Posts Tagged With: Umberto Lenzi

Nature, Pink In Tooth And Claw? CANNIBAL FEROX On Shameless Blu-Ray

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Yes Johnny, he gets off on ecology,

BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

In the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who’s unfamiliar with the “plot” of Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981)… Lorraine De Selle, Zora Kerova and some bloke head into deepest Colombia in search of  evidence to support De Selle’s  academic thesis that Third World cannibalism is “bat shit”… i.e. fake news, disseminated to further the agenda of wicked western corporations and ideologically unsound imperialists. The following hour and a half establishes pretty conclusively just how wrong she was on this score, but the film ends – SPOILER ALERT! – with her safely back in the Groves of Academe, presenting her thesis as proven, having decided that the locals were driven to avenge themselves on “Naughty Mike” (as Giovanni Lombardo Radice refers to his character), who came to the Amazon basin on his own search for emeralds and cocaine and, having overindulged in the latter, tortured and killed the natives in an effort to find those elusive gems.

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The most notorious Gino De Rossi special effect in this former “video nasty” reminds me of a very non-PC joke about two hippy chicks… though I couldn’t possibly repeat it in polite company. Women being strung up by hooks through their breasts… a native having his eye prised out with a knife… sexualised violence… a woman being kicked in the head… disembowelment… cannibalism… the machete amputation of John Morghen’s penis (then hand) and the slicing open of his skull so that natives can feast on his coke-crazed brain… all of this was removed from Replay’s “soft” VHS version, to which the BBFC awarded an unofficial ’18’ certificate in September 1982 (which proved to be a pretty pointless exercise for all concerned, as both versions subsequently ended up on the dreaded “nasties” list). The BBFC take a relatively relaxed view of such simulated splatter shenanigans these days but there is, of course, another outstanding issue with Ferox and its cannibal kin…

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Animal wise, the “soft” version forfeited such Mondoesque moments as the dismemberment of a live turtle, snakes eating and attacking coatis and lizards, a monkey falling foul of a hungry jaguar, natives gutting and eating a crocodile and most of the scene in which Morghen’s character, a propos of nothing in particular, stabs a small pig to death. “Do you get off on ecology, huh, twat?” he asks Lorraine De Selle when she censures him for this gratuitous act of butchery. Well yes, she did… and as we have seen, the BBFC entertain serious reservations about such conduct, too. By 2001 the Board were certifying all manner of ex-“nasties” and other betes noirs of the departed James Ferman’s tenure, but before Vipco got the nod for a VHS / DVD release they were required to make an additional excision to the animal violence, i.e. “six seconds of a tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep”.

The BBFC are legally obliged to take account of The Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937 and the Animal Welfare Act (2006) but in the intervening years there’s been serious disquiet about the content of Italian cannibal films, even among hardened gore hounds and much dispute on social media forums about ethical vs authentic versions of them.

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Make them die within the provisions of the Cinematograph (animals) Act of 1937…

And so, following in the wake of such recent Shameless releases as Ruggero Deodato’s “preferred” version of Cannibal Holocaust and what Sergio Martino describes as an “improved” Mountain (formerly Prisoner) Of The Cannibal God, here comes Cannibal Ferox redux. While Deodato and Martino seem to entertain genuine misgivings about some of the things they’d gotten up to half a lifetime previously in South East Asia and up The Amazon, you suspect Lenzi didn’t really give a monkey’s cranium for animal rights, happily agreeing to anything that would squeeze a few more dollars out of a film that, it’s common knowledge, he despised.

So, what’s in and what’s out? Natives chewing on butterflies and live larvae are here, because the relevant legislation only applies to vertebrates. Ditto the skewering and stamping on of spiders. Because “quick clean kills” are not legally prohibited, you get the decapitation of a turtle that the natives are preparing for supper and the BBFC have deemed the thrashing around of what’s left of the unfortunate critter to be “a post mortem nervous reaction, akin to a headless chicken running around a farmyard”… and equally revolting. There still seem to be shots of that “tethered small animal banging against the side of a jeep” and although the subsequent scene of said Coati being attacked by a large snake has been re-cut to eliminate the actual kill (remaining footage runs in slo-mo to maintain the film’s 93 minute running time) you still see its desperate attempts to avoid capture, which is pretty distressing stuff. There are further abridgements to a jaguar killing and dragging a monkey off into the foliage, natives gutting a small crocodile and the notorious pig stabbing scene in which Signor Radice / Morghen refused to participate. A clumsily contrived and totally gratuitous snake / lizard fight-to-the-death has completely gone, the narrative proceeding at this point straight to Johnny’s big seduction scene (“I had you nailed down the minute I saw you…”, etc) with Zora Kerova.

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So there you have it. A Cannibal Ferox that’s sufficiently compliant with the law to piss off completists but is still unlikely to persuade Morrissey to trade in his A Taste Of Honey DVD to get a copy…. this might prove to be one of Shameless’s most divisive releases yet.

Extras-wise, Lenzi and a heavily bearded Lombardo Radice continue their war of words from beyond the grave… Lenzi’s, anyway (his interview here is possibly the last one he ever recorded). A comparison feature shows how much better the 2K scan of Ferox’s 16mm negative looked after colour correction. The results are pretty grainy but Shameless argue, with some justification, that this is better looking and more authentic than certain other releases, with their “blingy shimmer” of Digital Noise Reduction. Whatever, if you pre-order this one (and there’s still time to do so as I post this) you get a barf bag into the bargain, all the better to turn you lounge into a 42nd Street grind house for an hour-and-a-half… but no monkey spanking, OK?

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“What cannibalism?”

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Jeepers, Creepers… ALL EYES ON LENZI – THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE ITALIAN EXPLOITATION TITAN Reviewed

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All Eyes On Lenzi – The Life And Times Of The Italian Exploitation Titan (2018). Directed and produced by Calum Waddell. Produced and edited by Naomi Holwill.

Despite having one of Hollywood’s hottest hot shots (you know who I mean) as the unofficial President of his fan club, the recently deceased Umberto Lenzi remains an underrated director among aficianados of the various genres in which he worked. I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard… in one of my earliest published pieces I praised Lenzi’s cannibal movies (he wouldn’t have thanked me for that… indeed, he subsequently slammed the phone down on one attempt I made to talk to him about those films) while dismissing his gialli out of hand. Well, the statute of limitations must be up on this so I might as well confess that in those days I still hadn’t seen several of the latter…

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I subsequently caught up with and have recently been re-watching Lenzi’s thrillers starring Carroll Baker, in the service of a feature that I’m writing about the evolution of the giallo, so you’d think I wouldn’t make that mistake again. As recently as my review of Arrow’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key, though, I refer to a notional “big four” of giallo directors (Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino) which really should have been expanded to a “big five” to include Lenzi. Sure, his brand of steamy. scheming, bonkbusting gialli gave way to the Bird With The Crystal Plumage model and his later attempts to render films in the Argento style are not wholly convincing, but to deny Lenzi his proper place in the Hall Of Fame does a significant disservice both to him and to giallo history… over and above which, we must consider the impact of his cannibal epics on polite society and the enormity of his contributions to the poliziotteschi scene.

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Perhaps my brief contributions to Calum Waddell’s timely All Eyes On Lenzi feature-length documentary will go some way towards atoning for my previous critical lacunae. There are plenty of other pundits lining up in it to demand that Lenzi be paid his due respect, including Milanese fan publishing notable Manlio  Gomarasca, the University of Worcester’s own Mikel Koven (who enthuses about the thespian sparks ignited between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli, among other things), film-maker Scooter McCrae and one of my favourite up-and-coming writers, Rachael Nisbet (is that your disc collection behind you, Rachael? Jeez, I wish mine was as neatly displayed as that…)

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Principle among those boosting Lenzi’s credentials, of course, is Lenzi himself, in one of the last interviews he ever gave (and in which he gives particularly good value for money on the subject of setting up the action scenes in his crime-slime classics, also keeping an admirably straight face as he expands upon the serious ecological message behind Nightmare City). Giovanni Lombardo Radice offers a dissenting view while his Cannibal Ferox co-star Danilo Mattei (who can also be seen lurking inside a bear skin in Lenzi’s The Iron Master) contributes a more  phlegmatic take on the moody director’s foibles.

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The Iron Master… Nightmare City… Eyeball… all these slices of delirious cinematic trash are enthusiastically endorsed as evidence that Lenzi could still deliver entertaining fare, even when the budgets got a bit rubbish. AEOL doesn’t shy away from the fact that when the budgets got really rubbish, Lenzi was as capable of delivering a sack of shit as anyone (Black Demons… The Hell’s Gate… I’m looking at you) but hey, that never queered anyone’s admiration for Lucio Fulci, and rightly so. Nisbet offers the ironic observation that even Lenzi’s fag-end failures have a fan following of their own among millennials (bloody millennials… who can figure those guys out, huh?)

Another winner from our pals at High Rising Productions, All Eyes On Lenzi will apparently be included in an all-singing / dancing deluxe metal box edition of Eyeball from 88 Films… keep ’em peeled for that one, schlock-pickers!

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06/08/31 – 19/10/17. R.I.P.

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China In Your Hands… Umberto Lenzi’s THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST Reviewed

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DVD. Alfa Digital. Region Free. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s comments re The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) in our last posting (on Lenzi’s Eaten Alive!) prompted me to prise this one off the shelf and give it another go. Enhanced by appropriate beverages and a selection of salty snacks, an agreeably chucklesome 90 minutes or so duly ensued…

Everybody’s favourite Italian answer to Dirty Harry, Maurizio Merli’s ex-Inspector Leonardi Tanzi (he must have pissed off his shilly-shallying, “by the rule book” superiors one too many times) is scraping a living in Milan, sub-editing detective novels. Suffice to say, his hard-ass cop days are behind him. Try telling that to Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto (Tomas Milian), though. Recently sprung from the jail where Tanzi’s sterling hard-assed detective work had landed him, the vengeful “China” sends Tanzi one of his trademark greeting cards, announcing the date of our hero’s death. Sure as shit, he’s promptly confronted by gun-totin’ goons but despite talking a good fight (“Hey motherfucker, I’ve got a real quick nickle-plated lead message from the Chinaman for you”), their work is so shoddy that he only sustains a shoulder injury before the assassins are disturbed in their work and scarper. The papers having reported his death, Tanzi is advised by his old boss Commissioner Astalli (Renzo Palmer) to go lie low in Switzerland, advice to which he gives characteristically short shrift, relocating to Rome before getting back on the case… Tanzi’s no pansy! He hits back at China by sewing suspicion between him and Frank DiMaggio (John Saxon), the American gangster whom China is aiming to team up with and ultimately supplant, setting the scene for a climactic kick-ass confrontation between this unholy trinity of Crime Slime titans…

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… well, that was the general idea but TC,TR&TF ultimately emerges as a slow burn that never quite ignites and lumbering it with a title that evokes one of Sergio Leone’s finest hours was always leaving it with a lot to live up to. It’s generally agreed that Tanzi = “The Fist” in the eponymous equation, but opinions differ as to whether China or DiMaggio should be taken as The Cynic or The Rat. There are also those who wonder why Maietto is known as “Chinaman” but I’m pretty confident that this is a reference to his “inscrutable” demeanour. He’s also referred to by one of the cops as “the Clockwork Orange kid” so you can take it as read that beneath said inscrutable facade, there lurks the squirming brain of a stone psycho. He’s particularly dead pan while supervising the breaking of an offending dude’s legs. Meanwhile DiMaggio, who cultivates a similarly urbane persona, bounces golf balls off the head of a lieutenant who’s pissed him off, before turning his dogs on the guy.

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Mistreating women is thirsty work in TCTR&TF… better keep that J&B bottle handy!

Being one of those morally ambiguous cops, Tanzi’s behaviour is scarcely more PC at times… although he advises one hood who’s been roughing up a woman to “pick on somebody your own sex” before beating the crap out of him, he’s not averse to slapping the ladies round himself (though, to be fair, unlike his opponents, he draws the line at repeatedly addressing them as “twot” and throwing acid in their faces). Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti keeps the fruity dialogue coming thick and fast, e.g. “That blond faggot… I should have known that bastard was a Pig!” and “Why are you with that cop? Has he got loads of money? Or a big wang?” (we’ve already established that Tanzi’s living in reduced circumstance, but he’s got a hairy chest and a fuck off gold medallion… so yeah, on the balance of probability, I’d imagine he’s got a pretty sizeable wang). There are plenty of pleasingly outrageous ’70s fashion mis-steps on display and Lenzi keeps things chugging along with his customary efficiency if not, perhaps, quite the flair evidenced in most of his other Crime Slime outings.

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“How d’you like your coffee?”

There’s a sub-plot about Tanzi avenging his antique-dealer uncle (Guido Alberti) which although far-fetched (learning that the kid who beat and robbed Unc is nicknamed “Cappuccino”, Tanzi hangs around bars and pool halls till he spots somebody drinking cappuccino and kicks the shit out of him… lucky he got the right guy, eh?) is well-integrated into the wider narrative, but I could have done without the interminable “caper” sequence in which Tanzi burgles DiMaggio’s apartment… Merli should leave the “wriggling through laser sensors” stuff to Catherine Zeta Jones and stick to what he does best, i.e. shouting abuse at / pistol-whipping / punching / kicking / shooting people who irritate him (i.e. just about everybody he encounters) and asking questions later. That sequence could usefully have been replaced with a car-chase, of which TC,TR&TF is woefully bereft. What does it matter that Lenzi’s budget wouldn’t stretch to staging one? Producer Luciano Martino could have just lifted the one from his brother Sergio’s The Violent Professionals (1973), as he did in so many other ’70s Italian cop epics. While I’m moaning, Franco Micalizzi’s “OST” is a tepid warm over of his thrilling contribution to Lenzi’s superior Violent Naples from the previous year.

My principle gripe though, as mentioned already, is the way that the climactic dust-up between Tanzi, China and DiMaggio, a consummation devoutly to be wished, ends up being phoned in by all concerned…

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… I mean, Merli and Milian don’t even appear in the same shot during their alleged settling of accounts, something which I’m inclined to attribute to scheduling problems on a low-budget picture. Sure, Lenzi perpetuates the notion that there was a feud between the two actors but I suspect that this was just a publicity stunt. Then again, I am a bit of an old cynic…

Often rated a classic by the Crime Slime cognoscenti, The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist strikes me as more of a missed opportunity. Poliziotteschi, nevertheless, are very much like pizzas… even when they’re not great, they’re pretty good, so waste no time grabbing yourself a slice of the action, presumably via 88’s recent DVD or Blu-ray releases. The OK-looking edition under review here came courtesy of the mysterious Alfa Digital label, an allegedly Portuguese outfit that put out some interesting titles at the dawn of the DVD era and promptly disappeared.

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Ex-Inspector Tanzi… has he got loads of money? Or just a big wang?

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The Electric Sex Aid Acid Test… Umberto Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! on Severin Blu-Ray

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“He’s not The Messiah… he’s a very naughty boy!”

BD / CD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s third cannibal outing / outrage, Eaten Alive (1980… its title thoughtfully expanded to Eaten Alive By The Cannibals! in some territories) makes its BD debut via Severin and arrives in our in-tray with a thud and an added whiff of unexpected topicality, opening as it does with assassinations by nerve toxin (derived from cobra venom and delivered via blow darts) in major Western cities. The unfortunate victims  are disaffected members of The Purification Sect, a wacked out religious cult operating out of Sri Lanka (doubling for New Guinea) under the acid fascist leadership of a certain Jonas (Ivan Rassimov). Any resemblance to the Reverend Jimbo of  Jonestown massacre infamy is, of course (cough!)… purely coincidental!

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As in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (made the same year), the bad guy is using cannibal-infested country as a buffer zone to shield his nefarious antics from the prying eyes of outsiders… but again, this ploy fails when Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) approaches Vietnam deserter-turned-mercenary adventurer Mark (Robert Kerman), whom she finds arm-wrestling over sharp knives in a Deer Hunter-type dive, to help spring her brainwashed sister Diana (Paola Senatore) from the cult’s grasp. I’m sure we’ve already commented on Robert Kerman / Bolla’s extraordinary CV elsewhere on this blog, alternatively get your cyber self over to IMDB and prepare to be amazed.

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Anyway, after the expected jungle hazards and hi-jinks (much of them comprising crudely transplanted stock footage from Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World and Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God), Janet and Robert make it to Puresville and discover Diana alive if not exactly well, living under the thrall of the insane Jonas, who alternates bible quotations with the application of venom soaked dildos to his comelier acolytes, justifying such shenanigans on the grounds that pain will reunite mankind with Nature… yeah, whatever!

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There are further kinky developments when villager Mowara (Me Me Lai) finds herself widowed, Purification doctrine demanding that she lays down in her recently cremated husband’s ashes while his surviving brothers queue up to bonk her. In another echo of Martino’s earlier cannibal epic, Sheila is stripped down and painted gold for Big J’s drug crazed gratification. When she and Mark  have had enough of Rassimov’s dystopian New Jerusalem, they make a break for it through cannibal country with Diana and Mowara, who are promptly trapped, messily dismembered and eaten by the locals.

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Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Mark and Sheila are on the verge of carrying out a suicide pact when police helicopters arrive to whisk them away. The same choppers prompt Jones… er, Jonas to utter the memorable line “Have them prepare that mixture, Dick” and harangue his followers into consuming the killer Kool Aid so they can accompany him on his final trip, though the film’s ending suggests that he declined the drink himself and is still on the lam somewhere (the Jones cult, explicitly identified as such, would feature again as a plot point in Deodato’s Cut And Run, 1985). Mark is cheated out of his money but gets the girl and Sheila is browbeaten, in time honoured cannibal film fashion, not to reveal to the media the extent of anthropophagous antics still going on under our complacent Western noses just a piddling plane ride away.

Among other familiar cannibal film tropes vying for our attention we find the expected troubling “found footage”, casual racism (one of Agren’s “comic” lines about life in the cotton fields will have you reaching for rewind to check she actually said what you thought she just said)… it’s fair to say that there was never any realistic chance of this film’s credits carrying that line about “no animals having been harmed during the production” and inevitably, despite the tough line Jonas takes on alcohol, the onscreen action is sometimes obscured by the sheer volume of J&B bottles, piling up on conspicuous display.

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Kudos to Mel Ferrer (as anthropologist Dr Carter) for starring in two films entitled Eaten Alive (which was one of the many alternative titles for Tobe Hopper’s sophomore Horror feature) when most actors would have considered one to be more than enough. I also appreciate the fact that at one point Agren looks like she’s about to go into a grindhouse cinema to watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.

With this release Severin prove themselves once again the masters of, er, remastering, delivering an Eaten Alive! that looks better than you probably believed possible. The claim in their typically gonzo sleeve notes that watching this film is equivalent to having your dick ripped off can safely be dismissed as hyperbole, but Lenzi’s rendition of “cannibal movie greatest hits in bite-sized chunks” might well register as a painful twist on your short and curlies. Although even its the director concedes its shortcomings (see below), Lenzi directs the 90% of Eaten Alive! that he did direct with consummate craftsmanship and characteristic gusto, earning this 42nd St classic a space on the shelves of any self-respecting spaghetti exploitation buff.

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Extras include a Freakorama interview in which Lenzi (who seems to have borrowed Craig Wasson’s porn star pullover from Body Double) airs a familiar grievance, namely that people ignore all the war films he made. I remember him moaning about that rather a lot when I interviewed him, but Lenzi seems to have mellowed a bit. He still calls Ruggero Deodato “a liar” for claiming to have invented the Italian cannibal genre (which, of course, Lenzi kicked off with The Man From Deep River in 1972) but admits that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is far superior to any of his own jungle pot-boilers, indeed that it’s “a masterpiece”.

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We’re treated to a recording of Lenzi’s Q&A session at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester, moderated by Calum Waddell with the assistance of Nick Frame. Again he talks up his war films (and gialli) and restates his low regard for cannibal films, insisting that he slams the phone down on any journalist who has the temerity to mention Cannibal Ferox (no mere rhetorical flourish, this… he once actually did precisely that to Yours Truly!) but gets the biggest laugh of the session when he announces that all the money Ferox has subsequently made for him has belatedly convinced him of its status as a cinema classic. He won’t talk about his differences with John Morghen but rehashes, when invited, the feud between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli which necessitated each of them to film their participation in the climax to The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) on alternate days. Poignantly, Lenzi talks about subsisting on a slice of pizza every three days when he embarked upon film-making. The fact that just before this Q&A he had been brunching with Barbara Bouchet testifies most eloquently to the satisfactory career arc that ensued. I was actually enjoying a private audience with Bouchet when this session took place, so I’m glad of the opportunity to catch up with its contents here.

We also get an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and a mash-up of archive interviews with Rassimov and Kerman. The latter tries to sort out his different personas and recalls that the famously wiggy Lenzi was more courteous to him on set than Deodato, whom he describes as “sadistic”.

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Most welcome of all is the inclusion among the supplementary materials of Naomi Holwill’s nifty documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen, previously thumbed up on this blog in a review which has emerged as one of our most heavily visited postings since it debuted in March 2016.

My copy of Eaten Alive! came in a slipcover and boasted a bonus disc of Roberto Donati’s discotastic OST. Grab ’em while you can…

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… better or worse than being trapped in a jungle of rational flesh eaters? You must be the judge!

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Drill Dos And Drill Dont’s… Umberto Lenzi’s SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS Reviewed

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DVD. Shriek Show / Media Blasters. Region 1. Unrated. Out Of Print.

Fashion designer Mario Gerosa (Antonio  Sabato) and his new bride Giulia (Uschi Glas) find their honeymoon bliss interrupted by an inconsiderate serial killer who, clad in the regulation black gloves and clothes, is working his way through all of the women that stayed at a holiday resort on a certain date… a list which includes Giulia. The other women on it are dispatched in various ways (strangled, bludgeoned, drowned, drilled, etc) but all of the victims have one more thing in common. Each of them is found clutching a piece of jewellery in the shape of a silver half-moon. When an attempt is made on Giulia’s life, Mario takes up the mantle of amateur sleuth…

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Released as Das Rätsel Des Silbernen Halbmonds (“The Riddle Of The Silver Half Moons”) in West Germany, this 1972 thriller from Umberto Lenzi is a fascinating film for anybody who’s interested in the way that country’s “krimi” cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations shaded off into the Italian giallo. Towards the end of the ’60s, Rialto tried to revive their long-running but fast-flagging Wallace series with Italian co-productions but the first fruit of this arrangement, Riccardo Freda’s Double Face (1969), flopped. No further entries were attempted for a couple of years and by the time this film and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange (also 1972) completed Rialto’s run, Dario Argento had scored an international crossover hit with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970… itself spuriously passed off in Germany as an adaptation of a novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace, Edgar’s son and literary executor) and the pasta men were very much in the ascendancy. Owing more to the sadism of Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964) and Argento’s aforementioned debut, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (the alternative title deriving from something Sabato finds on the grave of somebody he’d previously regarded as chief suspect) is a million miles removed from the Sunday afternoon gentility of the krimi, Lenzi throwing in oodles of gratuitous nudity and fearlessly tackling the contemporary drugs scene… fearlessly and rather recklessly (at one point a hippy dude beseeches Sabato to stop interrogating his friend, who is undergoing “a bad trip” on account of some heroin he’s just injected)… what would Eddi Arent have said?

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Torn between two traditions (one of them, admittedly, only recently established) and officially adapted by Lenzi and frequent Fulci collaborator Roberto Gianviti from an obscure Wallace yarn, SBO / TROTSHM owes at least as much to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous In Black and veteran spaghetti exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti also had an uncredited hand in its concoction. One could be forgiven for expecting a bit of a dog’s dinner but Lenzi, who already had something like thirty directorial credits under his belt at this point, keeps the story rattling along in involving fashion and mounts the brutal kill scenes with characteristically gleeful gusto (he would subsequently prove perfectly capable of phoning ’em in… witness the extraordinary mess that is Eyeball, 1975).

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Although his male cast ranges from workmanlike (Pier Paolo Capponi as Inspector Vismara) to (just about) acceptable (Sabato), Lenzi is superbly served by a very strong female cast, though he’s happy to kill off giallo icon Marina Malfatti (The Fourth Victim, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, All The Colours Of The Dark) within minutes of introducing her character. Perhaps he saw her as the film’s “Marion Crane” character?

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Marisa Mell also gets bumped off in pretty short order (with a handy-dandy power drill, during a scene to which Brian De Palma pays the sincerest form of flattery in Body Double, 1984) but plays twins in this one so at least we get to see more of the gorgeous Ms Mell. Uschi Glas (who, like Mell, had previous krimi form) is an appealing and perky heroine with a pleasing penchant for sexy / ludicrous early ’70s outfits

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On the minus side, Riz Ortolani’s “original soundtrack” lazily recycles themes already familiar from Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse and Lucio Fulci’s One On Top Of Another aka Perversion Story (both 1969). Bonus materials include a brief interview with Lenzi, in which he angrily dismisses accusations of Argento copying, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it chat with Gabriella Giorgelli (which, to be fair, probably lasts as long as her appearance in the film), liner notes, a gallery and trailers, not only for the main feature but also Lenzi’s Eaten Alive (1980) and a particularly chuckle-inducing one for his Spasmo (1974).

Riding the crest of an anti-clerical wave that peaked in 1972 (Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling and Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die?, to name but two, were released in the same year), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a solid effort that any self-respecting giallo fan will want to catch. Time for a remastered Blu-ray release, methinks…

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Home Alone With Two Fat Ladies… Fulci, Martino, Di Leo, Lenzi & Bava Jr On 88 Films Blu-Ray.

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Picture yourself at the fag-end of 2017 / phony dawn of 2018. Christmas Day petered out shortly after Christmas dinner had been consumed, you’re too old and world-weary to give a rat’s ass about New Year’s Eve… your nearest and dearest have peeled off to do whatever it is they do, leaving you home alone with a greasy turkey leg, a tub of Quality Street now containing more cellophane than chocolate and hundreds of satellite TV channels… all screening shit, 24/7. Just to make things more interesting, the Aussie Flu is already beginning to gnaw at yer vitals. What’s a boy to do? Luckily, I’ve been salting away some 88 Films Blu-ray releases, as and when I’ve spotted them on the bargain shelves (it’s a long time since any review copies from this company troubled the mat under the letter box here at THOF) and now, almost exactly a year since our first round-up of elusive (to me, anyway) 88 releases and under very similar circumstances… here’s another one!

Cold Blooded Killer (18)

Body Puzzle (18 )

2019: After The Fall Of New York (18)

Hands Of Steel (15)

The Iron Master (15)… BD / DVD combi edition

Aenigma (15)

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Our current trip down route 88 commences in bracing style with Fernando Di Leo’s brilliantly barking 1971 giallo La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (“The Beast Kills In Cold Blood”), abbreviated here to Cold Blooded Beast (and also released as Slaughter Hotel or Asylum Erotica). Talk about a promising set up… take a bunch of affluent, luridly  outfitted female basket cases with a range of exotic personal problems (Rosalba Neri’s a nymphomaniac obliged to take regular cold showers to ward off incestuous desires for her brother) and confine them to a “rest home” established within a medieval castle that comes complete with medieval weaponry and torture implements (what’s that you were saying about “set and setting”, Dr Leary?) When not lounging around, smoking like chimneys and reading those yellow-jacketed Mondadori novels, the inmates are dodging (or in some cases indulging) the sapphic attentions of nurse Monica Strebel, a mental health professional so well-trained that she has to have the word “agoraphobia” explained to her. Just to put the cherry on this crazy cake, the sanatorium’s deputy director is played by Klaus Kinski… I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Hang on… did anybody just hear a squishing noise from inside the iron maiden?

Cold Blooded Killer flirts with the sleazier strand of giallo (Play Motel, The Sister Of Ursula, Giallo A Venezia…) but ultimately has more in common with such gothic gialli as Emilio Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave from the same year or Antonio Margheriti’s 7 Deaths In The Cat’s Eye (1973). Di Leo’s more accustomed generic stomping ground was Crime Slime, where he proved himself no wilting violet when it came to the depiction of brutal violence. Here he bides his time as the kitschy kill-by-numbers plot shifts through its florid gear changes, only for everything to explode in spectacularly ugly style during the final few minutes, the frenzied ferocity of which suggests Ted Bundy’s sorority raid (in fact this film was shamelessly marketed on the US grindhouse circuit to tie it in with Richard Speck’s kill spree!)

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The killer has been doing away with a series of apparently unrelated victims, posing as a blood thirsty lunatic to obscure his all-too coldly calculated motive for wanting to see the back of one of them. Once exposed, he runs amok through what remains of the sanatorium’s clientele, revealing that his “rational” dabbling in butchery has tipped him over the edge into hopeless psychosis. Dario Argento and Sergio Martino would expand on this plot conceit to more sophisticated and stylish effect in subsequent gialli, but Di Leo’s deployment of it here really packs a wallop.

88’s BD of Cold Blooded Beast renders previous DVD releases (e.g. Shriek Show’s Slaughter Hotel disc, with its sound-synching problems) obsolete, clocking in as the longest version yet available. Some of Neri’s sex scenes have been sourced from inferior elements and she complains in a bonus interview that much of this stuff features a body double and was inserted later without her knowledge. Indeed, it’s noticeable during one enthusiastic scene of, er, self-love that Neri’s appendicitis scar disappears during the close-up shots. So that’s not Rosalba’s hand handling her bits, there. Nor, unfortunately, is it mine.

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Neri also reflects engagingly on various of her collaborators (“Kinski was strange and devoted to alcohol, or even something stronger that gave him strange reactions”) and confesses her one regret, i.e. “That I never made a good film!” Further extras include an audio commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and an interview (again, courtesy of 441 Films) with Sylvia Petroni (daughter of Death Rides A Horse director Giulio Petroni) concerning the crucial but oft-neglected role of script supervisor / “continuity girl”, a role she also filled on Flesh For Frankenstein, among several other notable credits.

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If 1971 was (give or take) the high water mark of giallo production, Italian directors were still knocking out the occasional yellow slasher a couple of decades later. It seems entirely appropriate that one of the last entries in the cycle, 1992’s Body Puzzle, should be directed by a member of the Bava clan, though Lamberto’s invariably competent handling of his material inevitably disappoints the high expectations invested in that illustrious surname. Here he seems to be taking his cue from Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987 and arguably the last of the great gialli) by revealing the killer’s identity in a very early scene… or does he? Francois Montagut (vaguely resembling Rutger Hauer in his prime) enters William Müller’s upmarket pastry shop, draws the blinds and casually stabs Herr Müller before departing the scene of the crime with various bagged-up innards. The unfortunate pâtissier’s ear is left in Joanna Pacula’s fridge. “Could be you’ve got yourself a real psycho” the coroner helpfully advises investigating officer Tomas Arana.

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Arana’s a lot quicker seducing Pacula than he is in working out that all the victims of the unfolding kill spree received organ transplants from her dead husband. Apparently he’d been leading a secret gay life and the suggestion is that one of his former lovers entertains the deranged ambition of resurrecting him by reassembling his constituent parts (while listening to Mussorgsky’s Night On A Bare Mountain, for some reason)… so a teacher of blind children has her eye hacked out in front of her blissfully oblivious students (quite an effective sequence, this), a life guard is sliced up in his swimming pool and Susanna Javicoli (whose face was bisected by falling masonry during Suspiria’s most celebrated set-piece sequence) has her hand lopped off in glorious bog-seat-o-vision. Bava evokes further pasta paura splendours by casting Erika Blanc, Gianni Garko and John Morghen (who confounds all expectations by avoiding dismemberment) in small roles, though I could have done without the cemetery superintendent named “Mario Fulci”.

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“Camp”? Moi?

Things are proceeding engagingly enough towards what you think will be a predictable denouement when Bava drops his big plot twist. The killer isn’t who you think he is. He isn’t even who he thinks he is. This seems like clever stuff until, after a nanosecond’s reflection, you realise that it doesn’t make a lick of goddam sense. Now, Bava Jr’s handling of depth psychology has never been his strongest suit (witness A Blade In The Dark)… pay close attention to the throwaway conversation here between Arana and a sanatorium director. You still won’t buy it. The killer, however, once Pacula has explained to him the misconception under which he’s been labouring, gains immediate self-awareness, repents his misdeeds and speeds off into the night on his motorbike. Before you can say “Vertigo”, his motivating misapprehension has mutated into self-fulfilling prophecy. He could just as easily have ridden his bike through the holes in Bava, Teodoro Corrà and Bruce Martin’s screenplay (the scene where Montagut hides in a freezer on the off-chance that somebody will open it and he can jump out  at them is a particularly bemusing one), but when have we ever let such considerations hamper our enjoyment of a good giallo? And Body Puzzle is a pretty good giallo…

Extras include two print interviews, with Arana (conducted by Phillip Escott) and Lamberto Bava (Calum Waddell).

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The last big generic spasm undergone by the Italian B-movie scene was, appropriately enough, the early-80s post-Apocalyptic filone inspired by Escape From New York and Mad Max II, as crystallised in Enzo Castellari’s Bronx Warriors brace and The New Barbarians (1982-3). Able genre jumper Sergio Martino had no problems adapting to the formula and his 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) emerges as one of the better entries in a sometimes blockheaded cycle (Rats – Night Of Terror, anyone?), matching Castellari’s patented action scenes and peppering them with philosophical allusions and humorous asides.

Flavour-of-that-month action man Michael Sopkiw is Parsifal, your basic Snake Plissken wannabe, who scratches a living racing futuristic hot rods around the irradiated Arizona desert. Those who survived the nuclear war are sterile but rumour has it that there’s one fertile woman, in a coma, somewhere in NYC. Parsifal is hired by Edmund Purdom, President of The Pan-American Confederacy, to locate her and deliver her to the rocket base where she’ll be blasted off, in the company of the surviving global elite, to reboot the human race in some distant galaxy. “Somebody baked The Big Apple” (though they thoughtfully left the Peter Gabriel graffiti on the wall) and needless to say, when they gets there, Parsifal and sidekicks Ratchet (Romano Puppo) and Bronx (Paolo Maria Scalondro) find themselves thrown into the thick of incessant conflict between Confederacy stormtroopers and rival criminal and / or mutant gangs.

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Luigi Montefiori / George Eastman as “Big Ape” (Martino saved a few bob on make-up, there), manages a particularly impressive (even by his standards) entry, erupting on-screen to disembowel some bad dude with his cutlass. Futuristic glamour is supplied by Anna Kanakis (a former Miss Italy and erstwhile Mrs Claudio Simonetti) and Valentine Monnier. After just about everybody else has been bumped off, Parsifal makes it back to the rocket with his female cargo, the projected mother of a new, genetically pure human race… except of course, unbeknownst to everybody but Parsifal, Big George has parked a parcel in the prime real estate of her womb. Ooh, the cosmic irony… ooh, the echoes of the conclusion to Bob Fuests’s The Final Programme (1973), as Big George’s mutated monkey spunk departs (if I may paraphrase Neil Young) for its new home in the sun. This film’s director laughed off my reference to “Wagnerian overtones” in 2019 when I interviewed him but if you’re gonna send somebody named Parsifal on a mission to secure the genetic purity of his race… well, pull the other one, Sergio!

Phillip Escott interviews Martino and long serving production designer / art director Massimo Antonello Geleng (who provides fascinating insights into his miniature and effects shots for 2019) on the disc and the accompanying booklet includes another interview with Martino, courtesy of Callum Waddell.

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Sergio was back in Arizona three years later, still surfing whatever generic waves the international box office was throwing up, to ever decreasing returns. Hands Of Stone started as a First Blood copycat but when The Terminator hit, it rapidly mutated into Hands Of Steel (1986). Daniel Greene (who actually managed to parlay his beefcake persona into a respectable acting career outside of the Italian “B’ milieu) is Paco Queruak, a cyborg created by John Saxon’s sinister industrial corporation to assassinate their eco-conscious political critics. When Paco’s human conscience gets the better of him, he drops out of the assassination racket to pursue competitive arm-wrestling (sure, what else would he do?), not to mention feisty bar owner Janet Agren. Jilted local tough guy Raul (George Eastman) and Saxon’s hit-men (including, unfortunately, Claudio Cassinelli in his final screen appearance) ensure that Paco’s retirement is anything but quiet. In the best sequence in the picture, he fights off a brassy blonde Hot Gossip refugee decked out in a polythene mini-skirt who tells him: “I’m the perfect cyborg and have been sent to kill the traitor!” Fine words, but it’s a pity she can’t back them up. Paco pulls her head off, but neglects to shove it up her android arse… which must go down as a missed opportunity, in my book.

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Have you seen Polythene Pam? You could say that she’s attractively deconstructed… (with apologies to The Beatles)

In another bonus interview from the boys at 441, Martino identifies this film as one of the last in which (with the aid of Sergio Stivaletti’s make up FX and characteristic Italian resourcefulness) his countrymen could vaguely compete with their American models and sometimes make it onto American screens. While Hands Of Stone (he contends… and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) was a respectable Terminator copycat there was no way, he concedes, that by 1991 the Italians were going to be able to attempt the likes of Terminator 2. Inevitably, the director reflects ruefully on the death of Claudio Cassinelli in a helicopter stunt shot during the making of this movie. 

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One generic playing field on which the Italians probably figured they were well qualified to compete was that of the mythological Peplum, having invented it in Maciste epics going as far back as Giovanni Pastoni’s Cabiria (1914). When Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) and John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian (1982) hit paydirt, Italian exploiters weren’t slow to respond, none quicker (nor barmier) than Lucio Fulci with 1983’s Conquest (geddit?) which lived up to that opportunistic titling with a mind-boggling mix of mystical mumbo-jumbo, cocaine-snorting werewolves, jelly baby zombies and tribal tattoos straight out of The Book Of Eibon. Two other films made in ’83, Antonio Margheriti’s Yor – Hunter From The Future and Umberto Lenzi’s The Iron Master, were only marginally less mental.

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Lenzi’s stone age spagwest concerns the Oedipal sibling rivalry between Ela (Sam Pasco in his only non-gay porn outing) and Vood (George Eastman again) over the succession to Raa The Wise (Jacques Herlin). Vood is exiled after trying to advance his claim by bumping off poor old Raa but, while wandering around in an amateurishly executed volcanic eruption, he initiates the iron age (just like that) by discovering some of the stuff in a stream of lava. Forging weaponry from it (pretty bright caveman, this), he returns (now wearing the head of a lion he killed) to supplant Ela. The latter does his own wandering around in exile, during which he fights off monkey men and zombie-like lepers, picks up Stevie Nix lookalike Isa (Elvire Audray) and invents archery. Dismissing the pacifist arguments of hippy philosopher Mogo (William Berger), Ela returns to vanquish Vood and his henchmen for good… and human history has continued to unfold in peace and harmony up right to the present day, yeah?

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Everything about The Iron Master, from its model mammoths and mastodons to its hysterical mumbling cavemen / psychedelic sitar score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (who also scored 2019 under their trusty “Oliver Onions” alias) is a certified hoot. I’m reliably informed that this version has been cut by eight seconds (animal abuse?) but I’m not sure that my heaving ribs would have been able to take another second, anyway. Once seen, this film’s male lead can never forgotten and certainly wasn’t by Fred Andersson, who supplies the diverting booklet essay “Who Is Sam Pasco And Why Is Nobody Talking About Him?”, detailing his search for the facts concerning this body-building pin-up icon / gay porn star / hustler. The disc also contains 441’s joint interview with DP Giancarlo Ferrando and the aforementioned Massimo Antonello Geleng, which is a particularly jolly affair in which the two old troupers, clearly great pals, reminisce about the good old days. Ferrando remembers the irascible Lenzi “foaming at the mouth” during one shooting mishap on The Iron Master and jokingly blames him for the near-extinction of the American buffalo.

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88 seem to have got the hang of this Blu-ray mastering bit. All of the films under consideration here look fine, some of them probably better than they deserve to look. Even their crowd-funded restoration of Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma (1987) looks… as good as it’s ever going to look, given Luigi Ciccarese’s unrelentingly harsh blue-rinse cinematography.

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It’s a look clumsily copped from Argento’s Phenomena (1985), from which Fulci also cheerily pinches much of Aenigma’s setting and plot. Bereft of his prime-time dream team (Sacchetti, Salvati, Frizzi, Tomassi, Lentini, De Rossi), Fulci struggles desperately (with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, a script collaborator on The Beyond and House By The Cemetery) to figure out what makes a horror hit in 1987 and also ends up roping in significant elements of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) and Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978). It’s reasonable to surmise that the latter did decent box office in Italy, given the appearance of Mario Landi’s hysterical Patrick’s Still Alive in 1980. Unfortunately, that one’s a lot more entertaining than the item under consideration here…

In a snotty girl’s boarding school in Boston (actually Belgrade), a spiteful prank dreamed up by the bitchier pupils and their loathsome PE teacher Fred (Riccardo Acerbi) misfires, leaving its victim Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic) in a coma. New student Eva (Lara Lamberti) arrives to fill the Jennifer Connelly role, though unfortunately she has no telepathic connection with insects. There’s no chimp in this film either, unless you count Fred. What does happen is that comatose Kathy exerts psychic control over Eva, taking advantage of her slutty inclinations (“Let’s get one thing straight! A successful semester to me means making out with as many cute boys as possible. Let’s put it this way: anything in pants!”) to take violent, albeit far-fetched revenge on Fred and his co-conspirators. So people are strangled by statues or their own reflections, or eaten by snails (this ludicrous scene an obvious indicator of how far Fulci’s talents had slipped since The Beyond and its spider attack, just six years previously). None of this is as interesting as it sounds and re-reading what I just wrote, it didn’t sound particularly interesting in the first place. The “action” grinds to an arbitrary stop when Kathy’s mum, the school’s Mrs Mopp who had previously assisted in her vengeful kill-spree, decides enough is enough and pulls the plug on her daughter’s life support system.

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Fulci (who cameos as a cop, above) is credited for direction and also “special camera effects”, though it’s difficult to discern any particular “camera effects”, special or otherwise. Maybe that’s a reference to the glowing red eyes various characters develop when in the throes of a psychokinetic mong attack. Or maybe they’re reacting adversely to Douglas Meakin warbling Carlo Maria Cordio’s appalling theme song Head Over Meels (sic).

There’s a boring romantic subplot involving the romance between penitent prankster Jennifer (!), played by Ulli Reinthaler and Dr Robert Anderson (Jared Martin). The recently deceased Martin seemed to be Fulci’s go-to David Warbeck substitute, though he managed a pretty decent TV career (Dallas, L.A. Law) in America. Well versed in the ways of Fulci (he essayed the role of “Drake” in the director’s Fighter Centurions, 1984), Martin’s most resonant line of dialogue here is: “Don’t call me Bob!” He’s obviously aware of the unhappy precedents…

This disc’s significant bonus material constitutes Eugenio Ercolani and Giuliano Emanuele’s Aenigma: Fulci And The ’80s, a feature-length look at LF’s declining years featuring contributions from Claudio Fragasso, Antonio Bido, Michele de Angelis, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Antonio Tentori, among others. Good stuff.

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Murder, He Wrote… An Exclusive Interview With DARDANO SACCHETTI

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The interviews that appear on this Blog have been drawn from our extensive archives here at The House Of Freudstein, comprising conversations with film makers that have taken place at various times over the last thirty-odd (some of them very odd) years, many of which have already appeared in miscellaneous film publications. It’s a real pleasure to debut here the transcript of our audience with the most prolific screenwriter on the Italian genre scene, which took place in November 2017. How very fresh of us…

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Signor Sacchetti, could you kindly tell us a little about your life these days… are you currently working on any projects?

I’m still writing. There is little work in Italy at this time, but I’ve just finished a screenplay.

I know that your preference is to write in seclusion, then hand your script over to the producer, rather than to have endless collaborative sessions with other writers… but how do you divide up the work when collaborating with your wife Elisa Briganti?

With my wife the job is simple: I usually write, she reads, offers her opinion… we discuss everything, we make amendments. During my most creative moments I’m almost always alone because my best ideas often come to me during the night.

Your screen writing career began at the very top, with Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails (1971)… is it fair to say that the climactic revelation of the killer’s identity in that one is a bit of a “cheat”,  given that the guilty character had only played a very minor role up to that point?

That’s right but then in those days, especially in Italy, we were always doing that.

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Your work on that Argento film got you the job of writing a highly influential Mario Bava picture known under a multitude of titles… Bloodbath, Bay Of Blood, Twitch Of The Death Nerve…

I wrote it as Reazione A Catena (“Chain Reaction”). Although only my second film, written when I was very young and knew nothing about cinema, that’s the movie I’m most fond of… my masterpiece.

There’s that big twist at the end involving the children… much has been said about the use of children in Fulci’s films but they’ve featured in so many that you’ve written for other directors, it’s tempting to conclude that these characters are down to you…

I’ve always had child characters in my movies, the use of such characters is part of my imaginary world. Lucio wasn’t bothered about investigating child psychology, in fact he didn’t like having children around on his sets.

It’s a pity you couldn’t put your “trademark” on the plot of Reazione A Catena, considering how many highly successful American films subsequently took so much from it…

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Yes, it would have made me a very rich man!

Speaking of American film makers, Quentin Tarantino has talked at various times about remaking Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero… has he ever talked to you about this? Are we likely to see such a remake on the screen?

Absolutely not! The most recent major to take an interest in this remake was SONY. They contacted us through an Italian law firm, acting on their behalf, with an outrageous offer, for which I personally told them to go to hell. Americans want to take Italians for fools. They often copy our ideas, sometimes whole movies, but they do not want to pay us for it. They treat us like a colony, full of illiterate, indigenous people. Tarantino was mentioned but also Steven Soderbergh and Bryan Singer. They wanted to make the movie with one of these three directors and they were suggesting a free option for two years then to pay $15,000 for the total rights… ridiculous!

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You’ve been quoted as saying that you rarely watch the films you’ve written, but you did watch Sette Note In Nero… should we conclude from this that you are more comfortable with the idea of giallo than with horror?

I’ve been misquoted there, in fact I always watch the films that are made from my scripts. Sette Note in Nero is a film born out of an abortive project that Fulci and his writer Gianviti had been working on for six months. De Laurentiis then called me to help out. Fulci and I immediately argued. I proposed that we ditch the original project, which was called Deadly Therapy and suggested the basic idea that became Sette Note In Nero. I’m comfortable with giallo, with horror, also police or dramatic stories… I’ve written 177 scripts of all kinds. Basically, I’m a writer.

Fulci himself was very ambivalent about his status as a cult Horror director, wasn’t he?

When I first met Fulci he loved Agatha Christie-type mysteries but he didn’t like the thriller genre and had never seen a horror movie nor even read a horror novel. Fulci’s background was in comedy and musical films. He was, in every respect, a “classic” Italian director of those times. After the extraordinary commercial success of Zombi 2 he read Lovecraft for the first time and this is very apparent in his second horror film, City Of The Living Dead…

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I know that foreign distributors and therefore Italian producers demanded more zombies, whereas Fulci had originally not wanted them to be in either City Of The Living Dead or The Beyond…

Yes, the Germans asked for more zombies and Fulci took this on board. In fact it was me who really didn’t want to use more zombies. My screenplay for The Beyond provided for a different finale, set in an amusement park…

That’s fantastic… I’ve got a UK press kit for The Beyond which contains a synopsis that varies wildly from what actually happens in the film. I’ve always suspected that it was drawn from an abandoned early version of your script and what you’ve just said would seem to confirm this.

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The scene was too expensive and producer Fabrizio De Angelis – who always had an eye on the money – decided to cut it and asked me for a zombie finale like the one you see now. His big priority was always cutting the budget.

Can you tell us about the changes that he imposed on Manhattan Baby?

He made just one change, he introduced the bullshit about the medallion, shot in Egypt. The only reason of this was again the economic one because back then there wasn’t much tax control over money going abroad from Italy.

What opinion did you form of Fulci’s relationship with De Angelis?

Fulci always had to put up with the fact that De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks. There was a period of a few years there where De Angelis was the only guy producing Italian horror films and Fulci was the only guy directing them. When things were going well, De Angelis should have been investing more money on projects, instead he kept on cutting the budgets, not realising that after American films like The Exorcist, with those great special effects, it was no longer feasible to do horror on the cheap.

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Going back to you and Fulci’s first collaboration for De Angelis, why did Elisa get all the credit for Zombi 2, when you had co-written it? Was Argento’s antipathy towards the project a factor in this?

I didn’t sign Zombi 2 because while I was writing it my father died and partly out of superstition, partly out of respect for him, I decided not to sign the script. Dario Argento had nothing to do with it. Zombi 2 was written a year before it was released and under another title. Dario knew nothing about Zombi 2 until it was released in Italy, shortly before the film he made with Romero. He felt then that the new title, which was the idea of producer Ugo Tucci, would damage their business.

Apart from Zombi 2, there are various other films you didn’t sign… Amityville II, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley, Hands Of Steel, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?… are there any notable ones that you’d now like the world to know about?

I signed all the films that I wanted to sign, as for the ones I didn’t… I’ll mention just one so you’ll understand the kind of thing that happens. Deliria (Stagefright), as Michele Soavi well knows, is a film that I worked on but it was as a favour to a great friend who needed to compare his ideas with mine. It was a friendship thing that I do not regret and for which I do not claim any credit. On the other hand, I have also signed films that are not mine: two examples are the Umberto Lenzi comedy Pierino La Peste Alla Riscossa (for which De Angelis paid me to take a credit, on administrative grounds) and Aldo Grimaldi’s La Cameriera Seduce I Villeggianti, a film which I quickly abandoned because they did not pay me, after which it was changed from a giallo into an erotic film. Unfortunately my signature remained attached to it.

As somebody who’s worked with “The Big Three“ of Italian Horror and Thriller… Bava, Argento and Fulci…

Yes, I have…

… what  professional and personal impressions did you take from working with each of them?

Mario Bava was simply a genius… a legendary figure, respected by everyone.

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I know from my own conversations with Fulci how much he revered Bava…

Working with Bava was a real pleasure and I learned so many things. He didn’t have any hand in the screenplay, that was not his job, but once he had read it he erupted with ideas for special effects and how to realise them. Dario, on the other hand, loves to work on the screenplay, so collaborating with him is a real torment. You know when it’s started but you never know when it will end. Dario often changes his mind within the course of a day and throws away great things to start all over again. Writing with him is always very tense and clashes are inevitable. Every project ended with a fight and sometimes we would have no contact for years, then there was peace and everything started again, but always ending with another fight. Dario is tormented by the idea of perfection, so he’s never satisfied. Fulci never originated a script, he was at home waiting for me to deliver the job. He was very into the “strong” scenes but always waited for the opinion of the producers before expressing his. He always went along with the requirements of the production.

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The disappointment I’ve often felt on seeing the movies made from my scripts is usually down to production shortcomings rather than the way they’ve been shot. I prefer to see them alone and when they’ve been out for a while. I have a very bad character, as everyone knows and I’ve often clashed with producers. There’s often been disharmony with directors, too… actually my relationship with Fulci was exemplary in this respect. I recognise that Lucio was an excellent professional with good technique, more so than Argento but Argento took things to a level that Lucio never attained. Dario was a visionary who could really bring nightmares to the screen. Fulci was a hard working professional but he never managed to transcend that status.

Any memories of any of the other celebrated Italian genre directors you wrote for? Say, Sergio Martino or Antonio Margheriti?

I don’t remember much about writing for Martino. We didn’t get on and never really connected. I helped out the production company Dania (which was by run by Sergio’s brother Luciano) a couple of times, but that was about it.

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I have good memories of Margheriti, even if he did not always “get” what I was doing. We collaborated on a good movie called Apocalypse Tomorrow, a bad title imposed by the producer to suggest a link with the Coppola movie (and released in anglophone markets as Cannibal Apocalypse, of course – BF) then a Vietnam War movie, The Last Hunter… another exploitive title. We worked well together, though I recall that Antonio paid little attention to the screenplays and was always in a hurry to get on set, where he would be able to fix any problems… he was a typical “on set” kind of guy.

Please tell us about writing Il Diabolo Sulle Colline, the last film of the great Cottofavi…

It originated from a casual meeting, arranged by the producer Pescarolo. We worked together for about three months on the adaptation of a difficult novel by Cesare Pavese. The work was edgy. Vittorio Cottafavi was a great director but very bourgeois, without great ambitions, a gentleman who was already satisfied with his life. He didn’t want to take any risks, he felt safe within a certain classic tradition. He was very good technically but had a very old-fashioned mentality. The film’s theme was the sexual restlessness of a young married woman and the developing sexuality of three students… a “rites of passage” kind of thing. Cottafavi was very “cerebral” in way he handled this theme but it turned into one of the best films I’ve worked one, one of my personal favourites.

Was it a different thing, for instance, to write a cop film for Lenzi than it was to write one for, say, Stelvio Massi?

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Yes, with Lenzi there was more of chance than there was when working with some of the others to achieve something worth while, he was more professional and had more of a “movie culture”. Massi was a really good man but he did not have too much ambition, he was content to work without stretching himself.

From my meetings with Fulci and Lenzi it seemed to me that the former was acting up to his reputation as “difficult” and “eccentric” but that Lenzi really was a very difficult man…

Lenzi was always a very good collaborator (at least, with me) but on the set he acted up a lot. He had an abrasive character and very abrupt ways. I had a much harder time with Fulci, actually, because he was so suspicious. He was regarded as an intimidating man but he was essentially a shy one, hiding behind this mask of aggression. He delivered these ugly outbursts at the cast and crew but it was all part of an act, he was well known for it. That was a bad habit that occurred throughout the Italian cinemas of the ‘50s and ‘60s onwards, it was a period of great cynicism.

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Lucio was a good man, brought down by fate. He had problems with his health, with his family, with work but he was a professional, a great professional. His big flaw was suspiciousness. He didn’t trust anyone, always feared betrayal and being ambushed. This tendency complicated all of his relationships. When I was called by De Laurentiis to work on Sette Note In Nero, Fulci started calling me “the producers’ spy”, as if my role was to take control. I didn’t like this and here is where our mutual antipathy originated.

As well as the many personal problems Fulci suffered, it has  been suggested that he was blacklisted after some of his films (e.g. … All’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne) offended the Christian Democrat establishment… do you know if there was any truth to this?

Fulci’s career took a dip but I cannot tell you whether the thing you describe was a factor in this. The truth is that in those years there was terrorism in Italy… these were the infamous “years of lead”. Nobody went out to the movies anymore, movie production collapsed and revenue declined. It was a black era, people didn’t want to watch comedies while there was gunfire on the streets. That’s why the horror films did so well. Zombi 2 was released at the end of 1979 when the worst had passed, but those events had left this trail of blood…

Different fllms that you wrote for three different directors… Bava, Fulci and Margheriti… were banned in the UK as “video nasties”. Do you have any thoughts on this?

No, I don’t know anything about what happened.

A moral panic is what happened… Fulci’s most notorious film in the UK and other territories was The New York Ripper. Early drafts of the screenplay allegedly featured a killer suffering from progeria, an idea later recycled in Deodato’s Un Delitto Poco Comune…

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I wasn’t too involved in this movie. Fulci wanted to work with some other scriptwriters, Clerici and Mannino, who delivered a screenplay based on progeria. The killer suffered from accelerating ageing so he could escape the police, who were  looking for a young man. Ten days before shooting began, De Angelis and (especially) Fulci looked at the screenplay they had and were worried that it was going to make for a weak film. They called me and in four or five days I came up with a more traditional kind of plot about this killer of prostitutes. Fulci very much liked the idea of prostitutes being killed in the style of the historical Jack The Ripper but it’s not a movie of which I’m very fond, nor do I consider it as my own.

It’s been claimed, though I’ve never managed to spot you, that you play a member of the lynch mob in the prologue to The Beyond…

No, it wasn’t me.

Another myth debunked…

Yeah (laughs), the time comes when you have to stop believing in Santa Claus…

I’ve also been told… and hopefully this is actually correct… that you rarely visited the shoots of films you had written.

I didn’t go on film sets because the shoots tended to be short and badly organised. There was always a climate of tension and my presence would have been more of a nuisance than anything else.

Knowing what you knew about both of them, what did you think when you heard that Argento was going to produce a Fulci film?

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Do you want to know what really happened? That was a very crafty move on Dario’s part. All three of us were together for the final evening of Fantafestival at the Barberini cinema in Rome. This was the first time that Argento and Fulci were together on the same stage. There was applause for Argento, obviously, but when they presented Lucio there was a real ovation because the fans had begun to seriously love him. Dario, who is very attentive to these things, immediately turned the situation in his favour. He got up and announced, to general surprise, that he would produce Fulci’s next movie, with me writing it. As if they were hearing about the coming together of a “holy trinity”, the audience burst into frantic applause. From that moment on, Dario totally lost interest in the matter, leaving me and Fulci a free hand. Fulci wanted to make a new Mummy movie. I wrote a beautiful treatment that we sent to Los Angeles, where Dario was preparing his next movie. He hated it, flew into a rage and fired me over the phone. Lucio then began working with another writer on a House Of Wax remake but died shortly afterwards and the film was ultimately directed by Sergio Stivaletti. The irony was that two years later the Americans remade The Mummy and coincidentally, the first part of that movie was identical to my story.

When Dario was producing other directors like Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi, do you think he dominated their work in the same way that Spielberg did with Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist?

That was certainly the case with Lamberto and he tried it with Soavi too, though with less success… Soavi had his own ideas about what he wanted to do.

How much of your original work remains onscreen in La Chiesa?

This is another of those films which I did not sign. I don’t know… I just wrote a first draft of the script, then I had the usual fight with Dario. I did not see the movie so I can’t tell you what the differences are and how much of my script remains.

After several years of successful collaboration, you and Fulci fell out over the project Per Sempre…

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Per Sempre was a real bone of contention between us. We hadn’t seen each other for some time when he called me because with he was working, with Gianviti, on an incoherent project involving sex and Nazi zombies, which he eventually shot years later (This would be1988’s The Ghosts Of Sodom – BF). I wrote Per Sempre, he found a producer who never made the film and I wasn’t paid. The script remained my property and later I sold it as part a TV series, directed by Lamberto Bava. Fulci, who was going through the darkest period of his life and hadn’t worked for some time, made a big scene with the producers claiming that the property was in some way his. He loved Per Sempre and would certainly have made a better job of it than Lamberto Bava, whose direction was too “cold”. The producers offered a tiny settlement, which Fulci accepted. We made our peace a few years later but never talked again about Per Sempre.

Any final memories of Lucio Fulci and the part he played in your life and career?

Lucio and I never had a great personal relationship. We didn’t go to parties together… outside of work we saw very little of each other. We had our ups and downs, but that’s quite normal. We never really got to know each other properly but he did give me a dog – Apollo – and that’s a gesture which I remember with great fondness. In conclusion, I regarded Fulci as an excellent professional, if not exactly the greatest teacher.

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You worked with Mario Bava again, towards the end of his career, on Shock… was this kind of subtle, suggestive Horror more to his taste than the gory stuff?

Shock was conceived under another title: Al 33  Di Via Orologio Fa Sempre Freddo (“It’s Always Cold At 33 Clock Street”). Mario told me that he hated dealing with actors and joked that he would be happier working as a furniture maker so I wrote him a story about furniture possessed by the spirit of a child (my eternal theme, which I reused yet again in Per Sempre). Shock had a troubled history, the producer went out of business and it was only made five or six years later.

Is it true that Lamberto Bava collaborated on the direction of Shock?

Mario wanted to launch Lamberto as a director and so gave him credit for directing some of that film.

Can you please tell us something about the project that you and Mario Bava were working on when he died?

It was called Anomaly and was going to be produced by Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff from the American side and Lucisano in Italy. My idea was that at the edge of the Universe there was a long, tall wall dividing light from darkness, good from evil, etc… like a Gothic cathedral, the wall was covered with demonic figures, all the evils in the world were carved and animated on it. A ship arrives at the wall to look for the survivors of an accident. They walk through the only opening in the wall, an immense door and find themselves in the dark. Before them is a black river on which an “Egyptian” boat sails… essentially, this was Stargate before Stargate.

Every several years the Italian film industry manages something which reminds us of the challenging material that it regularly presented in the ’70s and early ’80s, e.g. Lamberto Bava’s The Torturer or Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa (both of which you wrote)… is it conceivable that these films could ever start to be produced in Italy again in significant numbers?

I had problems with both of those directors. Lamberto didn’t understand my screenplay, which was a kind of satire about the risks that these girls will take in search of fame and celebrity. He handed it over to two young writers who simplified it to an extent with which he was comfortable. As for Tulpa, Zampaglione emphasised its erotic aspects to the detriment of its thriller elements. Neither of these films lived up to their potential and they didn’t register with their target audiences. On the evidence of those experiences, the answer to your question is… no, I don’t think so.

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Tulpa (top)… Zampaglione and Sacchetti (above)

– Fine –

The suggestion, from somebody who worked so closely with him, that Lucio Fulci had no interest or involvement in Horror before getting the Zombi 2 gig (for which he was, let it be remembered, third choice) might disappoint some Fulci fanatics but it does support what has so often been said about his ability to adapt with ease to any genre in which he was required to work. When you consider that this Horror novice made his Pasta Paura debut with that eye-popping classic and within the space of three years had clocked up another masterpiece (The Beyond) alongside such strong contenders as City Of The Living Dead, House By The Cemetery and The New York Ripper (a giallo, for sure, but one with strong Horror overtones) as well as such underrated oddities as The Black Cat and Manhattan Baby… the mind fair boggles!

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An Ideal Place To Kill… OASIS OF FEAR Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Ray. Adios, Umberto…

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“I Made A Film With George Peppard, you know!” The Extremely Grumpy UMBERTO LENZI Interview

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It was 20 years ago (and then some), in May 1997 that the boy Freudstein interviewed Umberto Lenzi. I’d been avidly anticipating our encounter and surely all those warnings about what a hard-ass he was were, for the most part, hyperbole? Read on and weep…

Signor Lenzi, I was speaking to Sage Stallone and his partner Bob Murawski recently, about their definitive laser disc release of Cannibal Ferox… are you surprised that these films still have a large international cult following, so many years after their release?

In the case of Cannibal Ferox, yes, because for me that one is a very minor movie. I don’t like it so much… in my opinion, I made other movies that were much better. I like Paranoia very much, with Carroll Baker, and also some of the action movies that I made were better movies, like Violent Naples and Roma A Mano Armata… my war movies too, like Contro Quattro Badiere, Il Grande Attaco and La Legione Dei Dannati. For me the cannibal movies are not so important, so I am very surprised, yes, that they have enjoyed international success for all these years.

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Were you surprised to learn that somebody like Tarantino is very familiar with your films?

No, I’m not surprised because I know that before he started directing, he worked in a video store and was a big fan of European movies. So it’s no surprise… in fact, nothing surprises me any more, because the motion picture audience is strange, really strange… but you know the thriller movies I made, yes?

The gialli? Sure I do… I’m very interested in the way that European films, particularly Italian films, have had this unacknowledged influence on American films…

Yes… in the 70’s we had a thriving industry producing thrillers, westerns, cop films and so on, but now the Italian industry is completely dead. Twenty years ago we had good directors like Sergio Leone, Corbucci, many horror directors, and Italian genre pictures were very successful. These days… in my opinion, it’s the emphasis on special effects that has killed the fantasy and the talent of the directors. Three days ago I saw the famous American success The Rock, starring Sean Connery, and I thought it was a very bad movie, because the story was a very stupid, Rambo-like story, with many effects, explosions, crashes… I’d seen it all before. For me there have been only two great American films in recent years, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I don’t like all these stupid special effects as in Independence Day and Waterworld… these films are just stupid. You remember Make Them Die Slowly?

Cannibal Ferox?

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Cannibal Ferox, yes, it was made with hardly any money, about $100,000 because we shot this movie with a crew of about 10-12 people in the jungle without any resources but with a very important idea in there. The motion picture industry in America right now is effects, effects, effects, and that means money, money, money…

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

Of course, it’s impossible for us to compete.

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

The Italian industry is now finished for action and spectacular movies, because the Italian producers and the directors make only intimate, small stories. Argento can do it, but even for him it’s very difficult. The others have all disappeared…. me, Castellari, Valerii… and Fulci is now dead, of course. Corbucci, too…

I was going to ask you for your memories of Lucio Fulci…

We were friends because we both started off in the 50’s and I was assistant director on a movie with him. He was a good director, made something like a hundred pictures in every genre, but he died a poor man…. very poor.

Another of your former collaborators, Massaccesi, only keeps working by churning out pornos now…

Massaccesi is a very strange person… I’d rather not talk about him, OK?

OK… is it true that early on in your career you worked on an Esther Williams movie?

Yes, Wind In Eden…

That’s something you’ve got in common with Fidel Castro, then!

I started as assistant director to Mr Richard Wilson, he was a very close friend of Orson Welles. He produced Welles’ Macbeth and he was in the cast of Citizen Kane. I was very happy to begin my working life with him. He died last year. All of this happened 40 years ago, of course, when I was in my twenties. Two days ago I watched the film on video with my wife, because it is the first experience of my cinematic life. The film was shot in my home-town…

In Tuscany?

On the Tuscan coast, yes, and I scouted the locations for Mr Wilson.

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You must have had a knack for scouting talent too, because I believe you discovered Ornella Muti…

Yes, when she was only 16 she made her first or maybe her second film appearance in my film…

A Quiet Place To Kill?

Yes, Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere. It wasn’t a good movie. I made a mistake, because I wanted to make a movie like Easy Rider, a post-1968 movie…

… for the youth market…

… for the youth market, yes, but the producer was saying to me: “Umberto, your film with Carroll Baker, Paranoia, has been a big success in The States, so you must try to repeat the formula”. So by adding the thriller aspect, the movie ended up as a strange mix between Easy Rider and Paranoia, which did not really work.

The movies with Carroll Baker, and other gialli made by your colleagues in Italy have been very influential on the international thriller scene…

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Maybe…

You can see the influence in US blockbusters like Basic Instinct.

Yes, other journalists have claimed that my movies like Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse have influenced American movies… maybe, but these three movies starring Carroll Baker – and Spasmo, which I made later – are intelligent exploitations of human craziness, because we have the situation of a protagonist who is not good but is not all bad… the innocent and guilty people are the same, because for me in those movies the important thing was to demonstrate that the human mind is capable of both good and evil, you understand?

Sure. How would you compare and contrast your giallo films with those of say, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino?

Look, these three movies I made with Carroll are crazy, and just a little sexy, with stories about protagonists who are morally ambiguous. They are completely different from the movies of Dario Argento, because Argento is more concerned with serial killers and blood. My movie Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso… I don’t know the English title…

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

Yes, that one is nearer to the Argento way of filming, but the sexy thrillers starring Carroll Baker are completely different. Sergio Martino’s films are more similar to my movies, because he worked as production manager on some of mine, and took many ideas from them. After Argento changed the rules of the genre, many producers and directors made movies in his style, with the blood and the serial killers and the strange murders by the figure in black… I made one too, Sette Orchidee , but this is completely different from my earlier films Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse…

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

There’s a power-tool killing in Brian De Palma’s Body Double that many viewers find suspiciously similar to Marisa Mell’s death scene in Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso…

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Maybe, I can’t say because I’m a director rather than a critic. I will say that for me, Brian De Palma is one of the best movie directors in the world. I love his work very much, but in the history of motion pictures, every director has learned something from others, directly or indirectly. I love Hitchcock very much and many times, maybe unintentionally, I show that influence. In many people’s movies we see again the shower scene from Psycho. Maybe indirectly I have taken things from other directors, for example I love very much some directors from the 40’s, like Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak. When I made my final movie with Carroll Baker, Il Coltello Di Ghiaccio / The Dagger Of Ice, I was unconsciously influenced by Siodmak’s film…

The Spiral Staircase…

…The Spiral Staircase, yes, but not intentionally, because the situation is different. Instead of being the victim, Carroll is the murderer.

Another giallo you made was Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro…

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

It’s quite a confused little film, and I heard that you never actually met the writer and producer, Felix Tussell…

Felix Tussell, yes, but that isn’t so unusual. It was an Italo-Spanish co-production, you know, and in these circumstances you don’t always meet all the people involved in making the picture. That’s another one which was more in the Argento style…

Argento co-wrote your 1969 film Legion Of The Damned, and I gather that he hung around the set and picked up quite a lot from you…

I think so… we worked together for two months, but after it came out I lost touch with him. 20 or 25 years later, I saw him in Rome at Lucio’s funeral. Dario is a big director, a very good director, but he doesn’t love me, I think, because he has never spoken of me in any of his interviews, and although he is a producer of other directors, he has never called me to direct a picture. I don’t know why, because when we met at the funeral he was saying: “Umberto, come here, how are you?” and all of this.

He’s reputedly a very difficult man to get close to.

Maybe… a strange man. But when we met in ‘69 we worked together for two months, he was very young and he loved me, but then we lost contact with each other.

You have this ongoing dispute with Ruggero Deodato over which of you is the originator of the Italian cannibal movie…

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(Animatedly) I don’t want to discuss this foolish dispute, because if you know my movies, it is perfectly clear that I started these films with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale, two years before he made his first cannibal film… and he only got to make that because I refused to do the sequel, Mondo Cannibale 2, so the producers hired Deodato instead. That’s the story… the first cannibal film in the Italian cinema was Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale or The Man From Deep River.

Are you aware of the censorship problems with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (as Deep River Savages) and Cannibal Ferox in the UK, where they were dubbed “video nasties”?

All I can say is to repeat that for me, these films are not very important, so I have not followed their censorship problems in other countries. Some people have told me of some strange situations abroad, where the films cannot be distributed, but in Italy I have never had any problems with them.

I thought you might be amused to hear that here in the UK, there are crazy politicians and journalists who believe that people were really eaten in these films!

(Tut-tutting) No… no… look, for me, I think the interest shown in these movies is not about love of motion pictures, rather about cynicism and sadism. I made many good movies… like Il Grand Attaco with Henry Fonda and John Huston, why has nobody ever interviewed me about this movie? Or From Hell To Victory, a very good movie starring George Peppard… but people just keep asking me about Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive, two small movies without actors… without anything! It’s very strange…

You consider these minor movies, yet a film like Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio has definitely exerted an influence, shall we say, over big-budgeted American productions like John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest…

Maybe… again I say that a lot of people see each other’s movies – Italian, American -and the influences go backwards and forwards. That’s only normal…

Early in your career you made many costume dramas like Catherine The Great and action / adventure movies like Il Trionfo Di Robin Hood and Zorro Vs Maciste…

Well I was very young, these were my first movies…

 … Sandokan…

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Sandokan is a good movie, it was made for MGM and it was the first Italian adventure movie shot completely in India.

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

My movie Sandokan influenced Italian directors so much that thirty years later, they have shot another Sandokan movie in India using the same locations…

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

I don’t know, I didn’t see it… why should I be interested when I already did it thirty years ago?

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

Yeah, recently on a German satellite channel. It’s like an “Indiana Jones” picture before its time…

Yes, many people have said that to me. For me that is one of my best movies, I love it very, very much. It’s more important than Cannibal Ferox, because we shot it in Indian locations in an ironic style, you understand, like they did twenty years later in Indiana Jones, but without any money for special effects. I remember that we had a crew of about 15 people and we were shooting with many, many difficulties. All the Indian actors were not really actors, but real-life people. It was not so easy in the 60’s to shoot such fantasy pictures in these kind of locations, so I’m very proud of films like La Montagna Di Luce and I Tre Sergenti Del Bengala, my last movie in India…

After that you specialised in spy films for a while, and adaptations of fumetti comic strips like Kriminal…

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Yes, for me Kriminal was an intelligent attempt to mix comic books with motion-pictures, in the same way that Montana Di Luce was action-adventure shot in an ironic context. I have made about 63 movies… I have no time to talk about all my movies… I am tired.

What about a movie you didn’t get to make… The Invisible Man?

I wrote the screenplay for that one but the producer refused to make it because it would have cost a lot. Round about this time another Italian director, Alberto De Martino, made a movie in London called Puma Man, which was a big box-office flop, so then the producer was afraid to finance my movie.

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When you made Black Demons in Brazil, you filmed an actual voodoo ceremony… did this lead to any brushes with the supernatural?

Well maybe, because from then till now only bad things have happened to me! I prefer not to speak about it. Like I say, I am tired… (Abruptly) I’m going now. Please send me a copy of your interview with Tarantino.

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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And that was it. My audience was abruptly terminated and my questions about Lenzi’s Crime Slime epics, among many other aspects of his career, had been prepared in vain. The next time I ran into him, at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 2013, we got along much better (as the above photo hopefully indicates). It probably helped that I wasn’t there to interview him, though in fact I very much doubt that he remembered our previous interaction. Anyway, he’d just dined with Barbara Bouchet so I suspect that he had rather more pleasant things on his mind.

P.S. As I was posting this interview I heard from friends that Umberto Lenzi, now aged 86, is currently in hospital. I’m sure that all readers and supporters of The House Of Freudstein will join me in wishing him a speedy return to full and feisty good health.

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

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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!”

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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)…

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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.

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

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