Posts Tagged With: Shameless

No Orchids For Marilù… the Shameless Blu-Ray of Umberto Lenzi’s ALMOST HUMAN Reviewed

AH-6.pngAlmost-Human-1974-1.jpg

BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

As well as fascists, ultra-leftists, fascists posing as ultra-leftists and ultra-leftists posing as fascists, Italy’s “years of lead” (the violent ’70s, give-or-take) were stoked by disgruntled southern peasants who’s been drawn to the northern cities by the promise of the Italian “economic miracle”, only to turn to crime after finding the streets paved with shit rather than gold. In one of this disc’s bonus interviews, Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare (original Italian title) director Umberto Lenzi posits another explanation for this chaotic decade, namely that it was French criminals who brought kidnapping, drug dealing, bank robbing, et al, to Italy… an improbable claim but one that also surfaces in Enzo Castellari’s seminal Poliziotteschi effort High Crime aka The Marseilles Connection (1973) and Contraband, Luci Fulci’s late (1980) entry in the cycle, the latter of which panders to a romantic conception of the mafia’s origins as a patriotic opposition to the Napoleonic occupation of Italy. Almost Human (1974) is not a mafia movie (though Lenzi made plenty of those) and its protagonist is not mobbed up, nor is he any kind of a heroic patriot… Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian in top, scenery-chewing form) is part of the aforementioned economic flotsam and jetsam… he’s a snivelling psychopath with a chip on each soldier and a burning desire to strike back at everybody who’s responsible for his personal and social inadequacy, i.e. everybody but himself!

The action starts with Giulio fouling up a bank heist by shooting a cop who merely wanted to write him a parking ticket (his trigger-happiness will be a recurring motif throughout this film.) Beaten up and called “a shit head” by local Mister Big Ugo Majone (Luciano Catenacci) and his boys, Giulio resolves to prove them wrong and join the criminal super league. As explained to impressionable stooges Vittorio (Gino Santercole) and Carmine (a nicely nuanced Ray Lovelock), his master plan includes the kidnapping of Marilù (Laura Belli), the daughter of rich industrialist Porrini (Guido Alberti.) After they’ve pocketed the ransom they’ll kill her anyway to cover their tracks. “Listen, there’s only one thing that matters…”, Giulio insists: “… either you’ve got a load of money and you’re somebody cool, or you haven’t got a place to pee!”

AH-2.pngAH-4.png

The kidnap is eventually effected with the connivance of Giulio’s long-suffering girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg)… boy is he punching above his weight here, but Iona’s hung up on this bit of rough and that’s all there is to it. After her boyfriend has been gunned down, Marilù tries to seek refuge in the home of a bourgeois family who are sexually assaulted, strung from the light fittings and machine-gunned for their trouble. Carmine, who had initially experienced cold feet, participates enthusiastically in all this carnage after Giulo has plied him with pills.

AH-3.png1974-Milano-odia-la-polizia-non-può-sparare-regia-di-Umberto-Lenzi.jpg

Giulio ties up an irksome loose end by sending Iona’s car to the bottom of Lake Cuomo, with her in it. investigating this rum series of events, Commissario Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) notices that one guy keeps cropping up again and again and finally it clicks that Giulio was the guy taunting him at the scene of a cop stabbing. “I’m interested in this man..” he tells his superior, in a telling turn of phrase that suggests Grandi’s personal affinities with his quarry: “… he’s a psychopath!” Takes one to know one, I guess, but the law requires something more solid than the strong circumstantial case he is building. In the words of the title… “Milan Hates: The Police Aren’t Allowed To Shoot” But we are talking about Henry Silva here…

AH-5.png

Grandi is literally hobbled as the climax to the kidnapping drama plays out. Having shot the ill-fated Marilù and both of his accomplices, Giulio unloads a clip into the Commissario’s leg before disappearing with the ransom money. Later he’s sitting at a sidewalk café in his expensive new threads, sipping “French champagne” and trying to recruit a new crew of dead beats when Grandi, walking with the aid of a stick, turns up and shoots his way through the legalistic Gordian knot. “Call the chief and tell him that ex-detective Grandi just killed a murderer”, Dirty Henry tells a gob smacked copper. Giulio expires, appropriately enough, atop a pile of garbage.

01707602.jpg

Producer Luciano Martino’s in-house writer Ernesto Gastaldi (better known as a giallo specialist) penned this hard-hearted effort in accordance with Lenzi’s obvious love for the likes of Mervyn Leroy’s Little Caesar, William Wellman’s Public Enemy (both 1931) and Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932.) Its story owes another obvious debt to No Orchids For Miss Blandish, the 1939 James Hadley Chase novel  filmed under that title by St. John L. Clowes in 1948 and as The Grissom Gang by Robert Aldrich, just three years before Lenzi lensed Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare… he lensed most of it, anyway. The edge-of-your-seat car chases sequence, orchestrated by the legendary Rémy Julienne, has been cut in by the cost conscious Martino from the previous year’s The Violent Proefessionals, directed by his kid brother Sergio. This would be the first of many times that Julienne’s footage got recycled in various crime slime epics… hope he was remunerated every time rather than accepting a flat payment (though I rather doubt it!) All of this kick-ass action is nicely complimented by a downbeat Morricone score with a memorably staccato main theme.

MI0003935923.jpg

Of the significant bonus material on this disc, the featurettes Like A Beast… Almost (interviews with Lenzi, Lovelock, Gastaldi and Santercole) and Milian Unleashed (an audience with the film’s charismatic star) will be familiar to anyone who invested in the No Shame DVD release back in the noughties and the latter has already appeared on Shameless’s own DVD release of Almost Human. Pride of place goes to a new Umberto Lenzi interview, in which the grumpy old man of Italian genre cinema is on vintage form. He talks animatedly about how that cinema drew its inspiration from successful American models and – while remaining infra dig with the intelligentsia –  effectively bank rolled the Arthouse efforts of Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, et al. He moans about Kathryn Bigelow pinching his President-masked bank robbers and Sergio Martino stealing his favourite editor (Eugenio Alabiso.) Amusing (sort of) anecdotes include how film noir icon Richard Conte missed the first day of shooting because he died, obliging Lenzi to recruit Silva at short notice in what turned out (with apologies to Conte’s nearest and dearest) to be a masterpiece of serendipitous casting.

Lenzi ‘fesses up re his reputation of being a hard ass with actors but contends that if you don’t impose your will upon them, the shoot is going to hell in hand cart. His memories of working with Milian (on several pictures… he compares the relationship to that between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski) are particularly compelling. Apparently the actor used to drive him mad by improvising while the camera was rolling, though Lenzi is big enough to admit that these unsolicited contributions were sometimes inspired. More alarmingly,  he reveals that Milian’s method acting approach prompted him to hit the pharmaceuticals pretty hard in his attempts to clinch the character of Giulio’s Little Casar. We at The House Of Freudstein are reminded of Laurence Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man (1976)…

008_01.pngMilano-odia-la-polizia-non-può-sparare.jpgMV5BMTJlYWMxNDAtMjVmOC00M2UxLWJjMmEtYWYwMDBjZmVhMmQ3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,672,1000_AL_.jpg

presented in HD, Almost Human looks almost totally marvellous,  though pronounced grain in certain shots (a few obvious second unit cutaways) are the price we have to pay for such technical advances. It’s an imperfect world, made even more so by the recent passing of Tomas Milian. This Shameless release serves as a timely tribute to an enormous talent, showcased in a role that is, even by his less than sedate standards, truly demented.

5fAc4P6V.jpg

Stay tuned to this frequency for further bulletins from our roving Crime Slime reporter…

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Four Flies / Red Eyes… Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET Reviewed

CpxmPw1WAAEzNHA.jpg

As already mentioned in this month’s Scalarama postings, there was a time in the ’80s when I would think nothing of catching a train from Liverpool to London, doing a spot of shopping in Forbidden Planet, stopping up all night in a shabby Scala seat to catch a 4 am screening of Four Flies On Grey Velvet then returning on the milk train to Lime Street… eloquent testimony to both the lure of The Scala and the 40 year unavailability of Dario Argento’s third giallo (not to mention how much more disposable income and motivation I had in those days!) You kids don’t know you’re bloody born, with your deluxe Blu-ray collectors’ editions! Speaking of which…

 Blu-ray. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

CoOP41YW8AA0YaT.jpg-large.jpgIf The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) was evidence of Argento’s growing self-assurance his follow-up, the same year’s Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio / Four Flies On Grey Velvet testifies eloquently to his emerging genius. Its dazzling title sequence intercuts an overhead view of a drum solo with closeups of a beating heart, a brilliantly chosen image with which to simultaneously express Argento’s central and interconnecting themes – time, love and mortality. Thereafter we are plunged straight into violence: Gleefully confounding our expectations, Argento has the menacing figure based on Cameron Mitchell’s heavy in Blood And Black Lace apparently killed by the character he’s been stalking, rock drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) who tracks him down to a derelict theatre.

CpxmMttWIAAd1wk.jpg0000004FOGV.jpg

All this is photographed by a mysterious masked figure in the balcony, and the guilt-stricken Tobias, who already has to contend with the breakdown of his relationship with his wife Nina (another touchingly fragile performance from Mimsy Farmer) is now plagued by photographs of the incident turning up at his house – no wonder he suffers from a recurring nightmare of decapitation.

His housekeeper works out what is going on and arranges a meeting with the blackmailer in a local park, only to be stalked through its topiary after closing time and stabbed to death in a maze. At this point Tobias enlists the aid of a gay private eye, a deft comic performance from Jean Pierre Marielle as the ineffective detective who fares no better than the housekeeper… after a chase on the underground he confronts the blackmailer, who promptly beats him over the head and injects curare directly into his heart.

FourFliesonGreyVelvet.jpg

As his entrapment deepens, Roberto seeks consolation in an affair with his wife’s friend Delia (Francine Racette), who predictably is soon pushed down a flight of stairs and stabbed to death. The police’s forensic division use one of the dead girl’s eyeballs in an experiment, passing a laser beam through it in the hope that the last thing she saw can be reproduced as a photographic image (that old chestnut pseudo forensic chestnut) and provide a clue to the identity of her killer. The resulting image is meaningless, the titular “four flies on grey velvet.” Things are looking bad for Roberto, but out the blue the significance of this image announces itself… then things look even worse as he finds himself at the mercy of his tormentor. He is shot twice but just as the killer is about to deliver the coup-de-grace, one of the drum’s eccentric friends appears and saves the day. The killer jumps into a car and drives away, only to crash into the back of a truck, and Roberto’s ongoing premonitions of decapitation are shockingly fulfilled…

0000Mimsy.jpgCpxmSElWYAA_dgA.jpg

Argento had recourse to extra high-tech equipment for FFOGV and technological innovation also features as a plot device (noted Italian SF specialist-Luigi directed second unit and also had a hand in writing the film’s story.) Paradoxically, Four Flies is the director’s warmest, most human film – transcending mere gimmickry, Argento uses his technical bag of tricks to cut straight to the heart of the human condition. By a masterful manipulation of screen time he illuminates the plight of those for who present is a constant re-working of past traumas. The titular clue is quintessential Argento, an audacious visual representation of a dead moment from the past, lovingly conserved and cultivated in the mind of a psychopath until it can swing again into violent life. There is no room for any concept of free will in this scheme of things and Argento goes to extraordinary lengths to comment on his fatalism – the classical device “Deus ex machina” is used at the climax of many of his  films but here Tobias is saved by the intercession of a god very much present in the machine, Bud Spencer as “Dio” who is introduced by a burst of The Hallelujah Chorus on the soundtrack, a nod to the Spaghetti Westerns in which Argento got his script-writing break.62-four-flies-on-grey-velvet-1-preview

In another spot of dues-paying the director gives Tobias an address on Fritz Lang Street! Clearly Argento is in a playful mood – he even manages an affectionate sex scene, touchingly played by Brandon and Racette, which brings the emotionally shrivelled life of the killer into sharper relief. Similarly, a jokey visit to an exhibition of funeral accessories where one of the tacky exhibits is a coffin car, serves as a comic pre-echo of the film’s shattering conclusion, where Argento scales the heights of tragedy. Using a camera that shoots (by his reckoning) up to  25,000 frames per second, Argento elongates the final seconds in the present of a character whose life has been lived almost exclusively in the past. His minutely-detailed slow motion dissection of this terrible moment either sadistic, nor voyeuristic, but ultimately compassionate. Enhanced by Ennio Morricone’s most haunting theme (at times the marriage of visuals and music in FFOGV approaches what he achieved in tandem with Sergio Leone) this profoundly moving moment leaves the viewer emotionally drained but wishing that he could sit down and watch the whole thing all over again (though for decades seeing it at all was some feat.) By tugging on the strings of time Argento has wrought a work of staggering complexity and resonance in which each part refers to every other part and to the whole. Nic Roeg’s feted Don’t Look Now, which aspired to something similar (a full two years later), comes across as positively simple-minded in comparison.

13413116_1760462244172215_6704672891606827345_n.jpg

From about 2010 0nwards a succession of official looking releases turned out to be little more than tricked-up bootlegs, finally put by right by Shameless in early 2012. This one is Argento-approved and optically fixes a screen glitch (caused by the film jumping the high speed camera gate) that has detracted from the film’s shattering climax in every previous small and big screen release. Visual and aural elements have been beautifully remastered, four elusive pieces of footage can now be viewed (in standard definition) as either isolated extras or in situ, Luigi Cozzi introduces and talks about the making of the film, you get alternative English titles and credits plus the expected trailers…

… talk about well worth waiting for!

13903306_1775991335952639_5636547194474607594_n.jpg

Van Orton Design

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Hands On Bawd: TOP SENSATION Reviewed

tumblr_o816etYyt1r5gwhfo1_400.gif

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?

13256166_1747762435442196_2389082914046824047_n.jpg

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.

13240076_1747648165453623_5559030422703703321_n.jpg

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!

13174089_1747649015453538_4897422501778367024_n.jpg

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…

13240618_1747648148786958_8150564141750977746_n.jpg

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!

Subtle copy.jpg

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

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“Stupid Dolls Of Flesh And Blood”… Sergio Martino’s TORSO Reviewed

Torso_005.jpg

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

Faced 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 Show Traces Of Carnal Violence”), 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 scripture 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.

Torso_TCM 1.jpg

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 pudenda, 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).

torso4.jpg

tumblr_mae5bwis4o1rn8ya7o1_1280.png

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 have a clearer template for the stalk’n’slash cycles “have sex and die!” rule. Brenner astutely recognised the significance of this death scene, bumping it up in the running order so it plays under the film’s titles, to the accompaniment of a howling fuzz guitar riff (imported from Bruno Nicolai’s score for the 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 and take their minds off things by spending a weekend at his remote, cliff-side manner in the country. Uh-oh…

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 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 soon joined by Danni.

christophe-cosyns7.jpg

torso2big.jpg

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.

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…

TorsoLobby4.jpg

… 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… “I killed them because they were dolls… 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. 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?

The Shameless edition of Torso undoes Brenner’s revisions and restores footage that was never dubbed for English language releases. You can stand a few subtitles, can’t you? If not, I’ll be round with me hacksaw…

torso1-tn.jpg

Who you calling a stupid doll? You’ve got a fucking sock on your head!

06-05-2007 08;16;05AM.jpgcine_genre_christophe-cosyns_torso-us-01.jpgs-l225.jpg300px-Torso_lobbycard1.jpgTorso.pngTorso_003.jpgTORSO - v1 - Silver Ferox Design WEB.jpgtorso_poster_01.jpgtorso-020a.jpg3c35d37cc9069a319c383b7fda26d6b4.jpg

 

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Heart Of Glass… THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH Reviewed

psych_wardh_06.jpglo-strano-poster.jpg

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

Un altro giorno, un altro giallo here at The House Of Freudstein…

In 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage emerged as an unexpected international crossover hit, single handedly inspiring nothing short of a renaissance for the giallo genre coined by Mario Bava in 1963 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much / The Evil Eye. Luciano Martino was just one of the many film makers looking to cash in the revitalised killing-by-numbers craze. He had already produced Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah in 1968 and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet, So Perverse the following year but liked the idea of bringing in similar films on a lower budget, employing home grown talent.

He didn’t have to look too far, finding exactly the kind of ambitious young director he needed in kid brother Sergio; the choice of an alluring leading lady was a similar no-brainer, i.e. his current squeeze, Edwige Fenech, with whom Sergio had already shot additional footage to fill out Hans Schott-Schöbinger’s The Sins Of Madame Bovary (1969); and scripting duties fell to the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who had previously penned the above-mentioned Carroll Baker vehicles for Luciano among giallo credits including Elio Scardamaglia’s The Murder Clinic (1966) and Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970). Gastaldi had also directed one of the early gialli, 1965’s Libido, himself. The feature on which Luciano teamed them – The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) – pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s smash hit and shows that Sergio wasn’t sleepwalking through his stint as second unit director on Bava’s 1963 epic of sadomasochism beyond the grave, The Whip and the Body (1963).

BladeoftheRipper-2.jpg

The film’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 denizens, 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 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. Eat yer heart out, 50 Shades Of Grey…

tumblr_o71l38dGMn1uctr63o2_500.gif

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 Hitchcockesque shower sequence (“Another girl slashed to death?” remarks Julie’s cynical friend Carol: “We should be grateful that he’s eliminating all the competiton!”) 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!) In mortal fear that Jean has lost it completely, Julie abandons her hubby and absconds to Spain with George (many of Martino’s gialli feature a lot of jet-setting, reflecting their status as international co-productions aspiring to success in as many territories as possible.) No prizes for guessing that there are several more twists to come…

cropped-strano_vizio_foto0072.jpg

Martino confesses readily to the influence that Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) exerted over TSVOMW (and what about Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, 1951?) but has been ambivalent about The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, even seeming to claim half-heartedly at one time that his picture actually preceded the Argento biggie. His characteristic deployment of hand held camera conveys 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, all of this in sharp contrast to Argento’s signature use of steadicam. 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, 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.) Argento inarguably pinched one of TSVOMW’s central plot devices, by which a calculating, opportunistic killer takes advantage of a genuinely deranged individual’s murder rampage to deflect suspicion from himself (“I told you, the best time to kill anyone is when a homicidal maniac is on the loose!”) for Tenebrae (1982.) In fact if anything he tones it down because in Martino’s flick, at any one time there are no less than four killers operating with dovetailing motivations, no less than three of whom are out to get Fenech. Yep, there are nearly as many killers as red herrings… Looks like Freud wasn’t just blowing cigar smoke up our asses with that opening quote!

tumblr_mf2zc3UnWJ1qkclxdo1_500.jpg

This handsome “Shameless fan edition” is beautiful remastered in 16:9 anamorphic wide screen and comes with an all-new Sergio Martino interview and Introduction plus fact track and visual essay by Justin Harries, Fenech bio and trailers for other Shameless releases.

Fenech has made the mind-boggling observation that she doesn’t remember TSVOMW having any particularly erotic overtones. Strange, indeed… eroticism is undoubtedly, if not in the jap’s eye of the beholder, a subjective business, but the frequent showers that Edwige takes herein, be they in hot water or crystal cascades of broken glass (while mounting a persuasive portrayal of a woman in the throes of sexual ecstasy) certainly registered with this scribe and commenced the honourable tradition of her endless ablutions (by which Fenech became the most fragrant and freshly scrubbed actress in cinema history.) Martino states in the bonus interview that such scenes were easier to get past the Italian censor than love-making ones and that he often shot the latter specifically to provide the censors with their pound of flesh for extraction, leaving intact the scenes which he considered more important. He even declares himself disappointed that Fenech’s bonking scenes have been restored to DVD editions of his films. You won’t be.

imagesasdfghm ',..jpgstrange-vice-of-mrs-wardh-fine.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome To The House Of Fun… THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS Reviewed

13151977_1744974352387671_3842964510062334750_n.jpgthe-house-with-laughing-windows.jpg

DVD. Region 2. Shameless. 18

A former Argento collaborator (he worked on the screenplay of Deep Red), Giuseppe (Pupi) Avati has, when he can take time out from directing such internationally acclaimed Arthouse efforts as Noi Tre / We Three (1984) and Regalo Di Natale / The Christmas Present (1986), managed to  rack up an impressive secret horror history which compares favourably with that of the divine Dario, in terms of quality if not quantity. The Bolognese director’s outings in the horror genre include Zeder – Voices From Beyond (1983), a paranoid illuminati-type thriller involving the resuscitation of the dead which exerted a major, unacknowledged influence over Mary Lambert’s 1989 effort Pet Cemetery (officially a Stephen King adaptation) and another period saga of occultism, L’Arcano Incantatory (“The Arcane Enchanter”, 1996.)

Enhancing his paura pedigree no end, Avati’s Bordella (“House Of Pleasure For Women”, 1976) featured an “invisible man” sequence that was supervised by Italian horror godfather Mario Bava and Avati co-wrote Macabre (1980), the directorial debut of Bava’s son Lamberto. He even chipped in on the writing of Lucio Fulci’s political satire Dracula In Brianza (1975.)

The_House_With_Laughing_Windows-283137561-large.jpg

Avati’s greatest horror achievement The House With Laughing Windows (1976, the maiden effort from AMA productions, a company formed by Avati with his brother, producer and frequent script collaborator, Antonio.) bears closer comparison though with Fulci’s 1972 giallo masterpiece Don’t Torture A Duckling in its anti-clericism and its portrayal of rural retardation, moral degeneracy, superstition and  hypocrisy. Its allegorical condemnation of amnesia regarding collaboration with the Nazis makes for an interesting exercise in “compare and contrast” with Pasolini’s altogether more explicit treatment of the subject in his notorious Salo – 120 Days Of Sodom (1975)… which, of course, Avati also had a hand in writing!

Impatient with Roman imperialism, Avati has always been keen to shoot movies in his beloved homeland though THWLW is no glossy PR job: “The peasant culture in which I grew up is still very strong in Emilia Romagna…” Avati once told me… “I was brought up on terrifying fairy tales and a religiosity which always emphasised the terrible penalties for sin. I was brought up in a state of fear, and these fears are acknowledged in my work. They have shaped my imagination. I have tried to portray the dark side of my homeland, the secret side which doesn’t appear in the tourist brochures.”

house laughing windows01.jpg

Although Avati believes it  was in Zeder that he “best captured this unofficial side of The Riviera Romagnola”, there is an almost palpable sense of degeneracy and decay pervading The House With Laughing Windows, an overwhelmingly oppressive effort. The sepia-tinted titles sequence, in which a trussed, suspended individual is stabbed and tortured by two concealed fiigures, immediately sets never on edge, its disturbing impact enhanced no end by the accompanying voice over from some clearly deranged individual, free associating about colours, syphilis, contamination, purification and death. This sequence comes closer to the essence of madness than any amount of gurning and hammy declamation ever could. Sir Anthony Hopkins, please take note…

13177290_1744974569054316_7855272129020638102_n.jpg

The viewer has hardly had a chance to regain his composure before artist Stefano (Lino Capolicchio, a favoured lead in Avati’s art house offerings though readers might recall him more readily from sundry Crime Slime efforts and Antonio Bido’s 1978 giallo effort Blood Stained Shadow / Solamente Nero… which also has a dodgy priest angle) is welcomed to a creepy Emilian backwater by its dwarf Mayor (Avati clearly has a non-PC thing about  vertically challenged individuals, as evidenced from as early as his second feature Balsamus L’Uomo Di Satana aka Blood Relations, 1970 ) to restore a flaky church fresco of St Sebastian being martyred by two obscure figures, their faces rotted away by years of neglect. Anybody who’s seen Don’t Look Now (1973), Massimo Dallaman’s The Cursed Medallion (1975) or Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) might well have worked out by now that picture restorers in Italy have a similar life expectancy to Battle Of Britain pilots!

13102846_1744974249054348_4399141676465555255_n.jpg

Made to feel distinctly unwelcome and plagued from anonymous threats by somebody who wants the fresco left exactly as it is, Stefano gradually works out that the artist Buono Legnani (known as “the painter of agonies” due to his penchant for studies of subjects in extremis) liked to paint from life (or from “just about still alive”), his sisters torturing innocent victims as he worked at his easel so that he could better capture the exact moment of death (definite shades of Peeping Tom here). Legnani is now himself dead (not entirely unconnected with him setting fire to himself) and dunked in a vat of formaldehyde (his ill-preserved remains recalling the walled-up patriarch in the aforementioned Deep Red) by his loony siblings, who seem loath to give up their work… and guess who they want to model for them now! Just when it looks like the hapless restorer has escaped, his fate is sealed by one of the most outrageous transvestite revelations in film history (The Crying Game doesn’t even get a look in!)

houselaughingwindows.jpg

13151654_1744974475720992_6647090876615622980_n.jpg

A masterpiece of paranoid pasta paura in the tradition of Aldo Lado’s Short Night Of The Glass Dolls (1971) and Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume Of The Lady In Black (1974) and among the greatest horror offerings from Italy or indeed anywhere in the world, THWLW was a middling domestic success but  went largely unknown in English speaking markets for decades, its cult status among the cognoscenti sustained by word of mouth, a rave review in Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Encyclopaedia and nth generation bootleg video dubs. “It didn’t get much overseas distribution because of the inadequacy of our organisation then”, admits Avati, “our fault entirely.” The time was long overdue to put this right….

Shameless’ sister label Noveaux had a not particularly great-looking R2 disc out prior to this “Shameless Fan Edition”, in which the film’s restoration was lovingly supervised by its director, revealing in the process no murdering transvestite priests but an unalloyed masterpiece of terror and suspense in all its glory. The audio option of 5.1 Italian language with English subtitles really puts  you there on the The Riviera Romagnola… just watch your step, OK?

13151427_1744974615720978_7500256748815665194_n.jpg

Extras include a trailer (also those for other Shameless releases) and an exclusive, revealing Avati interview in which he talks about the influence of his own country upbringing, such cinematic antecedents as Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) and Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and the dark shadows cast by WWII. The scenes in which the local authorities, one by one, wash their hands of responsibility for Stefano’s fate, might well remind you of nothing so much as the closing shot and final line in another Pasolini allegory of fascism, 1969’s Porcile…

13177421_1744974232387683_4839190143520860510_n.jpg

HouseWithLaughingWindows2we.jpg

porcile-2.jpg

“Shhh… don’t say anything to anybody!”

 

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

“A Pile Of Shit Out Of Somebody’s Ass”… BRONX WARRIORS reviewed

BWQuad

DVD. RO. Shameless. 15.

Having failed to sign Enzo Castellari to direct his projected Dawn Of The Dead cash-in Zombi 2 (whatever became of that one?), indefatigable spaghetti exploitation producer Fabrizio De Angelis managed to bag his man for this delirious 1982 concoction (by prolific scripters Dardano Sacchetti & Elisa Briganti) of Escape From New York (from which Castellari also adopted John Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters), Mad Max and The Warriors, sprinkled with quotations from a hatful of other schlock standbys and even A Clockwork Orange… precisely the kind of cartoon actioner at which Castellari has always excelled. The result was “the film that established video rental as a major entertainment activity…” (in the U.S.) “… a true action classic” in the words of Video Home Entertainment scribe John Hayward. It obviously made a big impression on one video store clerk… Quentin Tarantino, who still (rightly) acknowledges Castellari as the superior film maker.

In 1990 the forces of law and order have given up on the The Bronx, where a kaleidoscope of feuding gangs vie for territory and influence. Meanwhile the evil Manhattan Corporation formulates its plans for the redevelopment of the beleaguered New York borough… plans that amount to gentrification by genocide. Ann (Castellari’s real life daughter Stefania Girolami), troubled daughter of the Corporation’s president (played by her actual Uncle Enio… getting all this?) seeks refuge from her dysfunctional family (an upmarket gang in its own right) in this daunting no-man’s land and hooks up with hulking Stallone-clone Trash (Mark Gregory, on his way from being a gym bunny to becoming a waiter), a guy whose pectorals make Dolly Parton look positively flat chested. “Nothing is worse than this hell-hole” he warns Ann in the… er, rugged way he has of announcing such things.

Nevertheless, love flowers among the ruins of The Bronx, where Trash’s gang The Riders (instantly recognisable by the luminous plastic skulls mounted on the front of their bikes) fight endless turf wars with their rivals. I’m reminded of a much earlier Castellari film, 1972’s The Mighty Hector (co-scripted by Lucio Fulci) in which he restaged Homer’s Iliad, believe it or not, as a contemporary gangster flick … check that one out if you get the chance.

BW Bike Convoy

Anyway, these Bronx gangs include a squadron of roller-skating Rollerball refugees led by one “Golem” (a pony-tailed Luigi  Montefiori), a detachment of dorky droog wannabes, a New Age traveller convoy named The Zombies, a bad ass tap dancing (!) troupe and Fred Williamson (“The Ogre”)’s Tigers, appropriately enough a pack of blackspolitation brothers plus one ballsy, whiplash-wielding honky super-bitch (Betty Dessy as “Witch”.) There’s a particularly hilarious moment, in a picture bursting at the seams with them, where delegates from all the gangs settle down on Fred’s leopard-skin couches to listen to a piano recital from Ann, her sweet music soothing their savage breasts.

But the fragile truce is soon under threat. An agent provocateur  is encouraging and exploiting divisions, striving to stir up conflict between the clans. Trash dismisses the threat, eloquently (“Ah, it’s just be a pile of shit out of somebody’s ass”)  but the Manhattan Corporation, pursuing their ambitious and murderous slum clearance programme, have employed the megalomaniacal Hammer (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dad, the late Vic Morow), to set the gangs at each other’s throats. Can anyone foil these sinister machinations? Well, if anyone can … Trash can!

In his efforts to do so, though, he’s thwarted by ambitious factions in his own ranks, principally ambitious lieutenant Ice, playing the Harry Dean Stanton role from EFNY. Ice conspires, through the medium of surgically-booted gimp Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly)’s CB rig, with Ogre, unaware that Hot Dog is working for Hammer, if not exactly in his pay  …  “Don’t you ever  talk to me like that!” snaps Hammer when Hot Dog raises the subject of financial remuneration (Hm, reminds me of a few magazine editors I know.)

Hammer’s having an equally tough time with his boss. “If you don’t have the girl by 11 o’clock tonight”, rages the president: “I’ll have your head !” (Oops – Morrow’s next – and last – screen appearance would be in Twilight Zone – The Movie). Hammer responds by sending in the cavalry, armed with flamethrowers, as a final solution to the gang problem. “I’m Hammer – the exterminator!” he rants. “You’re the biggest bastard in the world” retorts Trash. “He’s doing this just so he can get his sadistic rocks off” observes Ogre, coolly lighting his big cigar from an arc of flame aimed in his direction, before sitting down on his leopard-trim throne to enjoy a good smoke as his kingdom crumbles around him… made in the shade or what?

“Let the enemy have no survivors this day … horsemen … horsemen! “ raves Hammer, playing up the fascistic overtones in a manner reminiscent of Castellari’s own potrayal of Mussolini in The Winds Of War. “Hammer is God !” he modestly declares, before Trash pulls him down off his perch and drags him out of town behind his bike, Western-style.

Western Style

From its ludicrous title sequence to this totally arbitary ending, Bronx Warriors is an unalloyed action film delight. Never mind that, thematically, it’s just a comic-book retread of Enzo’s usual gonzoid vision, best displayed in his 1976 masterpiece Keoma… witness the shared sympathetic treatment of society’s maginals, likewise the undercurrent of heroic homeroticism, as when Trash mercifully breaks the neck of a tortured lieutenant while hugging him to those pulsating pecs. I don’t want to pursue this angle too far but it does state on IMDB that Gregory “beat off 2000 other hopefuls for the role of Trash”…. wow, I wonder how many cameras Castellari would have to deploy simultaneously to capture that kind of action!

Nobody ever put it better than that eminent Castellarologist, Quentin Tarantino, to wit: “He’s a hack, but a hack who really knows what he’s doing … you’re in good hands, and you’ll have great fun.” Additional helping hands here include ace cinematographer Sergio Salvati, production designer Massimo Lentini and editor Gianfranco Amicucci. Walter Rizzati’s score is rather more coherent than the one for his notable other credit, Fulci’s House By The Cemetery (though I guess. if you’re reading a blog entitled House Of Freudstein, that you probably already knew that…)

BW Title Sequence

The Shameless DVD edition presents Bronx Warriors in all its anamorphic glory, revealing Castellari to be far more of a film-maker than you’d suspect on the evidence of previously released pan-and-scan travesties (I’m old enough to remember seeing these things in double bills at my local flea-pit when they first came out, over … shit, over thirty years ago!) Bonus materials comprise a Castellari introduction to the picture, an optional smart Alec “Fact Track” courtesy of Paul Alaoui, trailers and alternative credits sequence, plus the 25 minute featurette Warriors, Barbarians and Basterds, in which Castellari and Amicucci spill the fava beans on how to get more bang for your buck with multiple camera set-ups, slow motion, trick pans and by intercutting genuine Bronx exteriors with Italian lots and locations. Castrellari talks about employing the Hell’s Angels, how his friendship with middle weight boxing legend Rocky (Somebody Up There Likes Me) Graziano facilitated the Bronx shoot and, inevitably, the Tarantino connection.

Alternatively, if you think you’re man enough, you cold opt for the “Bronx Warriors Trilogy” steelbox, which also includes the 1983 sequel Escape From The Bronx (“Henry Silva was a nice guy…” opines Castellari in Warriors, Barbarians and Basterds: “… always talking about women and sex!”) and The New Barbarians (also 1983), with which Castellari opened a whole new can of  Italian post-Atomic worms.

BW2DEMONS_1990_SINGLE.jpg

 

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: