Posts Tagged With: Sex

Dreams Of Discontent … THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Note: The disc under review here was issued as a bonus on Blue Underground’s 2-disc set of Harry Kümel’s Daughter Of Darkness, which has subsequently been upgraded, in its entirety, to Blu-Ray.

Asking a man how down he is with the aims of Feminism is a bit like asking him if he’s stopped beating his wife. Feminism is too broad a movement for that question to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Do I believe that women should have equal opportunities and receive equal pay for equal work? Yes, it’s a no brainer, though I’m getting fed up with showboating offers from male media personalities to have their pay cut to the same level as female colleagues… let’s level things up, fer Chrissakes! Do I believe that the law should protect women from sexual assault and harassment? Yep. Do I believe that every attempt by a man to chat up a woman constitutes assault or harassment? Nope. Do I buy the argument that more women in the corridors of power will automatically lead to a more caring, sharing, nurturing world? Well, check how the influx of female Labour MPs in 1997 (“Blair’s Babes”) voted re waging war on Iraq. Do I believe that Page 3 girls should be banned? No. Do I believe, like Andrea Dworkin, that sexual intercourse should be abolished? Are you out of your fucking mind?!?

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They sure knew how to put together double bills back in the day…

During the #MeToo moment we’re currently living through, our mass media regales us on a daily basis with the argument that every possessor of a penis spends their every waking hour ruthlessly abusing and exploiting everybody with a vagina. Although the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Tribunals disallowed the concept of collective guilt, the fact that Harvey Weinstein allegedly liked masturbating in the company of actresses and female employees has been used to justify constant injunctions to the rest of us to reconsider our behaviour and attitudes towards women. I’ve decided, instead, that now is an appropriate moment to revisit Vicente Aranda’s La Novia Ensangretada (“The Blood Spattered Bride”, 1972), which co-opts Sheridan Le Fanu (previously adapted into Dreyer’s Vampyr, 1931, Vadim’s Et Mourir De Plaisir, 1960 and miscellaneous Hammer “lesbian vampire” efforts) in the service of a feminist parable of Aranda’s country waiting for the death of Franco so that it can take its place in the 20th century and at the heart of Europe. It was precisely such (often female centred) exploitation movies as this that blazed the trail subsequently taken up, to international acclaim, by Arthouse directors like Pedro Almodovar.

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The House That Screamed and Bell From Hell refugee Maribel Martin (as Susan) and Simón Andreu (as her husband, whose name we never learn… in fact none of the male characters seem to have names) are newlyweds, honeymooning in his family’s country seat. Things seem idyllic enough but Susan is rapidly alienated by her beau’s increasingly boorish, macho behaviour, which includes rough lovemaking, brusquely helping himself to al-fresco blow jobs, shooting foxes and even at one point  (that old cave man cliché) literally dragging her around by her hair! During a visit to the family crypt, Susan discovers the ancestors of her in-laws included one Mircalla Karstein, who married into the clan only to butcher her disagreeable spouse…

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As her own husband’s obnoxious behaviour intensifies, Susan becomes increasingly obsessed with the figure of Mircalla, catching glimpses of her (in the comely form of Alexandra Bastedo) around the grounds, dreaming of sexual encounters with her (recalling some of my own adolescent reveries concerning the divine star of The Champions) and also of embarking with her on the gory dispatch of her husband. A trendy shrink (Dean Selmier) spouts supposedly reassuring stuff about “the Judith complex” and hysterical young ladies’ fear of penetration.

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Judith With The Head Of Holofernes by Luis Cranach the Elder, 1530.

Indeed the Andrea Dworkin-type coaching that Susan receives in her dreams from Mircalla (“He has pierced your flesh to humiliate you… he has spat inside your body to enslave you… punish his arrogance, destroy his masculinity!”) seems to bear out his diagnosis… but is Mircalla merely a hallucination? Why does a vicious carving knife keep turning up under Susan’s pillow, despite all attempts to hide it? And will Susan actually enact her murderous dreams? Well, an opening title informed us (and the good doctor reminds us) that, in the words of Plato: “The good ones are those who are content to dream what the wicked actually practice”…

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“Eeh that’s champion, lass!”

One morning, walking on the beach, hubby discovers Susan’s mystery woman completely buried in the sand…. just like that! He brings the amnesiac girl (who can only remember that her name is Carmilla… geddit?) home and blithely waffles on about himself, blissfully oblivious to the growing sexual tension between his bride and the attractive newcomer. They start taking long nocturnal walks together and, after a tip-off from that psychiatrist, hubby eventually discovers them sleeping naked together in a coffin, down in that crypt. It’s too late for Relate to save this one, as the now vampirised Susan and her supernatural sapphic pal, having already killed off the doc and a gamekeeper, turn their murderous attentions on Andreu’s character.

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Love is a battlefield…

He dispatches their schoolgirl victim / accomplice then traps them in their coffin, shoots it full of holes and is about to carve open their breasts when a freeze-frame and the arrival of the newspaper headline shown below definitively concludes matters… or does it? Andreu can be heard at the end insisting that the female vampires will return.

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Such dreams of discontent are the natural product of a pressure cooker society but in an ideal world, nobody’s going to regard their contents as the template for a social program (Andrea Dworkin is no longer with us, I’m told and it’s unlikely that she left any heirs) but like De Sade, Mircalla and Susan must be allowed to dream…. indeed, how can anybody stop them? The fact that their dreams are mediated for our consumption by Sheridan Le Fanu and Vicente Aranda is something to ponder. And while we’re pondering it, here’s a word from our sponsors…

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“Double bill be damned…”

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

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DVD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When You Get To The Door, Tell Them JESUS Sent You… Two FRANCO Monster Mash-Ups On Nucleus Blu-Ray

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THE DEMONS

THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN

BD. Region B. Nucleus. 18.

Just as you were bracing yourself for their long-trailered restorations of Giulio Questi’s surrealistic giallo Death Laid An Egg (1968) and Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein (1971), the boffins from Nucleus outflank you with a couple of unexpected corkers from Jesus Franco. The Demons and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (shot virtually simultaneously in 1973) were branded “Category 3 Nasties” back in the days of home video witch-hunting, i.e recommended for confiscation rather than prosecution (which had more than a little to do with some of their Go Video label mates and the backfiring publicity stunts of Go honcho Des Dolan). Even if you did manage to cop an eyeful of those releases before they were whisked off and incinerated, you’d have been watching versions that were significantly cut down in terms of both running time and original screen ratio. Now here they both are, on Marc and Jake’s exciting new European Cult Cinema Collection imprint, in beautiful Blu-ray editions, with the BBFC’s stamp of approval… nicely priced, too. Honestly, the times we live in… (“Taxi!” – L. Fulci.)

For the first of these titles, producer Robert De Nesle detailed Franco to come up with a rip-off of Ken Russell’s recent success de scandale The Devils (1971) but instead of duplicating the contrived hysteria of that wearying effort, JF grabbed the nearest camera (without taking too long, I suspect, labouring over a script) and quickly knocked out a genuinely delirious and characteristically wilful concoction of De Sade, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, also roping (see what I did there?) Hanging Judge Jeffries (whom Christopher Lee had already portrayed in  Franco’s The Bloody Judge, 1970) into a rapidly overheating narrative stew.

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Although The Demons bears superficial comparison to Russell’s flick and (probably more so) Michael Armstong’s Mark Of The Devil (1970), in both of those witch-hunting is presented in its proper historical perspective as an oppressive manifestation of patriarchal power politics, whereas Freda steers closer to Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan, 1960 (in philosophical if not so much in cinematographical terms) by presenting a for-real maleficent witch (outrageously warty face and all) who’s burned at the stake and decrees that her daughters will extract vengeance upon her tormentors and executioners Justice Jeffries (intense Iranian Cihangir Gaffari / “John Foster”) and Lady De Winter (Karin Field), plus their henchman Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbės).

Of those two daughters, Kathleen (Anne Libert, the producer’s real life squeeze) continues in her mother’s witchy ways whereas Margaret (“Britt Nichols” = Carmen Yazalde) tries the path of virtue but finds it (in true Sadean fashion) so thankless that she eventually decides “what the hey?” and gets down with the black arts, but not before she’s been visited by the ghost of her mum and shagged by Satan (depicted in disappointingly human form). Before you can say “lights out by 10 o’clock… candles out by 11”, masturbating nuns are vying for space on your screen with racked and flogged wretches, as Margaret exposes the hypocrisy of the lustful inquisitors and ultimately reduces them to skeletal remains with her patented “kiss of death”… all of this to a mind-blowing acid rock soundtrack. You get both the extended, 118 minute French cut (with optional English subs) and the 88 minute English “export” edit on this disc.

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Although Franco slips a character named De Quincey into The Demons, he’s on the record as protesting that he couldn’t understand artists and creators who took drugs to enhancing their imaginations, claiming that he would benefit from a drug that actually quietened his down. If he ever discovered such a thing, he obviously skipped several doses during the conception and making of The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein, which suggests nothing so much as an animated fumetto (the kind of gloriously lurid, sexy and violent comic book that flourished in Italy during the ’70s).

This one kicks off with Melisa The Fabulous Bird Woman (Libert) and her side-kick Caronte (Franco regular Luis Barboo) raiding the lab of Dr Frankenstein (Dennis Price… yes, Dennis Price from all those classic Ealing comedies). Melissa is blind, talks in bird screetches and has bits of a ratty old green feather boa stuck haphazardly onto her impressive anatomy but “nobody is better…”  by her own reckoning “… at discerning the order of human flesh”. Well, whatever that means, she proves a dab hand at monster-jacking and once she’s savaged the Doc’s body to shreds (several characters refer to this, though there’s no visual evidence of it having occurred during several subsequent scenes in which his corpse is briefly reanimated) and Caronte has stabbed his assistant Morpho (a JF cameo), they lug the silver-painted Karloffalike (played by body builder Fernando Bilbao) back to Cagliostro’s picturesque seaside castle, where said charismatic mesmerist plans to mate it with a perfect female he’s constructing from the best bits of various unfortunate ladies, to produce a new master race (an ambition shared by Udo Kier in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein and the dates are so close together that it’s a moot point as to who, if anybody, copied whom). “The new race will be called Pantos” (yeah, whatever…)

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As Cagliostro, Howard Vernon makes up for the disappointingly short screen time allocated to him in The Demons. He doesn’t exactly chew the scenery, just stands there in his kaftan looking (extremely) intense while Franco zooms in and out of his blood-shot eyes. He orders the silver monster to kidnap the comely Madame Orloff (Britt Nichols again) then orders her head to be lopped off for the amusement of the zombies and mutants (and at least one Vulcan) who appear to inhabit his basement. Do these guys know how to party or what? When Frankenstein’s daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) infiltrates Caglistro’s castle in search of vengeance she ends up tied to Caronte and lashed by the monster until one of them (Caronte) falls onto poisoned spikes. Vera, brainwashed by Cagliostro, assists him in the reanimation of his female zarmby and the gruesome twosome are about to get it on when an intervention by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr Seward (Alberto Dalbės) and Inspector Tanner (“Daniel White”) puts a spanner in Cagliostro’s evil masterplan. He’s last seen driving a coach and horses into the sea, confident that he will be reincarnated to continue his evil work. Whether there’s any way back for Dr Frankenstein after his gob-smacking dissolution by sulphuric acid is another question entirely …

Alongside the 74 minute French cut (with the option of English audio) on this disc, you also get the 85 minute Spanish release version (optional English subs) which omits some of the saucier stuff, clothes characters who were seen naked a la France and “boasts” filler footage of a gypsy named Esmerelda(!) wandering around in the woods looking mystically inspired, this character played by Franco’s most recent discovery, a certain Lina Romay.

Franco’s extensive and wildly variable oeuvre makes him a director whose films (not to mention his life) I sometimes find it more agreeable to read about than to watch. Ian Caunce regularly wrote engagingly and entertainingly about the director (as, indeed, about everything else he ever turned his pen to) in my all time favourite fanzine, Absurd.

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More recently Tim Lucas has laboured unflinchingly at the Franco coal face and of course Stephen Thrower has performed the same critical miracles for JF as he has rendered unto Lucio Fulci. Thrower supplies supplementary analyses on both of these discs that are every bit as compelling and informative as you would expect… for example, anybody labouring under the misapprehension that the dirtiest trick ever played on the world by an Argentinian footballer was Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal will be disabused of any such notion when they learn that Hėctor Yazalde was responsible, after marrying “Britt Nichols”, for this stunning actress’s subsequent disappearance from the exploitation movie scene… what a miserable old Hector!

Thrower suggests, with some justification, that this brace of pacey and exploitive titles constitute an ideal introduction to Franco for the uninitiated who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Your journey through a thousand Franco films might usefully starts with this couple of steps but beware… there’s plenty in the old boy’s filmography that will tax your attention span a lot more rigorously than this. As a rough indicator of the sheer volume of material that awaits you (with predictable consequences for quality control), in the same year that Franco authored these two little gems he was also responsible for A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Lovers Of Devil’s Island, The Secret Diary Of A Nymphomaniac, Eugénie, Inside A Dark Mirror, The Mystery Of The Dead Castle, Tender And Perverse Emanuelle, The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff  and the unfinished Relax Baby.

My favourite moment from these hugely enjoyable discs occurs during the bonus interview with Franco on The Demons where the director disavows any interest in sado-masochism and claims that there’s a negligible amount of such imagery in his films. His interviewer, David Gregory, is audibly, understandably and almost tangibly nonplussed.

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… And Duly Regurgitated. David Cronenberg’s Debut Novel CONSUMED, Reviewed.

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Consumed by David Cronenberg. Fourth Estate. P/B. 358 Pages. ISBN 978-0-00-729914-0. 

The cover boasts a generous testimonial from Stephen King, no less, identifying Consumed as “an eye-opening dazzler… as troubling, sinister and enthralling as (Cronenberg’s) films”. I’d go along with the latter part of that quote, while qualifying my assent with the observation that it’s been quite some considerable time since any Cronenberg film has troubled, enthralled or dazzled me.

Like a lot of other people, I found myself fascinated by Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981), while wondering when Cronenberg was going to hitch his undoubted fierce intelligence and the maverick morbidity of his imagination to some kind of coherent narrative sensibility. In 1983 he veered between extremes… his genuinely troubling, sinister and enthralling Videodrome (a hi-concept hallucinatory gore-fest, unencumbered by anything so mundane as a storyline that stood up to cursory scrutiny) was followed in rapid succession by The Dead Zone, which benefited from the narrative discipline of Stephen King’s source novel (and presumably the commercial discipline demanded by heavyweight producer Dino Di Laurentiis) but uncharacteristically side-stepped the brain tumour imagery that King himself employed in the book and with which one might well have expected Cronenberg to have a field day. He finally managed (again under the influence of a heavyweight producer, in this case Mel Brooks) the long-awaited synthesis with The Fly (1986), the perfect Cronenberg picture and a tremendous film by any yardstick. I didn’t have long to savour that before the director and I definitively parted company…

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… the rock on which we foundered was Naked Lunch (1991). Given that William Burroughs’ stated intention for his 1959 act of literary terrorism was to upgrade The Novel’s arsenal of narrative techniques to the point where they matched those of Cinema, the point of adapting it to the big screen was always going to be, at best, a moot one. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how Cronenberg was going to render the moral and literary complexities of a book that had been horrifying and tantalising me in equal parts for decades. Well, there was some nonsense about “sexual ambulances”, then Roy Scheider ripping off a Mission Impossible-style latex mask to announce himself as Dr Benway (ta-da!) Oh dear… we’d been giving Cronenberg credit for his intelligence all these years and now he was repaying us by insulting ours. I never felt the inclination to seek out any Cronenberg pictures after this and those I did find myself accidentally exposed to on TV did nothing to convince me that I was missing much.

DC got my attention again with Consumed, which I picked up in a remainders shop three years after its initial publication in 2014. This time he’s attempting the reverse trick of rendering that Cronenberg sensibility via the printed page. So you won’t be at all surprised to discover within it a bunch of preposterously-named characters, travelling the world to have sex with celebrity cannibal intellectuals, contracting hitherto unguessed at venereal diseases and seeking out the assistance of a VD professional whose daughter is herself engrossed in a drawn-out process of auto-cannibalism. The protagonists’ lovingly chronicled hi-tech communication appurtenances only serve to further alienate them from each other, in the style of J.G. Ballard characters… irresponsible avant-garde surgeons slice their way merrily through human tissue that is, apparently, on the verge of collapsing into unspeakable insect horrors (still can’t resist a bit of Burroughs, ol’ Dave) and as for Dick… there’s plenty of dick herein – much of it diseased and deformed – and Philip K. even gets a personal name check on page 227. At several points Cronenberg seems determined, for some reason, to shoe-horn Samuel Beckett into the mix, too (that whirring sound you  hear might just be the irascible Irish minimalist rotating in his grave).

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Now, wearing your literary loves so brazenly on your sleeve isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Will Self and Martin Amis, among others, have done very nicely for themselves by, er, channeling the influence of some of the above-mentioned writers. What’s more, Cronenberg is an accomplished and assiduous pasticher… this is, after its own wilful fashion, well written stuff. It’s just that after the sound, fury, calculated unpleasantness, deliberate ennui and all the rest of it, the reader gratefully lays Consumed down with an overwhelming sense of: “So what?” Charlie Brooker covers this beat with so much more wit and emotional resonance. Presumably intended to hit with the impact of some mortifying cancer or exotic new STI, Cronenberg’s novel registers merely at the level of an irritating head cold. Ironically, when I tackled Consumed I was too depleted by flu to abandon it in favour of more rewarding activity, e.g. surfing the TV for old episodes of Quincy ME.

Having previously discussed with the late, great Joe D’Amato the debt that Videodrome might or might not owe to his Emanuelle In America, I was intrigued to find Cronenberg naming this novel’s outlaw lifestyle philosopher, who might or might not have eaten his girlfriend’s brain, “Aristide”. As I struggled to finish Consumed, I kept consoling myself with the prospect that this character might just be about to rip off one of those Mission Impossible masks, revealing himself to be none other than jolly Uncle Joe… but (spoiler alert) no such luck.

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An Ideal Place To Kill… OASIS OF FEAR Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

The sad news of Ray Lovelock’s death, following so fast on the passing of Umberto Lenzi, has prompted us to dust off the HOF archives and take a retrospective look at one of their collaborations, the 1971 giallo Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere (“An Ideal Place To Kill”) aka Dirty Pictures… can’t help thinking that Shameless missed a trick there by releasing the “rebuild edition” under consideration here (which reinstates footage previously believed to be lost) under the title Oasis Of Fear.

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Umberto Lenzi… what can I say that you couldn’t possibly work out for yourself by reading the interview with him elsewhere on this Blog? Although several of my questions seemed to irritate him to distraction (which was far from my intention), he did seem genuinely pleased at my suggestion that his early gialli with Carroll Baker had exerted an influence over such subsequent Hollywood bonkbusters as Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.

Lenzi wanted Baker to star in Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere too, but other commitments obliged him to substitute Irene Papas for her in the role of patrician swinger Barbara Slater. Personally, I find Papas better suited than Baker to this kind of film (delivering a performance here that is studded with subtleties) and Lucio Fulci, for one, seems to have agreed with me, casting her as the priest’s mother who nurses a deadly secret in the following year’s miraculous Don’t Torture A Duckling (and yes, we’ll finally get round to reviewing the Arrow Blu-ray of that when we get a breather from all the other stuff that’s currently clogging up our in-tray).

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Another, er, somewhat less obvious bit of casting in Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere has Latin lovely Ornella Muti playing the decadent Dane Ingrid Sjoman. She and her ostentatiously British (check out that Union Jack-et!) hippy boyfriend Dick Butler (Lovelock, who was indeed half-English) have been financing a heady slice of la dolce vita for themselves by flogging those “dirty pictures” to sex-starved, red-blooded Italian dudes. These loose-livin’ free-loveniks are understandably dismayed to find their smut supply running out, jeopardising their selfless mission to “spread the gospel of sexual freedom to darkest Italy”. Ingrid’s a game girl though, and more than happy to pose for some home-made porn. Not long after they hit on this expedient, however, our anti-heroes are busted by kill-joy cops and ordered to leave the country.

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While they’re attempting to do so they run out of gas and try to siphon some off in a plush villa on the edge of town. Attractive but older and uptight owner Barbara is naturally pissed off on discovering these uninvited guests in her garage but something about the free-wheeling kids seems to pique her interest and she unexpectedly invites them to stay the night. This being the swinging ’70s, after all concerned have necked enough booze and gotten to know each other, various sexual permutations play out (Muti, in only her second or possibly third screen credit, delegated her nude scenes to a suitably sumptuous body double). Dirty Dick is suitably tickled by this outcome and teases Barbara that she’s risking some kind of Manson massacre by inviting footloose hippies into her home and bed. As it happens, somebody is getting into deep shit but things are not entirely what they seem and the pay off will play out with predictable giallo unpredictability (well, the resolution might have surprised contemporary viewers, though seasoned pasta paura fanciers probably won’t have too much trouble, at this remove, working out what’s going on).

The commercial imperative to try to cop a bit of the Easy Rider action dictates a conclusion which doesn’t amount to very much but there is plenty of period kitsch to cherish and Lenzi effectively embroiders that staple theme of Italian exploitation cinema which indicts the respectable bourgeoisie as more morally reprehensible than the social dregs whom they despise and exploit.

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The late, great Ray Lovelock built a screen career on ambiguity… he’s sexually ambiguous as Evan in his screen debut, Giulio Questi’s startling Django Kill! (Se Sei Vivo, Spara, 1967)… in Jorge Grau’s legendary zombie-stomper Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974) he’s a cynical hustler turned archetypal English hero (right down to being named “George”)…  he’s a lily-livered kidnapper with qualms, who just might save the ransomed girl in Lenzi’s Almost Human (1974, a busy year for our Ray)… he’s not quite the man we thought he was in the following year’s Autopsy, that most macabre of gialli from Armando Crispino… there’s more sexual ambiguity from him as the only heterosexual man on the planet who couldn’t manage an erection for Edwige Fenech in Marino Girolami‘s The Virgin Wife (“La Moglie Vergine”, 1975)… in Ruggero Deodato’s Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (“Uomini Si Nasce Poliziotti Si Muore”,  1976) he and Marc Porel play cops whose disregard for the rule-book makes them virtually indistinguishable from the criminals against whom they’re supposed to be protecting society… in Franco Prosperi’s Meet This Man And Die from the same year, Ray’s a cop going deep, deep undercover.. and in Prosperi’s 1978 effort La Settima Donna (“The Seventh Woman”) aka Terror and Last House On The Beach (no question for guessing which Wes Craven film supplies the “inspiration” for that one) he poses as “the voice of reason” in a gang of bank-robbers brutalising the young women among whom they’re hiding out, although he’s obviously orchestrating and relishing the various outrages. The mystery in Fulci’s Murder Rock (1984) turns on Lovelock’s character, who he is and what he might or might not have done…

This ambiguous, chameleon-like aspect made Lovelock an ideal actor for giallo and it’s regrettable that he only essayed a handful of roles in that genre. Still, the C.V. he left behind (and he was working in features and TV as late as last year) is impressive enough as it stands.

Rest in peace, Ray. Adios, Umberto…

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Songs In The Key Of G-Spot… Lucio Fulci’s THE DEVIL’S HONEY Reviewed

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

I remember reading a great review of this film in an obscure Dutch fanzine. I was hooked as soon as I read the opening lines: “Dr Wendell Simpson (Brett Halsey) has a bad marriage. He goes often to the whores”. Indeed he often does and when he gets there, it’s in search of very niche erotic gratification, i.e. watching the working girls paint the crotch of their pantyhose with nail varnish. You might have thought they’d regard this as easy money but one complains that: “It’s worse than fucking a monster… you’re a freak!” Back home, Wendell’s wife (the luscious Corinne Clery) is writhing around in heat, seeking a good seeing-to but he can’t seem to raise any interest, or indeed anything else, in response to this spectacle. Fucking weirdo…

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The sexual arrangement between Johnny (Stefano Madia) and Jessica (Blanca Marsillach) seems scarcely more conventional. He’s a saxophone playing rock superstar (first time for everything, I guess) who only seems capable of playing one phrase (which is distinctly reminiscent of the Phil Lynott / Gary Moore chewn Parisienne Walkways) and when he can’t even get that right, takes time out from an unproductive recording session to blow his horn up Jessica’s tuppence (such a crowd pleasing moment that the original U.S. video release, as Dangerous Obsession, bumped it forward to the film’s opening minutes, as demonstrated on one of the many bonus materials here). “Don’t you ever think of anything else?” she chides him. “Is there anything else?” he responds. Later Johnny persuades Jessica to give him a hand-job while she rides pillion on his speeding motor-bike…. cor baby, that’s really free!

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It’s a pity The Jeremy Kyle show wasn’t airing in 1986… Graham The Genius would have had his work cut out with these guys! In the absence of that, what does bring all the sex cases together is the arrival of Johnny on Wendell’s operating table, in critical condition after a motorbike crash. Christ only knows what he’d been up to on that speeding bike this time… felching a chicken while inserting crack rocks up his own arse? Probably best not to think about it…

Anyway, Dr Simpson is so stressed out, flashing back to his wife’s demand for a divorce, that he totally screws up the operation and Johnny shuffles off his mortal coil… no more  speed limit-defying wanks for you, mate! Jessica, devastated, sits around at home cuddling Johnny’s pullover and watching videos of herself being shagged by him. Then she resolves to act. She harasses Dr. Simpson with phone calls, then kidnaps him at gunpoint and chains him up in her and Johnny’s beach-house.

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Now, call me old-fashioned, but I’d be rather more inclined to attribute the demise of  this clown to his own tiresome antics than to the surgeon who attempted to save him. Nevertheless, Jessica spends the next couple of days beating, kicking, nearly drowning and feeding dog food to the doc, not to mention spattering him with hot candle wax. My name is Jessica…”  she tells him: ” … but you can call me fear!” “You’re an amazing girl!” he gasps.

When not abusing poor old Wendell (who, one strongly suspects, is having the time of his life), Jessica flashes back to her affair with Johnny, including a memorable scene in which he sodomises her on a staircase. Just in case anyone in the audience isn’t sure what’s going on, Fulci intercuts the action with shots of Jessica’s dog (whom I’d love to believe is some kind of relative of Dicky from The Beyond) jumping against a back door… subtle symbolism or what? Gradually her flashbacks reveal that life with Johnny wasn’t so great after all – he smashed her favourite doll, he liked her vagina to double as a holster for his pistol, and – best of all – at one point we see Jessica necking with him in a cinema, only to recoil in horror as she realizes that bitchy sound engineer Nick (Bernard Seray) is simultaneously playing some hot licks on Johnny’s horn, mugging furiously while doing so.

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When Wendell repairs her doll, Jessica unties him and they consummate the mutual passion that has been building up between them. Incredibly, as a post-script to their love-making, the doc declaims the following lines…

“When you’ve spent your life like a fortune you believed would never end / a second chance will come to you, like a long-lost friend / A great joy will fill you and flush you hot / no more will you ever be cool / for she is the Devil’s honey-pot / and you will drown in her… you fool!”

If only room could have been found, among all the other mildly kinky goings-on here, for Halsey to undergo a golden shower… anyone who can deliver poetry like that with a straight face really deserves to have it pissed on!

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Fulci, visibly ravaged by his recent run in with hepatitis, makes his customary cameo as a street-trader who sells Jessica and Johnny two “mystical bracelets”, which will allegedly guarantee them happiness until discarded. Would you buy a charm bracelet from the man above… or a reheated, overheated script? The Devil’s Honey bears an uncanny resemblance to Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s The Trap, directed the previous year from a Fulci screenplay and starring (alongside Tony Musante and Laura Antonelli) Blanca Marsillach and her kid sister Cristina (shortly to star in Argento’s Opera).

Blanca seems to have wound up just about everybody on the set of The Devil’s Honey, as is amply testified to in the generous supplementary materials on this handsome Severin BD presentation. “I don’t want to talk badly about a fellow performer…” offers the admirable Halsey: “… my problem was that she had no discipline and no talent”. He loved being directed by Fulci, though (“If you dig him up, I’d work for him again!”) and also directing him, as he claims to have done during Fulci’s protracted cameo role in 1990’s Demonia, a film about which Halsey has some hair-raising anecdotes. He also regrets the misunderstanding about the same year’s Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain which curtailed their professional and personal relationship.

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Corinne Clery remembers Fulci as “kind”, then again by her account she’s always prided herself on not being “a prima donna”… it was to exactly that kind of actress that Fulci famously gave shortest shrift. Producer Vincenzo Salviani poo-poos any suggestion that Fulci was “difficult” to work with but admits: “He wasn’t the lion he once was”. In an audio essay Troy Howarth talks up Fulci’s “knack” for the erotic and Stephen Thrower, who’s always got something interesting to say about this director, speculates that Fulci’s career could have been salvaged at this point by jumping the glossy soft core bandwagon that was currently gaining momentum. Instead, he remained pigeon holed in an increasingly ghetto-ised Horror milieu, with geometrically diminishing returns. No more would he ever be cool…

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It’s TORSO… Only More So! Sergio Martino’s Seminal Giallo / Slasher Crossover Epic On Shameless Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Sweeping the table of eyeless doll heads, you sit down and loosen your black-on-red (or is it red-on-black?) ‘kerchief. Ignoring the banging on the door of the room in which you’ve incarcerated the sexy art student, you peel the polythene wrapper from your copy of Shameless’s new Torso Blu-ray, take out the sleeve and reverse it because the alternative design is going to look so much better on your shelf, extract the disc, feed it into your BD player and settle back in anticipation…

19399797_561431237579683_1018641091339927587_n.jpgFaced with the problem of replacing talismanic female lead Edwige Fenech (who was probably knocking out a sexy comedy or two at the time) for 1973’s I Corpi Presentano Tracce Di Violenza Carnale (“The Corpses Bear Traces Of Carnal Violence”), Sergio Martino made a virtue of necessity by casting Derbyshire dolly bird Suzy Kendall, who had become something of a giallo icon herself since starring in Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Here Martino and stalwart scripter Ernesto Gastaldi cut back on the frenetic over-plotting and globe-trotting of their previous collaborations to render their most Argentoesque effort yet… stylishly shot yet boiled down to its brutal, basic ingredients, this is something like the quintessential giallo. Distributed, retitled (as “Torso”)  and marginally recut by Joseph Brenner for the American grindhouse circuit, the film’s pared down focus on psychosexual violence twitched the death nerves of American film goers who were about to embrace Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – SPOILER ALERT! –

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 “… just stupid dolls of flesh and blood!’ howls the culprit (calm down, calm down!), flashing back to the unfortunate (and hilariously rendered) childhood incident in which his kid brother went arse over tit off a cliff after a game of doctor’s and nurses went horribly wrong.

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Incidentally, the final confrontation between the characters who turn out to be killer and hero respectively is a full-on punch-up that wouldn’t be out of place at kicking-out time in a Glasgow hostelry and very much suggests the influence of the contemporary kung fu craze. When I interviewed Martino he declared his “absolute favourite moment” from all his films to be “the sequence at the end of Torso, in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there” Not half, matey! Edwige Fenech… who needs her?

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So what have we learned from Sergio Martino’s Torso? That some crazy-as-batshit dude carved up a bunch of art students because he thought that women were dolls… but why did he think that the appropriate response to dolls was to carve them up in the first place? Hm… Sergio, is it too late for a Torso 2? I, for one, would certainly buy a ticket to see that.

Picture wise, it’s the old Blu-ray trade-off between enhancing the subtlety of (Giancarlo Ferrando’s) cinematography while exacerbating the grain in a film that’s almost 45 years old. I’m more inclined to believe that my tumbler of J&B is half full rather than half empty on this occasion, especially as a lot of effort has clearly been put into rectifying the print damage that has marred previous releases. This Shameless BD continues the incremental improvements to Torso that seem to have marked every successive edition… notes that the characters write to each (on paper and on one occasion across a mucky windshield) are now in English and the two surviving characters now exchange philosophical observations (in Italian, with English subtitles) as they walk off into the sunrise, as opposed to the Third Man style dumbshow of the Shameless DVD release.

Extra-wise you get “Dismembering Torso”, a new 23 minute interview with director Sergio Martino. He tells how his usual producer, big brother Luciano, rejected his idea for the film (which was based on a notorious real life case), ultimately produced by Carlo Ponti. We also learn that Sergio originally wanted to call it Red For Love, Black For Death (the scarves thing, right?) but the title became The Corpses Don’t Bear Traces Of Carnal Violence… until distributors insisted that they must bear precisely such traces, obliging Martino to go back and redub the police inspector’s briefing on this subject. He recalls that Torso was doing OK at box offices until Last Tango In Paris came out and slaughtered all the competition (pity they couldn’t call Bertolucci’s film “The Bumholes Bear Traces Of Butter”). Self-critical as ever, Martino observes that “some of the actors were a little wooden”. Well, there’s a good reason for that, Sergio…

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Above: another cracking couple of reinterpretations from beyondhorrordesign.blogpsot.com

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A Sliver Of SALÒ… Lucio Fulci’s THE GHOSTS OF SODOM Reviewed

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“Jinkies!”

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The Gosts Of Sodom (“I Fantasmi Di Sodoma”), 1988. Directed by Lucio FulciProduced by Antonio Lucidi & Luigi Nannerini. Story by Lucio FulciScreenplay by Lucio Fulci Carlo Alberto Alfieri. Cinematography by Vincenzo TessiciniEdited by Vincenz Tomassi. Musiby Carlo Maria Cordio. SFX by Gino Vagniluca. Starring: Claudio Aliott, Maria Concetta Salieri, Robert Egon, Jessica Moore, Teresa Razzaudi, Sebastian Harrison, Al Cliver (uncredited), Zora Kerova (uncredited), Joseph Alan Johnson (uncredited).

Lamberto Bava was the best of influences… Lamberto Bava was the worst of influences… although his 1985 effort Demons (arguably the Last Great Italian Horror Film) confirmed him as his father’s son, Bava Jr’s Graveyard Disturbance (made just three years later) set the template for a string of anaemic, TV friendly efforts (more Hanna Barbera than Mario Bava) in which gormless yuppie youths confronted lame-assed spooky adversaries in anodyne adventures whose video releases had audiences around the world reaching for the fast forward button while struggling to stay awake.

The Ghosts Of Sodom (which Fulci directed in 1988, virtually simultaneously with the marginally superior Touch Of Death) pinches Demons’ central conceit of cursed celluloid only to put it in the service of “Scooby Doo Vs Third Reich” silliness, resulting in a listless boreathon that makes the likes of Sergio Garrone’s SS Experiment Camp (1976) and Luigi Batzella’s Beast In Heat (1977) look like Marcel Ophüls’ The Sorrow And The Pity (1969).

Towards the end of WWII, a bunch of SS men hole up in a villa and (stop me if you’ve seen something like this before) stave off contemplation of the inevitable by acting out a series of depraved sexual tableaux. Unfortunately the paucity of Fulci’s imagination in this department means that the most depraved thing we witness is Al Cliver shouting at a girl to dance too fast… oh and some bozo trying to pot a snooker ball between a compliant Fraulein’s legs. Before everybody expires from ennui, a stock footage allied bombing raid puts them out of their misery. But the nasty Nazis had the presence of mind to film their tame orgy for posterity…

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… and four decades or so later, a campervanload of groovy guys and bitchin’ babes (including Jessica Moore / Lucian Ottaviani from Joe D’Amato’s Eleven Days, Eleven Nights brace) rocks up at the (distinctly unbombed looking) villa to deplete the wine cellar and make out, their libidos inflamed by the photo albums of vintage Nazi porn they discover (“Get a load of these knockers!”) Unwisely, they also crank up the film of that long (and justifiably) forgotten orgy, at which point the villa fills up with Nazi spectres. The flower of Aryan manhood (identified in the credits as “Willy The Nazi” and played by Robert Egon) engages in vanilla S&M shenanigans with the lucky girls.

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One of the boys is brow beaten by Nazis into playing Russian roulette for the favours of a sexy female ghost (the uncredited Zora Kerova), only for her breasts to turn to ashes in his hands… doncha just hate it when that happens? Another falls downstairs and dies, his body rapidly degenerating into a pool of pulsating pus…

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Mercifully, the Nazi bongo movie reaches the point at which the villa was bombed and the yups find themselves outside, unscathed and remarkably philosophical about the ordeal which they have just undergone…

“That was some adventure!”
“Let’s get the hell out of here!”
“I’m way ahead of you!”

The resurgent Nazi threat is over, for now… but they would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids! Just to confuse them further, their dismembered antics would be recycled in another film-within-a-film outing, Fulci’s hysterical A Cat In The Brain aka Nightmare Concert (1990).

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Plenty of quality Italian films have examined, in literal or allegorical style, the country’s war-time complicity with Nazism… Antonio Bido’s Watch Me When I kill (1977), Pupi Avati’s The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and any amount of Pier Paolo Pasolini pictures spring to mind. This is certainly not one of them. Fulci’s attempt to reframe Pasolini for the Panino crowd comes up several scooby snacks short of a satisfying picnic, although towards the end you really do start to feel like it’s been going on for 120 days. Looking back on LF’s career nadir hasn’t turned me into a pillar of salt, but I’m struggling to think of anything else I could possibly say in its favour.

Incidentally, Fulci made much of his anti-Nazi credentials (not least when I spoke to him) but anyone who’s watched his interview on the Grindhouse DVD of A Cat In The Brain will have heard him make a pretty reprehensible throwaway crack about The Holocaust… a sorrow and indeed, a pity.

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He Should Have Gone To Specsavers… Sergio Martino’s THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR Reviewed

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

Claudio Cassinelli (in the first of several starring roles for Sergio Martino) plays Paolo Germi, an undercover Police Inspector (it is revealed, half way into the picture) who is investigating the trafficking of minors for immoral purposes in Milan. Impetus is lent to his investigations when informant Marisa Pesce (Patrizia Castaldi) gets sliced up by a knife wielding, mirror shades-wearing assassin before she can pass on the information she had promised him. Hampered by his by-the-book boss (Mel Ferrer) and dozy colleagues (one of whom seems more obsessed with betting than rounding up any bad guys) Germi recruits petty criminal Giannino (a nice comic turn from Adolfo Caruso) as his wing man and continues his enquiries among the city’s tarts, those with hearts and otherwise. As connections with the drugs trade and a kidnapping ring fall into place, suspicion begins to fall on Marisa’s wealthy and influential Uncle Gaudenzio (Massimo Girotti). With his employers continuing to drag their feet, demanding cast-iron evidence, Germi is prompted by the murder of Giannino and his girlfriend to quit the force and confront Pesce while the latter is on a money laundering trip to Switzerland…

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There’s a gag running throughout TSDOAM, concerning the frequency with which Cassinelli’s character breaks the lenses in his glasses. If I wanted to go all clever dick on you, I’d argue that this is emblematic of the film’s fractured stylistic take. I do, so I will…

Having authored some of the more compelling and varied entries in the giallo cycle from 1970 to 1973 (The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours of The Dark, Your Vice Is  A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key) and providing the template for the all-conquering stalk’n’slash cycle with Torso, Sergio Martino could have been forgiven for leaving the yellow stuff well alone, especially as the wave inspired by Dario Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970) was starting to recede. TSDOAM began life as a poliziottescho effort, a logical progression from the seminal crime slime entries that Martino had already racked up with The Violent Professionals (1973) and Silent Action (earlier in ’75). In the run-up to shooting Suspicious Death, however, the giallo was reinvigorated by Argento’s triumphant return with Deep Red and Sergio’s producer brother Luciano felt obliged, at short notice, to add gialloesque aspects to this picture. As well as the mandatory stalking sequences we get specific references to, e.g. Daria Nicolodi’s malfunctioning car, a stabbed woman breaking a window with her face, a nasty scalding… Luciano Michelini even contributes a main theme that’s eerily reminiscent of the Goblin one to Argento’s biggie.

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Argento copying aside, it can’t have escaped the Martino boys’ attention that Milan-born Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (alternatively titled, tellingly enough La Polizia Chiede Aiuto / “The Police Are Asking For Help”) from the previous year combined giallo and crime slime successfully… not to mention turning on a “teenage prostitution racket servicing the great and good” plotline and starring Cassinelli. This cross-pollination of cop / giallo ingredients would produce its prize specimen in 1976, with Alberto De Martino’s amazing Blazing Magnum (1976).

But betting (correctly) that neither gialli nor poliziotteschi had that much life left in them, Sergio further confused matters by incorporating elements of comedy (a genre he had already debuted in with the Edwige Fenech vehicle Giovannona Long-Thigh, 1973, and to which he would successfully return for much of his subsequent filmography) into an already overegged mix. So instead of the nail-biting thrills of the car chase from The Violent Professionals (so impressive it was recycled in subsequent films by Martino and others) we are here “treated” to automobile antics involving nuns, acrobatic head spins and trick unicycle silliness.

In case you were wondering whether such jocularity was appropriate for a film about the sexual exploitation of minors, fret ye not… this is hardly a serious look at that troubling subject, the victims herein constituting the oldest “minors” since Stockard Channing enrolled at Rydell High. Barbara Magnolfi, two years away from her striking turn in Suspiria, had already bid adieu to her teens when she appeared in TSDOAM…. ditto Patrizia Castaldi, the title character. Kooky hooker Carmela (Lia Tanzi, perviously a prostitute in The Violent Professionals) bears a close resemblance to  Nancy Allen and the fate of her character curiously foreshadows that of Allen’s in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981).

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A healthy compliment of strong female characters is rounded out by the feisty Gloria (the ill-starred Jenny Tamburi), with whom Germi hooks up for a briefing (while Giannino is attempting to debrief her) in a down-market Terza Vizione cinema which is screening, incestuously enough, Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room. This sequence segues into one of the picture’s best realised suspenseful action vignettes, with that mirror shaded assassin stalking Germi across (and through) the cinema roof until another Italian shop window mannequin takes the mandatory fall. Mention must also be made of a well-choreographed shoot out on a roller coaster and the ensuing metro station pursuit that ends in somebody being squashed under a train.

Arrow’s BD presentation of this rare title looks just great. We’re getting used to swallowing a bit of grain in return for the revelation of hitherto unguessed at cinematographical subtleties but those pesky pixels are barely perceptible here, a testament to the work of  Martino’s long serving DP, Giancarlo Ferrando. Travis Crawford clocks up yet another commentary track but the normally sure-footed TC seems to be having a bit of an off day, completely missing the director’s cameo appearance while wasting words on a (non-existent) continuity error. He also lavishes much praise on Mel Ferrer, who pretty much phones in his brief appearance here.

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Of course there’s a trailer and a reversible sleeve which, like the limited edition collectors’ booklet, “with new writing by Barry Forshaw”, was not available to me at the time of penning this review. The Ferrando interview mentioned in some of the publicity releases is conspicuous by its absence from the Blu-ray disc I received, though you do get 42 minutes with Sergio Martino, in which he reflects on the generalities of his long and distinguished career (e.g. the pros and cons of making most of your films for a producer who’s also your brother, the lax attitude towards health and safety that applied on Italian shoots and how this might or might not have contributed to Cassinelli’s untimely death during another Martino production, Hands Of Steel in 1986) and the problematic position that TSDOAM occupies within it, conceding what a hotch-potch of styles it represents and how difficult it consequently was to market. Indeed, the fact that this edition comes with an Italian language soundtrack and optional English subtitles confirms ones suspicions that Suspicious Death was just too weird for much of a mainstream release outside of Italy.

Indeed, with genres being so recklessly juggled, it’s amazing that this film’s elements cohere at all, let alone that it’s constituent parts coagulate into such a diverting concoction. As Quentin Tarantino once told me: “Martino’s a hack but he really knows what he’s doing and you’re in safe hands when you watch one of his pictures”. TSDOAM comes nowhere near to what Martino achieved at his peak in either the giallo or crime slime genres but as an interesting snap shot of Italy’s ruthlessly commercial popular cinema mutating, before your very eyes, in response to contemporary box office pressures, it’s well worth the attention of any serious student of Cine Exploitation All’Italiana.

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

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another home run from Shameless!

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