Posts Tagged With: Severin

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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Creatures From The Cack Lagoon… THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH Reviewed

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Who ate all the hot dogs?

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“…and you’ll never hear surf music again!”  – James Marshall Hendrix.

Somebody… I don’t quite recall who it was… maybe Celine (one of those light-hearted guys, anyway)… once said that “if you want to see people at their most desperate, watch them while they are enjoying themselves”… something along those lines, anyway. Bear these sage words in mind as you watch the bikini babes and gym bunnies busting their best beach party moves to the melodious tones of The Del-Aires in “The First Horror-Monster Musical”, The Horror Of Party Beach.

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“Everybody do The Zombie Stomp… You bring your foot down with an awful bomp!”(Beginning to get the picture?)

This, er, distinctive creature feature, directed by Del Tenney (aka “Connecticut’s own Ed Wood”)  first entered my consciousness as one of The Fifty Worst Movies Of All Time, so designated by Harry Medved in his influential 1978 book of that title. I’m grateful to Severin for the arrival (with an awful bomp) of this fine BD edition and the opportunity to finally see for myself if THOPB lives up / down to Medved’s estimation.

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Hunky Hank Green (John Scott) is certainly having a hard time enjoying himself at The Del-Aires’ beach gig. His wildcat girlfriend Tina (Marilyn Clarke, the Ruby Wax lookalike pictured above) taunts him about his dweebish devotion to Science and when a bunch of bikers turns up she starts flirting outrageously with them, leading to a rumble that’s almost as badly choreographed as the dance routines (incidentally, Tenney appeared as an extra in Laslo Benedek’s seminal The Wild One, 1953). Serves Tina right when she’s the first to get mutilated and murdered by one of the mutant fishmen spawned after the casual dumping of radioactive waste into Stamford’s bay.

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The situation escalates rapidly as two fish men gatecrash a rather tame sorority sleepover party (folk songs, hair combing, pillow fights) and kill twenty girls (the bloody aftermath of this attack, routinely cut from TV broadcasts and many VHS releases, has been restored here in all its gory glory by Severin). It’s readily apparent that the budget only stretched to two fishmen costumes but some nifty split screen work increases their ranks to six at certain salient moments. During the “climactic” confrontation, various extras with sacks over their heads provide unconvincing fishman backup, with Tenney obviously figuring that you won’t notice this if he cuts quickly enough. Suffice to say, he doesn’t cut quickly enough.

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But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… Hanks finds a new love interest in the more deserving, shapely shape of Elaine (Alice Lyon), daughter of Dr Gavin (Allan Laurel). This guy’s got all manner of preposterous theories about how the fishmen were spawned and what to do about them. Personally (call me a stickler), I can’t give much credence to any scientist incapable of pronouncing the word “protein” correctly, but Dr G has definitely hit on something when he speculates that the Party Beach horrors might react adversely to sodium (bit like throwing salt on the slugs in your back garden… one of Mrs F’s favourite activities, by the way). You might well think that the required element would be shipped in, lickety split, by the military but no… Hank has to jump into his sports car, drive over to NYC and jolly well buy some sodium (?!?) After a few bags of that have been chucked around the monsters disintegrate into fizzing piles of goo and the world is saved forever from the perils of irresponsible nuclear technology. If only…

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Extras (aside from the inevitable trailer) include an archival interview with the late Del Tenney, an agreeable bloke who expresses himself satisfied with what he’d achieved in life. His widow Margot Hartman appears in Dan Weaver’s retrospective documentary Return to Party Beach. Surviving Del-Aires Bobby Osborne and Ronnie Linares (who’ve got a great future as teen idols behind them) reminisce, knock out a few numbers and test the water re a possible comeback. In the featurette Shock & Roll, film maker Tim Sullivan agues that “horror movies are to movies what rock’n’roll is to music” and based upon this persuasive proposition, mounts an entertaining survey of Rock & Roll Horror Movies.

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As ever, Severin have come up with an appropriate assortment of marketing knick-knacks and indeed gee-gaws to accompany this release and if you’re planning on hosting your own Beach Party this Christmas, check out their Bundle of Party Beach, which includes an Inflatable Beach Ball and an Enamel Pin with which to burst it. Personally, this dancin’ fool could do with one of those dance step diagrams to work on my Zombie Stomp but hey, you can’t have everything…

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I Really Hate Your Tiger Feet… BLACKENSTEIN Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“To Stop This Mutha Takes One Bad Brutha!”

One of the standby narrative tropes of Blacksploitation (see also Fred Williamson‘s Mean Johnny Barrows, 1975) is the black Vietnam Vet who gets welcomed back States-side with a big “fuck you very much!”, invariably fouling foul of gangs and / or The Man while trying to piece his life together. Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue) has it worse than most. Losing all his limbs to one of Charlie’s land mines, he’s now trapped in a crappy Veterans’ hospital where one of the male nurses (John Dennis) taunts and mistreats him. On the plus side, his loyal and foxy fiancée, Doctor Winifred Walker (one shot film actress Ivory Stone) works for Doctor Stein (TV’s former Lone Ranger, John Hart) who’s just won a Nobel Prize for “solving the DNA code” (methinks he’d totally clean up if they ever held a Dick Van Dyke lookalike competition, too) and he agrees to take Eddie on for experimental treatment in his plush LA mansion, which boasts a basement lab fitted out with props from James Whale’s original Frankenstein (1931)… more Van Der Graaf Generator than in Fabio Frizzi’s record collection!

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Before he gets carried away with optimism, though, Eddie might care to consider the, er,  mixed results of the Doc’s treatments so far. There’s a 90-year-old woman who now looks several decades younger than she should but will crumble like Christopher Lee at the first rays of dawn if she doesn’t top up her injections every twelve hours… and what about Bruno, who due to “unresolved RNA issues” seems to have grown a tiger leg? Nevertheless, Eddie’s limb transplants seem to be going well until Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson)… yes, Malcomb (why didn’t they just call him Ygor and get it over with?) makes a move on Dr Winifred and is firmly rebuffed. Figuring that she’ll fall into his arms if Eddie’s don’t take, Malcomb switches his all-important DNA injections with Bruno’s (I particularly cherish the scene where Winifred sniffs the bottles of DNA suspiciously, suggesting that each batch bears its own distinctive bouquet…)

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You’re probably suspecting that Eddie grows a tiger leg like Bruno’s but no, nothing so ridiculous… instead, he develops a bad case of acromegaly and (his head swelling into a reasonable approximation of Jack Pierce’s iconic make up job on Boris Karloff) becomes… Blackenstein! He also sets off out on a bloody kill spree. Now, I can understand the poetic justice of pulling his former nurse’s arm off (above) but after that our boy seems to pick his victims (whom he mostly disembowels) pretty much at random. He does display a certain penchant for “courting couples”, among whom we find the legendary Liz Renay, though my favourite victim is Beverley Haggerty as one half of “couple in car”.

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She abandons said car after a particularly lame make out attempt by her date, to wit:

Him: “You’ve got beautiful hair!”

Her: “I know I’ve got beautiful hair!”

Him: “Are you proud of it?”

(Taking notes there, boys?)

Blackenstein returns to the hospital to find Malcomb forcing himself on Winifred and soon makes him wish he hadn’t. As Dr Stein’s lab goes up in flames, Blackenstein can’t bring himself to kill Winifred and the Dobermanns of the LA County Canine Corps roll up to pull him limb-from-recently acquired-limb for an abrupt and anti-climactic ending, though trash movie fans will surely have enjoyed their fill by this point.

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On this disc Severin serve up both the 78 minute theatrical release and the extended video version which clocks in at 87, with the extra footage scattered throughout it clearly having been sourced from lower grade elements. Narratively, it might well have made more sense for cinema distributors looking to fit this one more comfortably into a double bill to have just excised the padding of the nightclub scene, though admittedly Cardella Di Milo (geddit?) sings pretty well and MC Andy C tells a couple of good jokes. One of the most keenly felt omissions in the theatrical cut is that of John Dennis’s apologia for his rotten behaviour, in which he deplores “the Patriotism scam”.

Although Blackenstein was directed by William “The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington” Levey, the bonus materials concentrate, understandably, on the eccentric life and violent, unsolved death of its flamboyant, polymath writer / producer Frank R. Saletri. His sister, June Kirk, gives a touching interview to David Gregory and we also get the reminiscences of Saletri collaborators Ken Osborne And Robert Dix. An audio interview with creature designer Bill Munns and theatrical trailer round things off nicely.

Another corking release,  Severin dudes… are you proud of it?

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Bringing Up Baby… ABSURD, ANTHROPOPHAGOUS Antics On Severin BD.

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Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast (1980) and Absurd (1981).

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“Respectable” journalists and media outlets seem to spend most of their time, these days, angsting about “fake news” and its potentially pernicious effects on gullible schmoes like you… which is pretty ripe considering the constant stream of bullshit these jokers have themselves been pumping out at us over so many years. UK readers of a certain age might well recall tuning into News At Ten during the early 1980s only to find themselves being leered at by Luigi Montefiori as he stuffed his hand up a pregnant lady’s skirt, pulled out a skinned rabbit and started chowing down on it. This, we were earnestly informed by the stern-faced newsreader, was “a scene from a snuff movie”! Get a fucking brain, pal…

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“Video  Nasties” hysteria has, fortunately, abated to the point where that alleged foetus-eating feast, Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous Beast (1980), is (alongside most of the other “nasties” on the DPP’s dreaded list) readily available and uncut on the shelves of legitimate retail outlets over the full length and breadth of these sceptred isles. 88 Films released it here on Blu-ray in 2015, rapidly followed by a “remastered special edition” boasting a previously deleted scene. Unwilling to splash out more of the readies to witness what might, for all I know, amount to no more than six seconds of Mr Montefiori walking across a beach, gurning, I’m unfamiliar with that edition.

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What I am clutching in my sweaty little hands though is a Severin box set comprising their releases of Anthropophagous and its sort of sequel, the following year’s Absurd. The original film, as you’re probably already only too well aware, alternates passages of unrelenting tedium (as an ill-matched party of tourists wander around the Greek islands waiting for something to happen… then wish it hadn’t) with sporadic outbursts of ultra-violent, inventively gory action every time our heroes (Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, “Vanessa Steiger” / Serena Grandi, et al) cross paths with hulking cannibal Klaus Wortmann (or Nikos Karamanlis, depending on which print you’re watching), who got the taste for human flesh after several days adrift on an open boat obliged him to eat his wife and child. Less, er, visionary Horror directors than D’Amato would have contented themselves with that, the foetus eating and a rather grisly scalping, but Joe could always be relied on to go that extra exploitive mile and Mr Beast tops all of it (and arguably anything else in the truly wild annals of Italian splatter cinema) at the climax of this picture… disembowelled with a pick-axe, he pulls out yards of his unravelling intestines and (still gurning madly) starts stuffing his face with them.

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Severin have commemorated this unforgettable (try as you might) movie milestone in the plush doll pictured above and a host of other man-eating merch available on their website.

While much of Marcello Giombini’s synth OST still sounds (appropriately enough, perhaps) like an acute attack of IBS, Severin’s 2k scan from the original 16mm negative will come as a revelation to anyone who’s heard about Uncle Joe’s reputation as a DP but suffered previous VHD and DVD editions. Don’t get me wrong (we’re not talking Days Of fucking Heaven, here) but relative to those, the cinematography (officially credited to Enrico Biribicchi, which might or might not be yet another D’Amato alias) is pretty good.

A predictable profusion of bonus interviews are chock full of hot gossip from the inner circle of pasta splateratti. Monterfiori rates Anthropophagous as”shit” and who’s going to argue with the big guy? In fact he rewrote the script only on condition that he wouldn’t be “credited” for having done so and attributes the film’s cult success to the fact that “there are a lot of weirdos out there” (guilty as charged, eh readers?)

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Everybody agrees that working on a D’Amato set was always a laugh riot (FX man Pietro Tenoglio recalls a lot of bantering back and forth during the scene that freaked out our man at News At Ten) and nobody has a bad word to say about Tisa Farrow. Zora Kerova (looking fab, despite her countless cinematic tribulations) disputes the oft-repeated story about Farrow having one eye and gives us the lowdown on who was romancing whom. Several interviewees comment on the emergence of Margaret Mazzantini as one of Italy’s leading literary figures… who could have extrapolated that from her show stopping turn in Anthropophagous (above), jumping out of a barrel clutching a big knife, arm pit hair akimbo?!? Editor Bruno Micheli recalls how the cutting of  D’Amato’s films devolved to him because his sister jumped ship when Joe started steering a porno course and Saverio Vallone finally gets the credit he deserves for skewering Montefiori’s duodenum on that pick axe.

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Whatever guts Montefiori’s character still packed after Anthrophophagous are unpacked on a spiky railing at the commencement of the aptly named Absurd, when he’s attempting to evade Edmund Purdom’s obsessive priest (“I serve God with biochemistry rather than ritual”). Needless to say, this doesn’t cramp his style re menacing a houseload of children (Katya and Kasimir Berger… yes, they’re William Berger’s kids) and their baby sitter (Annie Belle). John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) seems as salient an antecedent here as Anthropophagous and Montefiori’s monstrous dude (boasting a much clearer complexion last time out) doesn’t actually eat anybody (he even resists the urge to consume his own intestines when they put in their inevitable appearance) though he does hang Michele Soavi’s juvenile delinquent upside down from a tree, bake Ms Belle’s bonce in an oven and penetrate the heads of various other dudes with axes, black’n’deckers and bandsaws. This predisposition towards the ol’ ultraviolence is on account of a genetic mutation (a scientifically induced one, the script darkly hints) that also, as (bad) luck would have it, renders him virtually indestructible. Katya Berger, who spends most of the film screwed to some fiendish orthopedic device, ultimately rises from it (begging certain obvious questions that D’Amato clearly couldn’t be arsed to answer) and proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that when it comes to challenging the alleged indestructibility of hulking home invaders, eye pokings and decapitation trump biochemistry every time!

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Extras on the Absurd disc include the alternative Italian cut (as Rosso Sangue), with optional English subtitles and a trailer. You’ve possibly also seen the interviews with Michel Soavi and Joe D’Amato on other releases. In the latter, the genial director explains yet again (possibly for the benefit of News At 10 journalists) that he never actually killed anyone in any of his films, i.e. that there are these things called “special effects” (even if they’re not always all that special). Montefiori talks some more about his working relationship and friendship with D’Amato and of his often anonymous work as a script doctor (well, despite his best efforts, the scripts often died on their ass!) Evaluating the development of his Klaus over the two films, he sagely offers: “My character doesn’t have any lines… he just rasps and whines!” Indeed.

My copy came with the limited edition accompanying soundtrack CD but there was no sign of the T-shirt. Still, bloggers can’t be choosers… and anyway, I could never carry it off as jauntily as Darrell Buxton does.

With this / these release/s the Severin boys strike another retrospective blow against the “nasty” witch hunters who contrived to spoil their fun in the 1980s… and you’ve gotta love ’em for it!

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“Bong!”

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“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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