Posts Tagged With: Umberto Lenzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Slashing Budgets Was His Pleasure… House Of Freudstein Is Proud To Present The FABRIZIO DE ANGELIS Interview

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(This interview was conducted at David Warbeck’s Hampstead pile, The Convent, in 1996.)

How do you remember that remarkable director, Lucio Fulci?

I used him as director for four or five pictures by my production company, Fulvia. I went around the world with Lucio, a fantastic man and a fantastic director. He has become an increasingly popular director, but I think many people still don’t realise how good he was. Although Lucio only made “B” pictures, he was one of the ten best directors in Italy.

The timing of his death was so sad, because he was about to undergo this major critical re-appraisal… books are being written about him, he was about to collaborate on a film with Dario Argento…

Fulci was the best director, not only for horror, but also for adventure, comedy… whatever: a complete director, better even than Argento. The master is Fulci. Argento comes after him, and so do all the other Italian directors. Fulci is the teacher for all.

Did you have any problems with Argento, the producer of Dawn Of The Dead aka Zombi, when you brought out Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters?

Yes, we had problems, we had to go into court with our lawyers against the lawyers of Dario Argento, over the title. We won because we were able to prove that the legend of zombies has existed for years, it cannot be copyrighted.

You first met Fulci when you were both working for the producer Edmondo Amati?

Yes, Amati was my master, I worked as his production manager for three or four years. I think I made ten or twelve pictures with him as executive producer. Later I started to produce myself, after I left Fida, but I still have a very good relationship with Amati. Anyway, in this time I met Fulci, who was making pictures like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin for Fida, and when I was about to make Zombi 2, I decided to call Fulci to direct it, because at that time he was very down: after Zombi 2 he was up again, he was doing very well.

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At one point I gather you were considering Enzo Castellari to direct Zombi 2…

This is true, Originally we called Castellari, later we decided on Fulci. This is the real  story.

How would you compare and contrast Fulci and Castellari as directors?

Castellari is a good director, very good for action pictures…

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… a real pro, though as I keep saying, Fulci was a cut above all of them.

When you started working together, did you see any evidence of Fulci’s famous eccentricity?

(Laughing) I already knew that Fulci was a strange man… the first morning when we were shooting Zombi 2 in Manhattan, with the boat in the harbour, we had many problems… which is pretty normal for me. Fulci seemed to be very angry as we were trying to get the first shot, and suddenly he announced that he wasn’t going to do it. I called Lucio over with the rest of the crew, and I said: “Bye bye, if you won’t do it, then the picture is finished” Suddenly he was no longer furious, he said: “I’m only joking, I’ll get to work”… a fantastic character!

I heard that the original guy who was made up as a zombie to fight the shark underwater had a panic attack and ran away…

Yeah, that’s right! (Laughs)

Is it true that some footage which Fulci shot for Zombi 2 ended up in Zombi Holocaust?

No, not true.

What did you think of the way the American distributors re-cut Zombi Holocaust before releasing it as Doctor Butcher M.D.?

Really? I don’t know anything about that… very strange!

Zombi 2 was a huge international success…

Yes, in the United States, all over the world… but I think The Beyond is a better picture.

That one is widely recognised as a cult classic, now…

But originally you know, it was not a great success. After two years or so, people started picking it up. If we had made that picture two years later, it would have been a big hit. It never became a big hit in terms of money, but eventually it did become a big critical success. I think it’s definitely the best picture of Fulci.

Fulci told me he was very upset about the fact that the Italian video release of The Beyond leaves out the famous pre-titles sequence…

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Maybe. I never saw the video but if Fulci said that, it must be true…

What did Fulci and Sacchetti contribute, respectively, to the conception of The Beyond?

On every picture that I made with Fulci, the idea to make the picture was mine, then I would call Sacchetti and Fulci. I gave them the idea, and then together we wrote a treatment, then the script. On The Beyond for instance, I called them and said: “Let’s make a picture about people in a house where they discover The Beyond”… this is the idea that we set out with. Sacchetti is very good for this type of picture, Fulci too of course, so it was really a collaboration between those two, to develop this idea, so when we set out to make the picture we knew what we were doing.

I know Fulci attributed much of The Beyond’s success to the fact that you were a “hands-off” kind of producer, who didn’t interfere on the creative side…

Yes, but I always stayed very close to Fulci – and also my other directors, Castellari or whoever – observing what they were doing, so when I myself started directing I knew what it was all about.

After the success you and Fulci had with Zombi 2, how come he made City Of The Living Dead for Dania / Medusa?

In this time I made many films with Fulci. I had like an exclusive contract with him, but I gave him a permit for two or three months to go and make that film with somebody else… mostly in that three or four years, however, he worked only with me, and we made five pictures together.

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You had censorship problems with The New York Ripper…

Where?

It was banned in the United Kingdom…

I don’t remember this. We didn’t have any problems with this picture in other markets… I remember I was producing New York Ripper at the same time as one of Castellari’s Bronx Warriors films, and I had the Fulci troupe and the Castellari  troupe together in the same hotel…

I don’t think Fulci was very fond of Castellari…

They were OK. I think he was jealous because some evenings I went to dinner with Castellari… other evenings I would go with Fulci. Maybe there was friction because they were both very strong characters and I had both of them in the hotel, during the last week of Fulci’s shoot for New York Ripper… Castellari was looking at locations for the Bronx Warriors film, which we were going to start the next week.

I believe you and Fulci argued over the Egyptian prologue to Manhattan Baby, which he didn’t want to shoot…

Yeah.

I actually love that movie, though it’s generally regarded as your weakest collaboration with Fulci…

I like the movie too, but it wasn’t very well understood. It wasn’t a particularly strong movie, but a good atmospheric one. I like it a lot, and I think it will be rediscovered one day.

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Why was your working relationship with Fulci not continued after Manhattan Baby?

We didn’t collaborate again because many producers called Fulci, he went on to make Conquest for another producer… Giovanni Di Clemente gave him a contract for two years.

It didn’t work out very well for him, though… I gather they ended up fighting each other in court!

Yeah, they did.

Are you surprised that all these movies you made such a long time ago have this growing cult following, all these magazines dedicated to them, and so on?

No, I’m not surprised that people are still interested in these Fulci movies, in fact I am convinced that with the passing of time, more and more people will discover Fulci, realise how good he really was and learn from his work.

In retrospect, was Fulci as “difficult” a man as he’s been painted?

Sure, Fulci could be difficult to work with, but a lot of this was down to the fact that his first love was the movie, and people came a very definite second with him. To me he was a nice man, a nice collaborator, but he was certainly a perfectionist, he always wanted to get the best out of the people he worked with…

He had this fantastic team around him for the pictures that he made with you…

Fulci knew very well the right people to make a picture with. Sometimes he would tell me that there was a particular person that he didn’t like, but he knew that the person was good for the picture, so he would call him. He always called the best people… everybody says that Lucio Fulci was difficult, but the really difficult person is Umberto Lenzi… a very, very difficult person.

In the early days of your career you were production manager on Lenzi’s crime flick Violent Naples (1976) …

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Later I produced his film Cop Target, with Robert Ginty… Umberto is a good director, but not a very nice person.

You’ve also worked with Aristide Massaccesi…

I worked with him about twenty years ago, we produced two pictures together (Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade and Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals – BF). He’s a good man, a good technical director, though not on the same level as Lucio Fulci. Now, many years on, Massaccesi works in only one line, the “sexy” line, and I think he is the star of that line, as “Joe D’Amato”…

He only makes “hard” pictures now…

Yes, he changed directions, and he is a big name in sexy movies.

That’s the only way he can make money now… it’s a bad time for film-making in Italy, isn’t it?

Sure, it’s not a good moment for our type of picture.

What went wrong? Even ten years ago, there were so many pictures being made, now virtually nothing…

The problem is the dominance of American films… the Italians only do comedy films with no international appeal, the American pictures come along with their 100 million dollar budgets… it’s impossible for us to make the same picture. We can compete with the United States for ideas, but not with the money, it’s impossible. Our type of picture is finished, mostly because the Germans are not buying them anymore. They’d rather buy one American picture that makes lots of money than ten of our little pictures. The same in Japan, they know it will make a lot of money theatrically and on TV. Now we make just comedies and some pictures for television.

Do you have any hopes for an improvement in the situation?

I hope that in two or three years we will make the money with Europe, it will go well. We need two or three years…

What, more co-productions?

Yeah… another two years, also because the new generation of film-makers is not ready yet. Right now they’re young, they don’t speak German, Spanish or whatever. Another two years and we will be making big productions with Europe…

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Looking back again, you produced Alberto Martino’s picture 7 Hyden Park… I gather that he and the star of the picture, David Warbeck, didn’t get on very well…

Yeah (laughs)

You produced another of David’s pictures, Quella Villa In Fondo Al Parco aka Ratman, supposedly with Giuliano Carnimeo directing, though I’ve heard that you actually directed most of the picture…

Yeah…

Was he not up to the job?

Carnimeo was a director of Italian comedies, and he could not adapt to this different type of picture…

Unlike Fulci, who was so versatile…

Yeah.

How did you find this tiny Guy, Nelson De La Rosa, who plays Ratman?

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This was strange – I was in Santa Domingo to produce a picture called, er…

Overthrow?

Overthrow, yeah…  and one time I was in this bar with two actors, setting up a shot. They were sitting at a table, and suddenly I noticed that the table-cloth was moving. I was wondering what was under there, and suddenly a very little man ran out from under the table. Immediately I said to one of my crew: “Get the number of this man, I’m going to make a picture with him… I’ll call it Ratman!” So I got on with the job, and at the end of the day I was given the number. I called him, and we made the picture three months later…

David Warbeck had already made a movie called Panic with Tonino Ricci, a few years earlier. In that one he also fights a rat monster, and he even has the same co-star…

Yeah, Janet Agren.

Some sources claim that a sequel was made to Quella Villa, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about it…

No, there was no sequel.

You worked with Luigi Cozzi on Paganini Horror…

Cozzi is really a writer… he has a lot of good ideas about effects and so on, but I don’t really consider him to be a director. He doesn’t understand anything about timing…

What was the exact extent of Daria Nicolodi’s participation in that picture?

Nothing much… Cozzi knows her, and because she was the partner of Dario Argento, we thought it would help to sell the picture to have her name associated with it.

Why did you start to direct your own pictures, from Thunder onwards?

I was in America and I had just completed the last of the Fulci films and the last Bronx Warriors film, and my plan was to make another film, three months later, in Arizona. That was Thunder.

You had the same actor, Mark Gregory a.k.a. Marco De Gregorio…

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Yes, and I wanted Castellari to direct it again, but by this time Castellari had signed contracts with other companies… you know, when I took Fulci, Fulci was down; when I took Castellari, Castellari was down… after they made pictures with me, they were doing well again. Fulci and Castellari are the best directors for my type of picture, but  they were both committed to other projects. There were no other available directors that I liked, so I decided to direct Thunder myself, that’s all there was to it.

Did you find it easy or difficult to step into directing?

Not difficult, because I always watched my directors closely and was able to pick up what they had been doing. Thunder was an adventure film and it went very well, having great success in the United States and all over the world.

When you are producing and directing the same picture, does De Angelis the director fight with De Angelis the producer over budgets…

Yeah, there is a conflict… I tend to give other directors bigger budgets than I give myself.

Whatever happened to Mark Gregory? He was a crazy, mixed-up kid, by all accounts…

He was stupid because I wanted to send him to the United States to study English and sign him to a 2-3 years contract, but another producer called and offered him a lot of money to do one picture, after which he was finished.

A bad career decision…

Yeah, he disappeared after that.

I interviewed another actor that you worked with, Giovanni Lombardo Radice…

Oh yes, he was a nice boy…

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“Who, me? Aw, shucks!”

He said that you gave him a really hard time on the film Deadly Impact…

Yeah?

Was he complaining too much, or was that true?

It’s true, yeah (laughs).

You directed Killer Crocodile, then you produced the sequel with make-up effects ace Giannetto De Rossi directing…

Yeah…

Has he got it in him to succeed as a director?

I don’t think so. It was my fault, I needed to have a big crocodile, and the only man in Italy who could make it was Giannetto de Rossi. He really is the top man for special effects, and he should stick to what he is best at, but I knew that he wanted to direct, so I called him and told him that if he made me a big crocodile for the first picture, I would let him direct the second… my fault.

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You were dissatisfied with the job he did on Killer Crocodile 2… is that why the film is padded with a lot of footage from its predecessor?

Yes, to cover the gaps.

You recently made Favola, a kind of fairy-story, again with David Warbeck…

Yeah… Favola is a TV Movie. We used the girl  Ambra Angiolini, because she is a real phenomenon with the young people in Italy right now.

What about our host today, David Warbeck… what are the qualities that have led to you using him in your films again and again?

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David is the best actor I know, there is no type of role that he cannot cover. He is such a friend, I can call him from anywhere in the world and he will arrive, even if he has not seen a script, because there is such trust between us, you know? This is very important…

Do you have any projects that you are keeping up your sleeve until the market is ready for them?

For some time now, maybe five years. I have been making pictures for young people, 10-15 years old, and now I feel that I want to make something stronger, like the films I did with Lucio Fulci.

Some of your former collaborators, when I interviewed them, complained that you made a lot of money from these films, and they didn’t. I think it’s only fair that I give you a chance to reply here…

Well, I pay as much as anybody else pays and you know, many of the people who complain are still working for me, so I can’t be that bad. Another thing – they only remember the pictures that went well, but they shouldn’t forget that for every Zombi 2, there are several Manhattan Babys!

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Two Fat Ladies… A Round Up Of Elusive 88 FILMS BD RELEASES

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… elusive to me, anyway, as I haven’t had much luck getting review copies out of 88 Films. That is, of course, their prerogative, but I did think they might have sent me the promised copy of their Burial Ground disc, for which Calum Waddell and I supplied the commentary track. As it is I had to wait to catch up with that and other of their releases until Fopp started unloading them dirt cheap, at which point I left said store clutching the following load (god, my right arm hasn’t ached so much since I got that Cindy Crawford workout video)…

Burial Ground (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Blastfighter (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Deep River Savages (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Spasmo (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 15.)

So, something approaching three years after actually recording it, I finally got to hear my commentary track on Burial Ground. I’d been worrying that it would make me sound like a total dickhead, so it was quite a relief to discover that I only came out of it sounding like a bit of a dickhead. Some of those who’ve enjoyed / endured this commentary question why I spent so much of it talking about myself and my involvement in the ’80s / ’90s fanzine scene rather than the film in question. The simple answer is that these were the subjects which Calum was asking me about. I’m not going to say much about the film here, either, having recently reviewed Severin’s BD edition of Burial Ground elsewhere on this blog. The Severin jobby looks sharper and boasts better extras (apart from the above mentioned boy genius commentary track) but there’s some good stuff here, too.

Mikel J. Koven, esteemed author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, an academic with an obvious penchant for sleaze, gives an overview of Andrea Bianchi’s career with special focus on the prevalence in it of less than subtley handled incest motifs which causes him to exclaim “What The Fuck?” so many times that this expression becomes the actual title of his featurette. Having pondered his C.V. long and hard, Koven concludes that Bianchi is either a genre satirist (when I watch that J&B placement shot, I could almost believe it), (possibly) a Marxist or maybe “just not a very good director.” It’s over to you, readers…

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Peter Bark, yesterday…

You also get the “35mm Grindhouse version”, should you want to watch such a knackered-looking thing and 10 minutes of “mute” deleted scenes (dialogueless but synched up to soundtrack music)… if only we could hear what they’re saying to each other in these resurrected sequences, maybe the added context would have established Burial Ground as some kind of avant garde masterpiece. Michael even gets an “alas, poor Yorick!” moment… alas, I’d love to have heard his soliloquy while contemplating that skull and learn if he found it to be worse smelling than that cloth which smelled of Death. Plus reversible sleeve, trailers for Burial Ground and Zombi Holocaust and so on…

Among several other aliases (a death cloth by any name would smell as bad), this monstrosity was known as Zombi 3… as were several other pictures, notably the Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei 1987 mess, er, collaboration now released by 88 as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, a title that could have been specifically coined to underline the degree to which Fulci’s fortunes and output had declined since he poked out Mrs Menard’s eyeball less than a decade earlier. Indeed, Fulci only directed a few scenes in this one before failing health, among other factors, obliged him to bail and leave the film for producer Mattei to “finish off”… in every sense of that phrase.

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Bacteriological weaponry and international espionage here supplant perverse medical science as the root of the zombie scourge, when a bungled attempt to burgle a canister of “Death 1” leads to bubonic infestation for the thief and everybody else in the hotel where he was staying. The inevitable ABC-suited SWAT Team arrives to shut down the hotel and liquidate all its residents. The film’s debt to George Romero’s Day Of The Dead (1985) immediately becomes evident in the ongoing squabble between scientists and the military over how to contain this outbreak. Ignoring scientific advice, the soldiers cremate the first batch of victims and – before you can say Return Of The Living Dead – a busload of sex-crazed girls is being buzzed by a flock of zombie seagulls (makes a change from Mattei’s usual rat fixation, I suppose.)

The increasingly ridiculous narrative unfolds to the Greek chorus accompaniment of “Blueheart”, a right-on radio DJ whose infuriating, interminable eco-babble provokes one imminent zombie victim to complain” “I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint sometimes and every so often I like to piss on a bush, OK?” As the crisis escalates, Blueheart’s bulletins are periodically punctuated by lists of emergency hospitals, read out by a guy glorifying in the name of Vince Raven… like, right on Vince baby! Pass on our regards to your brother Mike, celebrated elsewhere on this blog during our Crucible Of Terror review.

“Plot” is pretty soon reduced to an ever decreasing number of survivors running around in ever decreasing circles, a succession of run-ins with zombies and “decontamination squads” blowing away anything that moves. Of course the “unexpected” shooting of a heroic male lead is duly trotted out. Yep, he fell for the oldest trick in the book of the dead! Assorted other “highlights” include the moment when a character with the munchies opens a fridge, only to be attacked by an even hungrier zombie head that flies out at him, on obvious wires, from behind the McCain oven chips. Look out also for the Caesarian birth of an undead baby that immediately sets about gnoshing on the midwife who delivered it. The surviving human characters fly off in  a Romero-esque chopper, vowing: “We’re coming back… to win! Otherwise, humanity’s done for!”

Mattei’s crowning idiocy apes the unforgettable voice-over outro of Zombie Flesh Eaters, with Blue-heart revealed as a badly made up zombie, broadcasting immortal vibes: “New horizons have opened up… this is now the New World, Year Zero, so there’s lots of work to be done. I’ll dedicate the next record to all of the undead across the world…” Zombietastic, great mate!

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DJ Blueheart, before and after ingestion of Death 1… just say no, kids!zombie-dj.jpg

88’s BD transfer looks just fine (as fine as it’s ever going to look, given Riccardo Grassetti’s bog standard cinematography) and sounds OK (special mention for the awful, albeit infectious shrieky hair rock anthem that plays over the credits.) Bonus materials include interviews with Claudio Fragasso (sporting interesting ethnic headwear) and prolific zombie movie star Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, from each of whom you’ll get a few new pointers on exactly who directed what in this troubled production. The Catriona MacColl interview is of dubious relevance but it’s always great to see her and hear what she has to say about working with Fulci (she has plenty to say on that and many other subjects in our Catriona MacColl interview, elsewhere on this blog.) Female lead Beatrice Ring reads her answers to a bunch of questions over a series of stills of her gurning in the movie. She expresses bewilderment that any actor would have anything nice to say about working with Fulci and charts her progress from a vacuous bimbo who only got into movies because she had run up a big debt buying designer clothes, to a spiritually aware person who works for the end of racism and war. Bless her. She also provides some further clues as which bits were directed by whom.

All I could get out of Fulci on the direction of Zombi 3, when interviewing him on the occasion of Eurofest 1994, was: “That one was finished by Bruno Mattei because the producers were very strange people… I had to escape from there on an aeroplane!” Perennially prone to standing up producers, Fulci was signed to direct the original version of Blastfighter, an adventure yarn focussing on futuristic weaponry which mutated, after his secession from the project, into a fusion of First Blood (1982) and Deliverance (1972.) Hard to see why it needed four extra writers (including eventual director Lamberto Bava) to fashion Dardano Sacchetti’s original concept into this.

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Like his father before him, Lamberto Bava came up with a belting horror effort (Macabre, 1980) for his directorial debut, before turning his hand to whatever genre was currently packing them in at Italian cinemas. He didn’t execute his genre hopping anything like as skilfully as the great Mario managed, nevertheless cranking out some satisfying efforts en route to TV movie mediocrity. Blastfighter (signed off under Bava’s pseudonymous paraphrase of his dad’s former glories, “John Old Jr” in 1984) is undoubtedly one of them though to rate it (as Quentin Tarantino did to me) as Bava Jr’s best picture is surely hyperbolic.

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“Head for the canoe, quick… I hear banjos!”

Jake “Tiger” Sharp (Michael Sopkiw) is a former cop who went all Charles Bronson on the ass of the slimeball who killed both his wife and his partner. Coming out of chokey, he considers bumping off the killer’s lawyer with a high-powered assault rifle that one of his friends acquired for him (basically this thing will launch anything short of nukes) but opts instead to renounce any further violence and lose / find himself in the backwards back woods of Georgia where he grew up (though the irritatingly catchy theme song, which sounds like a Starland Vocal Band B-side but turns out to be a Bee Gees number, keeps name-checking Arizona.) Wherever the fuck he is, our boy Tiger is looking for a bit of contemplative peace and quite. Fat chance… slack jawed yeehawing yokels are soon taking the piss and though he laughs that off, his Zen-like mellow is irretrievably harshed when he discovers their cruel trade in wounded live animals for the Chinese medicine market. Like a before-his-time Steven Seagal, Tiger dispenses some serious ass kicking (admittedly without such signature Seagal moves as breaking people’s arms, throwing them through plate glass or kicking them in the testicles till they stagger around groaning “my balls… my balls!”)

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Things start looking up when his estranged daughter Connie (Valentina Forte) introduces herself but take another pronounced downward turn when the inbred hill-billies take it upon themselves to kill her, her boyfriend (Michele Soavi) and yet another cop who made the mistake of being one of Tiger’s old colleagues. Breaking out his big gun, Tiger zaps them all to yokel Hell before the climactic confrontation with his old nemesis, Tom (our old pal “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori.) Bava makes exemplary use of his beautiful rural locations and has a serious message for us, to wit: “There’ll never be an answer to violence!” As if to ram home this very point, his next cinematic outing was the eye-wateringly OTT splatterfest Demons (1985.)

American actor Michael Sopkiw parlayed a passing resemblance to Franco Nero into a mid-80s Italian acting career that took in all of four films – this and Bava Jr’s oddball Jaws variant from the same year, Devouring Waves, topped and tailed with Sergio Martino’s entertaining entry in the post-Apocalyptic stakes, 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s awful last gasp cannibal effort, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985.) All of this is small beer compared to Sopkiw’s real life adventures, which include a year’s imprisonment for smuggling Marijuana into the US… so his role in Blastfighter as an ex-jailbird wasn’t too much of a (sorry!) stretch, then. He now spends his time promoting the use of “natural healing remedies.” Hmm…

Apart from a nice looking transfer of Blastfighter, 88’s release includes an interview with DP Gianlorenzo Battaglia, various trailers and of course you get a reversible sleeve.

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“George Eastman”, who actually puts in a pretty good performance in Blastfighter, appeared in any amount of Joe D’Amato outrages, though he’s conspicuous by his massive absence from D’Amato’s Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals aka Trap Them And Kill Them (1976.) This represents Joe’s second, third or possibly fourth (who can say, he was churning out several titles a year by this point) “Black Emanuelle” effort after he’d hi-jacked the franchise from Adalberto Albertini and is a co-production with Fabrizio De Angelis for their company Fulvia Cinematografica, though the partnership survived only one more film (1978’s Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade.)

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E&TLC claims to be “a true story, reported by Jennifer O’Sullivan”… sure thing, you guys! Gemser’s Emanuelle is an investigative reporter, which apparently involves her in sneaking around mental hospitals with a camera concealed in a teddy bear (?) She comes over all tabloid moralistic when a nurse is bitten while molesting a disturbed female patient (“She’ll be OK but she lost her breast… she had it coming”) but has no qualms whatsoever about pursuing a scoop by masturbating the same patient, who boasts a distinctive tribal tattoo on her pubic area. When she mentions this to hunky anthropologist Mark Lester (!) he invites her back to his place but not with the intention of showing her his etchings… oh no, he shows her anthropological footage of castration and cannibalism, which somehow convinces her to sleep with him. The Prof is played by Gemser’s real-life husband and frequent screen partner Gabriele Tinti… I often wonder if that’s how he wooed her in real life!

They abscond to The Amazon (actually an Italian park) to hook up with Donald O’Brien and giallo stalwart “Susan Scott” (Nieves Navarro), who are encountering a few difficulties in their relationship (“You’re just a tramp!” he chides her. “… and you’re an IMPOTENT!” she spits back, cuttingly albeit ungrammatically.) Their soap operatic distractions are put firmly into perspective when the cannibals turn up to dismember and eat them and various camp followers, all recorded in excruciatingly dull detail by D’Amato amid a plethora of unconvincing, not-so-special FX and to the accompaniment of an original sound track that sounds like some demented, retarded ancestor of Groovejet. Of course, various people take time out from dodging cannibals to have sex and at one point a chimpanzee savours a fine cigar while watching them at it… only in a Joe D’Amato film!

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The climax is a real hoot, with Gemser and Tinti looking on from the bushes, calmly swapping anthropological observations as their friends are done away with (O’Brien torn limb from limb, inconvincingly, in a tug-o-war). Eventually she’s moved to discard her clothes and impersonate a water goddess, a spectacle that has to be seen to be disbelieved, likewise Gemser’s closing speech, delivered as though she’s in the throes of a major stroke. Last Cannibals enjoyed a theatrical release (minus all the gore) over here, playing to packed houses of old guys in dirty macs.

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88’s release does seem, as promised, to be uncut though one imagines there could well be versions floating around in some territories that have been recut with hard core inserts, standard operating procedure for D’Amato. Sometimes with these HD upgrades you wonder why they bothered, but E&TLC does look really good, significantly better than 88’s release of its companion piece Zombi Holocaust, even though the improved picture quality does make the stroboscopic alternation of day and night shots within certain scenes even more obvious (the amount of times they say “We’ll wait until dawn” with the sun beating down on them!) Although I’ve criticised the acting in this film on many occasions, on reflection those who dubbed it must take their share of the blame, though I still think Gemser’s got to carry the  can for that lumpen closing soliloquy (“Maggie and Donald with their…” what, now?) No significant extras beyond the obvious.

I’m told that Ruggero Deodato got really pissed off, when he watched Calum Waddell’s Eaten Alive documentary, at my suggestion that D’Amato pre-empted his Cannibal Holocaust here with his use of fim-within-a-film and by setting the action of E&TLC in South America (even though the crew never got anywhere near there)… no disrespect intended, Ruggero, but hey… facts is facts! There can’t be any dispute though, that all these Italian cannibal capers (and most of their terminally non-PC) tropes) kicked off with Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 effort Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (“In The Land Of Savage Sex”)… hang on, I seem to recall Deodato disputing that, too!

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Among its many other aliases this one is also known as Sacrifice! (in the US) and Mondo Cannibale (in Europe),  but made it to pre-cert  UK VHS as Deep River Savages, courtesy of Derann. The guy who wrote the liner notes for that release sure hit a purple patch of prose: “A story of raw savagery, tribal torture and one man’s courageous fight for survival, respect and the delicate and fragile love of a beautiful native girl… a compelling film in which character relationships are brilliantly developed and a richness of human emotions are played out against the bizarre and tortuous rituals of the primitive world.” The DPP wasn’t fooled and nor should you be, for signature Lenzi sleaze is lurking, not far beneath the surface of all this hearts and flowers stuff. No matter how compelling, courageous and brilliant its depiction of delicate, fragile love and rich human emotions, Deep River Savages was also heavy on those bizarre and tortuous rituals, not to mention cannibalism and the mistreatment of animals, which in March 1984 (the height of the home video witch hunt) meant that it found its way onto the official “nasties” list, where it stayed for about a year and a half. Now, shorn of a couple of minutes of man’s inhumanity to animals (a snake being flayed, a pig gutted, a mongoose forced into a life-or-death struggle with a cobra, et al), 88 have brought it to Blu-ray in the UK as Man From Deep River.

Ivan Rassimov, on the lam after killing a native at a Thai boxing match, surveys the steamy interior and pronounces: “I’m sick to death of this trip … I wish I was at home drinking a pint”. Though we’re only scant minutes into the film, viewers will find themselves in sympathy with this verdict, as all their least favourite pieces of stock footage are trotted out yet again (if I see those bloody storks in that tree one more time…) When the cannibals roll up, Ivan tries the diplomatic approach (“Leave me alone, you bloody savages!”) but they drag him back to their village, where the first thing he witnesses is a guy getting his tongue cut out … Blood Feast has a lot to answer for! Rassimov, on the other hand, after a tricky bedding-in period, is treated to the life of Riley after he has proven his worth in fighting against neighbouring tribes and saved the chief’s son from choking to death with an impromptu tracheotomy. Most memorably, he is allowed to take part in a ritual during which the men of the village file past a hut and put their hands through a hole in the wall. The aptly named Me Me Lai (Lay, by some accounts) sits blindfolded on the other side while the men take turns squeezing her breasts and feeling between her legs.

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The budget wouldn’t stretch to a Man Called Horse-type ritual for Rassimov’s formal initiation into the tribe, so instead he is lashed to a vertical rotisserie which turns slowly as the villagers aim their blow-pipes at him through cubby-holes reminiscent of the set up in a Soho peep-show.

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This formality dispensed with, Rassimov gets down to bringing up a family with Me Me, but those neighbouring tribesmen – their faces liberally daubed with boot polish – are soon viewing her as lunch. She escapes, but one of her friends is not so fortunate, and when Rassimov catches the intruders red handed / mouthed (to the accompaniment of jolly music, as is often the way in these things) he shows how thin the veneer of civilization is by doling out summary tongue removals. Thus it comes as no surprise that even when Me Me dies of some tropical disease or other, he elects to turn his back on civilization and stay with the tribe that adopted him.

The most notorious scene of excised animal baiting here is the brutal bit of monkey business by which some unfortunate simian has the top of its head lopped off, boiled-egg style, so the tribe can snack on its warm brains for supper. A similar scene was faked up in fellow “nasty” Faces Of Death (1978) but the notoriously stingy Lenzi no doubt figured it was much less bother and expense to just chop off the unfortunate creature’s bonce and be done with it. He clearly did have resort to prosthetics when restaging this scene on a human (well, John Morghen’s) cranium during his altogether more notorious foray into cannibal country, Cannibal Ferox (1981) though further animal outrages in that one proved the rock on which personal and professional relationship between the splatter star and his terminally irascible director foundered.

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“Whaddya mean, ‘What’s my fucking motivation?’?”

Bonus materials include the expected trailers and reversible sleeve options (including the Derann “nasty” artwork) plus the short Inferno Of Innards in which Eli Roth (director of Lenzi / Deodato hommage The Green Inferno) enthuses about all things Italian and anthropophagic.  More substantial extras include Me Me Lai Bites Back, the ace Naomi Holwill documentary portrait which I review elsewhere on this blog and Calum Wadell’s commentary track. The latter certainly constitutes VFM for both Calum’s admirers and his troll following, being charactersically incessant, informative and opinionated. Travellers seeking information on how to track down many of the film’s locations will find it particularly useful. My own interest in these films centres on the specifically Italian experience of Mussolini’s frustrated neo-colonialism but it’s interesting to hear Calum rehearse the Cold War context arguments that will apparently inform his upcoming book on Cannibal Holocaust.

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Ever a busy boy, Calum also contributes a Lenzi interview that was conducted at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester (which I attended myself after something like a twenty year absence!) Mischievous as ever, Lenzi says that he’s now buried the hatchet with Deodato but can’t resist taking a few crafty digs at him. He wriggles around all over the place when any attempt is made to pin him down on the vexed question of animal abuse, contending that the decapitated money had to be killed because of an illness that it could have communicated to humans (best way to reduce the risk was to spray its brains all over the set, I guess!) Obviously mellowing in his old age, the director reveals that he no longer slams the phone down on people who ask him about Nightmare City or Cannibal Ferox (this is no mere rhetorical flourish either, he once did exactly that to me!) Yep, he still despises the latter title but after realising how much money it’s made him over the years, he’s cynically prepared to concede that it’s “a masterpiece.”

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It’s difficult to imagine any circumstances under which that appellation could be levelled at Lenzi’s Spasmo (1974.) Since I last encountered this title as a Diplomat (Videoform) VHS release much water has passed under the bridge and many Freudstein brain cells have clearly crinkled up and died, for me to have been labouring under the misapprehension that this one was (just about) worth six quid of my money… on reflection, six pence would probably be pushing it!

Mario Bava effectively invented the giallo in 1962 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and set many of its conventions with “Six Women For The Murderer” aka Blood And Black Lace (1964) but things were still pretty fluid within the genre and by the turn of the decade Bava himself was still experimenting with its possibilities in the likes of the psycho case-study Hatchet For The Honeymoon, the stylised body count effort 5 Dolls For An August Moon  (both 1970) and the grand guignol of Bay Of Blood (1971.) In the meantime Lenzi was staking out a nice little giallo niche for himself with sexually charged soapy pot boilers like Paranoia, So Sweet… So Perverse (both 1969), A Quiet Place To Kill (1970) and Oasis Of Fear (1971.) When The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, directed by Dario Argento (whom Lenzi likes to portray as a protegé of his) became a surprise international hit in 1970, however, it changed the game viz-a-viz what was expected of a giallo. Lenzi’s producer Luciano Martino transferred his patronage to his own younger bother Sergio, who effortlessly managed (with the likes of  The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key) a more contemporary and feisty overhaul of the melodramatic bonkathons that had been Lenzi’s stock-in-trade.

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Lenzi’s subsequent gialli have the feeling of a man flailing around, attempting in vain to reassert a grip on a genre that has moved on without him, thank you very much. Knife Of Ice and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (both from the same year in which Lenzi churned out Deep River Savages) are, respectively, a thinly disguised remake of Robert Siodmak’s classic The Spiral Staircase (1946) and an Italian / German co-production falling back on the latter territory’s ongoing fondness for Edgar Wallace adaptations (both genuine and bogus) with a pinch of Cornell Woolrich and added gore thrown in. 1975’s Eyeball (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) was an amusingly deranged stab at the body count format whereas Spasmo (1974)? Hmm… Spasmo is  an ill-advised attempt to do some kind of metaphysical giallo… a bit of Blow Up here, a sprinkle of Lisa And The Devil there… a suggestion of Death Laid An Egg (“Hey, you remind me of a dying chicken!” to quote one scintillating line of dialogue.) More than anything else, Spasmo brings to mind one of those swinging ’60s pictures Jesus Franco made for Harry Allan Towers, but without any of Franco’s willingness to experiment, either in visually or narrative terms.

Louche characters slip in and out of bed with each other… star Robert Hoffman might or might not have killed somebody… his brother Ivan Rassimov might or might not share the gene that drove him bonkers… but who’s been draping the woods with hanged mannequins? And does anybody who actually stays awake until the end of this thing give a flying fuck? Lenzi even manages to make genre goddess Suzy Kendall look frumpy and unalluring… a cardinal sin!

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Good points? The whole thing is dignified with a Morricone soundtrack it doesn’t really deserve (ditto the nice transfer 88 have afforded it here) and there’s a truly hysterical  trailer which will probably cause any immature schoolboys who see it to go round the playground shouting “Spasmo!” at each other… which, from a PC standpoint, isn’t very good at all, so let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

Bonus materials include the expected postcard, reversible sleeve, trailer, Italian titles and credits… but it’s the Q&A session with Lenzi from the aforementioned Manchester bash, mediated by Calum Waddell that probably makes this disc just about worthy of your attention. Lenzi had just lunched with Barbara Bouchet, a contingency which would have left me in a very good mood indeed, nevertheless he goes out of his way to justify his rep as a grumpy old man. Translator Nick Frame suffers more than anyone on account of this long-winded answers. Nevertheless, among familiar gripes, we learn such interesting stuff as how filming of The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) was complicated by an ongoing feud between stars Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli. Lenzi refuses point-blank to talk about namby-pamby animal lover John Morghen.

If you haven’t seen Spasmo and still want to after reading this review, that’s fair enough, but don’t say you weren’t warned. As I often find myself telling Kid Freudstein: “I went through this shit so you wouldn’t have to.” Caveat emptor.

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So there you go… six 88 releases… I tracked ’em down, I trapped ’em and I only killed one of them. One general bugbear, though… why do 88 discs always default right back to the starting menu when you stop them, rather than to the point where you left off?

In honour of all you Irene Miracle devotees out there, of whom there are thousands if the stats of this site are anything to go by, I’ll shortly be taking a look at the 88 Blu-ray release of Aldo Lado’s notorious Night Train Murders.

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

Irrational Express… Umberto Lenzi’s EYEBALL Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Marketing-Film. Not rated.

In her rare moments of down time, when she’s not assisting The Doc with his sewing or dragging badly dubbed Italian kids through trans-dimensional tombstone portals, Mrs Freudstein likes to relax with a nice cup of coffee and a biscuit and a bit of daytime TV. Foremost among her guilty pleasures is the Channel 4 show Coach Trip, in which the genial and ever-so-slightly camp Brendan Sheerin whisks a rotating cohort of ill-matched tourists around various European destinations. Depending on how well (or not) they perform their allotted tasks and get on with their fellow travellers, the contestants are voted off the eponymous coach until Brendan arrives at a winner. Now, just imagine if the format were tweaked ever so slightly and instead of being voted off, the participants were bumped off and had their eyes gouged out for good measure. Not very conducive to a sight seeing holiday, eh? Let’s further suppose that even when the cops are called in, they’re so loath to spoil the holiday fun that they let the coach roll on as eyeless corpses pile up in its wake… “Preposterous”, I hear you cry. And yet this is precisely the plot of Umberto Lenzi’s 1975 giallo, Eyeball (perhaps the cops wanted to keep a lid on it… lid… geddit?)

The jolly holidaymakers rolling around Catalonia on this charnel house charabanc (they even make it to Sitges though for some reason Eyeball never picked up any awards there) are  precisely the kind of motley crew that tends to end up trapped in crypts and vaults in those wonderful EC adaptations that Amicus released in the ’70s… there’s a bickering married couple, the Alvarados (played by Daniele Vargas and Silvia Solar), a bickering lesbian couple – photographer Lisa (Mirta Miller) and her model Naiba (the stunning Ines Pellegrini), a quintessential “ugly American” (Hamilton, played by John Bartha) and his jailbait daughter Jenny (Veronica Miriel), plus George Rigaud’s Reverend Bronson (!) and sexy secretary Paulette Stone (Martine Brochure.) Yep, the ingredients for this soapy slasher-on-wheels couldn’t get much cornier (cornea… geddit?) and when you top that little lot off with a randy, practical joke-playing cunt of a tour guide, Martinez (Raf Baldassarre)… you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for a holiday from hell!

When the party disembarks in Barcelona, Hamilton expresses anxiety about his daughter’s potential amorous intrigues: “I’ll boot her  rump if I catch her spooning with a boy!” Jenny’s heavy petting antics turn out to be the least of their worries, though, when a local floozy is stabbed to death and has her eye gouged out (poor Pepita!) with several of the coach party in sufficient proximity to the dirty deed to fall under suspicion. Arousing even more suspicion is Mark Burton (John Richardson), who’s trailing the coach across Catalonia in pursuit of Paulette while his wife Alma (Marta May) resides in some loony bin (how very gallant of him) and always seems to be at the scene of each subsequent eyeball atrocity. Is he the unpleasant eyeball plucker or is he being stitched up like a kipper a la Jon Finch’s character in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972)?

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Lenzi and Felix Tusell (who debuted as a co-writer on this film and was never asked to pen another!) continue to shift suspicion clumsily and mechanically around their dramatis personae. It would, perhaps, be inappropriate to describe Lenzi’s direction of this coach-bound whodunnit as “pedestrian” (yuk, yuk) so let’s just settle for “shit.” As if taking his cue from the director, the mighty Bruno Nicolai phones in one of his feeblest scores ever.

Local police honcho Inspector Tudela (Andres Mejuto) is a few days away from retirement when the massacre mobile rolls into town. No, he’s not about to be tragically offed (as would invariably be the case in an American action flick), it’s just that he was looking forward  to emptying his desk and going fishing. At this point in his career, he really can’t be arsed … pretty much like Lenzi! As previously mentioned, he just lets the coach roll on and the pile of one-eyed corpses mount up. Maybe he thinks this is the only way to draw out the killer’s identity. Maybe he doesn’t really care much for the endangered holiday makers… when one of them has her throat cut but both of her eyes are left in situ, he announces that it “wasn’t a sadistic murder”(!)

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It’s as though Lenzi, who had contributed several significant early entries to the giallo cycle (usually starring Carroll Baker) and managed to make such worthy contributions as late as Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) and the idiosyncratic Spasmo (1974) was cynically pissed off at being outstripped by Dario Argento, whom he often describes as his protege (an apt  pupil? Geddit?) Perhaps dressing his assassin in a red pacamac was a parody of the leather raincoated assassins in Argento’s pictures? Talk about a kagoulish liberty… or maybe Lenzi was trying for some kind of subliminal connection with Argento’s big hit of the same year, Deep Red? Or perhaps he was making an allusion to the killer in Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973)? Or maybe I’m just clutching at straws here trying to dignify a terrible movie with some kind of significance. Actually, I’m surprised that Lenzi has been uncharacteristically silent (or perhaps I missed an interview here or there) regarding two plot elements from Eyeball that get, er, recycled in Argento’s Tenebrae, seven years later… notably lesbian infidelity in a crappy night club as a prelude to home invasion and murder, plus an elusive, aggrieved wife who keeps jetting around and popping up where she’s not supposed to be. Eyeball could also reasonably be cited as an influence on Bigas Luna’s Anguish (1987)… and don’t even start me on Lucio Fulci!

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After a hilarious sequence in which a farm girl falls victim to the eyeball-extracting wacko and her pigs add insult to eye injury by eating her corpse, then a flamenco performance that is clearly intended to puff up the film’s running time towards an hour-and-a-half, the denouement comes clunking in, with the dim light bulb over Burton’s head finally flickering into life (catatonia in Catalonia) as he belatedly makes sense of the ludicrous sequence of events that previously unfolded back in his home town of Burlington, Vermont. Namely, the small matter of his wife being found unconscious next to their swimming pool with a bloody knife in her right hand and the eyeball of his murdered girlfriend lying next to her. Presumably he’s had much time and much cause to ponder these events but only now do the pennies drop that a) Alma is left handed and b) he once discovered a collection of eyeballs in another character’s drawer but dismissed them as “good luck charms” (duh!) If you didn’t see the final revelation coming, don’t be too hard on yourself… nor could half of the hacked-up holidaymakers! Mark and Alma are reconciled in a puke-inducing happy ending, Inspector Tudela gets to go fishing and the rest of us are left to reflect on 90 minutes of our life that we’ll never get back.

Richardson was in many, way better films than this… the Hammer brace She (1965) and One Million Years B.C. (1966), Mario Bava’s pasta paura milestone Black Sunday (1960), Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989 )and, in a more pointed comparison with this travesty, Sergio Martino’s superior giallo Torso (1973.)

wm3uvsgd.jpgJoesph Brenner Associates, who had reduced Sergio Martino’s The Corpses Show Traces Of Carnal Violence (1973) to a terser “Torso” for its U.S. grind house run, did a similar tidy up on this one and incredibly, their “Eyeball” better encapsulates the plot of Lenzi’s picture than its original title, Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro (“Red Cats In A Glass Labyrinth”) chiefly because the film features precisely no red cats and exactly bugger all Glass Labyrinths!

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The edition under review here is the German DVD identified as Labyrinth Des Schreckens (“Labyrinth Of Terror”) on its sleeve, “The Secret Killer” according to its credits. The transfer is washy looking and presented in distinctly non-anamorphic wide-screen. You could experience Eyeball in 5.1 Surround if you chose this disc’s German language option but I imagine the comic impact of such classic lines of dialogue as: “I was like you… before this friend of mine ripped out my eye, playing doctor with me… leaving an empty socket!” might be ssomewhat diluted in translation.

No sign of an imminent UK release but all manner of appalling rubbish is coming out these days so keep your eyes, er, peeled…

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Lenzi discusses the intricacies of Eyeball’s plot with our Bob Freudstein, yesterday.

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

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