Posts Tagged With: Suzy Kendall

The 104 Minute Technicolor Nightmare… LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN on Blu-Ray

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Blu-ray. Region Free. Mondo Macabro. Unrated.

I’ve already commented elsewhere on this blog about how the reputation of various Lucio Fulci pictures have been salvaged by successively better proportioned and more complete releases in increasingly high definition. Take his 1971 giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971)… for a long time all we had to go on was VIP’s pre-cert VHS release, a washed out, panned-and scanned transfer of a print that had been significantly cut. Compared to the full throttle zombie stompers that were exercising the attention of the DPP at this time, it was easy to dismiss the film as of only marginal interest to the rapidly growing legion of Fulci devotes. Shriek Show began the film’s rehabilitation in the mid noughties with their much-anticipated, much delayed Region 1 double discer, which came with a useful selection of bonus interviews and a nifty repro of the U.S “Schizo” press book. Concern was expressed though that with its dual presentation of widescreen / cut and full screen / (allegedly) uncut versions, this edition rather fell between two stools. The label responded shortly afterwards with an “uncut” anamorphic 1.85:1 jobby (with 5.1 soundtrack option to boot) that contained inserts of varying picture quality (inevitably, in view of the tangled censorship history outlined in one of its bonus features) and was still, according to avid internet posters, missing a few minor bits of business here and there. The UK edition released by  Optimum Home Entertainment (Studiocanal) in 2010, looked and sounded rather lovely, was billed as “the longest version ever available” though (according to the internet diehards) it came in shorter still. Finally (well, about a year ago but – as previously mentioned – the wheels grind slowly here at The House Of Freudstein), LIAWS has made it, courtesy of Mondo Macabro, to region free Blu-ray where it looks absolutely stunning but (stop me if you’ve heard this before…)

It won’t have escaped your attention, you perceptive buggers, that much of what I’ve written so far has been heavily hedged around with qualifications… “alleged”, “people claim” and such weasel worded shit… truth is, I have neither the time, the attention span nor the sheer gluteal fortitude to sit, stopwatch in hand, glued to a succession of versions of the same film. There are plenty of people who pack all of those qualities in abundance and  as I say, their findings are on the internet, where you shouldn’t have too much trouble locating them. If you are the kind of consumer who wakes up in a cold sweat, suspecting that you might have missed a few frames of a minor character walking across a room, then you’ll find much there to divert you. Otherwise, the Mondo Macabro BD is LIAWS in excelcis… let’s wallow in it, people!

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Florinda Bolkan stars as Carole Hammond, pampered daughter of a high-flying barrister (Leo Genn). Her marriage to rising legal eagle Frank (Jean Sorel) isn’t in particularly good shape though, and the dullness of her family’s bourgeois existence is thrown into sharp relief by the loud, drug-crazed sex parties regularly thrown by their next door neighbour Julia Durer (silicon-stuffed Swedish giallo stalwart Anita Strindberg). Fulci makes great use of split screen to emphasise the gulf between the dreary life Carole leads and the edgy alternative that seems to repel and fascinate her in equal measures. She confides in her psychoanalyst that she is having erotic dreams about Durer which end in her stabbing the swinger to death (all rendered in gratifyingly sexy and psychedelic style by Fulci.) The doc interprets these apparent flights of fantasy in comfortingly cod Freudian terms but when Durer’s corpse is actually discovered in her flat, along with a shedload of clues that point to Carole as the perpetrator (including her own paper knife), things start getting really interesting… has Carole gone nuts? Did she really do it… or is she being set up?

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Enter Stanley Baker as Inspector Corvin, an irascible cop with barely suppressed fascistic tendencies (“Scour the city, Brandon… find anyone who has red hair and put the screws to him”) and an irritating habit of whistling Ennio Morricone’s (rather wonderful) theme music out of tune while pondering various suspects, their motives and opportunities. Fulci keeps us guessing through the convolutions of a plot which is considerably tighter than, e.g. that of its predecessor, 1969’s One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story, but not to the detriment of the director’s increasingly flamboyant visual style and way with a suspenseful sequence, as various family members are messily dispatched and Carole herself comes under threat from the more sinister elements among Julia Durer’s boho circle. There are tremendous cat and mouse scenes, amid the shabby gentility of the Alexandra Palace (which sequence features a bat attack that is much more convincing than the one in Fulci’s later The House By The Cemetery and, as Howard Berger has pointed out, seems to have exerted an influence over a very similar one in Argento’s Suspiria) and in the grounds of a sanatorium, where Carole’s attempts to escape the murderous attentions of improbably named killer hippy Hubert aka “Red” (Mike Kennedy, best known as the singer in “Black Is Black” combo Los Bravos) lead her to the notorious lab of vivisected dogs, a much cut scene which nearly landed Fulci in jail before Oscar-winning FX ace Carlo Rambaldi proved to the satisfaction of a judge that the unfortunate canines were actually animatronic constructions devised by himself (it has even been claimed that they were knocked up under the uncredited supervision of Mario Bava).

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Fulci has a ball packing the film with visual quotations from the likes of Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Francis Bacon’s screaming Popes, and although he always waxed cynical about the value of psychoanalysis (“Freud was a fraud who stole psychoanalysis from the Catholic confessional to finance his cocaine habit!” the director once told me) LIAWS employs fur coats, geese, and plenty of other symbolically charged objects in a style that Freud would have recognised only too well.

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When Hubert and his studio tanned girlfriend Jenny (Penny Brown) testify to the shocking truth (or at least, every cliché ever dreamed up in a tabloid) about LSD use, supplying this film with its enigmatic title in the process, it becomes apparent that the real culprit for Julia Durer’s murder has given themself away in an attempt to refute evidence that would never have stood up in court anyway. D’oh…

During my interview with Fulci, he rejected a comment I made along the lines of Lizard In A Woman Skin’s being “in the post-Blow Up tradition of swinging London gialli” (or some such flip formulation.) He didn’t perceive any such influence and, while acknowledging Antonioni’s stature, described Blow Up as “nothing special.” Well, I beg to differ on both counts. If Blow Up pokes beneath the surface and finds swinging London dead on arrival (which is precisely why its Metropolitan hipster detractors have always hated it so much), LIAWS returns to that scene a few years later to see what acid had added to (or subtracted from) what was already a cultural and spiritual void.

It has been suggested (notably and repeatedly in Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia) that Fulci was a reactionary stuffed shirt who bridled at any hint of social liberalism / permissiveness and punished it relentlessly in his films… and of course this is a narrative that ties in conveniently with the whole tired “misogyny” chestnut. But it’s clear in LIAWS that Carole Hammond’s simultaneous repulsion towards / fascination with the groovy goings on next door are actually projections of Fulci’s own mixed feelings towards such shenanigans. Nor does he present a particularly sympathetic portrait of the straight life, to the extent of depicting those involved in it as rotting corpses!

Some commentators have had a chuckle at the expense of Barbara Bouchet’s “marijuana dependent” character in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling…

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… and indeed, how we used to laugh at The Man’s attempts to harsh our mellow with dire warnings about addiction and reefer madness. Decades later, some of us look at the state of some of our mates and wonder if maybe The Man had a point. As for the advent of skunk… have you caught an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show recently? Suffice to say, Fulci was no babe in the wood on this score… indeed, it’s an open secret that he proved adept (albeit reluctantly so) at scoring for doomed junkie jazz trumpeter Chet Baker when nothing else would get his poorly chosen celebrity guest star back on the set of 1960’s Howlers In The Dock. There’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy, Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia…

Stephen Thrower traces Fulci’s indulgence (which was not entirely unmotivated, of course, by commercial considerations) at least as far back as his second directorial outing, Juke Box Boys (1959) and expands engagingly on the establishment’s ambivalent attitude towards the encroachment of an energetic ’60s counter culture in the appropriately named featurette When Worlds Collide… pop festivals at Woburn Abbey, beatnik poetry at the Royal Albert Hall (he might also have mentioned Keith Emerson burning The Stars And Stripes there) and The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at that bastion of establishment broadcasting, The Alexandra Palace…

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The Pink Floyd on stage at Ally Pally, 29.04.67

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Florinda Bolkan on the roof of Ally Pally, three years later.

In an interesting sidebar on the film’s title, Mr T mentions that for much of the project’s production schedule LIAWS was a mere subtitle, which supplanted original choice “The Cage” late in the day and, pointedly, in the wake of Dario Argento’s game changing giallo hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Apparently Argento was a bit peeved by the perceived opportunism of this retitling but it has to be said that, while The Cage is a perfectly fitting title for a tale of the torrid passions seething behind the facade of bourgeoise respectability (how apt that the film’s cast includes Anita Strindberg), Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is an even more appropriate handle on the notion of an eminently civilised character who’s ultimately undone by the eruption of basal, basilisk passions from their reptilian back brain… from this perspective, the title by which Fulci’s second giallo has become known couldn’t be further removed from such throwaway titlings as Riccardo Freda’s Iguana with a Tongue Of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Red Cats In A Glass Labyrinth or, dare I say it, Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails…

Thrower, who’s update of his already herculean Beyond Terror tome is almost upon us courtesy of FAB Press, also offers some interesting observations on why it has proved so difficult to assemble a “definitive” cut of LIAWS or even to decide on what such a thing might possibly look like.

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The audio commentary, by the redoubtable Pete Tombs and Kris Gavin, is well worth a listen… Gavin does go on rather a lot about his friendship with Florinda Bolkan and co but it would be rash of me to start slinging bricks around in this connection, the House Of Freudstein being so palpably constructed on foundations of glass. He and Tombs offer plenty of interesting insights into dialogue differences between the Italian and English soundtracks  and the attendant nuances of meaning. They also point out the few lines of a minor character that were dubbed by giallo icon Suzy Kendall and helpfully identify Fulci’s second wife amid the minor players.

“Shedding the Skin” is a documentary pinched from the first Shriek Show release, hosted by Penny Brown (who looks just great) and including additional interviews with Bolkan, “Mike Kennedy” (the stereotypical Irishman turns out to be a German), Carlo Rambaldi and the (also rather well-preserved) Jean Sorel. Curiously, you get the option to watch this while listening to more of Gavin’s reminiscences.

There’s also an interview with Tony Adams… yes, Crossroads fans, it’s “Adam Chance”… here playing a rookie cop whose rough treatment at the hands of Baker’s character is apparently pretty faithful to their actual on set relationship.

You get the expected original trailers and radio spots but the real jewel in the crown, bonus wise, is Dr Lucio Fulci’s Day For Night, an interview by Antonietta De Lillo in which the director, no doubt with an eye to posterity, offers the closest glimpse we’ll probably ever get of that elusive essence, “the real Lucio Fulci” (I was aware, when interviewing him, that I was barely scratching the surface.) This is an extra that really warrants a review of its own and I intend to post one on this blog at some point in the near future (but please bear in mind that constant caveat about wheels grinding slowly here at THOF.)

A sublime release… now, when are we going to see Don’t Torture A Duckling on Blu-ray? At an affordable price? The bank manager refused my application for a second mortgage so that German mediabook is out of the question…

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“Hey, how d’you like our new dado rail?”

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“The Ruthless Logic Of Commercial Production”… THE SERGIO MARTINO INTERVIEW

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Sergio Martino interviewed in March 1997.

Were you surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino was one of your biggest fans?

When I first read his comments in Giallo Pages, yes – but after reflecting a lot on it, I realised that he was paying tribute to myself and also to a whole generation of Italian film-makers who knew, above all, how to improvise,  and use their imaginations to overcome restricted resources and shooting schedules. Tarantino started off in “low budget” cinema himself, so he appreciates only too well what it takes to get good results under these circumstances.

Are you aware of the increasing “cult” status of Italian genre films in America, England and Europe?

Yes, because with increasing frequency I’m hearing from journalists like yourself, who want to interview me about films I’ve made in the past… I hope that in the future I’ll get to make some more that will also be of interest to you!

Me too, but the present state of the Italian film industry isn’t very promising… what is the reason for this? And can you see any remedy?

The present state of Italian genre cinema is, indeed, very sad. The cause of our decline has been the massive economical and technical superiority of Hollywood, which you can only fight with improvisation and imagination for so long. The investment sources that we used to have in Italy have just dried up. If we could get a million and a half dollars to make an action film, then perhaps we would again be able to get the attention of the international market, but there is no Italian producer in a position to risk such a sum. Perhaps the future lies with more European co-productions, though these bring difficulties due to differing languages and national taste.

Have you managed to keep making movies during these last few difficult years?

I’ve been offered opportunities to shoot a few films on which the budgets would have been disgraceful, so instead I’ve been concentrating on making TV series.

I believe that in the early days, you worked as an assistant to the great Mario Bava… how do you remember him, and what did you learn from him?

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I worked on the shoot of Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963) as a production assistant. I remember his technical ability, his expertise in constructing scale models and how skilfully he used lighting and camera positioning to make up for certain deficiencies in the acting department. He had previously worked as a cinematographer, so he knew that a shaft of light or a lower positioning of the camera lower could heighten the dramatic impact of a line. Also, he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and would never shoot anything superfluous. If a film was to last 90 minutes, he would scarcely shoot any more than that.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti and Umberto Lenzi on some of their films…

I have very positive memories of them as two real pros, who had mastered the technical side of film-making.

Your earliest directorial credits were “mondo” efforts such as Mille Peccati… Nessuna Virtu (1969) and America… Cosi’ Nude, Cosa Violenta (1970)… how do your remember those?

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Extraordinary memories. These films allowed me, while very young, to live through unrepeatable experiences… this was the time of the youthful rebellion in 1968, the hippies, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation and the first men on the moon…

You also worked in a genre, which is a descendent of the “mondo” documentaries… cannibal movies: how would you compare and contrast your Mountain Of The Cannibal God with the cannibal pictures of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato?

I saw one of Deodato’s films, though unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. It was made before my Montagne Del Dio Canibale…

That would be L’Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, then…

 … but it was trying for the same sort of ambience. I think Lenzi’s films in this genre  were made after mine, but I must confess that I haven’t seen them. I think that between all of them there was some affinity… once one such film has been successful, the producers obviously want you to come up with something similar.

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Did you, your cast and crew encounter any real dangers in the jungle?

The only problem was the wasps, really. I made Montagne Del Dio Canibale and The Great Alligator in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The most effective jungle scenes were actually shot in the botanical garden of Kandj, in very comfortable circumstances. I remember though, shooting in the cave in Montagne Del Dio Canibale… it was so hot and humid, even more so under the lights. In addition, we’d just had to climb 500 metres up a mountain!

Because she’s such a big star, did you have problems convincing Ursula Andress to have all that crap rubbed all over her?

Ursula had already experienced a lot in life and made other films in the jungle, so she was not worried on that occasion, nor indeed  in the scene with the python, which she insisted I shoot without using a double.

How do you respond to the charge that such films are “racist” or “cruel to animals”?

Racism? This is a first for me, but the things critics come up with never cease to amaze me! As far as I’m concerned, these films were inspired by American adventure cinema of the 4O’s like King Solomon’s Mines, and other American and European adventure cinema. I can understand the “cruelty against animals” charge, but the scene in which the python strangles the monkey, for instance, was shot almost by chance. Admittedly, the monkey was put next to the snake, but it had every opportunity to escape… there was nothing inevitable about it being killed. Anyway, in the jungle the law of life is the law of survival. I don’t believe, moreover, that the makers of all these “respectable” nature documentaries we see on TV just shoot what they find… I think that many of their violent scenes of jungle life are contrived and reconstructed.

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Were you surprised that your brother Luciano put some of your footage from Montagne Del Dio Canibale into Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive?

Not at all – it’s the ruthless logic of commercial production. Would it be more just to shoot another scene of violence to animals? So it seems right to me to re-use the footage, as it suited the purposes of that film so well.

Is it more or less difficult working with a producer who is also your brother?

As with any other situation, there are both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have managed to keep working in a field that is otherwise rather precarious, and I am allowed to make my films with a certain autonomy. The disadvantage is that, I’ve made so many films with my brother that other producers are less inclined to call me for their projects.

How would you define the term “giallo” and assess the Italian thriller’s influence on the thriller genre internationally?

It’s obvious that directors like Romero and De Palma have been influenced by their viewings of Italian gialli. In essence, these are thrillers based not only on the intricacies of uncovering the identity of the culprits, but also on the use – and, at times misuse – of violent imagery. As for myself, the biggest influence on my own gialli has been Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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That influence is very apparent in a film like Your Vice Is A Closed Room… what are your favourite and least favourite of your own entries in this genre?

My least favourite would certainly be Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery, my favourites are All The Colours Of Darkness and – my absolute favourite – 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.

Was Kendall cast as an hommage to her role in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

Suzy Kendall is an excellent actress, and at that time she was very bankable, internationally. The film was shot in English, and her casting was partly motivated by this, though of course the fact that she had been in Argento’s film was also a major factor.

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Do you agree with the assessment that Torso represents a transition from the stylish gialli of the ‘60s and early ‘70s to the brutal “splatter movies” that came later?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t recall the kind of films that were being made at the same time or just afterwards… in fact I followed Torso up with a comedy and two tear-jerkers.

How did you find the experience of working with Carlo Ponti?

It was a very positive experience. There was a great deal of trust between us. I was then a very young director, and not particularly self-confident… it’s fair to say that I became one of his pupils. Unfortunately we only made a few films together… three, and all successful. Soon after this, he had his tax problems, and could not work as a producer in Italy for a long time. A pity from my point of view, but above all for the Italian film business, because he was one of the most intelligent producers we ever had.

What did you think of the alterations that American distributors made to your films, e.g. Joseph Brenner with Torso, the way that All The Colours Of Darkness lost its opening nightmare sequence in America, and the way that more gore was added to Island Of The Fishmen?

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For a long time, I was not even aware of this. I was later told that these changes were made to make the films more appealing to an American audience. It’s not that the distributors found the content of these films below par, just that different audiences are looking for different things.

The theme of female masochism in your The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh echoes that in Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh, which as we mentioned earlier, you worked on…

Possibly so… the films shared the same writer, Ernesto Gastaldi. But the real inspiration for Strange Vice, of course, was the commercial success of Argento’s first film.

What was Nora Orlandi’s inspiration for the haunting theme music to that film?

Nora Orlandi is a woman of great musical sensitivity and passion. I thought it was right to use her because she would be better able to interpret the sensations of the female protagonist.

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Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery and Delitti Privati are both, in their different ways, “TV gialli”. Is the genre suited to this medium?

In a TV series, which runs longer than a feature, it’s more difficult to keep suspicion moving between the various characters… the plot must be much more intricate to hold the viewer’s interest and persuade them to tune in next time. In the case of Delitti Privati, I think we managed this quite well.

Sergio Stivaletti worked on Etruscan Cemetery and other  of your movies… how do you rate this FX man-turned-director?

He’s a young man with a fantastic talent. I think that it’s a good move for him to start directing, and I’m sure that he will be successful.

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Giovanni Lombardo Radice from Etruscan Cemetery told me that he found you a very “cold” director, but later realised that you had made him give one of his best performances… do you have a set way of working with actors?

I think that the rapport between director and actors is determined, above all, by the quality of the story and by adherence to the truth of the characters’ motivations. In genre films the stories are often very mechanical and the characters are moved not by true reactions to the situation, but by the necessities of moving the story along. For example – why, in giallo films, do so many beautiful and vulnerable girls sleep alone in sinister, isolated  castles instead of comfortable and secure hotels in the towns nearby? Because otherwise, it would not be possible to generate any suspense. The characters are motivated by the will of the writer and the director. In this respect it is difficult to communicate to the actors how they should be interpreting their roles, when it’s mainly a matter of mechanics. Perhaps my “cold attitude” towards actors in certain films was determined a little by my own natural timidity, but also from my awareness of the limitations on creative possibilities in these circumstances, where all you want from them is a routine “fearful” expression, or whatever. If Lombardo Radice believes that this brought out the best in him as an actor, so much the better.

Was it important for you to keep a regular cast (e.g. Edwige Fenech, George Hilton) from picture to picture?

It produced a great sense of camaraderie among us, which probably helped everybody to give their best to the production.

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What are your memories of working with Fenech?

Very agreeable and positive. I hope to work with her again in the future.

What did you think of her appearances in gialli made by other directors, like Giuliano Carnimeo and Andrea Bianchi?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge the work of my colleagues, in the giallo field or elsewhere. I will say though that these are excellent professionals, who have worked well in most genres, not just the giallo.

Do you think Fenech is better as a giallo ingenue, or a comedienne?

Her sunny face and Mediterranean beauty inclines me to think she’s more suitable for comedy. On the other hand, Delitti Privati demonstrates just how well she can do in a dramatic role.

Any memories of Barbara Bouchet?

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Another actress with a great comic talent. I think it’s a real pity that she doesn’t seem able to get roles in the cinema and on TV these days. She works mainly in the theatre, now…

Presumably you used international actors like Marty Feldman, for example, in Sex with A Smile, in an attempt to make the Italian comedy a less domestic affair and more saleable abroad?

Yes, obviously. Marty Feldman in particular was a great comic. In fact, at this time Italian comedies did have a certain amount of international success, and actors like Buzzanca and La Fenech became quite marketable.

Your cop films – like Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia (The Violent Professionals) with Luc Merenda – were criticised for being “fascistic”…

I remember that in Italy at the start of the seventies there were moves in  parliament to disarm the police, and sociologists were arguing against putting people in prison. But the man in the street wanted strong, decisive action against crime. All the cop films of the time had this same theme, like the American films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson – are they, then, “fascistic”?

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In 2019: After The Fall Of New York, you tried to put a new slant on the hackneyed “after The Bomb” scenario, with Wagnerian allusions, and so on…

To be honest, although the Wagnerian tone is a suggestion that pleases me, I’m not sure how intentional it was.

Well, you’ve got a character named “Parsifal” in there, for starters… what are your memories of the Westerns you made?

Arizona Si Scateno was my first non-documentary film. I remember with nostalgia how green I was in those days. I think that with Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) I made a good film with some beautiful sequences, though it came a little too late in the great “spaghetti western” cycle.

Can you tell us something about Claudio Cassinelli’s tragic death during Vendetta Del Futuro (Hands Of Steel)?

More than ten years later, it still feels like an iron in my soul! Claudio was one of my dearest friends, a sensitive and gentle person. The circumstances of his death were really absurd… I don’t want to go over it all again, because no amount of that will bring poor Claudio back. I prefer to cherish the beautiful, personal memories I have of him.

What can you tell us about your 1993 film Craving Desire, with Serena Grandi?

It’s a film that I was able to make after the TV success of Delitti Privati. Serena did play a part in that film, though the star was Vittoria Belvedere. Serena had already played some small roles for me at the beginning of her career, so I knew very well how good she was.

Has Queen Of The Fishmen been completed yet? Is Edwige Fenech in it, as announced?

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The film was shown, with some success, at the Cairo Film Festival in 1996. It’s a kind of fairytale that uses repertory footage from Island Of The Fishmen and 2019.  La Fenech did not appear in the film, because at the last moment she decided that she couldn’t face wearing a heavy costume in the equatorial climate that we would be shooting in.

Why do you use two American-sounding pseudonyms (“Martin Dolman” and “Christian Plummer”) instead of the customary one?

The name “Plummer” was used only for the abridged version of Etruscan Cemetery, the feature that we “salvaged” from the TV series. At this time there were so many films by “Martin Dolman” on the market, we thought that another pseudonym was in order, so as not to devalue the name.

Any future projects that we should be anticipating?

Some TV projects, then another “giallo” serial.

Sergio Martino, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

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In Memoriam, Luciano Martino (22.12.33 – 14.08.13)

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

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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.

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

After a kinky photo shoot involving doll mutilation (?) has played out under the titles, we are introduced to Kendall’s character Jane. She’s studying Renaissance Art at Perugia University, whose student body for the Academic Year 1973-4 seems to consist exclusively of refugees from America’s Next Top Model. Before they’ve learned to distinguish their Perugino from their 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).

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After a pot-fuelled heavy petting session with two hippies turns sour (as is so often the case), she wanders off into the foggy woods (like you invariably do on such occasions) and ends up strangled, stabbed and drowned in a muddy swamp. Sex and drugs, then killed in a forest? You couldn’t 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.

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

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…

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… 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…

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

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UnPalanced: CRAZE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Nucleus. 15.

Neal Mottram (Jack Palance) is the oldest swinger in town and just about the least successful antique dealer in the world, but the antics that go on in the cellar under his shop would cause Fiona Bruce to raise her eyebrow (even higher than usual)… robed acolytes prostrate themselves before an African fetish doll representing “the all-powerful God of love, Chuku” while dusky beauties remove their shirts and gyrate energetically. All good clean fun, but when the deposed former head of Mottram’s coven turns up to claim the Chuku carving for herself, claiming that “Aleister left it to me” (geddit?) she ends up accidentally impaled on one of its claws. Mottram rolls her up in a carpet and dumps her in the river. Shortly thereafter, while fretting about his finances, he discovers a fistful of doubloons in a secret drawer on one of his pieces and comes to the conclusion that Chuku is paying him off for the blood sacrifice he accidentally made. This is the point where, to quote the art work: “Black magic explodes into murder” (doncha just hate it when that happens?) Transformed from libertine dilettante to true believer, our increasingly koo koo, Chuku-worshipping antique dealer bumps off a series of victims in honour of his idol.

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First to go is loose-living strumpet Helena (the scrumptious Julie Ege), who after a sex and drugs bender with Mottram (nice work, fella!) fails to treat Chuku with sufficient reverence and ends up having her face roasted in Mottram’s basement agar. Dominatrix Sally (Suzy Kendall, labouring under an alarming bed spring perm) is talking Mottram through her price list for specialist services when he throttles her to death (briefly quoting Hitchcock’s Frenzy in the process) and, in an overly convoluted piece of plotting, he sets up a tryst with a blowsy ex Dolly (Diana Dors) only to drug her so he can slip away and stake his rich, elderly aunty (Edith Evans, no less) through the neck on her croquet lawn and cite his alleged night of passion with Dolly as an alibi. Chuku keeps his side of the bargain, as previously overlooked Ming vases start turning up in the shop. Mottram inherits his aunt’s worldly chattels too, so I guess Chuku helps those who help themselves.

Detective Sergeant Wall (Michael Jayston), the Gene Hunt of his day (come to think of it, it was Gene Hunt’s day, too) is determined to bring the arrogant antiques dealer to book for these dastardly crimes but as his boss Superintendent Bellamy (Trevor Howard, no less) keeps telling him, they’ve got no evidence. Mottram’s crimes become less and less meticulously planned, however, under the influence of his blind faith in Chuku’s protective powers and slowly but surely, the noose begins to tighten. First Dolly clues Wall in on Mottram’s penchant for black magic, then he gets into an axe wielding tiff with long-suffering boyfriend Ronnie (Martin Potter) while their place is being staked out by Detective Wilson (David Warbeck) and it all ends, predictably, in tears.

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Just when you thought they’d gone a bit quiet recently, Nucleus return with this delirious dollop of early ’70s horror hokum. Craze (1974) is just one of the journeyman horror efforts that Freddie Francis directed, with increasing reluctance, as a sideline to his distinguished career as a cinematographer. He had already directed Palance in a very similar role (as an obsessive collector of Poe memorabilia) in Torture Garden (1967) but whatever familiarity existed between them obviously didn’t empower Francis to negotiate a scintilla of restraint in his star’s performance (though admittedly Hugh Griffiths, during his brief appearance as a solicitor, chews the scenery even more alarmingly than Palance.)

It’s been suggested that Francis, like just about everybody else who ever met Palance, was intimidated by him but Jonathan Rigby proposes, in the bonus featurette Crazy Days, an alternative theory, i.e that Francis really couldn’t be arsed by this point. Rigby, as ever, proves a value for money rentapundit, drawing from a seemingly bottomless well of information and anecdote on his subject. His dedication to duty extends to going through copies of old girlie mags to establish which one Palance was reading during his phone conversation with Kendall (I have to say, this is an area of research that I’ve always found particularly rewarding.) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that Rigby has the Chuku figure in his own basement, for which reason I’m not prepared to say anything remotely negative about him… and anyway, who could take possibly take issue with his judgement that “with the accompaniment of a few beers, Craze remains a ridiculous but very entertaining film.”6a00d83451d04569e20192aad95d68970d-500wi.jpgThat’s largely down to the astonishing cast that veteran exploitation producer Herman Cohen assembled for this one, chock-a-block with up-and-comers, has-beens, never-weres and reliable character actors. In the posthumously rediscovered interview that I did with David Warbeck, shortly to premiere in Dark Side magazine, he talks a lot about Craze and having now watched it for the first time since pre-Cert days, I was surprised to see just how little screen time he actually gets in it.

Additional extras include a PDF of the US press book plus trailers for this and other Freddie Francis pictures along with coming attractions for other titles that Marc and Jake have already released or will soon be releasing. As presented here, Craze looks pretty good for a 42 year-old exploitation picture although to justify its billing as “first time uncut on DVD in the UK”, three brief sequences that were not in the available negative have been sourced from an obviously inferior 1″ master by these die-hard completists.

Like the man said… ridiculous but VERY entertaining.

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