Posts Tagged With: Severin

When Italian FX Aces Turn Director… WAX MASK / KILLER CROCODILE 1 & 2 Reviewed.

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Wax Mask. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
Killer Crocodile / Killer Crocodile 2. BD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

By the early 1980s Italy ruled the ‘B’ movie waves, churning out over three hundred titles per year to fuel an insatiable international appetite for horror, action and exploitation all’Italiana… a Roman empire the extent of which Trajan himself could scarcely have dreamed. By the end of that decade, however, the Italian film landscape was as bleak as any depicted in the post-Apocalyptic epics that constituted its final filone

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It doesn’t take an Edward Gibbon to trace the causes of this spectacular fall from grace. Tightening censorship in key European markets meant that enevelope-pushing outrages like Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) were now out of the question. Along with the consequent blanding out of Italian genre efforts, there was increased leisure buck competition from the deregulation of domestic TV under Silvio Berlusconi and increasing incursions into exploitive subject matter by the US Majors whose budgets Spaghetti exploitation mavens could never hope to match.  Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote more films than anybody else during the industry’s most lucrative years, identifies the short-term thinking and profit-taking priorities of Italian producers as a crucially detrimental factor. If they’d invested instead of constantly cutting budgets, by this account, pasta paura could have become as big a deal as the spaghetti western… and Sacchetti didn’t shy away from identifying the poster boy for this myopic modus operandi as Fabrizio De Angelis, for whom he and Lucio Fulci collaborated on several low budget classics in the late ’70s, early ’80s. “De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks”, Sacchetti told me. “He’s a cheap-skate…” chipped in Fred Williamson, alluding to FDA’s later tactic of ditching seasoned pro directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari to direct his own pictures (as “Larry Ludman”):  “…. it has nothing to do with creativity. He doesn’t want to pay people to do something he thinks he can do, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well“. When I interviewed De Angelis, he defended himself from such charges as follows: “I’ve always given other directors bigger budgets than I give myself. I pay as much as anybody else and many of the people who complained came back to work for me again, so I can’t be that bad”.

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Sure enough, Sacchetti was back on board (as “David Parker Jr”) to co-write Killer Crocodile (1989)… not that it took much writing, emerging as a transposition of a certain Stephen Spielberg film (and ultimately Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, if you want to get pedantic about it) from Amity Island to the swamps of the Dominican Republic. Just in case anybody missed the Jaws allusions (or the fact that this whole film is one big Jaws allusion), Riz Ortolani’s score reverberates with all the obvious John Williams pinches.

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Environmentalist Kevin (Anthony… son of Richard… Crenna) and his crew discover that the Dominican waterways are clogged with something way worse than plastic bags and bottles. Irresponsible radioactive dumping, facilitated by a corrupt local Judge (Hollywood heavyweight Van Johnson in one of his final screen credits) has produced the eponymous super-sized saurian, impressively rendered (when you consider the likely budget) by Italy’s FX supremo Giannetto De Rossi, despite his words to the contrary (“It’s a laughing stock!”) in one of the bonus featurettes on this set. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi completes a quartet of holdovers from the gory, glory days of Lucio Fulci.

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With all that talent on hand and everything De Angelis had osmosed from his proximity to the likes of Fulci and Castellari (whose brother Enio Girolami steals the show as Captain Ahab-like crocodile hunter Joe), it’s no surprise that Killer Crocodile emerges as an efficient, satisfying piece of throwaway entertainment, smoothly shot by Federico Del Zoppo in the American TV movie style that was becoming increasingly prevalent at this time. If all that sounds a bit too blandly slick for your tastes, rest assured (and here comes the SPOILER ALERT!) that De Angelis winds things up (things notably including the title creature’s leathery ol’ head) with a revival of the classic “outboard motor” gag from Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), another picture he produced back in the golden age… but what kind of egg is that hatching on the banks of the bayou?

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Laser focussed on the bottom line, FDA arranged the simultaneous shooting of Killer Crocodile 2 (1990) and detailed its direction to Giannetto De Rossi. History doesn’t record whether he was instructed to “make it snappy” but presumably De Rossi got the job on the grounds that he could be paid even less than the producer would pay “Larry Ludman”! Otherwise the crew’s pretty much the same (Giovanni Bergamini replaces Del Zoppo as DP) and so is the story. Corrupt corporate types are still dumping radioactive waste in that river, still with the connivance of scumbag politicians, one of whom is planning to open a leisure complex on a particularly hideously polluted stretch. Investigative journalist Liza (“Debra Karr”, would you believe?) is on the case but it’s not a particularly compelling one. Looks like they didn’t shoot enough footage of the crocodile to fall back on before it was definitively destroyed at the end of Part 1. There’s a great bit where it crashes through the side of a hut to snack on some low level bad dudes but such moments are few and far between. De Rossi is obliged to pad things out with a bunch of flashbacks to the original’s “greatest hits” and mucho over-baked exposition, though admittedly Ms Karr does look distractingly good, wandering around the jungle in a wet sports bra after her guide tried to rape her and was promptly eaten by the croc. Kevin and Joe arrive halfway through the picture to try and rescue her but blink and you’ll miss Joe. Having delivered the brazen line: “We’ve got to get a bigger boat”, Kevin is left to contrive the coup de gras, in the absence of any handy outboard motors, via a fistful of dynamite.

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Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t really live up to its predecessor (how many sequels do?) but I was glad to be reacquainted with this brace, my VHS copies of which (sourced from German satellite channels) disappeared many moons ago down the ravenous collecting maw of leathery old Darrell Buxton. Severin present the films with their customary panache and  a slew of of tasty extras, notably Naomi Holwill’s fine feature length De Rossi doc The Prince Of Plasma, featuring contributions from the man himself, plus collaborators Luigi Cozzi, Massimo Vanni and Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, also pundits Allan Bryce, Calum Waddell, Rachael Nisbet and Russ Hunter. In his standalone interview featurette, De Rossi is engagingly self deprecating regarding his work on these films. DP Federico Del Zoppo also has his say. The recollections of Anthony Crenna (now identifying as Richard Anthony Crenna) chime with those of many a non-Italian actor regarding his bemusement at being required to act sans direct sound and the virtually non-existent Health & Safety culture. Pietro Genuardi develops this theme further, claiming that a local drowned when operating the croc maquette underwater before detailing his own colourful experiences on location and attempting to return to Rome from it. You also get trailers and a few deleted sequences from the sequel. Nice.

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Wax Mask (1997), although it evolved into another (and rather more effective) FX-man-turned-director effort, was originally conceived as an attempt to revive the flagging Italian Horror tradition via another means, i.e. by assembling the dream team of Dario Argento (producing), Lucio Fulci (directing) and that man Sacchetti, writing (the latter has some very interesting things to say about the genesis of this project and the motivations behind it in our interview elsewhere on this blog). Of course Sacchetti was subsequently sacked (and replaced by Daniele Stroppa) when his proposed Mummy vehicle failed to find favour with Argento, whose enthusiasm for all things Gaston Leroux (below, left) at this point (which would attain its abysmal fruition in DA’s Phantom Of The Opera, 1997) re-routed the project in the direction of Leroux’s Waxwork Museum Mystery and its various cinematic offshoots. Tragically, after putting much work into that, Fulci died shortly before shooting was due to commence. Having been turned down by Fulci’s preferred successor, Claudio Fragasso (who collaborated with Lucio on the certifiably insane Zombi 3, 1988), Argento promoted long time FX man Sergio Stivaletti to make his directorial debut, resulting in the artefact under consideration here.

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Reflecting its convoluted origins, Wax Mask incorporates various strands of the Italian Horror / Thriller tradition, notably Gothic and Giallo, emerging as an attempt (no doubt Argento’s) to propel the two geriatric genres over the line into the 21st Century. Its action commences in Paris at the beginning of the 20th (“31st. December 1900” says the caption, but surely that’s a mistake?) where a little girl witnesses her parents being butchered by a masked figure with a robotic hand. Years later, two bravos partying in a Roman brothel strike a bet about whether one of them is brave enough to spend a night in a spooky wax museum (shades of Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabra). The designated dude duly dies of fright when confronted with a Medusa tableau. Was he the world’s biggest girl’s blouse or did something altogether more sinister occur? While we’re pondering that one, Sonia Lafont (Romina Mondello) turns up at the wax museum looking for a job and becomes obsessed with the contents of proprietor Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein)’s gloves. Turns out she was the little girl who survived the film’s brutal prologue… how sensitive of Volkoff, after taking her on, to open a new display which recreates that crime in suspiciously accurate detail. And why do the new wax figures always look so much like people who’ve recently disappeared from the streets?

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Wax Mask looks quite ravishing due in no small part, one imagines, to the participation of Fulci stalwarts Sergio Salvati (DP) and Massimo Antonello Geleng (production design). Maurizio Abeni’s lush music vindicates the decision to go with an orchestral score rather than Simonetti-style synth rock and the surround sound option on this disc will give your home cinema setup quite a workout. As you’d expect from a Stivaletti film (and with the sterling support of the ill-fated Benoit Lestang) the FX are pretty impressive and the director continues to explore the possibilities of CGI, which he’d first tackled in Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), not least with the startling eruption of a Terminator-like animated death’s head figure during the film’s denouement.

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The question inevitably arises (as it previously did with the likes of Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi) as to how much of the film Stivaletti actually directed, considering that Argento spent so much time on set (and apparently Hossein, a director in his own right, wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forward with advice). It’s a question that’s thoroughly addressed in this edition’s plentiful bonus materials, interviews with several of the creative principals throwing much light on Wax Mask’s protean progress from the drawing board to the screen and providing fascinating insights into the proverbial “personal and professional differences” with which the Italian film scene is freighted. Argento talks of how his attitude towards Fulci developed from mistrust into “love” and opines that if he had lived, Wax Mask secondo Fulci would have been “wild”.  Anyone who was puzzled by Alan Jones’s critical volte face on Fulci after the early ’80s will find Jones’s comments here interesting. We also get some clues as to what a Fulci-directed Wax Mask might have looked like and Stivaletti rues the stick he got from the ol’ Goremeister’s fans (and allegedly his daughter Antonella) for coming up with something different. Not, perhaps, the most reasonable of criticisms. There’s also a trio of “behind the scenes” featurettes that you might have seen on previous DVD editions. If not, all the better.

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Two interesting facts about Robert Hossein (above) emerge from the supplementary materials assembled here. Firstly, that he actually appeared in productions of Pigalle’s legendary Theatre Du Grand Guignol and also that he is (at least by Argento’s reckoning) a total fanny magnet! David Gregory moderates a commentary track from Stivaletti and his son Michelangelo, who’s there to help Dad out with his English and point out his own, intra-uterine film debut.

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I’d dispute Severin’s billing of Wax Mask as “the last great Italian gore film of the 20th Century” but it’s a consistently watchable and entertaining one and the compelling extras on this disc, constituting a revelatory delight for the cognoscenti of pasta paura, turn it into an indispensible purchase. My copy came with a bonus CD of Abeni’s OST.

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The two FX men-turned-directors are pictured below during their triumphant recent appearances at Manchester’s ever wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films.

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Close Encounters Of The Lethal Kind… BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON Reviewed.

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“We never set out to make a bad film…” Al Adamson, 1929-1995.

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson (USA, 2019). Directed by David Gregory.

The Severin gang have been making film documentaries since Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth in 2000 and will have clocked up well over 200 of them by the end of their second decade. You’d think they’d be getting good at it by now… and you’d be right. Widely acknowledged as the finest Sev offering yet, this feature length effort has also been touted as the Al Adamson documentary for people that don’t like Al Adamson movies”. Which only begs the question: “What kind of humourless git wouldn’t like an Al Adamson movie?!?”

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“What other director worked with Colonel Sanders, Charles Manson, bikers… and porn people?” asks Michael “Psychotronic” Weldon in the course of this loving tribute to the late, great Al. He neglected to mention Al’s DPs Vilmos Zsigmond (who took the Oscar for Close Encounters in 1977), László Kovács (who never lifted one but shot Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Ghostbusters) and Gary Graver (below, right, with Al and Angelo Rossitto) who at one point was working simultaneosly for Adamson and Orson Welles and allegedly later handled the second unit work on Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981).

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“You could be sure there were gonna be midgets, lots of breasts, blood and gore, all sorts of fun people and strange things going on”, attests actor / stuntman Gary Kent and if that hasn’t piqued your interest, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. The sheer craziness of Adamson’s films, which include ersatz Spaghetti Westerns, faux Filipino Horrors, bogus Blacksploitation epics, brawling bikers, maniacal monster mash-ups, sexy stewardesses and UFO exposés (all delivered in accordance with Al’s keynote philosophy: “We’re not aiming for academy awards when we shoot pictures, we’re aiming to entertain the audience”), was only matched and ultimately eclipsed by the bizzare facts of the director’s life (and desperately sad death), all told here via archive interviews with the man himself, police footage, film clips, some seriously slick, smart ass graphics and the testimonials of his surviving closest collaborators, family members, friends and fans.

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Al’s father Victor was a for real Antipodean cowboy who made an Ozzie Western (Stockman Joe) in 1910 before emigrating to the States and continuing to ply his trade as actor, director and producer under his favoured “Denver Dixon” alias. He turned down an approach from Universal to pursue a true auteurist path, even handling the distribution of his own pictures. It is said that Al Adamson was conceived during the shooting of one such, The Old Oregon Trail.  Al didn’t want to be a cowboy. Or a director. He wanted to be a song and dance man. When his two left feet put paid to that, “Denver” financed and directed Al’s first starring vehicle Halfway To Hell, only for Adamson Jr to kick him of the picture and complete it himself. It would seem that these two had a bit of a Brian / Murray Wilson relationship going on.

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After Halfway To Hell registered zero interest at the box office, Al was was running a night club in the San Fernando valley and managing singer Tacey Robbins, one of the many muses who motivated most of his career moves. Encouraged by Sam Sherman, ultimately his partner in Independent-International Pictures (“They were like the dream team of tits and terror movie” offers one associate), Al gave it another shot with heist saga Echoes Of Terror. When that one tanked too, Al recut it with go-go dancing footage to come up with Psycho A Go-Go which, in its turn, tanked. Another bunch of radical reshoots ensued and – as Blood Of Ghastly Horror  – the picture enjoyed a modicum of success in 1967.

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The convoluted evolution of this picture holds many clues to the Adamson method, e.g. the casting of women with which he was romantically involved or with whom he was at least infatuated (Regina Carrol, above right, his greatest muse and first wife enters the Adamsonian universe at this time)… the constant recutting and / or remarketing of films that audiences had (at least partly) seen before… and the participation of such Hollywood has beens (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr, J. Carrol Naish, Broderick Crawford… he even briefly resuscitated the career of the remaining Ritz Brothers) and misfits (Russ Tamblyn, interviewed herein) which owed at least as much to Al’s cheapness as any nostalgia for or loyalty to the stars of some notional cinematic Golden Age. His boast that “we put more on the screen per amount of money spent than any body else did” was vindicated via such stunts as giving Colonel Sanders a walk on part and prominent product placement in the 1970 biker flick Hell’s Bloody Devils, in return for which the cast and crew ate KFC for every meal during its shoot (maybe Al transferred his catering budget to the OST department, as this one was scored by Nelson Riddle, no less!) It would be the extension of this cheap attitude towards his domestic help that would prove to be Adamson’s undoing…

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After a run of immortal classics including Blood Of Dracula’s Castle, Satan’s Sadists and Five Bloody Graves (all 1969), Horror Of The Blood Monsters (1970), Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (“Zandor Vorkov” aka Roger Engel, above with Al, who took a brief sabbatical from stockbroking to become the silver screen’s most panned Count Dracula, has his say here), Brain Of Blood and The Female Bunch (all 1971), Angels’ Wild Women (1972), The Naughty Stewardesses (1974) and Black Samurai (1976) , to name but a few, Al’s career prospects (in common with those of his indie auteur contemporaries) were seriously compromised when the major studios started muscling in on traditional drive in / grind house turf (Spielberg’s Jaws, 1975, being an obvious milestone in this regard). Carnival Magic (1981) was an ill advised crack at family entertainment but the biggest blow to Adamson was the death of his wife Regina towards the end of 1992. He turned his attention to various other business ventures, travelling the globe and accumulating property until two things revived his love of film-making, namely a relationship with (and subsequent marriage to) aspiring actress Stevee Ashlock and the flowering of an interest in UFOs and associated conspiracy theories.

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Ashlock (interviewed here and proving to be quite the kooky character) talks about meetings with extra terrestrials, but Al’s fortunes were about to take a depressingly Earthbound turn. Discovering that contractor Fred Fulford was stealing from him while renovating his ranch retreat in Indio, California, Al decided (against Stevee’s advice) to let him work off the debt. Alerted by the director’s subsequent disappearance and the suspicions of his housekeeper Lupe Garcia, police excavated the foundations of a disused jacuzzi room and discovered human remains. Fulford was subsequently convicted of the murder of Al Adamson, though Ashlock and Sherman hint at some “Men In Black” type motivation for the director’s murder. Sherman wonders if Fulford could have been dumb enough to commit such an obviously discoverable crime but as one of the cops who worked the case tells David Gregory: “If  people who  commit crimes were smart, we’d have a hard time catching them” and the very real possibility exists that Fulford was just a very untalented Mr Ripley type.

910hG2FJPyL._SL1500_ copy.jpgIt’s the switch into true crime reportage during its final third that lifts BAF: TRLAGDOFAA a notch or two above even the standard level of Sev excellence. I’m wondering if some sympathetic director (Tim Burton springs to mind, for obvious reasons) might feel inspired by it to mount an Al Adamson biopic. Before that, one imagines we’ll see a bunch of the films celebrated here coming out on the Severin label. Ready when you are, boys.

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High Carati… ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Piling on its preposterous pretensions to penal reform / socio-political significance, one-shot director “Conrad Brueghel” (Giovanni Brusadori)’s Escape From Women’s Prison (“A Tale Of Sex And Violence”, 1978) is nothing more nor less than another blast of bad taste Italian (s)exploitation from the seemingly inexhaustible Severin vaults, in “a new 4k scan of a dupe negative seized from notorious NYC distributor 21st Century Film Corp”. Just the way we like it… a Tagliatelle Trash fan’s wet-dream collision of the W.I.P., home invasion and rape / revenge filoni.

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The sleazy action kicks off with four female convicts escaping over a prison wall. The film’s budget doesn’t extend to any depiction of the jail itself, but what the hey? Diana (Marina D’Aunia), Erica (Ada Ometti) and Betty (Artemia Terenziani) are ten-a-penny prostitutes, drug dealers and killers but Monica (Lilli Carati at her beautiful peak as Italy’s answer to Isabelle Adjani) is a Marxist terrorist so naturally she becomes top dog.

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These desperate individuals hijack a team bus full of female college tennis players (usual suspects Zora Kerova, Ines Pellegrini, Dirce Funari and Angela Doria) and drive it to (where else?) the country pile of the judge (Filippo Degara) who put them all away in the first place. The girls seem mostly miffed about the fact that they’re going to miss their tennis tournament and when one of them complains about this, she’s slapped down with the witty retort: “Shut your hole, cunt!” Looks like it’s going to be a long night…

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As armed police lay siege to the house, earnest discussions of dialectical materialism give way to a drunken lesbian grope fest (during which there are as many blatant plugs for Jagermeister as for J&B) and – obviously figuring “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” – the judge rapes Monica (!?!) After this questionable judicial intervention, she saves the hostages (by shooting her fellow cons) and attempts to abscond with Pellegrini’s character (who seems to have undergone some kind of radical political conversion) only for a “hail of bullets” sound effect to suggest that they didn’t get very far.

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So, what moral can we possibly deduce from this tawdry tale? That stroppy female Lefties respond well after having some sense shagged into them by male authority figures? Nope, I don’t think that one’s gonna fly in 2019. Brussadori also seems to be suggesting that no prisons are more constricting than the ones which we construct for ourselves. Carati’s prison was heroin, a confinement she finally escaped for good on 20/10/14. She was all of 58 years old.

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Extras include a particularly ripe trailer which plays out under a ludicrous police radio bulletin clearly fashioned on the one in Last House Of The Left, plus an interview with Brusadori, who seems like a nice guy and is never going to get lost in a crowd wearing that cardigan. You also get the longer Italian cut entitled Le Evase, in which certain scenes are allowed to ramble on a bit longer. Perusal of this reveals no significant new sleaze, but it’s not as though you’ve been short-changed in that regard by the main feature.

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Sex Dwarf, Isn’t It Nasty? THE BEAST IN HEAT Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
(“The World Blu-Ray Premiere Of The Most Bizarre Nazisploitation Shocker Ever!”, no less…)

“Don’t spit on the plate from which you eat your dinner”, John Morghen once told me and while that’s eminently sensible advice vis-a-vis basic culinary hygiene, he was actually responding to my enquiry as to how he felt about being typecast as a series of mentally unstable grotesques. Somebody else who probably thanked God for typecasting (if possibly for very little else) was Salvatore Baccaro (1932-1984). Talent spotted outside a Roman film studio, working as a fruit and veg vendor (a role he plays, fleetingly, in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, 1975), Sal was never likely to be nominated for a Rondo award, unless it was one for the closest physical resemblance to Rondo Hatton (both suffered from the disfiguring condition acromegaly). Baccaro’s brutish features and sawn-off, barrel-like physique earned him 65 roles, many of which turned on the old “beauty and the beast” chestnut, either with gently ironic intent (he beds the exquisite Edwige Fenech in Sergio Martino’s 1976 portmanteau effort Sex With A Smile) or to rather more sinister effect…

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After appearances in, among others, Argento’s Five Days In Milan (1973), the 1974 Dick Randall monstrosity Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks (credited as “Boris Lugosi”, our boy played Ook The Neanderthal Man, above) then Jacopetti & Prosperi’s Mondo Candido (1975), Salvatore found his career-defining (though uncredited) role in Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty (1976). Ramming home, with characteristic lack of subtlety, his message that the Nazis’ obsession with racial superiority made them infinitely more bestial than the “üntermensch” they so despised, Brass shows hookers for Hitler proving their loyalty to the Fuhrer by coupling with non-Aryan, disabled, deformed and otherwise “undesirable” prisoners. Sal features prominently as a randy retard. When I caught up with Salon Kitty courtesy of a University film society in the late ’70s, I counted more walk outs during this scene than for any other public screening of any film I’ve ever attended (though David Cronenberg’s Shivers ran it close).

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Not everybody was so turned off, though. In 1977 (a proper annus mirabilis for Signor Baccaro, who also appeared in Luigi Zampa’s The Monster, Luciano Martino’s Erotic Exploits Of A Sexy Seducer and Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America), Sal was called upon to briefly rehash that Salon Kitty role in Bruno Mattei’s xerox of the Brass film, SS Girls. Later in the year producer Roberto Pérez Moreno decided, for reasons over which we can only speculate, to expand the spectacle of Sal as mutant Nazi sex machine to feature length in Luigi Batzella (as “Ivan Kathansky”)’s once-seen-never-forgotten “The Beast In Heat – Horrifing (Sic) Experiments Of SS Final Days”. Well, half feature length, anyway…

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… footage from When The Bell Tolls, a partisan saga Batzella had directed (as “Paolo Solvay”) in 1970 was stitched in to provide some kind of context against which Salvatore (as “Sal Boris”… are you getting all this? I’ll be asking questions later) can spend the balance of the picture doing his inimitable thing, bonking any women unfortunate enough to be thrown into his cage (and sometimes eating their pubic hair), hamming it up in a Cosmo Smallpiece-like caricature of lust, mugging and smacking his lips into Batzella’s on-rushing zoom lens while all around him other overacting captives are sexually humiliated, tortured, castrated and fed to ravenous gerbils and guinea pigs, all of this presided over by sexy, mega-aphrodisiac wielding SS doctor Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall, who’s also in Mattei’s SS Girls, not to mention Ken Dixon’s The Erotic Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, 1975).

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Dr K seems very, er, enthusiastic about her work. Whereas Sal’s role in the Brass and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Mattei films seemed to be to blur the lines between the supposed “subhumans” and the übermensch who were stealing themselves to have it off with them, here he seems to be Doc’s pride and joy, an… er, end in himself, though it’s difficult to see exactly how his retarded rutting is supposed to further the cause of  Aryan racial supremacy. Clearly, Fraulein Kratsch has taken her eye off the prize. As Bruce Lee advises a kung fu novice during the opening scenes of Enter The Dragon: “It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon… don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory”. Dr Kratsch is missing out on a shitload of heavenly glory here, though she appears to be having a whale of a time, all the same.

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When Batzella (who also edited this thing) finally manages to stitch the old and new footage together into some semblance of a climax, those partisans have very definite views on the Doc’s conduct. Not trusting in a malpractice hearing, they stuff her into Bonking Boris’ cage, exactly where we all knew she’d end up. Unfortunately the kill-joy guerillas shoot them both before the full measure of poetic justice can be meted out.

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Severin’s mission to rehabilitate as many official “video nasties” as possible continues unabated. They’ve done a characteristically splendid job on The Beast In Heat, a movie that’s rarely been topped for tastelessness but whose almost palpable absurdity would make it very difficult for anyone to take too much offence at it, aside from opportunistic muck rakers trying to start moral panics during the early ’80.

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In the featurette Nasty Nazi, Stephen Thrower, a dependably articulate commentator, struggles (as would anyone) to convey the tawdry ridiculousness of the whole affair and wonders how a dapper, urbane character such as Luigi Batzella (pictured above, right) could have been roped into it. I guess the answer is that he had bills to pay like everybody else. No doubt the same was true for The Beast’s OST composer Giuliano Sorgini, previously responsible for the sublime score to Jorge Grau’s masterly Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974). Thrower suggests that TBIH was as much “inspired” by the dishonourable tradition of OTT Italian horror comics (“fumetti”) as by any cinematic antecedents which sets up an interesting feedback loop, given that such comic book fodder (see for instance the controversial case of IPC’s Action comic in the UK) often exists to feed a demand for rite of passage forbidden thrills from kids too young to sneak in and see adult-certified films.

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Of course you get a (French) trailer, plus Naomi Holwill’s exhaustive, alternately informative and amusing feature length SadicoNazista doc, Fascism On A Thread – The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema. The aforementioned Giuliani Sorgini opens proceedings by declaring these films”the lowest of the low”. Other genre luminaries interviewed include directors Bruno Mattei, Sergio Garrone (SS Experiment Camp), Mario Caiano (Nazi Love Camp 27), Rino Di Silvestro (Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) and Liliana Cavani (who reveals that what worried Italian censors most about The Night Porter was the spectacle of Charlotte Rampling on top during sex). Night Porter writer Italo Moscati and Sergio D’Offizi (DP on Deported Women Of The SS Special Section) also have their say, along with actresses Melissa Longo (Salon Kitty and various French stabs at SadicoNazista) and Dyane Thorne (Ilsa herself… now an ordained minister!) plus her husband and collaborator Howard Maurer, along with commentators and academics including Mike Hostench from the Sitges Film Festival, Mikel J. Koven, Russ Hunter, Anthony Page, Kim Newman, Allan Bryce and the inevitable John Martin. Yep, it’s another winner from High Rising Productions.

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“Oh, the subhumanity!”

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“Sweet Mother Of Mercy, Can’t You Smell That Stink?” Further Fragasso / Mattei Madness From Severin… NIGHT KILLER And ROBOWAR Reviewed

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Night Killer. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Robowar. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Does the image above suggest a Felliniesque cinematic sensibility? Perhaps there’s a touch of the Bergmanesque about it? Well, unlikely as it may seem, on one of the extras to Severin’s spanky new BD release of Night Killer (1990), writer / director “Clyde Anderson” / Claudio Fragasso states (with admirably straight face) that these were the rarified levels of cinematic attainment to which he was aspiring here. Unfortunately, when his partner in crud (OK, the guy’s dead, let’s be a bit respectful, now)… “his uncredited co-director” Bruno Mattei saw the rushes he declared Fragasso’s wannabe Arthouse classic a dud and (at the insistence of producer Franco Guadenzi) cut in interminable clumsy dance sequences and stuff involving a gonzoid killer in Freddy Krueger mask and kill glove (the latter wobbly prop looking like it would struggle to slice its way through warm butter) before releasing the whole resultant mess in Italy under a title and publicity campaign that suggested it was the second sequel to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (!?!) at exactly the same time as Jeff Burr’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III came out.

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Did Mattei’s revamp do the film any favours? Probably. After spending way too long pondering what Fragasso’s “psychological thriller” cut of the movie would have looked like, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither version was ever going to make a lick of sense, but that Mattei injected sufficient (additional) unintentional laughs into the proceedings to make it worth your while.

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In Virginia Beach, VA, some nut job is raping and killing his way through the local female population. Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman) is the only victim to have survived one of these assaults, only to find herself apparently falling into the clutches of the psycho all over again… but is her captor Axel (Peter Hooten) the same loony as the one with the Freddy mask? And if not, WTF is going on? And should you give a toss? Prepare yourself for one of the stupidest twists in stupid movie history, closely followed by one of the lamest “so, the nightmare is finally over… oh no it isn’t!” codas you’ve ever witnessed. No doubt about it, this is one of the dumbest movie I’ve ever sat still for. Hm, might watch it again tonight…

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In the ’70s and ’80s Tara Buckman compiled a pretty solid CV, appearing in many of the classic TV series of that era. She played in Kojak, The Rockford Files, Baretta, Hart To Hart, Barnaby Jones, CHiPs, T.J. Hooker, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (on which, more below) and not one but two episodes of The Greatest TV Show Ever (and I’ll brook no argument on this score), Quincy ME (including 1979’s Never A Child, in which the irascible coroner battled child pornography, an episode informally banned from UK TV screenings until recently). In 1981 she rubbed shoulders with a shedload of Hollywood A-listers in Hal Needham’s The Cannonball Run. Three years later her career trajectory was describing a downward curve (or not, depending on your personal orientation re trash films) with an appearance in Charles E. Sellier Jr’s miserably tasteless Silent Night, Deadly Night. TB’s resume petered out in the early ’90s (partly, perhaps, for reasons hinted at in some of the bonus interviews on this disc) amid some of Joe D’Amato’s stodgier soft core efforts and the likes of Night Killer. To be fair, she puts in a half-decent performance here, with nary a hint that she considers herself above all the nonsense unfolding around her or of her apparent animosity towards her co-star… again there are hints at the (not entirely PC) grounds she might have had for this in the supplementary materials.

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If only the performance of Peter Hooten as Axel could be dignified with the accolade “half (or even quarter) decent”… having worked his way up through the same TV terrain as Buckman, Hooten made his first inroads into Italian cinema into Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards (yeah, the real one) in 1978, the same year as he filled the mystic threads of Dr. Strange to rather less elegant effect than Bendydick Cucumberpatch in a weedy TV adaptation of the Marvel character’s trans-dimensional exploits. In 1982 Hooten popped up in Joe D’Amato and Luigi Montefiori’s post-Apocalyptic romp 2020 Texas Gladiators and here he is in Night Killer, looking very much like a fish out of water… I mean, for an allegedly intense psycho, he doesn’t half mince around!

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Rossella Drudi, Fragasso’s other half and uncredited co-writer suggests, in one of the accompanying featurettes, that Night Killer is about how sexual assailants penetrate the minds of their victims as devastatingly as their bodies, which smacks of an after-the-fact attempt to claim Night Killer as some kind of influence on Dario Argento’s 1996 giallo The Stendhal Syndrome (itself a pretty awful film, albeit with many less excuses for being so). That’s as may be, but die-hard sleaze film fanatics will be way more interested in such scenes as the one where the masked dude’s in a heated clinch with a floozy, who observes “Ooh Grandma, what a big schlong you have!” and the big reveal of the psycho’s true identity, after which Buckman stabs him in the dick.

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“Ooh, Grandma…”

Additional bonus materials include a trailer and an interview with Fragasso which, like Drudi’s, looks like it was recorded in someone’s home recording studio. He remembers how their disagreement about the editing and promotion of Night Killer led to a temporary estrangement between him and his co-director, though happily they made it up and Claudio was eventually gracious enough to admit to Mattei that he’d been right. Hey Claudio, when it came to spaghetti exploitation, Bruno Mattei is always right!

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Bruno’s Robowar – Robot De Guerra (directed under his trusty “Vincent Dawn” alias in 1988) is an altogether different and ultimately more satisfying kettle of crud, in which a crap (sorry, crack) team of mercenaries / ‘Nam vets and the like are shipped off to a remote and war infested Filipino island to bring down Omega 1, a prototype battle droid that’s gone AWOL / rogue / native and all sorts of other bad places to which you wouldn’t reasonably want a homicidal cyborg to go.

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I love everything about the mercenaries / ‘Nam vets, starting with the fact that they call themselves “The Bad Ass Motherfuckers” (hilariously mistranslated on the English soundtrack as “Big Ass Motherfuckers). I love their ridiculous insistence (mandated by Mattei, apparently) on screaming like loons as they unload the inexhaustible magazines of their machine guns on platoons of acrobatic Filipino extras and stunt men (well, it worked OK for Stallone..) Then there’s their ridiculous designations: “Diddy or Diddy Bop”… “Papa Doc”… Sonny “Blood” Peel… “Quang (a carry over from the Vietnam campaign)”… and (as portrayed by Reb Brown) “Major Murphy Black, a multi-decorated field officer, better known as… Kill Zone”. It bothers me a little that Romano Puppo’s Corporal Corey doesn’t get a nick-name, so I’m gonna award him one myself, OK? From now on he’s “Big Apple”. It’s my blog and I’ll award nick names to fictitious characters  if I want to…

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Actually, despite Massimo Vanni’s Diddy Bop bearing a spooky resemblance to Chuck Norris, this is actually a pretty weedy-looking bunch of special forces operatives. Don’t worry unduly on their behalf though, because the cyborg assassin they’re up against is a particularly sad sack looking piece of robotic shit. His suit must have been pinched from some cut price fancy dress shop and as for his voice… registering in a range that makes Giovanni Frezza in House By The Cemetery sound like Barry White, it recalls nothing so much as that gobshite garbage pail Twiki from the aforementioned Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.

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The guys are further hamstrung by the unwanted presence of Mascher (Mel Davidson), a representative of some sinister corporation or other who, it turns out, designed Omega 1 (“… with my team of bionic experts”) and in an unexpected twist (unexpected by anybody who’s never seen Alien) is only on board the mission to check how his baby does against a crap (sorry againcrack) special forces unit. Rather more serious accusations than that are made against Davidson in some of the extras on this disc, but I’m not going to get into any of that stuff here. The boys also rescue an UN aid worker called Virgin (!), played by the likeable (she comes across very well in the extras, anyway) Catherine Hickland, who was in the process of becoming the former Mrs David Hasselhoff during the Robowar shoot. Spagsploitation stalwart “Alan Collins” (Luciano Pigozzi) is listed in the credits (and appears in some of the “making of” material) but any trace of him has been ruthlessly excised from the final release, as also happened on Mattei’s Zombi 3, Strike Commando 2, Cop Game (all 1988) and Born To Fight (1989)… I’d love to know what happened to occasion this obviously serious falling out.

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Bruno never seemed to tire of ripping off John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). In 2004’s Land Of Death, he combined its plot line with that of Cannibal Holocaust, to pants-pissingly hysterical effect. Robowar boasts the aforementioned Alien pinch and at its “climax”, when Murphy / “Killzone” discovers that the human remnants inside Omega 1’s helmet are those of an old ‘Nam buddy, it strays over into Robocop (also 1987) territory.

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Bruno, we miss you…

*SPOILER ALERTS* The scene in which Murphy jumps down a waterfall before Omega 1 self-destructs is ambitious and well realised but my favourite memories of the film remain the one in which everybody’s angsting about Sonny “Blood” Peel having his face ripped off by the cyborg, only for a reassuring glance at Sonny’s corpse to reveals that it’s right there, still plastered to the front of his head… not to mention the moving credits sequence, in which the actors’ names are attached to the wrong clips!

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Like Night Killer, Robowar has been remastered in a 4K scan from the original original negative. In the extras, Fragasso and Drudi have their say, the latter revealing just how much sexist shit creative women had to put up with in the world of exploitation all’Italiana.  There are further interviews with Massimo Vanni, John P. Dulaney (Papa Doc), Jim Gaines Jr. (Sonny “Blood” Peel) and Hickland, whose behind-the-scenes home movies we also get to see (and which confirm that Collins / Pigozzi was definitely in this movie at one point).  Fragasso doesn’t need much persuading to recount some of his favourite Al Festa anecdotes (anybody who doubts that audience and film makers came to blows at a Roman screening of Gipsy Angel (1990) obviously didn’t attend the world premiere of Al’s Fatal Frames at the 1996 Bradford Film Festival) and the first 3,000 units of this release come with a bonus CD of Festa’s Robowar soundtrack. I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the title theme, in which a squad of grunts seems to be chanting what sounds like “hot sluts!”, suggesting a different kind of movie altogether… whatever, great fun and another indispensible brace of Severin releases. What are you waiting for?

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Brain Salad Surgery… DEATH WARMED UP, Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“We’ve got an emergency here… a break out of psycho patients!”

Mad scientists…. a crazy bunch of bastards! Am I right or am I right? From Frankenstein to Moreau, Butcher to Dolittle, they’ve actually done very little to improve the human condition (which is generally their professed intention), more often than not opening up unprecedented vistas of dystopian degradation while trying. To be fair to Dr D, inter-species communication has proved to be a real boon but there’s always an exception to prove the rule and the rule, reasserted in spades in David Blyth’s Kiwisploitation epic Death Warmed Up (1984), is that disregard of medical ethics, no matter how lofty the reasoning behind it, bears catastrophic fruit, often in the form of psychotic survivors of speculative brain surgery running amok…

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Here, self proclaimed medical messiah Dr Howell (Gary Day) has decided to extend his surgical experiments on rats’ brains to human beings, confident that he can “make Death obsolete”. Pointing out the worrying side effects of these procedures (which will become all too painfully obvious as the plot unwinds), his colleague Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) demurs. Incensed by such lily-livered shilly-shallying, Howell brainwashes Tucker’s son Michael (Michael Hurst), by unspecified means, into going home and blasting Mom and Dad away with a shotgun (just as they were settling down to an agreeable spot of middle aged-nookie… he could at least have let Mom and Dad finish, out of simple courtesy!)

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Several years later Michael is released from the high security booby hatch to which he had, not unreasonably, been confined. He seems to have picked up the pieces of his life admirably well. While he looked even sillier than Angus Young as a schoolboy assassin, the grown up, bleached blond Michael more closely resembles Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner… quite the cool dude. He’s got a foxy girlfriend, Sandy (Margaret Umbers, whose swimwear stylings will interest all serious students of bactrian podiatry) and two great mates, Lucas (William Upjohn) and Jeannie (Norelle Scott). Together they embark on a happy-go-lucky holiday trip to a remote island but instead of sun, sand and sex, his friends are in for death, destruction and dismemberment… Michael forgot to mention that their destination is the location of Dr Howell’s Institute for Trans Cranial Applications, where he’s heading with vengeance uppermost in his damaged brain. As “luck” would have it, the Doc’s pissed-off patients start kicking off just as they arrive and Michael must fight his way through a horde of mutilation-bent mutants –  led by the relentless Spider (David Letch) – en route to the climactic confrontation with his Nemesis…

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“I’ll get you, you bastards!”

Over the Tasman Sea, Australian censors did’t get this film’s punk rock / comic book aesthetic of OTT outrage and Death Warmed Up found itself banned on the grounds of “excessive violence” (nowadays they’d probably be more worried about its stereotypical “comic” depiction of a Sub-Continental convenience store propreitor). Whatever, Peter Jackson obviously managed a squint at it, as cursory examination of his early gore trilogy eloquently testifies (thankfully David Blythe never made the jump to mega-budgeted muppet monstrosities). On account of this obvious influence, DWU has latterly been hailed as some kind of trailblazer for Antipodean atrocity, though it obviously owes its own debt to George Miller’s Mad Max I and II. Its sub-Blake’s 7 production design also brings to mind (to my twisted mind, anyway) that 1979 Lee Cooper commercial with the Gary Numan music…

… and of course Blyth’s cautionary tale of medical missteps would make for a tasty double bill viewed alongside Anthony Balch’s uproarious Horror Hospital (1973, below).

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Extras include interviews with David “Spider” Letch (who comes across as a benign, avuncular figure now that his eyebrows have grown back) and a double header with director Blyth and writer Michael Heath. Those two also provide optional audio commentaries to the main feature and also a reel of (sometimes mysteriously) deleted footage. As well as the expected trailers and TV spots, you can also watch original NZ 4×3 VHS cut, should you choose to do so. My copy came in an attractive slip case featuring the original poster art work by King of Quad, Graham Humphreys.

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The main feature is a bit grainy and there are some sonic imperfections but what do you expect, given the provenance of this picture… I mean, how slick do you want your Punk Rock, anyway?

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Death Stalks On Five Yellow Discs… Severin’s Monumental ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK / ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO Box Set Reviewed.

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All The Colors Of The Dark. BD / CD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

All The Colors Of Giallo. BD / CD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Severin have always been generous with their bonus materials but here, like that ambassador dishing out the ferrero rocher at his embassy reception – possibly the very one attended by Edwige Fenech’s Julie Wardh in Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971) –  they are positively spoiling us! Their “All The Colours” sets, available singly at the links above and as a (getting rarer by the minute) box set, were only issued in January but, taken together, constitute what can already be confidently acknowledged as the release of 2019 (and if I’m wrong, cool, because it means that something very special is on its way during the next several months…)

You’re already going to be familiar with the plot of All The Colors Of The Dark (1972) from earlier editions of it that have been reviewed on this blog… and if not, why not?!? If you do need to get up to speed though, take a look here and / or here). Suffice to say, Martino’s third giallo is a bewitching fusion of that genre’s conventions and Rosemary’s Baby-patented Satanic panic, which consistently undercuts audience (and indeed, at the death, its own) expectations… with the divine Edwige Fenech fulfilling her quota of soapy shower scenes, for good measure.

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ATCOTD now looks and sounds every bit as good as you’d expect from a Severin release, though I’m still longing for a surround sound mix of Bruno Nicolai’s memorable score, particularly that Sabbat theme, which the Marketing-Film DVD (as “Die Farben Der Nacht”) only offers on its German language track, necessitating more viewer fidgeting than during Fenech’s ablutions. Bonus materials include a somewhat less pristine looking print of the alternative US cut, retitled They’re Coming To Get You and shorn of several minutes so that distributors Independent-International (whom we’ll shortly be looking at in connection with Severin’s comparably nifty Blood Island Collection) could more easily shoehorn it into grindhouse and drive in double bills. This they managed by substituting a short passage of lame “spooky” graphics for the original’s “long day’s journey into night” intro and 99% of Martino’s subsequent carefully contrived, surrealistically nightmarish sequence. Needless to say, Fenech’s post-nightmare trip to the bathroom is present and politically incorrect…

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There’s a nice bonus interview with director Martino, who renders a comprehensive A-Z of ATCOTD… a real “soup to nuts” job. He also reflects on Fenech’s long-standing reticence in talking about these movies (“For a woman, it’s embarrassing to admit that she was exploited for the public. Today, she’s a lady”) and expresses a particular fondness for All The Colors, on account of his second daughter being conceived during location scouting for it. He pays sad tribute to his late producer brother Luciano (“I was the mind and he was the arm”) and talks fondly of his prolific favoured screenwriter, Ernesto Gastaldi: “Now that we are both old, we lick the wounds of our old age together”.

In his interview, Gastaldi returns the compliments to Martino (“We are the last of the Mohicans!”) while suggesting that Martino had more mixed feelings about working for his brother than he generally lets on. As for Gastaldi’s own relationship with the producer: “Luciano was a strange friend… he never paid me much!”

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Gastaldi states that his intention with ATCOTD was to debunk the supernatural (though the finished film concludes a lot more ambiguously than that) and complains that he never wrote any of the shower scenes with which Fenech’s films are littered. He found the Queen of Giallo “cold… I’m not saying I wouldn’t have touched her with a stick or anything!” The interview is also noteworthy for Gastaldi’s touching tribute to the memory of Antonio Margheriti.

Fenech’s frequent leading man, George Hilton, is also interviewed, with useful interjections from Italy’s top home-grown genre pundit, Antonio Tentori. Kat Ellinger (author of All The Colors of Sergio Martino) supplies a commentary track to the main feature which, she admits, is anything but unbiased. There’s never any dead air on an Ellinger commentary.

You get a bunch of trailers and TV spots too, plus (if you bag one of the first 2,500 copies) a very welcome CD of Bruno Nicolai’s score, which I’ve coveted for so long that I think it’s one of the things you’re admonished not to covet in The Ten Commandments.

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If that little lot has got you in a yellow mood, prepare yourself for the second sub-set in this box, All The Colors Of Giallo. On disc 1, a new feature-length documentary of that title by Federico Caddeo gives a domestic perspective on this most enduring of Italian exports via a plethora of interviews… some of them recent, some that you’ll be familiar with from previous releases. The big five giallo directors are covered by interviews with Argento (who talks about how close The Bird With The Crystal Plumage came to box office oblivion on its original Italian release), Lamberto Bava (representing and remembering his father Mario), Martino (who claims to have experienced no sexual frisson from his frequent proximity to the naked Edwige Fenech… if you say so, Sergio), the ever-pugnacious Umberto Lenzi and (in an audio interview, on predictably coruscating form), Lucio Fulci. Luciano Ercoli also gets his say, alongside the most prolific giallo scripter of all, the indefatigable Ernesto Gastaldi. There are contributions from staple actor George Hilton (who describes the longevity of these movies as “a beautiful surprise”) and some of the genre’s glamorous female stars, including Edwige Fenech (during the short-lived period when Quentin Tarantino’s endorsements emboldened her to talk about her exploitation credits), Barbara Bouchet, Daria Nicolodi and Nieves Navarro / “Susan Scott”.

Tied together with the observations of film historian Fabio Melelli (“The Argento of today is a very different director from the one he once was”… no foolin’, Fabio!), this doc takes a bit of a scatter gun approach, though often hitting the target square on. I mean, do you really want to hear Bouchet dishing the dirt on who shagged whom during the making of Don’t Torture A Duckling? “Is a bear a Catholic?”, I can almost hear my incredulous readers shouting at their screens: “Does The Pope shit in the woods?!?”

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In an interesting sideline, Melelli suggests that Italian censors couldn’t be too strict on gialli / horror after the stuff that they’d permitted Pasolini as “a serious artist” … a double standard the British establishment has never had any problems sustaining.

Before you’ve had a chance to catch your breath (or don a pair of shades to protect your eyes from his Op Art shirt), erstwhile Giallo Pages editor John Martin is presenting a 20 minute overview of the genre in which he doesn’t come across as too much of a dick. Kudos to editor Zach Carter for that. David Flint directs.

The ensuing Giallothon comprises 4 hours (I kid you not!) of trailers for Italian slashers… the 82 coming attractions, of varying provenance and spankiness, might provoke debate about what should have been in there and what could comfortably have been left out, but that’s half the genre-defining beauty of it. You might even discover a couple of titles you’ve yet to catch up with.

Kat Ellinger pops up again, here deploying her extensive knowledge of the genre to rattle off a sustained series of capsule commentaries on each of the titles represented in this collection. Why is it that Italian giallo trailers are invariably more psychedelic than trailers for Italian acid movies? The one which compares Curse Of The Scorpion’s Tail, another Martino effort, to Bunuel, Eisenstein, et al, is a strong contender for the most enjoyably wacky selection here but that for Silvio Amadio’s Amuck is another bona fide hoot. Then, of course, there’s Lenzi’s “Spasmo… SPASMO… SPASMO!!!

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Disc 2 takes us over the Alps into Germany for film historian Marcus Stiglegger’s investigation of that country’s krimi genre and its mutually influential relationship with its little Latin cousin, the giallo. This sets up another trailerthon in the shape of Kriminal!, 90 minutes of coming attractions for the cinematic offspring of Edgar Wallace’s interminable scribblings.

If your interest is sufficiently piqued by that, you might well want to seek out Universum Film’s gargantuan 33 krimi DVD box set. If, on the other hand, your eyes are bleeding after taking in all these yellow visuals, you might prefer to sit back in your grooviest chair, freshen your tumbler of J&B, slip those headphones on and enjoy The Strange Sounds Of The Bloodstained Films, a CD selection of musical highlights from the likes of Morricone, Ortolani, Orlandi, Alessandroni, Cipriani, De Massi et al, compiled and remastered from the archives of Beat Records by Alfonso Carillo and Claudio Fuiano. Go on, you’ve earned it…

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And if you really feel like splashing out…

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“Nobody Knows Who They Were, Or… What They Were Doing!” Plasma Drenched Druids From Outer Space Get Their Shit Together In The Country In Ed Adlum’s Incredible INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS.

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Those Severin boys misspent their foolhardy youths hunting elusive VHS trash, but now they’ve grown to manhood’s full estate, the guys spend most of their time releasing the self-same cinematic oddities on DVD and latterly Blu-ray. Now the Sev treatment has been extended to Ed Adlum’s extraordinary Invasion Of The Blood Farmers (1972), a title upon which I, having once worked at DEFRA for all of eight days, feel uniquely well qualified to comment.

Imagine if you will, that The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) had been directed by Ed Wood rather than Nic Roeg… furthermore, that instead of David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark et al, its principal roles had been fill by the director’s friends and neighbours, whom he paid with a six-pack of beer apiece… and that the film’s crew, some of whom went on to more prestigious projects (assistant camera man Fred Elmes went on to lens films by David Lynch, whom some people I know claim to be a better director than Ed Adlum… I remain unconvinced) were newbies who clearly didn’t have a fucking clue what they were doing.

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To be fair, Adlum wasn’t a total film virgin, having already produced (and had an uncredited hand in the writing of) Raf Mauro’s Blonde On A Bum Trip (1968). What’s more, he would go on to produce (and play a Yeti in) Michael (Snuff) Findlay’s Shriek Of The Mutilated (1974)… yep, if they ever start handing out honorary Academy Awards for people who worked on the most films with totally cool titles, Ed would be your man.

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But what of IOTBF’s Oscar credentials? Well, after a see it / hear it to believe it “James Mason meets Mario Bava” prologue, we find ourselves ass-deep in the rural backwater of Westchester County, NY, where townsfolk are mysteriously disappearing. Druids from Outer Space (you heard me!) have been spiriting them away and injecting them with chemicals that expand their blood supply until it’s gushing from every orifice (accompanied by appropriate outbreaks of spectacular over / under acting). All this because the drinks supply on their home planet has dried up (yep, Nic Roeg was definitely watching IOTBF when he dreamed up The Man Who Fell To Earth). While they’re at it, blood farmers Egon (Jack Neubeck), Sontag (Richard Erickson) and co are looking for the only living woman whose blood will revive their Queen Onhorrid (Cynthia Fleming), who spends most of the picture reposing, Sleeping Beauty style, in a perspex coffin. As it turns out, Jenny Anderson (Tanna Hunter) carries the unique blood group… which puts a serious crimp in hunky young research scientist Don Tucker (Bruce Detrick)’s attempts to romance her. Presiding over the blood farmers’ ludicrous rituals (as bloody gurgling sound effects are cranked up to 11) we find Creton (Paul Craig Jennings), quite the campest Druid from Outer Space since… well, since whoever was previously the campest Druid from Outer Space, obviously.

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Extras-wise you get the expected trailer and entertaining interviews with Jack Neubeck and Fred Elmes, plus an even more amusing conversation with Adlum, whose eclectic CV apparently includes the invention of the phrase “video games”. Better still, once you’ve enjoyed IOTBF watch it all over again with the commentary track from Ed and his partner Ortrum Tippel (who also appears in the film, uncredited, as a victim of the blood farmers). In his inimitable wry fashion, Ed (who appears as yet another victim, the hapless dude who gets killed in the shower on his wedding night) spills the beans on how, among other things, IOTBF’s furnishings were won on a TV game show, how he fell out with Steven Spielberg, how the Druids’ sacred “ritual key of Menandor” was actually a bottle opener and on arguments he had with the ill-fated Michael Findlay over which was the scuzziest genre, Porn or Horror. Moderator (and House of Psychotic Women author) Kier-La Janisse, meanwhile, advises Ed that Snuff wasn’t really a snuff movie and he sounds relieved.

“What more can you do than entertain People?” asks Ed, at one point in the bonus materials: “It’s a great calling!” Mission accomplished here.

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2 Ripping BD Yarns From Severin… Monty Berman’s JACK THE RIPPER and Ivan Nagy’s SKINNER, Reviewed.

SAUCY JACK, YOU’RE A NAUGHTY ONE…

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Jack The Ripper (1959). BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

For readers of a certain vintage, the name of producer Monty Berman will evoke such ’60s / early ’70s gimmicky TV action staples as The Saint, The Baron, The Champions, Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) and the camp escapades of Jason King, both in and out of Department S. All of these seemed to boast iconic title sequences / music and as an added bonus, The Champions arrived just in time to stimulate our developing libidos with the spectacle of the icily beautiful Alexandra Bastedo, the erstwhile Bond girl who would subsequently appear in such Euro Horror epics as Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride.

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It’s my blog so we’re having a gratuitous pic of the glorious Alexandra Bastedo here, OK?

Less well documented (even within the recent slew of books about British Horror flicks) are Berman’s attempts (in cahoots with Robert S. Baker) to ride Hammer’s coat tails with the likes of Henry Cass’s Blood Of The Vampire (1958), John Gilling’s Burke and Hare biopic The Flesh And The Fiends (1960), The Hellfire Club (1961) and the item under consideration here, which (like The Hellfire Club) was directed as well as produced by Baker and Berman (the latter, interestingly enough, born in Whitechapel, a quarter of a Century after Saucy Jack littered its streets with his prostitute victims).

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In furtherance of those Hammeresque aspirations, Jimmy Sangster was poached to script the film and came up with a thoughtful effort taking in the iniquities of social deprivation, gender and disability discrimination, rough street justice, et al, while adroitly shifting suspicion between various characters. John Le Mesurier’s snotty surgeon is looking like the likeliest candidate until another posh doc is revealed, at the eleventh hour, to be the killer, motivated (in a persistent pet theory of Ripperologists) by his son’s death from syphilis, contracted from a Whitechapel working girl. Pursued by Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) and his men, “Jack” unwisely attempts to conceal himself in a hospital lift shaft and is promptly squashed to a pulp.

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Although an interesting historical footnote, Berman and Baker’s variation on the Ripper saga failed to elevate its makers, as intended, into the Premier League alongside Hammer. Crucially, that company’s lurid use of colour seems to have been completely lost on them. I suppose the b/w cinematography (which again, they divided between them) made it easier to convey a pea soupy East End on their threadbare studio sets, but this film is one of those which you suspect already looked dated when it came out. There is a sore thumb colour insert at the climax of the American release version (which also adds a portentous voice over intro and replaces Stanley Black’s score with one by Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo, among other bits of fiddling) as JTR’s blood bubbles through the floorboards of the lift, this scene and several others excised from UK prints by the BBFC. Both versions are included here and you also get an audio commentary from Baker, Sangster and AD Peter Manley, moderated by Marcus Hearn, plus a selection of alternative “Continental takes”, shot for markets with a greater toleration of female nudity. On top of the expected poster and still gallery and (scuzzy looking) trailer, you get interviews with the ubiquitous Denis Meikle and Whitechapel murder tour guide Richard Jones, allowing you to evaluate their conflicting theories about who the Ripper or possibly even Rippers might or might not have been… an argument that isn’t going to be settled by this release or by anybody, any time soon.

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B&B possibly figured (wrongly) that despite the absence of colour, they could sell this one in The States on the strength of second string yankee hunk Lee Patterson in the role of holidaying New York cop Sam Lowry. Why, you may well ask, would a NYC cop want to spend his vacation helping out Scotland Yard? Well, as Lowry tells Inspector O’Neill: “We don’t have Rippers in New York!” Watch this space, pal… quack, quack, quack!

THE SHAPE OF WATER…

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Skinner (1993) BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“He wants a vest with tits on it”.

My first encounter with Carl Daft and David Gregory was in 1991 (so obviously pre-Severin, pre-Blue Underground… this was even pre-Exploited) when I found myself sitting adjacent to them at a midnight movie preview screening of Silence Of The Lambs and we exchanged off the cuff critiques. Nearly thirty (yikes!) years later, Severin have released a film that could all too easily be dismissed as a poor man’s take on the Jonathan Demme hit, though as we’ll see, there’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye…

Dennis Skinner (the name a gag that might have been lost on non-British viewers, though presumably American audiences got the “Bob and Earl” reference), played by Ted Raimi, is a nerdishly likeable misfit who rents a room in what looks suspiciously like Norman Bates’ house (shades of Ed Gein, already). His landlady Kerry Tate (Ricki Lake) is having a hard time with her often absent husband Geoff (David Warshofsky) and romance begins to blossom between her and Dennis. He longs to show her his “real self”, but there’s a clue as to what exactly that might be in the mutilated shape of Heidi, a former flame who’s tracking him down with vengeance in mind…

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Suits you, Sir…

When he’s not romancing Kerry or working as a janitor, Dennis likes to kill prostitutes and skin them to construct lady suits for himself. Not the most endearing of hobbies but skilful scripting and direction from (respectively) Paul Hart-Wilden and Ivan Nagy (e.g. in the revelation of the childhood trauma that drove Dennis off the rails) keep us rooting for him and hoping that he can find redemption in the arms of Kerry… but Heidi has other plans for him…

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An obvious STV job, Skinner transcends its evident low-budget by dint of such deft touches as its ant-hero’s obsession with water and it’s ability to fill any vessel into which it is poured. The film’s casting could hardly have been bettered in this regard, with Lake having undergone a massive physical transformation in real life and Lords effecting a no less startling metamorphosis into the cinematic mainstream. Director Nagy was quite the Protean figure himself and it’s clear, from David Gregory’s fascinating bonus interview with him here and from other extras on this disc, that before his involvement in “other business” defined him forever in the public eye, Nagy was a film maker intent on making good films. With Skinner, he succeeded (even if that ambitiously quirky ending does come off as something of a misfire).

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Other bonus materials (apart from the obvious trailer) include interviews with Raimi, writer Paul Hart-Wilden and editor (actually the last in a long line of editors) Jeremy Kasten, plus the unexpurgated depiction of Skinner’s gruesome tailoring. All the surviving contributors agree that this would be far less problematic today than the ill-advised scene (Hart-Wilden insists that he didn’t write it) in which Skinner wraps himself in the skin of a black co-worker and goes into a cringe-inducing Amos’n’Andy routine. Hart-Wilden is wryly amusing on the troubled pre-production history of a film he was hawking around for several years before Silence Of The Lambs. Hammer rejected it on the grounds that it was too horrific (!), British Screen because he wasn’t Peter Greenaway. The success of Silence Of The Lambs finally got Skinner green lit in The States, only for it to be shelved when funds dried up. Nagy’s involvement in the Heidi Fleiss scandal having reignited interest in the property, Hart-Wilden and Kasten offer their respective insights on the struggle to get it finished and released. Skinner’s no Magnificent Ambersons but its behind-the-scenes saga is as compelling and salutary a tale as any of the perils and pitfalls that lurk behind Tinsel Town’s glittering facade.

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Scream & Scream Again… And Again… And Again! Severin’s AMICUS Box Set Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

In between my childhood fixation on Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation epics and subsequent exposure to the world of Exploitation all’Italiana, one of my most fervent cinematic passions was for the portmanteau Horror flicks (e.g. Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror) that Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg cooked up at Amicus in the ’60s and ’70s. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, but there was just something irresistible about the cod moralising of the various crypt keepers, sideshow Satans, card-sharping train-to-Hell commuters and lunatics-turned-asylum keepers dispensing poetic justice to cameoing faded stars, up’n’comers and miscellaneous miscast “personalities” for their assorted lecherous, hubristic and acquisitive transgressions…

Amicus didn’t just do portmanteau horrors, of course, nor even deal exclusively in Horror… their lengthy filmography covered everything from the works of Harold Pinter to those of Helen Shapiro and even, along the way, packed in a few rubber-suited dinosaur efforts that you might know Doug McClure from (and on account of which the aforementioned Mr Harryhausen was unlikely to lose any sleep…)

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Milton Subotsky, Paul Annett & Max J. Rosenberg

On Severin’s Amicus Collection BD box set those multi-story constructions are represented by Roy Ward Baker’s Asylum (1972) and you also get the company’s ill-timed foray into Gothic territory, Baker’s And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) plus Paul Annett’s messy but hugely enjoyable The Beast Must Die (1974). Anchor Bay’s previous DVD collection, as well as coming in an attractive coffin-shaped box, added Freddy Francis’s Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood (1971) to those titles, but Severin make good those omissions with a bonus “Vault Of Amicus” disc, boasting all manner of treats for the Subotsberg-inclined… on which more later.

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Robert Powell’s search for a Starr takes a discouraging turn…

Written by frequent Amicus collaborator Robert Bloch, Asylum involves young psychiatrist Robert Powell auditioning for a job at an isolated funny farm by attempting to work out which of the inmates is his predecessor Dr Starr (my money’s on the big-nosed, mop-topped dude with the drumsticks), who’s taken an unfortunate turn for the hopelessly insane. As orderly Geoffrey (“Crowman”) Bayldon takes him on a whistle-stop tour of the loony bin we learn how Richard Todd and then Barbara Parkins were chased around a basement by the dismembered remains of Sylvia Sims… how financially strapped tailor Barry Morse attempted to bring back Peter Cushing’s dead son by making up a black magic suit which, when carelessly placed on a mannequin, brought on the stiffest acting since Alan “Fluff” Freeman in Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors… how Charlotte Rampling and her imaginary evil friend (Britt Ekland) prefigured the events in Psycho (Bloch penned this one several years before chronicling the murderous antics of Norman Bates)… and how Herbert Lom builds killer homunculi to get his retaliation in first against Patrick Magee, the psychiatrist who intends to lobotomise  him.

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Though a bit of an “Old School” director, Baker piles on the gore and grue with great gusto and the Grand Guignol is perfectly complimented by selections from the most bombastic orchestral works of Modest Mussorgsky. The commentary track (on which moderator Marcus Hearn misattributes a portion of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition to Douglas Gamley) from Baker and camera operator Neil Binney is a little dry and technically fixated,  indeed at times the two old boys are so content sitting back and admiring their handiwork that you can almost hear Hearn  poking them in an attempt to elicit more commentary.

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Freddie Francis’s The Skull, 1965.

Older readers might remember this disc’s bonus featurettes Inside The Fear Factory (including interviews with Baker, Freddie Francis and Max Rosenberg) and Two’s A Company (an onset report featuring Baker, Subotsky, Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, art director Tony Curtis and production manager Teresa Bolland) from that Anchor Bay box and even older ones will recall the latter from its broadcast on the BBC in 1972.

In original bonus materials Splatterpunk author (is Splatterpunk still a thing?) David J. Schow gives us the benefit of his considerable Bloch expertise and Milton Subotsky’s widow Fiona (who’s a historian of psychiatry… bet she could have worked out who Dr Starr was!) provides an amusing and touching memoir of the Amicus honcho, in which she relates writing the treatment for Montgomery Tully’s The Terrornauts  (1967) in one night and recalls how Amicus films were so moralistic and conservative, the company often had to beg the BBFC for an ‘X’ to maintain their Horror credibility! Yeah, you get an Asylum trailer, too…

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If RWB seems more animated on the commentary track for And Now The Screaming Starts (as indeed he does) it’s no doubt because he’s in the enlivening presence of Stephanie Beacham, who redefines the term “heaving bosom” in this bodice ripper from beyond the grave. On account of a generational curse rooted in Herbert Lom’s arrogant exertion of droit de seigneur, blushing bride Beacham has hardly arrived at her new husband (Ian Ogilvy)’s) plush ancestral pile (Windsor’s oft-seen-on-screen Oakley Court) before she’s being stalked (and, it is strongly suggested, raped) by a stumpy-wristed ghost, not to mention his (and Subotsberg’s omnipresent) disembodied crawling hand…

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With ANTSS Amicus were staking a clear claim to the period Gothic territory that had recently been vacated by Hammer, without giving too much thought to the possibility that there was a very good reason for their rivals to vacate it (i.e. a radical  change in Horror audiences’ tastes), though the lavish location, period setting and costumes (not least when they are struggling to contain Beacham’s ample charms), as captured by DP Denys Coop, are beautifully presented on this disc, which boasts the best BD trade-off between gain and grain of this collection. Check out also Baker’s early adoption and agile deployment of the Louma crane, a decade (give or take) before Argento went totally bananas with one on Tenebrae.

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In the featurette The Haunting Of Oakley Court, screaming old farts Allan Bryce (editor of Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear) and David Flint (co-editor of Fab Press’s Ten Years Of Terror tome) give us a guided tour of that mansion (where Mr and Mrs B spent their wedding night, apparently), taking in the remains of Bray Studios and the Asylum asylum along the way. Denis Meikle gives us the benefit of his thoughts on ANTSS and his audio interview with Peter Cushing. There’s an alternative and very engaging commentary track with Ian Ogilvy plus the expected trailer and a radio slot. Great stuff.

If 1973 was indeed a bad time to movie into Gothic Horror, Subotsberg showed how quickly they’d learned their lesson with the following year’s The Beast Must Die, pretty much the Amicus equivalent of Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 1972 and like Alan Gibson’s film, its contemporary trapping have only made it age all the more awkwardly… which is, of course, a significant part of the ongoing appeal of both pictures to aficionados of such kitschy fare.

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Tom Newcliffe’s search for a werewolf is also about to take a discouraging turn…

Calvin Lockart (above) stars as Tom Newcliffe, equal parts Shaft, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Count Zaroff. Having narrowed down his search for a werewolf to a motley crew of characters (including Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, Anton Diffring, Michael frickin’ Gambon and Tom Chadbon as a particularly effete hippy type), he invites them round to his gaff for a weekend of hi-surveillance investigation while he ponders their lycanthropic credentials and waits for the full moon to bring out the hairs on the guilty party’s knuckles. It’s preposterous codswallop, of course but hugely enjoyable, not least for the moment when the film grinds to a halt and the sepulchral tones of Valentine Dyall talk us through a gimmicky climax “freely adapted”from William Castle’s Homicidal, 1961…

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In his bonus interview and feature commentary, debutant feature director Paul Annett (who, perhaps wisely, returned to a solid career in TV directing after TBMD before passing away last year) relays his astonishment at copping a first glimpse of “the werewolf break” during an early public screening of the picture. The other bonus materials on this disc comprise a trailer and Troy Howarth’s video essay And Then There Were Werewolves, which takes the unexpected but entirely appropriate tack of treating Annett’s film as yet another (albeit decidedly oddball) screen adaptation of the Agatha Christie yarn now best referred to as “Ten Little Indians”, pointing out along the way that George Pollock’s 1965 rendering of the same tale (produced by Harry Alan Towers) featured (“for the first time in film history”) a “whodunnit break”.

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This box is rounded out by the appropriately named Vault Of Amicus disc, a veritable cornucopia of collected resources for Subotsberg devotees. Dr Terror’s House Of Trailers comprises over an hour of Amicus coming attractions and TV spots, encompassing the company’s de facto maiden effort, John Llewellyn Moxey’s City Of The Dead / Horror Hotel (1960, above… officially a Vulcan Films production) and taking in such post-split Subotsky slight returns to the portmanteau format as Denis Héroux’s The Uncanny (1977) and Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club (1981), in which the spectacle of B.A. Robertson doing his sub Frank N. Furter routine makes, admittedly, for pretty horrific stuff. Once you’ve enjoyed all of those you can go right back to the beginning and enjoy them all over again with a Kim Newman / David Flint commentary track that combines insight, opinion and humour to good effect.

“All” that remains after that is four hours (!) of audio interview, three-quarters of which are given over to selected highlights from the late Phil Nutman’s 1985 audio interview with Milton Subotsky, followed by approximately 60 minutes of Max Rosenberg’s reminiscences, as elicited by Jonathan Sothcott. Keep your wits about you and you’ll discover a nice Easter egg too, featuring several scuzzy looking but rather jolly TV spots.

Grab this box or its constituent parts over at Severin’s website and tell ’em I sent you…

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Happy Christmas!

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