll 2, 190) and the woeful circumstances of its production, Zombi 3 was never going to emerge as anything other than a riotous (albeit uneven) kick-ass action / splatter fest, on which terms it is unlikely to disappoint yer average Italo-trash fiend. The more anally obsessive among us (e.g. myself), though, have spent more hours than is probably good for us trying to work out who shot what. The generous extras on this disc provide further evidence (if not clarification) on this score. In an amusing 8 minute interview, Mattei insists that “Zombi 3 is Fulci’s movie”  before laying claim to 40% of it, qualified by the observation that “I only worked on it like a doctor visiting a patient”. He now claims authorship of the Blue Heart scenes, which Fragasso has previously (e.g. on 88’s disc) attributed to Fulci. Everyone’s agreed that Fulci shot the scenes of zombies chasing people though a pond and the “speeded-up zombie with a machete” bit, also that the “SWAT guys in ABC suits” material is attributable to Mattei / Fragasso but as for how the dynamic duo divided up that 40% between them… Fragasso says he did all the action / splatter stuff, leaving anything else (presumably constituting the er, less riveting moments of the film) to Mattei. Bruno’s no longer around to argue the toss and Fulci, even before his own demise, probably didn’t give a toss.

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Everybody involved talks respectfully of Fulci (he’s described as “exquisite” more than once). Fragasso (who appears with his wife / script collaborator Rossella Drudi and their scene-stealing cat) claims that Dario Argento wanted him rather than Sergio Stivaletti to direct Wax Mask (1997) after Fulci’s untimely demise and expands in gruelling detail on the health of the ol’ goremeister during the Zombi 3 shoot… apparently he was reduced to pulling out his own teeth and even allegedly subjected himself to that Filipino specialty scam, psychic surgery, which must have involved the unfurling of more phoney guts than a busy day in Giannetto De Rossi’s workshop. GDR, of course, did not participate in Zombi 3 but his replacement Franco Di Girolamo rattles through a whistle-stop tour of splatter FX in his mini featurette. Thesps Marina Loi (“Fulci wasn’t exactly the nicest guy on Earth but in retrospect, he was very funny”) and actor / stunt men troupers Massimo Vanni and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua also get to chip in with their own reminiscences. 

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Stars Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring contribute a commentary track that they don’t appear to be taking particularly seriously, then again it’s probably not possible to deliver a po-faced commentary on Zombi 3… have your mates around for a few beers while you’re watching it and you’ll have a great time, guaranteed… crank up the soundtrack CD that came with my copy and bang your heads like Wayne and Garth… “It’s here… It’s here… It’s here… It’s HERE!”

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Mattei (who deems Fulci’s insistence on proper pre-production to have been quaint and kinda “old school”) cheerfully admits that all of his own films have been “bad” (and not in the way that Michael Jackson sang about), challenging his interlocutor: ”It’s not up to me to tell you about Zombi 3… you tell me what you think”. Well Bruno, how long have you got? Oh yeah… not that long, as it happened.

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The Electric Sex Aid Acid Test… Umberto Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! on Severin Blu-Ray

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“He’s not The Messiah… he’s a very naughty boy!”

BD / CD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s third cannibal outing / outrage, Eaten Alive (1980… its title thoughtfully expanded to Eaten Alive By The Cannibals! in some territories) makes its BD debut via Severin and arrives in our in-tray with a thud and an added whiff of unexpected topicality, opening as it does with assassinations by nerve toxin (derived from cobra venom and delivered via blow darts) in major Western cities. The unfortunate victims  are disaffected members of The Purification Sect, a wacked out religious cult operating out of Sri Lanka (doubling for New Guinea) under the acid fascist leadership of a certain Jonas (Ivan Rassimov). Any resemblance to the Reverend Jimbo of  Jonestown massacre infamy is, of course (cough!)… purely coincidental!

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As in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (made the same year), the bad guy is using cannibal-infested country as a buffer zone to shield his nefarious antics from the prying eyes of outsiders… but again, this ploy fails when Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) approaches Vietnam deserter-turned-mercenary adventurer Mark (Robert Kerman), whom she finds arm-wrestling over sharp knives in a Deer Hunter-type dive, to help spring her brainwashed sister Diana (Paola Senatore) from the cult’s grasp. I’m sure we’ve already commented on Robert Kerman / Bolla’s extraordinary CV elsewhere on this blog, alternatively get your cyber self over to IMDB and prepare to be amazed.

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Anyway, after the expected jungle hazards and hi-jinks (much of them comprising crudely transplanted stock footage from Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World and Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God), Janet and Robert make it to Puresville and discover Diana alive if not exactly well, living under the thrall of the insane Jonas, who alternates bible quotations with the application of venom soaked dildos to his comelier acolytes, justifying such shenanigans on the grounds that pain will reunite mankind with Nature… yeah, whatever!

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There are further kinky developments when villager Mowara (Me Me Lai) finds herself widowed, Purification doctrine demanding that she lays down in her recently cremated husband’s ashes while his surviving brothers queue up to bonk her. In another echo of Martino’s earlier cannibal epic, Sheila is stripped down and painted gold for Big J’s drug crazed gratification. When she and Mark  have had enough of Rassimov’s dystopian New Jerusalem, they make a break for it through cannibal country with Diana and Mowara, who are promptly trapped, messily dismembered and eaten by the locals.

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Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Mark and Sheila are on the verge of carrying out a suicide pact when police helicopters arrive to whisk them away. The same choppers prompt Jones… er, Jonas to utter the memorable line “Have them prepare that mixture, Dick” and harangue his followers into consuming the killer Kool Aid so they can accompany him on his final trip, though the film’s ending suggests that he declined the drink himself and is still on the lam somewhere (the Jones cult, explicitly identified as such, would feature again as a plot point in Deodato’s Cut And Run, 1985). Mark is cheated out of his money but gets the girl and Sheila is browbeaten, in time honoured cannibal film fashion, not to reveal to the media the extent of anthropophagous antics still going on under our complacent Western noses just a piddling plane ride away.

Among other familiar cannibal film tropes vying for our attention we find the expected troubling “found footage”, casual racism (one of Agren’s “comic” lines about life in the cotton fields will have you reaching for rewind to check she actually said what you thought she just said)… it’s fair to say that there was never any realistic chance of this film’s credits carrying that line about “no animals having been harmed during the production” and inevitably, despite the tough line Jonas takes on alcohol, the onscreen action is sometimes obscured by the sheer volume of J&B bottles, piling up on conspicuous display.

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Kudos to Mel Ferrer (as anthropologist Dr Carter) for starring in two films entitled Eaten Alive (which was one of the many alternative titles for Tobe Hopper’s sophomore Horror feature) when most actors would have considered one to be more than enough. I also appreciate the fact that at one point Agren looks like she’s about to go into a grindhouse cinema to watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.

With this release Severin prove themselves once again the masters of, er, remastering, delivering an Eaten Alive! that looks better than you probably believed possible. The claim in their typically gonzo sleeve notes that watching this film is equivalent to having your dick ripped off can safely be dismissed as hyperbole, but Lenzi’s rendition of “cannibal movie greatest hits in bite-sized chunks” might well register as a painful twist on your short and curlies. Although even its the director concedes its shortcomings (see below), Lenzi directs the 90% of Eaten Alive! that he did direct with consummate craftsmanship and characteristic gusto, earning this 42nd St classic a space on the shelves of any self-respecting spaghetti exploitation buff.

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Extras include a Freakorama interview in which Lenzi (who seems to have borrowed Craig Wasson’s porn star pullover from Body Double) airs a familiar grievance, namely that people ignore all the war films he made. I remember him moaning about that rather a lot when I interviewed him, but Lenzi seems to have mellowed a bit. He still calls Ruggero Deodato “a liar” for claiming to have invented the Italian cannibal genre (which, of course, Lenzi kicked off with The Man From Deep River in 1972) but admits that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is far superior to any of his own jungle pot-boilers, indeed that it’s “a masterpiece”.

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We’re treated to a recording of Lenzi’s Q&A session at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester, moderated by Calum Waddell with the assistance of Nick Frame. Again he talks up his war films (and gialli) and restates his low regard for cannibal films, insisting that he slams the phone down on any journalist who has the temerity to mention Cannibal Ferox (no mere rhetorical flourish, this… he once actually did precisely that to Yours Truly!) but gets the biggest laugh of the session when he announces that all the money Ferox has subsequently made for him has belatedly convinced him of its status as a cinema classic. He won’t talk about his differences with John Morghen but rehashes, when invited, the feud between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli which necessitated each of them to film their participation in the climax to The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) on alternate days. Poignantly, Lenzi talks about subsisting on a slice of pizza every three days when he embarked upon film-making. The fact that just before this Q&A he had been brunching with Barbara Bouchet testifies most eloquently to the satisfactory career arc that ensued. I was actually enjoying a private audience with Bouchet when this session took place, so I’m glad of the opportunity to catch up with its contents here.

We also get an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and a mash-up of archive interviews with Rassimov and Kerman. The latter tries to sort out his different personas and recalls that the famously wiggy Lenzi was more courteous to him on set than Deodato, whom he describes as “sadistic”.

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Most welcome of all is the inclusion among the supplementary materials of Naomi Holwill’s nifty documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen, previously thumbed up on this blog in a review which has emerged as one of our most heavily visited postings since it debuted in March 2016.

My copy of Eaten Alive! came in a slipcover and boasted a bonus disc of Roberto Donati’s discotastic OST. Grab ’em while you can…

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… better or worse than being trapped in a jungle of rational flesh eaters? You must be the judge!

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Dildos and Dildon’ts… Enzo Milione’s THE SISTER OF URSULA reviewed

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DVD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

“Who is the sister of Ursula? A nymphomaniac? A girl without scruples?” – trailer.

Yep, it’s giallo time again… these violent Italian whodunnits are frequently praised for their sexy stylishness but there exists within the genre a grotty ghetto of grubby ghastliness. Prime specimens within this sweaty sub-genre include Andrea Bianchi’s Strip Nude For Your Killer / Nude Per L’Assassino (1975… who could forget the spectacle of that obese dude in his Bridget Jones pants? Christ knows how hard I’ve tried!), Mario Landi’s 1979 effort Thrilling In Venice / Giallo A Venezia (whose unwholesome ingredients include a porn-obsessed dope fiend pimping his girlfriend out to random deviants, an obsessive stalker armed with power tools and a boiled eggs-addicted cop) and Mario Gariazzo’s Play Motel (also 1979 and packing any amount of risible “kinkiness”). All of these hail from the fag-end of the cycle and pack ever-increasing dollops of sleazy sexploitation in lieu of any trace of that all important giallo style.

To this roll of dishonour we must also add Enzo Milioni’s The Sister Of Ursula / La Sorella Di Ursula (1978), in which two fit Austrian sisters, the demure Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) and slutty Dagmar (Stefania D’Amario from Zombie Flesh Eaters) take a well deserved holiday on the Amalfi coast (depicted here as the Italian equivalent of Skeggy!) to ponder the division of their inheritance and rack up as many gratuitous nude scenes as possible.

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Ursula, a clairvoyant given to doomy predictions, has some kind of psychic connection with her dead father. She despairs of Dagmar’s libertine lifestyle and when the latter unpacks an eye watering wooden dildo from her suitcase, Big Sis makes her  disapproval quite clear: “You just came here to get shagged, you bitch!” So, it seems, have a lot of other girls who are currently stopping at the hotel (told you it was just like Skeggy) but a bunch of them start turning up dead, apparently killed (or so the shadows on their hotel room walls would have us believe) by some guy with a monstrously proportioned member.

You won’t have too much trouble working out the identity of the killer (and none at all guessing the murder weapon) but there’s plenty of other crazy shit to divert you in this reprehensible, dildotastic slice of enticing Eurotrash, e.g. nightclub chanteuse Stella Shining (below) whose risible showstopper “Eyes” keeps popping up at inappropriate points in what we’ll generously call this film’s narrative. Who, while we’re at it, ever thought that the equally overworked freeze fame of disembodied eyes was ever going to look anything but laughable?

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Magnolfi is best remembered by Horror fans as Jessica Harper’s bitchy room-mate Olga in Dario Argento’s pasta paura tour de force Suspiria (1977) but other notable credits include Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975), Ruggero Deodato’s Cut And Run (1985), Luigi Pastore’s Violent Shit: The Movie (2015) and Luigi Cozzi’s Blood On Méliès Moon (2016). Her eponymous sister, Stefania D’Amario, arguably boasts an even more impressive CV,  including as it does Rino Di Silvestro’s Deported Women Of The SS Special Section (1976), Borowoczyk’s Inside Convent Walls (1978), Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979, below), Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980), Antonioni’s Identification Of A Woman (1982) and Lorenzo Onorati’s Caligula’s Slaves (1984).

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Mark Porel – from Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972 ) and Sette Note In Nero (1977), also Deodato’s Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (1976) – was married to Magnolfi at the time, which is perhaps how he got sucked into TSOU’s pointless sub-plot about an illicit dope network… ironic, considering the circumstances of his sadly premature demise in 1983.

Porel’s history of substance abuse is frankly discussed in an interview with the film’s director, which appears on both discs. Milioni also talks about the Italian industry’s long tradition of subsidising “worthy” Arthouse efforts with the proceeds from tacky exploiters (try to guess in which category he locates The Sister Of Ursula). He reveals that he got to film for free at the cliff top hotel as its proprietors figured they’d get some free publicity for their enterprise. In fact, the hotel remains unopened to this day… the curse of Ursula’s sister continues!

Stripped of the sleazy trappings in which The Sister Of Ursula wallows, Milione’s subsequent efforts were nothing like as watchable. 1989’s Bloody Moon (not to be confused with the identically titled Jesus Franco effort) is a dull, over-talky, soap operatic effort whose fleeting moments of gore were edited, along with so much else, into Fulci’s astonishing A Cat In The Brain / Nightmare Concert (1990).

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The Greatest Show On Earth, Part 1: Arma Virumque Cano… SANTA SANGRE on Severin Blu-ray, Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

I saw in the ’90s (which would prove to be an exceptionally eventful decade for me) with a New Year’s Day preview screening of four upcoming Horror biggies at The Scala (for which the decade would, regrettably, prove a decisive one). Through the fog of time and encroaching senility I recall that the bill included Argento’s Opera (which took a few years to get a proper release over here) and concluded with the latest entry in the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise (I guess it would have been Part 5: The Dream Child, though I think I skipped all or part of that screening to stand a chance of getting home at a reasonable hour)… the third film was Society (or was it Two Evil Eyes?)… but I remember quite clearly that the bill was completed by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989).

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Most of the audience would, like myself, already have seen most of the films on this bill, if not on the big screen. There was a fair old buzz building up over Santa Sangre, though. Was the man who had electrified the counter-culture (amazing / confusing many of us in the process) with El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) a spent force? Since the latter title his projected film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi saga Dune had foundered on Hollywood incomprehension of his epic vision (and intolerance of the expense it would entail). His one completed feature Tusk (1980) was allegedly a big disappointment, though we had to take that on trust because it was about as easy to see as his reportedly lost feature debut, Fando And Lis (1968). Needless to say, I emerged from the gloom of The Scala into the brittle Winter brightness of King’s Cross and the new decade, raving about one of the most stunningly original films I had ever seen. Darrell Buxton subsequently pointed out that despite its on-the-nose allusions to James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) and nods to Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), the film that Jodorowsky had actually pinched rather a lot from here was Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927)…

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… no matter, there are only so many stories (especially ones as twisted as this) in the world and everybody is, to a more or less conscious degree, influenced by what has gone before them. Santa Sangre still stands as potent cinematic assault on the senses and the very soul… or so I assumed. I’m not actually sure that I’ve watched it all the way through since that screening at the Scala almost three decades ago (despite owning several editions of it) so Severin’s characteristically lush Blu-ray release comes as a welcome opportunity to take another dip in The Holy Blood and re-acquaint myself with this particularly florid manifestation of Jodrophrenia…

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The first thing which struck me was that certain pieces of dialogue make much more sense on a subsequent viewing (for instance Blanca Guerra admonishing Axel J for the banality of his hallucinations, which initially seems like a throwaway moment of surreal whimsy is, with hindsight, obviously pointing towards the film’s denouement). Much of the dialogue is actually somewhat clunkier than I remembered, though that hardly matters for a film maker who cut his teeth in Marcel Marceau’s mime troupe and has always insisted that he makes films with his balls rather than his brains. Santa Sangre is hardly a kitchen sink drama, even if El Jodo packs just about everything bar the kitchen sink into this 123 minute three-ring circus. Who else but Jodorowsky could mount an epic allegory of self realisation and spiritual independence via the Mother Of All Primal Scenes and subsequent misadventures of a compulsive slayer of women (played by his son Axel), a story based on the director’s encounter with a fan who turned out to be the notorious / celebrated Mexican serial killer Goyo Cárdenas? I won’t bother trotting out too much of the plot, which might well look ridiculous on paper… on screen Santa Sangre remains a magnificent mind fuck of a movie, whatever its cinematic antecedents.

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As if all that weren’t quite enough for you, those Severin gringos have loaded this disc with … great googly-moogly… more than five hours of exclusive extras! Dave Gregory’s feature-length appreciation, Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen, is exhaustive to the extent of featuring Santa Sangre’s oft-neglected co-writer Roberto Leoni, though elsewhere on this edition Jodorowsky insists that Signor L’s participation was minimal and talked up to satisfy Italian quota requirements. There are various interviews with the director in which he fully justifies his eccentric reputation. I’ll leave you to discover most of these treasures for your selves, suffice to say that at one point he retracts his comment about making films with his balls and announces that he’s now making them with his anus(?) Any other director making that claim would be laying themselves open to a pretty obvious put down, but coming from Jodorowsky it makes  you wonder if some of his more pedestrian contemporaries shouldn’t consider making their films with more, er, niche body parts…

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You also get a commentary track, on which Alan Jones struggles manfully against AJ’s imperfect English and mercurial mind to come up with something coherent (when your interviewee introduces himself with the words “I hope that I am here”, you know that you’re going to have to earn your money) and deleted scenes on which Jodorowsky also comments. Those with found memories of Jonathan Ross’s For One Week Only series on Channel 4 will be happy to find an amended version of the episode that marked Santa Sangre’s British release here, alongside the expected trailers and a short film by Adan, another of Jodorowsky’s sons, which confirms that the apple never falls far from the tree. There are a couple of Simon Boswell shorts in which Jodorowsky seems to be supporting the OST composer for this film in a fledgling film-making career of his own. Most chilling of all is Goyo Cárdenas – Spree Killer, a documentary on the film’s real life , rehabilitated inspiration.

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Among Jodorowsky’s many memorable pronouncements in the supplementary materials assembled here is the one in which he declares Santa Sangre “a gift to the people”. Unsettling as it is, this is one gift for which (besieged as we are, on all sides, by banal cultural popcorn) we should remain eternally grateful.

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Bad Day At Red Stone… THE DEVIL’S RAIN Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

Publicity for the US release of Dario Argento’s super-stylish Suspiria (1977) made prominent use of the line: “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 80”, from which prospective viewers could only have drawn the perverse and erroneous conclusion that Argento’s Horror tour-de-force ended on a note of anti-climax. The publicity campaign for the seventh feature outing by another noted stylist, Robert Fuest’s The Devil’s Rain (1975), made no such error, insisting that it packed “absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever!” For their characteristically lush BD revisit, Severin take a scarcely less rabid tack, promising “the most eye-popping, flesh-melting finale in grindhouse history”. So, does the ending of The Devil’s Rain live up to those billings? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves… Fuest things first…

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After a Bosch backed title sequence, TDT throws us abruptly, in the best Shakespearian tradition, into the thick of its action and leaves us struggling to work out what the Hell is going on. In a remote desert dwelling, Mrs Preston (legendary film noir actress / director Ida Lupino) and her son Mark (William Shatner, filling in time before the Star Trek revival and putting in his customary… broad… performance) open their door to find an agitated daddy Preston insisting that somebody named Corbis wants his book back, before rapidly disintegrating into a rancid pool of goo on the porch.

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At this point I was expecting a quick cut to Diana Rigg receiving a message that reads: “Mrs Peel, we’re needed”… too clever dick by half on my part, as although Bob Fuest production designed very early (pre-Honor Blackman) episodes of The Avengers and directed several in the final series, when Linda Thorson had replaced Diana Rigg, he never worked on any in the Emma Peel era… more’s the pity.

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Anyway, back in the desert Shatner hot foots it over to Red Stone for a confrontation with Corbis, in the Saturnine form of a brilliantly cast Ernest Borgnine (it couldn’t have taken too many hours of make-up to turn him into a randy old goat). Under a glowering sky they enact Fuest’s little tribute to John Sturges’ Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) before repairing inside a clapped out, boarded up wooden church whose interior reveals a groovy stained glass window, various Satanic paraphernalia and pew-loads of hooded, chanting acolytes with empty black eye sockets. Borgnine swaps his cowboy threads for a crimson robe and their battle of faiths begins in earnest. Truth be told, it’s a bit of a one-sided battle and Mark is soon himself reduced to the status of empty eyed Satan fodder.

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It’s Captain Kirk… but not as we know him.

Meanwhile his brother-in-law Tom (Tom Skerritt) is attending a scientific demonstration of his wife Julie (Joan Prather’s) psychic powers, presided over by Dr Sam Richards (Eddie Albert). In the course of this she experiences visions of what’s going on at Red Stone so everybody heads over there in an attempt to save Mark and Mrs Preston, setting up the climactic battle between Good and Evil and the Burman’s much touted goo spouting, Play-Do vomiting finale…

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Fuest felt himself to be on a mission to “smuggle Art into Product” and although The Devil’s Rain affords him nothing like as many opportunities to do this as his Phibes brace or  The Final Programme (1973) there are some startling moments herein, e.g. when Julie stares into the empty sockets of a devil worshipping drone and finds herself in the midst of a sepia-tinted flashback to Puritan times which explains (or purports to explain) what’s going on with that book of bloody signatures, the cauldron of souls and all manner of other bewildering stuff. In retrospect, it occurs to me that this sequence exerted a big influence over the opening one to Lucio Fulci’s gothic gore mini-masterpiece The Beyond (1981).

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That the above-mentioned devil worshipping drone is played by unrecognisable movie debutant John Travolta (whose then room-mate Prather got him this role and also converted him to the cause of Scientology) is just one of the esoteric footnotes to The Devil’s Rain, the authenticity of whose Satanic ceremonies was ensured by the participation, in a consultancy role, of Anton LaVey, founder and high priest of The Church Of Satan. You also see him, golden-masked, at Borgnine’s elbow during significant ritual moments.

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Much is made of LaVey’s participation in this disc’s extensive bonus materials (apparently “approved by Lucifer himself!”), including interviews with his biographer Blanche Barton, also Peter H. Gilmore and Peggy Nadramia, the Church’s current high priest / priestess. The consensus which emerges is that LaVey had a ball making The Devil’s Rain and got on famously with everybody while doing so, but wasn’t crazy about the finished film and would probably have been prouder of appearing in one of Lupino’s noir efforts. Further interviews follow with Skerritt, FX technician Tom Burman, pundit Daniel Roebuck and a short, contemporary one with Shatner. As well as her reminiscences, we get to see the on set Polaroids taken by script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana and of course the expected trailers, TV and radio spots are present and correct.b3-24-78.jpgThere’s also an invaluable 2005 audio commentary with Fuest (who passed away in 2012), mediated by Marcus Hearn. The director is every bit as distractedly eccentric as I remember from my own brief meeting with him. He frequently seems to tune out of the conversation, only to admit to Hearn that he’s getting wrapped up in watching his film. They still manage to cover his career in reasonable depth and it’s interesting to learn that after doing the Phibes movies, he turned down the chance to direct Vincent Price again in the thematically similar Theater Of Blood, though he makes a point of praising the job Douglas Hickox did on that in 1973. He declares his philosophy of production design to be “anything to disturb the eye” and refutes, in passing, the claim (originating in Cinefantastique magazine) that he suffered a nervous breakdown while making the picture under consideration here. Fuest reveals that much of the “most incredible ending of any motion picture ever” was shot by a second unit and that he finds it “like some sort of wake… it goes on and on… you could take about 20 minutes of that stuff out!” His keenness to make what is already a pretty pacey movie into something even pacier (perhaps it was Fuest’s extensive TV experience that influenced his apparent desire to constrain things within something like an hour’s running time) is evident when he attributes TDR’s “unrelenting” momentum to an apprehension that “if you stop to think about it too much, you get into trouble”.

 

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Fuest’s Faustian folly is indeed a gloriously senseless, massively entertaining mess of a movie. What a cast! What a visionary director! What a fantastic release by Messrs Daft &  Gregory, doing what they do best… rescuing cinematic oddities that have fallen into disregard or indifference from late night screenings on obscure standard definition channels and affording them definitive HD restorations, with a crop of boss extras to boot. Hail Severin!

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When Bobs collide… Freudstein & Fuest at Manchester’s third annual Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 1992.

 

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Tracey Beaker Meets The Exorcist: SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Intervision (Severin). 18.

“This picture is a reconstruction of events which took place at 45 Kingston Road, New Malden in August 1984…” we are informed by the portentous introductory voice over to Alan Briggs’ notorious meisterwerk Suffer Little Children: “These events were never reported in the press. The house is now derelict and scheduled for demolition.” The events in question, as shakily reconstructed on state-of-the-art (in 1983 terms, anyway) VHS camcorder, are initiated by the arrival of a young mute girl named Elizabeth (Nicola Diana), at the Sullivan Children’s Home. No sooner has she arrived than various nasty accidents start befalling the other residents. “First things first… Basil’s in intensive care!” emotes their custodian Jenny (Ginny Rose)… poor Basil, he fell down the stairs. Another child has a door telekinetically slammed in her face. To the further consternation of Jenny and her sidekick Maurice (Colin Chamberlain), household objects begin levitating unconvincingly and there’s soon more wobbly furniture in motion than at an MFI clearance sale. Nobody seems to notice that these events coincide with Elizabeth getting pissed off with people.

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Matters escalate further when former resident, now pop star Mick Philips (Jon Holland) visits and starts romancing Jenny (by taking her to Cloudbursts, an appalling night club packed with plastic punks and nerdy New Romantics). Lovelorn Maurice takes this very badly but not nearly as badly as Elizabeth, who seems to have conceived some kind of Satanic schoolgirl crush on the guy (improbably so, Mick resembling nothing more than a refugee from a bad Kajagoogoo tribute band.) By arranging for some poorly made-up living deadsters to erupt from an allotment (on account of which scene I suffered a particularly unpleasant flashback to Zombies Lake… or was it Oasis Of The Zombies?), Elizabeth manages to recruit two female lieutenants to her burgeoning cult.

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The situation at Sullivan’s continues to degenerate. A jolly party descends into an unseemly punch-up, then 12 of the home’s kids nearly drown simultaneously during a visit to their local swimming baths (we have to take this on trust as SLC’s budget didn’t stretch to an actual depiction of this traumatic moment.) Elizabeth and her minions throw some kind of candle lit ritual in the cellar, chanting “Come Devil Come!” and Elizabeth orders them (in her best Mercedes McCambridge tones) to take out “the Christ worshippers!” Several enthusiastic but unconvincing stabbings ensue. This outbreak of Grand Guignol (accompanied by inept heavy metal music and sufficient strobing to induce an epileptic episode in an elephant) is only nipped in the bud when Christ himself, in full crown of thorns (I’m not making this up, honest) intercedes personally to zap Elizabeth with disappointingly under-rendered  bolts of righteous Godly fury. Jenny gets a final screaming freeze frame, reminiscent of  Hilary Dwyer’s in Witchfinder General and Daria Nicolodi’s in Tenebrae.

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Speaking of  Argento, SLC’s mix of paranormal schoolgirl shenanigans and inappropriate heavy metal accompaniment could conceivably be cited as a precursor to his Phenomena (though a lot of people probably wouldn’t thank it for that, either.) “Suffer you bastards, suffer!” we are advised during the interminable racket of (whatever happened to?) Jlaada’s playout music  before puzzling random shot repeats bring the shambolic proceedings to a welcome close.

The house where this sub-Italia Conti take on “Tracey Beaker meets The Exorcist” was filmed did indeed get demolished (by a fire, apparently, though I’ve been unable to establish whether this was on account of an angry god fearing mob… or even an angry God himself) and allegedly a car park now stands in the place it once occupied. As for “Never reported in the press”, though… they wish! Nothing in this am-dram Horror epic could have prepared its creators for the sham dram that unfolded in the nation’s tabloids, once they had picked up the first sniff of a scandal from that redoubtable local organ, The Surrey Comet.  “This movie was made by the students of Meg Shanks Drama School” one of its poorly generated credits tells us: “They had no experience and no money, just determination and guts”… and boy, the intestinal fortitude of all concerned would be sorely tested over the coming months!

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Said kerfuffle is masterfully related by a strikingly handsome, witty and charismatic “video nasty”  historian in the bonus featurette Seducing The Gullible. This boy should go far. In his interview, director Alan Briggs reveals his past as a rock music promoter / huckster, which must have stood him in good stead for a stab at the success de scandale that Suffer Little Children unfortunately never quite attained. In contradiction to wild claims (typifying the atmosphere of moral panic back in the early ’80s) that he had somehow “corrupted” his juvenile cast, Briggs insists that he gave free rein to their enthusiastic creativity and that’s what you see on the screen. He talks less about SLC’s censorship tribulations than the difficulties of small film production (he’d clearly relish the opportunity to make another one with today’s technology) and distribution (in particular the difficulties of dealing with Films Galore’s rather “colourful” sounding George Goodey) back in 1983.

More than three decades after this harrowing sequence of events unfolded, the mighty men of Severin (via their “shot on video” Intervision imprint) afford us an opportunity to relive a particularly troubling bit of recent social history and see what, if anything, all the fuss was about with an uncut and now BBFC sanctioned release of Suffer Little Children. Perhaps House Of Freudstein  visitors represent precisely that special sort of cineaste who can look beyond this film’s technical and artistic shortcomings to engage with the philosophical, ethical, semiological and indeed eschatological issues it embodies. Perhaps not. In which case… “Suffer, you bastards, suffer!”

 

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