Posts Tagged With: Sex

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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Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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With Apologies To Proudhon… Daria Nicolodi in Elio Petri’s PROPERTY IS NO LONGER A THEFT

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow Academy. 15.

“What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” – Bertolt Brecht.

“Money doesn’t smell!” – the emperor Vespasian, dismissing his son Titus’ qualms about a tax on piss collected from public urinals.

Some directors (as we shall shortly see) reacted to Italy’s “years of lead” (the pandemic criminal and political violence of the late ’60s and ’70s) by packing heavily moustached detectives and all manner of ballistic hardware into trench coats and unleashing them on the bad guys, whoever they were perceived to be that week. Elio Petri responded with darkly comic satires of the official corruption that had accompanied Italy’s “economic miracle” and was implicated, in ways not yet fully explained, with the turmoil that followed it. His films from this period (as suggested in the title of the 1973 offering under consideration here) also constitute an arch critique of the contemporary state of class consciousness and the Left’s fitness for purpose. Petri’s cinematic approach to these questions had less to do with the balletic bullet fests of Enzo Castellari than with such theatrical antecedents as Dario Fo’s celebrated Accidental Death Of An Anarchist and – as here – tends to be theatrically lit by Luigi Kuveiler. In Property Is No Longer A Theft he grants Shakespearian soliloquies to his principle cast members…

… and what a cast it is.Flavio Bucci (who made his screen debut in Petri’s 1971 effort The Working Class Goes To Heaven but will probably be more familiar as the blind pianist in Suspiria and one of the two murderous rapists on board Aldo Lado’s Late Night Trains) gives a superbly twitchy performance here as Total, a downtrodden bank teller who quits his job after developing a fixation on one of the bank’s clients, an affluent butcher identified simply as “The Butcher” (Italian comedy legend Ugo Tognazzi), whose wealth Total reckons (with some justification) to have been amassed via criminal means.

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Total resolves to steal The Butcher’s property, his reputation and his mistress Anita. The latter is played by another HOF Hall-of-Famer,  Daria Nicolodi, who emerges as a revelation when armed with a proper script and strong characterisation to sink her teeth into (and without the cruddy dubbing that have so often disfigured her screen performances.) There’s a gialloesque murder in a lift and a Diabolik gag or two thrown in for good measure as the blackly comic complications multiply, nicely complimented by one of Ennio Morricone’s quirkiest scores (though it’s not as flat-out bonkers as the one he contributed to Petri’s Investigation Of A Citizen Under Suspicion, 1970.)

Limited to the first pressing of this release, you also get an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Camilla Zamboni (upon which I can’t comment because I haven’t seen it.) The other bonus materials comprise interviews with make-up artist Pierantonio Mecacci, a knackered looking Flavio Bucci… who gets quite emotional talking about producer Claudio Mancini…

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… and Mancini himself, who restores the balance with some light-hearted, gossipy reminiscences. He pokes gentle fun at Petri (above) for being what British right-wing rags now call a “champagne socialist” (a charge they routinely level at any Lefty who doesn’t live in a mud hut) and recalls the perils of dealing with Maoist trades unions on location. Intriguingly, for such a cerebral effort, he attributes the box office success of PINLAT to the amount of prurient punters who wanted to see the sex scene in which Nicolodi takes the upper berth, a scene on account of which this film was originally banned (a decision promptly rescinded) by Italian censors. You might well want to check it out, too.

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Immoral Men… Walerian Borowczyk’s THE STORY OF SIN Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow Academy. 18.

I’ve been pondering the possibility of a Walerian Borowczyk Weekender for a while now but Arrow, still mopping up the treasures that didn’t make it onto their epic Camera Obscura box set, have forced my hand with this handsome release of the last feature he completed in Poland, a 1975 adaptation of Stefan Zeromski’s bodice-ripping literary classic, a kind of Slavic answer to Madame Bovary.
The film opens with pious but ironically named small town girl Ewa Probatynska (Grazyna Dlugolecka) being warned in the confessional that sin begins with the imagination and admonished not to look at erotic books or art… nor should she respond to the lustful looks that men might give her in the street. Of course the priest can’t resist checking her out as she leaves, setting the scene for a cautionary tale of one woman’s decline and fall at the hands of a series of variously vain, hypocritical, weak and unreliable, opportunistic and murderous men.

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First she falls, head over heels, for Lukasz Niepolomski (Jerzy Selnik), one of the lodgers that her respectable parents are obliged to take in to keep solvent. In a masterly touch, Borowczyk intercuts their initial flirtation in a park with shots of a little girl getting lost in the undergrowth. Lukasz tries to put Ewa off by telling her that he’s married and having difficulty in obtaining a divorce… but he’s not exactly fighting her off with a pointed stick. When her pulls the first of his signature disappearances she is devastated but word later reaches her that her beau has been wounded in a duel and she unquestioningly heads for the village where he’s recuperating to take a menial job as a seamstress and nurse him back to health. After recovering enough to impregnate her, Lukacs disappears to Rome in pursuit of that divorce. Alone, Ewa undergoes a traumatic delivery and immediately does away with her baby. Count Zygmunt Szczerbic (Olgierd Lukaszewicz), an associate of Lukacz (in fact, the guy who wounded him in that duel) informs Ewa that her lover has been incarcerated in Rome but when they get there he has already been released and disappeared again without notice. The Count (who clearly worships Ewa, though she only has eyes for Lukasz) shepherds her around Europe in a vain search until she learns by chance that Lukasz got his divorce and promptly married a rich woman with whom he has returned to Poland. Hitting rock bottom, Ewa falls in with a bunch of con men and cut throats who string her along with promises that they can reunite her with Lukacz. At their behest she takes the devoted Count to bed and is tricked into killing him so that they can make off with his worldly goods.

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Thereafter they pimp her out to all comers until a social reformer with a kinky interest in criminal women enrolls her in his utopian agricultural community. Her former cohorts lure her away from there with yet another promise that they’ll hook her up with Lukasz. Realising that they plan to rob and kill him too, she sacrifices her life to warn him. At the very moment of death, she finally receives some tenderness, some acknowledgement from the love of her life.

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Often misguidedly dismissed as some kind of sexist monster or “mere” pornographer, Borowczyk does a remarkable job here, telling his story from the point of view of a strong (albeit doomed) female character with whom he clearly identifies… and well he might. The opening clerical admonition about imagination and eroticism having no place in Polish society might well have been aimed at the director himself, who was about to leave his homeland to follow more faithfully the muse that he had begun to indulge in such French productions as Immoral Tales (1973) and its notorious off-shoot, The Beast (1975.) Had he been granted the gift of foresight, Borowczyk might conceivably have enjoyed a wry chuckle at the way his subsequent career curve was perceived to parallel that of Ewa, with the accusation that he was somehow “prostituting” his formidable talent… it didn’t exactly help, admittedly, that he ended up directing the likes of Emmanuelle 5 (1987.)
As a valediction to interdiction, Story Of Sin is an exceptionally strong sign off, built around a powerhouse central performance from Dlugolecka (a very feisty woman indeed, as her bonus interview here attests.) With it, Borowczyk waved goodbye to his reputation as a “serious” film maker but, more importantly for his creative integrity, to not one but two tyrannies. After 1975 he was no longer subject to the strictures of Soviet ideology, although of course the insidious shadow of the Vatican proved harder to shake off.

Is Ewa, in her rejection of society’s mores, experiencing “freedom” when she follows her obsession through degradation into annihilation… or is she just the slave of her ovaries? By the same token, did Borowczyk, in the ongoing pursuit of his erotomania, merely replace the tyranny of The New Testament with that of his own testosterone? Is l’amour fou literally “the drug” (manifested as “solicor” in WB’s Dr Jekyll Et Les Femmes, 1981)? Is this why Borowczyk routinely depicts inanimate objects as having more character than the people who move among them? Frankly, I don’t know but I’m going to have a long, hard think about it…

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Those familiar with Arrow’s previous Borowczyk releases won’t be surprised to learn that this 2K restoration from the original negative looks great (I’ve only seen the DVD but it’s reasonable to suppose that the Blu-ray looks even better) and is jam-packed with edifying bonus materials, over and above the aforementioned, riveting Dlugolecka interview. You also get an introduction to the film by poster designer Andrzej Klimowski plus new restorations of the WB shorts Once Upon a Time, Dom (both of those co-directed with Jan Lenica) and The School, with optional audio commentaries by the ubiquitous Daniel Bird and co. Bird also contributes a witty video essay, a sort of “how to do Borowczyk” guide. Various WB associates and intimates are interviewed and we are further treated to a documentary on Borowczyk documentaries and a very early one that he co-wrote on poster art, which contains the manifesto line: “In our times, objects take centre stage…”

… of course you get a trailer… and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Klimowski…
… but by far the jewel in this disc’s bonus crown is the audio commentary by Diabolique magazine’s Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger. Since my prehistoric first scribblings in the pages of Samhain, I’ve agitated for (and would like to think I’ve contributed towards) a criticism that is every bit as informed as it is passionate, enthusiastic and erudite in equal measure. That’s exactly what you get here. When Ellinger and Deighan aren’t rhapsodising about French saints masturbating with cucumbers they’re invoking Flaubert, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Hardy and Dostoevsky or reading passages from Baudelaire… marvellous stuff and quite possibly the best, most thought-provoking audio commentary I’ve yet encountered. Let’s hear it for the girls!

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– KONIEC –

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

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VHS. Pal. Skyline. Unrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Want My Mummy… BIZARRE aka SECRETS OF SEX Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Synapse. Not rated.

The advent of DVD and the inexorable rise of enterprising, independent disc distributors has led to the unearthing of countless oddities that one could previously only salivate over in old copies of Continental Film Review. Case in point, Bizarre (aka Tales Of The Bizarre / Secrets of Sex), a 1969 collaboration between veteran exploitation producer Richard Gordon and director Antony Balch, a precocious wide boy film importer / programmer with an unhealthy fixation on Bela Lugosi and intellectual pretensions, who had already made a couple of avant garde shorts with William Burroughs and his circle. The experience of those, plus Gordon’s track record in portmanteau movies and the commercially successful example of Amicus, convinced them that an anthology was the appropriate format for their maiden effort…

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In the pre-titles sequence a medieval Middle Eastern potentate buries a trunk (in which his wife’s lover is hiding) in the desert. The (mysteriously mummified) victim thereafter provides a running commentary (in the appropriately sepuchral tones of  the ubiquitous Valentine Dyall) on the age-old battle of the sexes, with eye witness accounts from the front line. In the process we learn precisely nothing about those secrets of sex but the various vignettes are unquestionably bizarre: a male model posing for an arty coffee table book depicting torture through the ages is actually done to death by a female photographer so that she can get the perfect cover shot (shades of Pupi Avati’s House With Laughing Windows)… a woman deliberately conceives and gives birth to a horribly mutated baby, seemingly to spite her disagreeable husband… a female burglar ends up banging the bollocks off the guy she came to rob… a wacko reptile fetishist tries to arrange a threesome with a prostitute and a lizard… you get the picture. There’s even an episode devoted to the adventures of Lindy Leigh, whom readers of a certain age will remember as a comic strip (in every sense of the term) heroine from the pages of Mayfair magazine.

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Definitely of its time, Bizarre stirs Surrealism, deadpan humour, narrative non sequiturs, intellectual and literary conceits (subliminal glimpses of William Burroughs’ novel Nova Express, throwaway mentions of Scientology), tit’n’ass and schlock horror into a truly unique, if not entirely satisfactory, viewing experience.  The young director regarded SOS as a learning exercise, and his style had matured by the time of his second collaboration with Gordon, Horror Hospital (1973), wherein Balch’s sense of the surreal was more seamlessly integrated into a formally conventional horror narrative. Who knows what he could have gone on to achieve, had he not died so prematurely? He might conceivably have become some kind of British answer to Russ Meyer… on the evidence of Bizarre, he was certainly an admirer of Meyer’s editing style.

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Secrets Of Sex / Bizarre has in the past been re-edited by sundry distributors to produce alternative, shorter features emphasising either its horrific or sexy elements, and of course the picture has had its brushes with censorship (though the legend “the film they tried to stop!”, emblazoned across the pack, is surely hyperbole.) This is the director’s cut, in a surprisingly good-looking 1:66:1 transfer and comes handsomely appointed with extras. Aside from the inevitable trailer, there’s an interview with co-writer Elliot Stein (the guy underneath all those mummy bandages, who also appears as the lizard-fixated pervert) plus a commentary track by Richard Gordon which, while informative and entertaining, never really touches upon anything that’s happening in the picture, adding a further layer of surreality to the proceedings.

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Most interestingly, Synapse have unearthed the two early ‘60s monochrome shorts that Balch made with Bill Burroughs and like-minded boho beatniks. In Towers Open Fire, Messrs Balch and Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Alexander Trocchi, sex film distributor Bachoo Sen, et al, wander round enigmatically in a succession of jump cuts, interspersed with all manner of abstract footage and random noise, both visual and sonic. After an eternity of this stuff, a rudimentary narrative of sorts seems to emerge, concerning Burroughs’ broadcast of words so incendiary that anyone who hears them immediately disintegrates. The editors of more erudite and earnest journals than this one would bore you rigid at this point rambling on about Burroughs’ conception of “word as virus”, a theme that Balch really goes to town on in The Cut Ups. More disorientating visuals and constant repetition of the words “Yes” and “Hello” make sleeping sickness the viral experience to which this one is most akin, and after several attempts I’ve still not managed to watch it all the way through. Many viewers will feel that these shorts, while having a certain literary / novelty value, aren’t nearly short enough…

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All Hands On Bawd: TOP SENSATION Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

“The jet-set breaks loose in an orgy of violence and terror.” Don’t they just…

Tony (Ruggero Miti) is a troubled young man. Specifically, he’s a catatonic pyromaniac. Yep, he’s a fire starter… twisted fire starter. His problems began in boyhood apparently, when his Mom Mudy (Maud Belleroche) let him attend one of  her acid parties, where his synapses were duly blown. Mudy’s ideas haven’t got any less radical with the passage of time. Poo-poohing the advice of square psychiatrists, she decides that now her son’s a man, his recovery would be best effected by taking him on a sex cruise around the Greek islands with her decadent pals Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri), plus the conniving Ulla (Edwige Fenech in one of her very earliest film roles), whom they’ve employed for the precise purpose of popping Tony’s catatonic cherry. “This boat is loaded with whores!” observes Mudy, diplomatically. When they’re not shagging anything that moves, her decadent hipsters friends are planning how they can defraud Mudy out of her oil inheritance. Oh, and Paola has a penchant for playing with lighted sticks of dynamite… what could possibly go wrong, huh?

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The boat bound bacchanal is proceeding full steam ahead as we join this sordid saga, with Neri prowling around the deck in her PVC bikini, lobbing live explosives into the sea to the aural accompaniment of Sante Maria Romitelli’s delightfully cheesy sexadelic score. “This is really turning me on!” she enthuses to Aldo and for a second there I was seriously wondering if Austin Powers was going to join the dramatis personae. Instead, buffoonish Greek shepherd Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) and his beautiful bumpkin of a wife, Beba (Ewa Thulin) are piped on board to ensure that the possible permutations of couplings and tripling become even more intricate and potentially explosive… all under the watchful gaze of Mudi who, anticipating Celebrity Big Brother, has thoughtfully installed CCTV in every cabin so that she doesn’t miss a trick or indeed a fuck. Nor indeed will you, dear reader, feel remotely short changed in the smut department as you relish the opportunity to oggle Fenech nekkid and appreciate Thulin’s skin, not to mention Neri’s furry bits.

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When our jaded swingers have exhausted the possibilities of human interaction, Aldo photographs Ulla suckling a goat… I said suckling, OK? (Reminds me of a joke Jim Morrison told in Miami, shortly before he got arrested.) It’s even suggested, albeit very tastefully, that the goat orally pleasures Ulla… hang on, can such shenanigans ever be reconciled with the concept of “tastefulness”? It’s difficult to say… with his, er, singular direction of this astonishing motion picture, Ottavio Alessi has ripped a vortex in the cinematic continuum, taking us to a strange new plateau where moralists, cineastes and cunning linguists fear to tread. Or something. BTW, that little goat grew up to be… Satan!

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After strangling Beba, Tony explicitly acknowledges his incestuous relationship with his mother (I reckon this guy would get on very well with Michael from Nights Of Terror / Burial Ground) before strangling her too. The boat is sailing on regardless as we reach the 90 minutes mark and events are arbitrarily wound up. There’s an alternative ending (included as an extra here) in which we get the benefit of Tony’s bonkers internal ruminations for a minute or so before the boat resumes sailing on regardless. What is Alessi trying to tell us? That free love has a downside? Well, paying for it also has a down side so what, exactly, is his point? Both endings feature a hypocritical quote from The Book Of Ecclesiastes to the effect that your sins will find you out. As if to prove his point, Alessi never directed again after this crackpot concoction of Gilligan’s Isle and Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, his sophomore effort. Shameless have appended their own final caption, reassuring us that “No goats were molested in the making of this film.” Phew, that’s a relief…

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In the main bonus item here, the featurette Of Boats And Goats, Neri remembers that Alessi was so unsure of himself on set, he relied upon her to the extent that she got her first and only credit as assistant director. It’s great to see Neri looking so well and reminiscing so happily about this film and her fellow cast members. Ditto Salvatore Puntillo, who reminds us of his distinguished stage career but leaves us in little doubt that his stint as the meat in a Fenech / Neri sandwich remains a personal and professional highlight.

Just when you thought they’d been a bit quiet recently, Shameless hit the ball out of the park with this extended exercise in nautical naughtiness. Sure it’s panned, scanned and to varying degrees scuzzy-looking (certain restored scenes of exposition and dialogue look a bit crap and Edwige’s goat-lovin’ moments especially so) but you know you’ve gotta have it! And Michele Soavi’s The Church and The Sect are on the way… yeeh and indeed, haw!

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An ultra-rare still from the entirely imaginary sequel Bottom Sensation.

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