Posts Tagged With: Witchcraft

The Decline Of Western Civilisation, Part IV… WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Signature Entertainment. 15.

Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come, when you do call for them? Henry IV, Part 1: Act 3 by William Shakespeare.

“Summon demons? I have a hard enough time summoning myself out of fucking bed every morning!” Ozzy Osbourne.

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The coronavirus lockdown has had minimal effect on life here at Oak Mansion, given that we hardly ever go out anyway. Here’s another reason to be grateful for the fact that I haven’t been invited to any wild parties since some time during the middle of the last Century, in the shape of Marc Meyers’ We Summon The Darkness (2019).

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A trio of Little Mix lookalike rock sluts (Alessandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth) drive around Hicksville USA (actually Winnipeg in Canada) en route to a “Soldiers For Satan” gig in the late 1990s, which means that mobile phones can’t necessarily be relied upon to rescue them from any kind of jam they night get into. Cute girls have been getting into trouble going to shock rock gigs ever since Phyllis and Mari’s ill advised trip to see Bloodlust in 1972 but this trio seem oblivious to the mounting radio and TV reports of recent ritual slayings (“a Satanic cult burning its way through America’s heartland” according to media evangelist Johnny Knoxville). They even ignore the warnings of the “Crazy Ralph” type guy in the convenience store (below), who tells them that they “seem like nice girls”. Yeah, whatever…

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At the gig, the girls are picked up by a seemingly amiable bunch of Beavis & Butthead types (Keean Johnson, Logan Miller and Austin Swift) and everybody adjourns back to Daddario’s parents’ place for a bit of alcohol and drug-enhanced hows-your-father (“… a night that we’re going to remember for years!”) The big twisteroo kicks in at about the half hour mark, though if you’d been paying sufficient attention to the clues accumulating in the film’s dialogue, you probably saw it coming. The revelation of the bad guys’ motives scores a satirical point or two while making nary a lick of narrative sense. Alan Trezza’s screenplay oscillates uneasily between Horror and Comedy but Meyers keeps the improbable action rolling along engagingly enough. It’s beautifully shot by Tarin Anderson (whose work would look even better on BD release, though there’s no sign of that) and the leads are sufficiently photogenic to hold your attention.

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Daddario just has to unleash those big peepers and… well, “the dreams of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime”, to quote the lyrics of an obscure Pink Floyd track. I’m always quoting the lyrics of obscure Prog Rock tracks, a personality trait that’s probably not entirely unconnected with the fact that I don’t get invited to parties anymore. It would be a fine thing indeed to reconnect with the lithe limbed, loose livin’ lovelies of one’s youth… but will they come, when we do call for them? Nah, didn’t think so…

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Extras: None that I’m currently aware of. But you might find the following instructive…

 

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He’s Coming To Get You, Barbara… BYLETH Reviewed

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Don’t remember seeing Udo Kier in this one, but there you go…

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

When the Duke Lionello (Mark Damon) and his sister Barbara (Claudia Gravy, who appeared in some Jess Franco pictures but, as far as I know, never in any adaptations of the works of Robert Browning) were growing up on their family’s ancestral Lazio pile, they were such loving siblings that they play-acted getting married when they were older. Ah, cute. Barbara, as you would expect, grew out of this whimsical little fantasy… Lionello never quite managed to do so. When Barbara returns from a spell in Venice, her brother is overjoyed but she harshes Lionello’s mellow big time by announcing that she’s now hitched to Giordano (Aldo Bufo Landi). A big girl’s blouse in a frilly shirt, Lionello goes into angsting overdrive, moping around his castle, spying on the bonking couples with which it seems to be littered and enjoying his own odd assignations with prostitutes (very odd… he can’t seem to rise to the occasion with any woman who isn’t Barbara). He even hides in Barbara’s wardrobe, caressing her petticoats while he watches her and Giordano gittin’ it on through the keyhole,

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Unfortunately a series of the women Lionello spies on and / or fails to satisfy start turning up dead, somebody having stabbed them in their throats with a three pronged knife. But who is that somebody? A handy dandy priest (Antonio Anelli) turns up to advise the police that such a weapon is traditionally handled by Byleth, the Demon of Incest, throwing in bonus biographical information about Byleth’s demonic cohorts , Astorath, Baphomet, Belphegor and so on…

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In the rare moments that the screen isn’t filled with copulating couples, director Leopoldo Savona (better known for such endearingly titled Spaghetti Westerns as God Will Forgive My Pistol, Apocalypse Joe and Pistol Packin’ Preacher… also as the original director of what emerged as Mario Bava’s The Vikings knock-off, Knives Of The Avenger) and one shot co-writer Norbert Blake (anyone smell a pseudonym?) attempt to mix giallo elements into an already overcrowded supernatural-gothic-costume-melodrama-romance mish-mash and fail to pull it off because apart from the obvious suspect, no plausible red herring is even offered. Barbara finally (and a tad arbitrarily) succunbs to Lionello’s advances. We don’t actually see her doing so or him killing her, but it seems both of these things happened, ushering in a misfiring demonic wrap up.

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The demon Byleth, apparently.

Of the two films that most readily occur to me, right off the top of my head, as comparators, I like this one a whole lot better than Alfredo Rizzo’s The Bloodsucker Leads The Dance (1975) but it’s not a patch on Joe D’Amato’s Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973). Byleth is a rather minor effort, but the spaghetti exploitation cognoscenti will want to check out this interesting rarity from 1972. Severin’s 2K restoration has been sourced from an uncut (but somewhat damaged) German negative (as “Trio Der Lust”) with optional German or Italian sound and English subs. No extras.

Next!

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You Need Your Bumps Feeling, Mate… José Ramon Larraz’s DEVIATION Reviewed.

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Deviation (Sweden / UK / Spain, 1971).  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

Oh to be in England, now that Autumn’s there. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… not to mention voyeurism, porno shoots, gerontophilia, drug abuse, black magic, lesbian vampires, murder and human taxidermy, if you happen to be visiting one of the country piles inhabited by Karl Lanchbury (pictured below in one of his more subdued moments) during some of the pictures made by Catalan Horror maven José Ramon Larraz in his English period (1970-74). We’ve already considered Whirlpool (1970), The House That Vanished (1973) and Symptoms (1974) on this blog and now turn our gimlet eye upon Deviation (1971), hitherto the most elusive of these films, recently discovered lurking on Youtube.

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After a disorientating title sequence (whose action is never really explained) and an opening scene which establishes that Julian (Lanchbury) is an intense young taxidermist (hm, remind you of anyone?) but relatively normal compared to his weirdo sister Rebecca (Whirlpool holdover Sibyla Grey), we find ourselves in the company of odd couple Paul (Malcolm Terris) and Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist… yes, like its predecessor Whirlpool, this is a Scandinavian co-production) who are driving through some dark woods, having an argument about his refusal to leave his wife. Their evening goes from bad to worse when Paul runs over a tripped out Satanist (“He didn’t know how to smoke”, we subsequently learn).

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Seeking refuge at Julian and Rebecca’s tumble down manor (some of whose underground tunnels bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones Marianne Morris and Anulka spend much of their time running up and down in during Larraz’s Vampyres, 1974), they are drugged by their hosts. Having already taken uppers to keep him awake while driving, Paul revives enough to have a poke around the house (discovering a cat obsessed, doom prophecying, Alzheimer’s addled Auntie) and becomes aware that some kind of ceremony is going on. Discovered, he is dragged down into the cellar to be sexually humiliated by Jules and Beccy’s hippy pals, until his obvious arousal so disgusts Rebecca that she stabs him to death.

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Olivia doesn’t seem unduly disturbed by Paul’s’ disappearance (readily swallowing the story that he had to get back to his office) and happily submerges herself in the ongoing drug party life style of Jules, Beccy and their far out mates. When Julian shoots her up with heroin she enthuses that anything is preferable to her dreary affair with Paul.

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Rebecca visits a sleazy old Dr Feelgood (former BBC announcer Geoffrey Wincott) to stock up on more dope and after initially seeming to succumb to his superannuated advances (inter generational sex crops up so regularly in these films, it’s fair to speculate that Larraz had a pretty keen personal interest in the subject), stabs him too. Back at the mansion, Olivia discovers Paul’s distinctive mermaid tattoo preserved as a taxidermalogical trophy and finally turns on her hosts / captors… the film’s bungled twist ending falls completely flat, accomplishing the difficult trick of making its opening look like a relative model of coherence and clarity.

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The first shot we see in this film is a brief glimpse of a phrenology bust, suggesting that for all those occult trappings, its actual narrative motor is sheer human craziness… deviation from some norm of “mental health”. Rebecca has clearly been sexually traumatised some time in her previous life (Larraz’s attempts to appropriate / approximate elements of Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965, would be more convincingly attained in Symptoms). There’s also a pretty on-the-nose statement about contemporary deviation from traditional moral norms… just as with Vivian Neves’ character in Whirlpool, we’re invited to conclude that Lundquist’s “had it coming”. You can take the director out of fascist era Spain but the converse isn’t, apparently, so easily achieved. Indeed, Deviation looks a lot like a dry run for a film Larraz made in Spain after the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, 1982’s Black Candles (UK quad below).

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Deviation is, frankly, a right old mess (and typically of Larraz’s output in this period, the dialogue is clunky as fuck) but I was glad of the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in donkey’s years. Like Whirlpool it boasts a nifty OST from Italian maestro Stelvio Cipriani but the understandably crappy picture quality here makes it difficult to pass comment on the film’s visual merits or otherwise. Perhaps, if possible (one gathers the rights are in dispute) Arrow could continue the good work they began in their “Blood Hunger” Larraz BD box set by giving this one the kind of release it deserves. Fingers crossed.

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“Chainsaws In Outer Space… Why Not?” The NORMAN J. WARREN Interview.

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Although I’ve enjoyed his company on several subsequent occasions, my interrogation of Norman J. Warren took place at and around the second Black Sunday film festival in Ashton-under-Lyne in February 1990, when the Freudstein interviewing technique was even less polished than it is now. The complete (ish) transcript appeared in A Major Horror Magazine but another rag commissioned me to adapt our conversation into the following profile, which they never actually used or paid me for… which was nice of them. Nearly (ouch!) 30 years later, their loss is hopefully your gain, dear readers. Beyond Terror and Norman’s Fiend Without A Face reboot remain tantalisingly unrealised projects but maybe one day? Like chainsaws in outer space, why the hell not?

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In the mid-60s, the young Norman J. Warren had begun his career assisting Anatole and Dimitri De Grunewald on the likes of Rod The Mod, a documentary look at the trendy life and times of the equally youthful Mr Stewart. “Like a lot of other people in their late teens / early twenties, I was desperate to direct, and couldn’t understand why the establishment wouldn’t give me the chance to do so”, Norman laughs: “It’s only later on when you realise why they didn’t! So out of sheer frustration I made a short film called Fragment in 1965. I’d already made other amateur efforts, but I decided to do Fragment properly, on 35mm and so on and I managed to talk several independent cinemas into screening it. It was just pure luck that one of those cinema managers, Bachoo Sen and a guy called Richard Shulman had just gone into film production. They’d decided to start with sex films because it was an obvious way to make a quick buck and because it was low budget. They were new to production, they wanted a director who was not too experienced, thus couldn’t give them a hard time, and of course somebody who was enthusiastic enough to do it for very little money. They gave me a call, made me an offer and I said yes immediately, without knowing what it was!” (Laughs)

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What it was, was Her Private Hell… “a black and white film made in 1967, and I dread to think what it would look like now. The whole thing was so naive, but I was grateful for the chance to actually direct a feature film and make all the mistakes that you inevitably do, which is how you learn your trade. The second one, Loving Feeling (1968) – which is about a disc jockey who destroys his marriage because he takes advantage of all these girls who are throwing themselves at him – looks a lot more polished, though I was still making mistakes in that one”.

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One of the biggest mistakes Norman made was not scrutinising the small print closely enough. “Bachoo never spent an awful lot of money on his productions, but he spent a hell of a lot on his contracts! Eventually I tried to challenge him for money, after working seven days a week, virtually 24 hours a day for two years on two films… I did the story for Loving Feeling, edited Her Private Hell, did all the sound… and I hadn’t been paid anything, apart from the odd fiver here or there for something to eat. Whenever I said I needed some money to get a taxi home, he’d would drive me home in his own car – I never seemed to get any cash! When it came to the crunch, a solicitor told me the contracts had been so beautifully written, that I really had no claim on anything! We ended up reaching a settlement, and it worked out that I’d been working for £20 a week, which – depending on what your job was – mightn’t have been bad money for that time, but if you think what I’d been doing, the responsibility and the hours I was working… also, how much money Bachoo made on these pictures! Her Private Hell, for instance, cost something like £18,000 to make and in one cinema alone in the Charring Cross Road, where it played for 14 months, it was taking £5,000 a week! Then of course it went around the entire country, and was sold to foreign territories. I dread to think how much it must have made, the profit must have been absolutely enormous, but I didn’t see any of it. Bachoo later relocated to The States and called me asking if I wanted to direct this terrible picture, Nightmare Weekend, for him. I didn’t take him up on his offer, even though I really wanted to get back into directing, and having seen the finished result, I think I made the right decision! Once again, it was a sex film disguised as a horror movie. Of course in a way I’m terribly grateful to him because he gave me the chance to direct my first feature film, to get through that enormous barrier you have to surmount to be accepted as someone who can actually direct a feature-length film… but I don’t want to go through all that again! I learned my lesson the hard way”.

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Loving Feeling was the debut movie for Euro-sex bomb Francoise Pascal, who claimed in the documentary version of David McGillivray’s book Doing Rude Things that she needed twenty brandies before she could bring herself to take her clothes off… a version of events that Norman disputes: “She was very young, and she wasn’t shy at all. She didn’t have a very big part, but she was a very attractive girl in those days. I wasn’t aware of any brandies or embarrassment…. in fact the problem, as I recall it, was trying to get Francoise to keep her clothes on!”Another of Norman’s leading ladies displayed no such willingness to drop her drawers in the cause of Art: “Georgina Ward was a very grand lady, actually, came from a very wealthy background. I don’t know what happened to her. She was in another sex film made by the producer Hazel Adair, who used to write that soap opera Crossroads. She was very coy, didn’t want to do any nudity, so we brought in a body double for the sex films. David McGillivray mentions something like this in his book, though he might have been referring to Lucia Modugno, the Italian actress in Her Private Hell. We received some very beautiful photos of her aged about 17, but they turned out to be very old photos, because when we met her at the airport, I actually thought she’d brought her mother with her! I was very sorry for Lucia, because once we started filming she realised she was to old for the part, and didn’t really have the figure… of course she was surrounded by all these young girls. It was very sad”.

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“After a while, you run out of things to do with a bed…”

“David was right when he said that sex films weren’t a genre I enjoyed working in, though this wasn’t out of any sense of prudery. I actually found the genre very restricting… the story lines just revolved around people taking their clothes off and going to bed, and after a while you run out of things to do with a bed, you know, camera angles and so on. A lot of people got labelled and never did anything else, and when the British sex films came to an end, they just faded out with them! So after the second one, although I was offered the chance of doing The Wife Swappers, which was eventually done by Derek Ford, I refused, and more or less put myself out of work, as far as directing was concerned, for several years, until the opportunity to direct Satan’s Slave came along. After that one I knew that this was what I really wanted to do, which was nothing to do with money, just because it was a much more satisfying experience all round”.

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“I think some of the younger fans are not only amazed that there was a British industry in those days, but that these sort of films, with such graphic content, were being made here… reflects Norman: “Those who’ve managed to see an un-cut foreign print of Satan’s Slave, for instance, are quite shocked that a movie like that could have been made in this country and that it could have been seen commercially in cinemas… they all were, that’s something I’m very proud of, that they were all shown theatrically”.

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After the disappointment of The Naked Eye (a project on which Norman was to have directed Cushing and Price for AIP) falling through, Satan’s Slave (1976) was conceived in a rush of frustrated enthusiasm and tackled by all concerned in a spirit of D.I.Y. gusto. In it, aristocratic Michael Gough presides over a cult dedicated to the revival of an ancestral witch via human sacrifice, a batty plot culminating in one of those trusty “So, it was all a dream… hang on, no it wasn’t!” moments. Terror (1978) commences in similar fashion before the witch-hunting action is revealed to be a film-within-a-film but (you guessed) the cast and crew are soon being bumped off in gruesome fashion. With Norman and writer David McGillivray (who’d already written several of Pete Walker’s “terror pictures”) both under the recent spell of Argento’s Suspiria, Terror places even less emphasis on narrative cohesion than its predecessor, concentrating instead on a succession of spectacular designer deaths.

terror-1978-film-04553e9b-38be-4b3d-add3-97849bd1d85-resize-750.jpg“David was very good indeed to work with”, remembers Norman: “because he never got offended when I wanted to make changes. A lot of writers feel that their work is set in marble and they don’t want any changes, but David (laughs)… maybe he’s just been very lenient with me, but he’s never had any complaints when I’ve thrown out lines or changed scenes around completely. David appears in Satan’s Slave and he has a smaller role in Terror, he’s the TV reporter in that one. I know those films contain some violent scenes and they get a bit gory at times, but there’s no viciousness about them. My sole intention was to entertain, and to me they’re sort of light-hearted films, in a way…”Something of that playful spirit is captured in the title of All You Need Is Blood, the “making of…” documentary, which David Wyatt shot on the set of Satan’s Slave. “It was shot in the hope that the BBC would broadcast it as a programme about the making of his low budget film, but all they did was take out shots from it’s opening, in which Michael Gough is conducting a black mass, and use it in a religious programme about the growing menace of Satanism – as though it was the real thing!” Ain’t it reassuring to know that your license money gets spent so responsibly?

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Always the first to acknowledge his films’ weaknesses, Norman states that with the plots of these gory little epics “we fell into the trap of making things incredibly complicated, which gave us problems half-way through when we realised it was so complex that it was actually quite difficult to work out what was going on”. This is one reason why Beyond Terror, one of the projects Norman is working hard to develop (along with properties entitled Darkland and Skinner), is an expansion of his 1978 smash-hit.

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I remind him (as if he needed any reminding) that Terror was the top-grossing film in Britain on its release in 1978: “Yes it was! This tiny film, which cost scarcely more than £80,000, was Number One for a week, and when it opened all over America, in towns like Chicago and Oklahoma, it actually broke box office records! In Chicago it packed them in all the cinemas for a week!”

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In between Satan’s Slave and Terror, Norman took a stab at science fiction with Prey 77 (featuring the ever saucy Glory Annen, above), a virtual three-hander in which a lesbian couple’s rural idyll is rudely interrupted by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger who turns out to be the vanguard of an alien invasion force. When I suggested that the film had been influenced by Jose Ramon Larraz’s Vampyres (1974), which shares its country setting, small cast and indeed one of its actresses, Sally Faulkner, Warren demurred: “No, I haven’t seen the Larraz film unfortunately, in fact I don’t think I was influenced by anything for Prey, outside of its tiny budget… plus I had literally three weeks preparation, including writing the script. In some ways the small scale of everything was actually a positive thing, because despite the brief schedule I was able to spend time with all the principle actors, building the characters and so on, and I think you can see that in the finished film. Sally is particularly good, the way you suddenly start realising, she’s the crazy one!”

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Norman’s career continued in a sci-fi vein (featuring additional Glory Annen) with 1979’s Outer Touch: “That one was quite successful in America, where it played as Spaced Out, but it didn’t do very well in Britain. Basically, it’s a science-fiction comedy, and making it taught me just how difficult comedy is – the most difficult, I think, of all the genres. It’s totally about getting the timing right”. Norman’s next picture, Inseminoid (1981), was straight SF with no comic trimmings. 20th Century Fox certainly weren’t laughing when they got the idea that it was an attempt to cash in on Alien. “Nick Maley and his wife Gloria came up with the idea for Inseminoid as a showcase for his special effects expertise, which really is quite amazing. This was before they or anyone else had seen the Ridley Scott film and we were genuinely very surprised, when we saw Alien, that there was this similarity to the script we were about to shoot. Anyway, Fox wrote to us, not quite demanding – but ‘requesting’ – to see Inseminoid when it was finished, so we let them screen it and they themselves decided that it wasn’t a rip-off. They sent us a very nice letter, which the producer Richard Gordon has still got, in which they said they were happy for us to go ahead, wished us luck and said they thought our film was very good, considering its budget. Indeed, in a way it’s rather flattering when these comparisons are made between Alien and Inseminoid, because they had a budget of $20-30 million and we made ours for $2 million. This was possible because we shot it in Chiselhurst Caves in Surrey rather than on a set, which was cold, damp and claustrophobic, but gave us stuff that we could never have afforded to build”.

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Norman also recalls the extent to which this picture benefited from the trojan efforts of his players, particularly two well-known actresses: “Stephanie Beacham was a joy to work with, and Judy Geeson (above) was an absolute dream – she was just so enthusiastic, involved in the whole production. I don’t think she had more than two or three days off in the entire schedule and even on those days she insisted on turning up, simply because she didn’t want to miss anything that was happening. I caught up with Judy recently in Hollywood, and happily she’s now over some of the personal problems she’s been suffering… she told me it’s amazing how many people she meets bring up the subject of Inseminoid, even today”.

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Several contemporary and subsequent reviews of Inseminoid questioned why there was a need for quite so many chainsaws in pursuance of interplanetary exploration, to which Norman smilingly responds: “Why wouldn’t there be?” There’s really no answer to that, so I changed the subject to the film’s VHS re-release by the revived Vipco label, which was hyped along the ridiculous lines of being “The greatest ever bunk-up in outer space” (or some such nonsense) shortly before the company went belly-side up again in the wake of such disastrous releases as The Nostril Picker. “It wasn’t just that they were putting out rubbish, they was putting out too much, too soon”, opines Norman: “You only had to do a few sums to see that it was quite crazy, because putting out a video is not that cheap, and there weren’t enough people buying those things to offset that sort of cost. It’s very disappointing when these things blow up, but when it does happen, it’s usually their own fault. Richard Gordon is now desperately trying to find out where the master has gone…” (we heard that Vipco mastered some of their stuff from VHS!) “… and who is making money on the copies that are still floating around”.

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As for the promised “bunk-up” that never actually transpires… “That’s down to the way some people misunderstood the insemination sequence, where there’s a sort of plastic tube that’s going into Judy, and people got the mistaken impression that it’s the alien’s penis but we never intended that, because if he’s an alien, why would he have a penis that’s compatible with a human being?” “Or made out of plastic?” I add, helpfully. “Yes, that was supposed to be some kind of artificial insemination equipment, and we shot that sequence very impressionistically, to be like a dream, because I know that if we had shot it straight, it would have played like a rape scene and been cut out. So it has this sort of abstract quality to it that the censors didn’t mind”.

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In the mid-80s Norman found himself making a brace of pictures for producer Maxine Julian, whose penny pinching ways made for a couple of dispiriting experiences: “We had to fight to stop Bloody New Year (below) going out as ‘Time Warp Terror’, not that this improved the film very much! It was a terrible disappointment to me – there were just so many problems with the production, and Maxine didn’t even like horror films, she was only interested in saving money and making it in as short a space of time as possible. It was a wasted opportunity, because the script was pretty good”.

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The other fruit of Norman’s Maxine Julian period, that classic of camp espionage cinema Gunpowder, used to turns up regularly on UK TV in the early hours of the morning. “That’s exactly where it belongs!”, he laughs: “Maxine had made some strange arrangement by which we were shooting in Macclesfield, not an easy place to do things, and she was only casting people who lived within driving distance of Macclesfield (because she wouldn’t pay for hotels) and yet didn’t have a Cheshire accent. For some reason she had us shooting in November / December, so doing scenes on the river with a boat and a helicopter, the biggest problem was to stop the actors going completely blue, you know? All the time, the budget was shrinking before our very eyes. She was sending back important props that we hadn’t finished with, then she went and bought stock footage, so there’s a wonderful scene in where you get this giant army helicopter landing and all these men pouring out of it, then cut back to our footage and there five men coming through the trees… if you look carefully at the battle scene, you’ll find that the same people are on both sides! There was one scene, I’m not joking, where she wanted to indicate a submarine by having somebody walk around in this pond, holding a bit of drainpipe above the surface, looking like a periscope! I said we’ll never get away with this, I point-blank refused to shoot it!” (Laughs)

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“Those two knocked my enthusiasm a bit” admits Norman: “I enjoy working in the low budget field, but even I have my limits. The one lesson I did learn is that you’ve got to have a producer who loves what you’re doing as much as you do, who’s not just an accountant. I decided that I’m never going to work like that again – even if it put me out of directing again for a long time, I just couldn’t stand to do another Gunpowder or Bloody New Year”.

fiend_without_face_poster_02.jpgKeeping himself going with commercials, rock videos and educational films for the BBC (precisely none of which concerned the menace of Satanism!), Norman has been preparing his long-mooted remake of / sequel to seminal 50’s alien invasion stop-motion fest Fiend Without A Face: “It’s now in what will hopefully be the final re-write stage, just a matter of tidying up and working on the characters, taking on some comments that Richard Gordon has been making and hopefully when that’s concluded, within the next month or so, we’ll be ready to take it to the next stage. The alarming thing is what a painfully slow process it is. When I sat down and realised how long I’d been tinkering around with Fiend, it scared the life out of me, but then the likes of Shallow Grave, Jacob’s Ladder and even Forest Gump were knocking around for years as scripts before they were finally shot. Funnily enough, Bob Keen’s movie Proteus is now going through, and Bob just reminded me that he was originally contacted about that movie when I was supposed to be directing it. I’d forgotten because it was called Shaper or something in those days. We couldn’t get it off the ground then because the shape-shifting effects proved too alarming, cost-wise, for possible backers”.

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Undeterred, Norman won’t be sparing the special effects in his new version of Fiends: “It’ll employ a combination of stop-motion, animation, some computerised effects and, on top of that, probably some straight forward old-fashioned physical effects, where it’s all done right there in front of the camera. The monster brains will be recognisably like the old ones, but we’re writing them to be much more nasty, they’re really vicious little things this time out. They’ll also be much harder to kill… remember in the first film, they were stopped by blowing up a nuclear power station? That shows you how naive people were, back in the ‘50s!”

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Meanwhile, the quest to secure financing continues: “When I was trying to set up Beyond Terror I encountered a lot of resistance to the idea of making a genre film. The moment you mention horror or science fiction you could almost feel this barrier coming down, they really didn’t want to be associated with it. Undoubtedly, recent increases in censorship have contributed to this attitude, but I find it such a perverse one because horror has always been the most successful genre, it’s just gone on for ever. If you talk to any video distributor or supplier, and people who have film libraries, they say the most profitable things for them are the horror pictures – they never seem to date. People will rent a horror picture when it’s donkey’s years old, whereas they won’t necessarily be doing that with one of the current big releases in ten years, or even a couple of years time. This a genre that I enjoy very much and, although I’m always looking for opportunities in The States, I’d really prefer, if possible, to do it in Britain, because everyone acknowledges that we’re capable of producing very high quality work over here. Despite everything, the horror film hasn’t gone under. It keeps fighting back… I think it’s going to be with us forever!”

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Norman, photo-bombed by fanboy git. Yesterday.

 

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Hope I Choke On A Chicken Bone Before I Get Old… THE LEGACY On Indicator Blu-ray.

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The Poles sure have a way with these things…

BD. Indicator. Region Free. 18.
Released 29/07/19.

By the mid-70s Roger Daltrey had missed out on joining The 27 Club and – contrary to the iconic line he spat out during My Generation – was facing the serious prospect of growing old before he died. In search of new challenges he took up a movie career… but how far would it take him? A starring role in Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975) was the most obvious shoo-in ever and his next eponymous turn, in cuddly Ken’s Lisztomania (the same year) could have been written off as just another spasm of wilfully provocative casting (the same film features Paul Nicholas as Richard Wagner, Ringo Starr as the Pope and Rick Wakeman as – who else? – Thor…)

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For God’s sake Rog, put it away…

How to make the jump to big(ish) budgeted international pictures? Well, Daltrey was ideally placed to lend the producers of The Legacy (1978) his impressive country manor to shoot in, on the proviso that they award him a prominent part in the picture. Noblesse oblige and all that…

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Given how well this fitted in with the producers’ Omen-copying brief of American money, picturesque UK locations, a strong cast and a series of spectacularly violent designer deaths (all whipped into something approaching a coherent script by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster), they bit Daltrey’s arm off. Actually, they choked him on a migrant chicken bone but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

58882.jpgThe Legacy is best viewed as a quintessentially batty American fantasy about how arcane aristocratic interest groups in little old England manipulate money and power to control the world. David Icke probably watched it before dreaming up some of his more florid conspiracy theories. Decent Americans Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) and her partner Pete (Sam Elliott) fly from LA to England on the strength of some ill-defined job offer and end up enjoying (but not a lot) the hospitality of Ravenhurst Manor after their motorbike has been “accidentally” run off the road by mysterious toff Jason Mountolive (John Standing). Five other guests arrive at the same time, all of them affluent but distinctly shady characters. All of them wear distinctive gothic rings and Maggie gets one too, after an abrupt encounter with a decrepit old geezer concealed behind a surgical curtain. Ominously, she can’t pull it off (as the actress said to the bishop…)

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When swimming ace Maria Gabrielli (Olympic swimmer turned glamour model and briefly actress Marianne Broome) drowns in the Manor’s swimming pool (her remains and all the subsequent ones are neatly disposed of by Nurse Adams, a show stealing performance by Margaret Tyzack), Maggie and Pete decide to bail, only to discover that all roads lead back to Ravenhurst, where the supernatural game of Ten Little whatevers now begins in earnest.

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Clive, the music biz big knob (I thought I told you to put it away, Rog!) chokes on a chicken bone (strangely enough, as he was eating ham) and expires while Nurse Adams is improvising a gory tracheotomy on him… seems a darkly ironic way to do away with a singer. Karl (Charles Gray), having shown Maggie a portrait of Elizabethan witch Margaret Walshingham that’s a dead ringer for her, is consumed by a backdraft from an open fire and his charred corpse fed to the hounds. Barbara Kirstenburg (Hildegard Neil) is punctured by multiple shards of glass from an exploding mirror, which leaves Jacques Grandier (Lee Montague) to shoot it out with Maggie and Pete for acquition of the dying Jason Mountolive’s Satanic legacy. There’s a nice ambiguity to the closing scene, which was never ruined by any clumsy sequels…

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… which suggests that The Legacy underperformed at the box office. No matter, here’s the film’s UK BD debut, in a characteristically spiffing Indicator limited edition (3,000 copies), just crying out for rediscovery and reassessment. Sangster does a great job of passing the nonsensical plot off as vaguely plausible, the photography (split between Dick Bush,  Alan Hume and – for the underwater stuff – Michel Gemmell) and camera operation (courtesy of Ian Henderson) are exemplary and former documentarian Richard Marquand handles the action with a facility that foreshadows his later direction of The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and reinforces the impression that somebody had just seen and been very impressed by Dario Argento’s then-recent Suspiria (1977). I mean… decrepit bed-ridden Satanists in forbidding mansions, lingering overhead shots of swimming  women, people punctured by shards of mirrors and climactic death falls through ornate glass panels… where have we seen those before? Pity Marquand didn’t have access to The Goblins, Michael J. Lewis’s score being a bit by-the-numbers “scary”.

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Speaking of legacies, Ross and Elliot met on set, romance blossomed (slowly… see how chastely they kiss) and are still married today.

legs_post_cat_2.jpgAs you’d expect from an Indicator release, the main feature looks and sounds just fab (in a choice of standard definition UK theatrical cut and HD, marginally tightened US variant… you also get a “compare and contrast” featurette) and is loaded with extras. Kevin Lyons provides the well-researched audio commentary (must have a good collection of books about horror cinema) and award-winning editor (the recently deceased) Anne V. Coates recalls her work on The Legacy, for which she also directed some uncredited second unit stuff. Second unit director of record Joe Marks recalls his contributions, moans about the stuff that he didn’t get credit for and opines that he doesn’t regard Roger Daltrey as a musician (this must be why they run those disclaimers about the opinions of contributors not being endorsed by the label and its affiliates). Robin Grantham discusses the many make-up creations he came up with for the film. You also get the expected trailer and image gallery but, most interestingly, 27 minutes of Between The Anvil And The Hammer (1973), a “day in the life of the Liverpool police force” effort directed by Marquand for the much missed Central Office of Information.

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Richard Marquand (1937-87) and friends…

I haven’t had the chance to scrutinise the 40-page booklet that will accompany this release but am reliably informed that it comprises a new essay by Julian Upton, an archival location report, Jimmy Sangster on The Legacy, extracts from the novelisation, an overview of critical responses, an introduction to Between the Anvil and the Hammer and film credits… choke on ’em!

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When You Get To The Door, Tell Them JESUS Sent You… Two FRANCO Monster Mash-Ups On Nucleus Blu-Ray

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THE DEMONS

THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN

BD. Region B. Nucleus. 18.

Just as you were bracing yourself for their long-trailered restorations of Giulio Questi’s surrealistic giallo Death Laid An Egg (1968) and Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein (1971), the boffins from Nucleus outflank you with a couple of unexpected corkers from Jesus Franco. The Demons and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (shot virtually simultaneously in 1973) were branded “Category 3 Nasties” back in the days of home video witch-hunting, i.e recommended for confiscation rather than prosecution (which had more than a little to do with some of their Go Video label mates and the backfiring publicity stunts of Go honcho Des Dolan). Even if you did manage to cop an eyeful of those releases before they were whisked off and incinerated, you’d have been watching versions that were significantly cut down in terms of both running time and original screen ratio. Now here they both are, on Marc and Jake’s exciting new European Cult Cinema Collection imprint, in beautiful Blu-ray editions, with the BBFC’s stamp of approval… nicely priced, too. Honestly, the times we live in… (“Taxi!” – L. Fulci.)

For the first of these titles, producer Robert De Nesle detailed Franco to come up with a rip-off of Ken Russell’s recent success de scandale The Devils (1971) but instead of duplicating the contrived hysteria of that wearying effort, JF grabbed the nearest camera (without taking too long, I suspect, labouring over a script) and quickly knocked out a genuinely delirious and characteristically wilful concoction of De Sade, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, also roping (see what I did there?) Hanging Judge Jeffries (whom Christopher Lee had already portrayed in  Franco’s The Bloody Judge, 1970) into a rapidly overheating narrative stew.

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Although The Demons bears superficial comparison to Russell’s flick and (probably more so) Michael Armstong’s Mark Of The Devil (1970), in both of those witch-hunting is presented in its proper historical perspective as an oppressive manifestation of patriarchal power politics, whereas Freda steers closer to Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan, 1960 (in philosophical if not so much in cinematographical terms) by presenting a for-real maleficent witch (outrageously warty face and all) who’s burned at the stake and decrees that her daughters will extract vengeance upon her tormentors and executioners Justice Jeffries (intense Iranian Cihangir Gaffari / “John Foster”) and Lady De Winter (Karin Field), plus their henchman Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbės).

Of those two daughters, Kathleen (Anne Libert, the producer’s real life squeeze) continues in her mother’s witchy ways whereas Margaret (“Britt Nichols” = Carmen Yazalde) tries the path of virtue but finds it (in true Sadean fashion) so thankless that she eventually decides “what the hey?” and gets down with the black arts, but not before she’s been visited by the ghost of her mum and shagged by Satan (depicted in disappointingly human form). Before you can say “lights out by 10 o’clock… candles out by 11”, masturbating nuns are vying for space on your screen with racked and flogged wretches, as Margaret exposes the hypocrisy of the lustful inquisitors and ultimately reduces them to skeletal remains with her patented “kiss of death”… all of this to a mind-blowing acid rock soundtrack. You get both the extended, 118 minute French cut (with optional English subs) and the 88 minute English “export” edit on this disc.

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Although Franco slips a character named De Quincey into The Demons, he’s on the record as protesting that he couldn’t understand artists and creators who took drugs to enhancing their imaginations, claiming that he would benefit from a drug that actually quietened his down. If he ever discovered such a thing, he obviously skipped several doses during the conception and making of The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein, which suggests nothing so much as an animated fumetto (the kind of gloriously lurid, sexy and violent comic book that flourished in Italy during the ’70s).

This one kicks off with Melisa The Fabulous Bird Woman (Libert) and her side-kick Caronte (Franco regular Luis Barboo) raiding the lab of Dr Frankenstein (Dennis Price… yes, Dennis Price from all those classic Ealing comedies). Melissa is blind, talks in bird screetches and has bits of a ratty old green feather boa stuck haphazardly onto her impressive anatomy but “nobody is better…”  by her own reckoning “… at discerning the order of human flesh”. Well, whatever that means, she proves a dab hand at monster-jacking and once she’s savaged the Doc’s body to shreds (several characters refer to this, though there’s no visual evidence of it having occurred during several subsequent scenes in which his corpse is briefly reanimated) and Caronte has stabbed his assistant Morpho (a JF cameo), they lug the silver-painted Karloffalike (played by body builder Fernando Bilbao) back to Cagliostro’s picturesque seaside castle, where said charismatic mesmerist plans to mate it with a perfect female he’s constructing from the best bits of various unfortunate ladies, to produce a new master race (an ambition shared by Udo Kier in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein and the dates are so close together that it’s a moot point as to who, if anybody, copied whom). “The new race will be called Pantos” (yeah, whatever…)

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As Cagliostro, Howard Vernon makes up for the disappointingly short screen time allocated to him in The Demons. He doesn’t exactly chew the scenery, just stands there in his kaftan looking (extremely) intense while Franco zooms in and out of his blood-shot eyes. He orders the silver monster to kidnap the comely Madame Orloff (Britt Nichols again) then orders her head to be lopped off for the amusement of the zombies and mutants (and at least one Vulcan) who appear to inhabit his basement. Do these guys know how to party or what? When Frankenstein’s daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) infiltrates Caglistro’s castle in search of vengeance she ends up tied to Caronte and lashed by the monster until one of them (Caronte) falls onto poisoned spikes. Vera, brainwashed by Cagliostro, assists him in the reanimation of his female zarmby and the gruesome twosome are about to get it on when an intervention by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr Seward (Alberto Dalbės) and Inspector Tanner (“Daniel White”) puts a spanner in Cagliostro’s evil masterplan. He’s last seen driving a coach and horses into the sea, confident that he will be reincarnated to continue his evil work. Whether there’s any way back for Dr Frankenstein after his gob-smacking dissolution by sulphuric acid is another question entirely …

Alongside the 74 minute French cut (with the option of English audio) on this disc, you also get the 85 minute Spanish release version (optional English subs) which omits some of the saucier stuff, clothes characters who were seen naked a la France and “boasts” filler footage of a gypsy named Esmerelda(!) wandering around in the woods looking mystically inspired, this character played by Franco’s most recent discovery, a certain Lina Romay.

Franco’s extensive and wildly variable oeuvre makes him a director whose films (not to mention his life) I sometimes find it more agreeable to read about than to watch. Ian Caunce regularly wrote engagingly and entertainingly about the director (as, indeed, about everything else he ever turned his pen to) in my all time favourite fanzine, Absurd.

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More recently Tim Lucas has laboured unflinchingly at the Franco coal face and of course Stephen Thrower has performed the same critical miracles for JF as he has rendered unto Lucio Fulci. Thrower supplies supplementary analyses on both of these discs that are every bit as compelling and informative as you would expect… for example, anybody labouring under the misapprehension that the dirtiest trick ever played on the world by an Argentinian footballer was Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal will be disabused of any such notion when they learn that Hėctor Yazalde was responsible, after marrying “Britt Nichols”, for this stunning actress’s subsequent disappearance from the exploitation movie scene… what a miserable old Hector!

Thrower suggests, with some justification, that this brace of pacey and exploitive titles constitute an ideal introduction to Franco for the uninitiated who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Your journey through a thousand Franco films might usefully starts with this couple of steps but beware… there’s plenty in the old boy’s filmography that will tax your attention span a lot more rigorously than this. As a rough indicator of the sheer volume of material that awaits you (with predictable consequences for quality control), in the same year that Franco authored these two little gems he was also responsible for A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Lovers Of Devil’s Island, The Secret Diary Of A Nymphomaniac, Eugénie, Inside A Dark Mirror, The Mystery Of The Dead Castle, Tender And Perverse Emanuelle, The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff  and the unfinished Relax Baby.

My favourite moment from these hugely enjoyable discs occurs during the bonus interview with Franco on The Demons where the director disavows any interest in sado-masochism and claims that there’s a negligible amount of such imagery in his films. His interviewer, David Gregory, is audibly, understandably and almost tangibly nonplussed.

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Stop Making Sense… TLE’s 4K Restoration Of SUSPIRIA on CultFilms Blu-ray, Reviewed (No “Green Puke”… Guaranteed)

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Cultfilms. 18.

Synapse have been trailering their Suspiria restoration for something like four years but TLE’s rendition kind of crept up on the rails to emerge in a dead heat with it. Before most people have enjoyed the opportunity to watch even one of these efforts (let alone both) there has already been a lot of online argy-bargy, involving screen grab comparisons, about the relative merits of each, not all of which has been politely conducted. Indeed, more heat has been generated than light, along with a certain amount of alleged “green puke”. I’ve already blogged about TLE’s version on the big screen. Suffice to say, I detected no green puke whatsoever and I’m speaking as one who’s intimately acquainted with the sight, smell and yes, the taste of verdant vomit, given that we’re still cleaning up the Doc’s basement here after last year’s House Of Freudstein office party. Now’s our chance to evaluate how well TLE’s big screen triumph has translated to little silver discs, courtesy of CultFilms…

… but first, a warning from the director himself: “I am Dario Argento. Welcome! You are about to see Suspiria, a film in full Dario Argento style. It’s full of emotions, fright and fear. I hope you are ready to receive all of this”. Bring it on, my sinister-looking, half-Brazilian pal…

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… and a hundred or so minutes later, to nobody’s great surprise, we’ve watched the release of the year, beating off such strong competition as Arrow’s own Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Phenomena and Don’t Torture A Duckling sets, a series of Sergio Martino gialli on BD from Shameless and any amount of tawdry Severin treasures. Suspiria will light up your TV to truly gob-smacking effect and sounds even better than it did at the Mayhem Festival back in October… if you’ve invested in a 5.1 set up you’ll be able to join Suzy (Jessica Harper) and Sarah (Stefania Casini) in following the footsteps of Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and co as they clunk around the hidden recesses of the Tanz Akademie, doing God knows what.

A few random thoughts that occurred while my senses were being battered “in full Argento style”. Doesn’t Pat Hingle (Eva Axén) have an… er, unusual walking / running style? Why does everyone make such a big deal out of her being so spectacularly murdered during the film’s most celebrated set piece without ever mentioning her friend, who was simultaneously bisected by falling glass and masonry? And does Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) really believe that such grotesque carnage can be attributed to “questionable friendships”?

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“Nothing to see here, move along…”

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Joan Bennett in her Holywwod pomp.

Although people often moan about the alleged plotting implausibilities of Argento’s subsequent Phenomena, does the plot of Suspiria actually sustain serious scrutiny? The notion that a coven of witches could operate under God-fearing society’s radar by operating a dance school where they kill and possibly also (it is strongly suggested) eat the students makes about as much sense as Anton Diffring’s fugitive plastic surgeon opening a circus then shagging and killing all of his glamorous female performers in Circus Of Horrors (1960). Fortunately, the oneiric impact of Horror cinema has never turned on the dictates of logic or the banalities of “common sense”. Stop trying to make sense of it and just celebrate the arrival of Argento’s masterpiece in a format that befits its status as arguably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. At the same time, we are served a saddening reminder of how very far the director’s stock has slipped in the meantime. One very much doubts that, forty years after their original releases, fans are going to be buzzing over the prospect of e.g. Phantom Of The Opera, Giallo, Dracula in 3-D or, more pointedly, Mother Of Tears being revived and restored.

One question continues to nag at me, though… if it ever came to a knock-down, drag-out scrap, who would emerge victorious from a playground showdown between Suspiria’s knickerbockered Little Albert and Bob Boyle from House by The Cemetery? Readers views are welcomed…

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You calling my pint a puff, like?

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Is one talking to me or chewing a brick?

Extras wise, we get a couple of Cine-Excess featurettes that you’ll already be familiar with if you bought Nouveaux’s previous UK Blu-ray release of Suspiria, ditto the Jones / Newman commentary track. The original bonus materials comprise a 27 minute interview with the director and a fascinating hour(ish) long featurette on the actual restoration process.

In the interview, Argento sticks steadfastly to one of the taller tales he’s ever spun, the one about the uncredited actress playing Helena Markos requiring no make-up because she actually looked like that in the first place (sure thing, Dario!) While we can dismiss this as a mischievous bit of whimsy, it’s harder to forgive the way that Daria Nicolodi has, once again, been written out of history vis-a-vis the writing of Suspiria, reversing the trend in previous editions (notably Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary 3 disc DVD set) to increasingly acknowledge her input.

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“… she even came with that skewer through her neck!”

In the riveting restoration featurette, TLE’s Torsten Kaiser talks us through “before”, “during” and “after” samples from key (in the technical rather than narrative sense) scenes from the movie, giving us the merest glimpse of what a Herculean labour it was to render such cinematic beauty from what was a pretty ropey bunch of elements. Throughout Herr Kaiser talks about what was done without giving too much away about how it was actually done. Maybe’s he overestimating the degree of technical savvy  at which the average viewer (certainly I) is (am) operating. Perhaps he calculates (correctly, in my case) that the average viewer is incapable of getting his head around such technical stuff. There could also be an understandable desire to keep the more sophisticated tricks of his trade to himself…

… whatever, for further invaluable insights from Torsten, check out the upcoming interview with him in Dark Side magazine. One of the things we discuss there, of which there is no mention in this featurette, is the magic moment at about 1:17:24 of Suspiria (in this presentation) where Professor Milius (Rudolf Schündler) tells Suzy that you can destroy a coven by severing its head, cue the spectacle of Dario Argento’s face, popping up in a window reflection as he directs the scene. Very noticeable in the previous Nouveaux Blu-ray, its been significantly “dialled down” this time around… and I kinda miss it!

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Bad Day At Red Stone… THE DEVIL’S RAIN Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

Publicity for the US release of Dario Argento’s super-stylish Suspiria (1977) made prominent use of the line: “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 80”, from which prospective viewers could only have drawn the perverse and erroneous conclusion that Argento’s Horror tour-de-force ended on a note of anti-climax. The publicity campaign for the seventh feature outing by another noted stylist, Robert Fuest’s The Devil’s Rain (1975), made no such error, insisting that it packed “absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever!” For their characteristically lush BD revisit, Severin take a scarcely less rabid tack, promising “the most eye-popping, flesh-melting finale in grindhouse history”. So, does the ending of The Devil’s Rain live up to those billings? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves… Fuest things first…

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After a Bosch backed title sequence, TDT throws us abruptly, in the best Shakespearian tradition, into the thick of its action and leaves us struggling to work out what the Hell is going on. In a remote desert dwelling, Mrs Preston (legendary film noir actress / director Ida Lupino) and her son Mark (William Shatner, filling in time before the Star Trek revival and putting in his customary… broad… performance) open their door to find an agitated daddy Preston insisting that somebody named Corbis wants his book back, before rapidly disintegrating into a rancid pool of goo on the porch.

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At this point I was expecting a quick cut to Diana Rigg receiving a message that reads: “Mrs Peel, we’re needed”… too clever dick by half on my part, as although Bob Fuest production designed very early (pre-Honor Blackman) episodes of The Avengers and directed several in the final series, when Linda Thorson had replaced Diana Rigg, he never worked on any in the Emma Peel era… more’s the pity.

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Anyway, back in the desert Shatner hot foots it over to Red Stone for a confrontation with Corbis, in the Saturnine form of a brilliantly cast Ernest Borgnine (it couldn’t have taken too many hours of make-up to turn him into a randy old goat). Under a glowering sky they enact Fuest’s little tribute to John Sturges’ Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) before repairing inside a clapped out, boarded up wooden church whose interior reveals a groovy stained glass window, various Satanic paraphernalia and pew-loads of hooded, chanting acolytes with empty black eye sockets. Borgnine swaps his cowboy threads for a crimson robe and their battle of faiths begins in earnest. Truth be told, it’s a bit of a one-sided battle and Mark is soon himself reduced to the status of empty eyed Satan fodder.

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It’s Captain Kirk… but not as we know him.

Meanwhile his brother-in-law Tom (Tom Skerritt) is attending a scientific demonstration of his wife Julie (Joan Prather’s) psychic powers, presided over by Dr Sam Richards (Eddie Albert). In the course of this she experiences visions of what’s going on at Red Stone so everybody heads over there in an attempt to save Mark and Mrs Preston, setting up the climactic battle between Good and Evil and the Burman’s much touted goo spouting, Play-Do vomiting finale…

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Fuest felt himself to be on a mission to “smuggle Art into Product” and although The Devil’s Rain affords him nothing like as many opportunities to do this as his Phibes brace or  The Final Programme (1973) there are some startling moments herein, e.g. when Julie stares into the empty sockets of a devil worshipping drone and finds herself in the midst of a sepia-tinted flashback to Puritan times which explains (or purports to explain) what’s going on with that book of bloody signatures, the cauldron of souls and all manner of other bewildering stuff. In retrospect, it occurs to me that this sequence exerted a big influence over the opening one to Lucio Fulci’s gothic gore mini-masterpiece The Beyond (1981).

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That the above-mentioned devil worshipping drone is played by unrecognisable movie debutant John Travolta (whose then room-mate Prather got him this role and also converted him to the cause of Scientology) is just one of the esoteric footnotes to The Devil’s Rain, the authenticity of whose Satanic ceremonies was ensured by the participation, in a consultancy role, of Anton LaVey, founder and high priest of The Church Of Satan. You also see him, golden-masked, at Borgnine’s elbow during significant ritual moments.

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Much is made of LaVey’s participation in this disc’s extensive bonus materials (apparently “approved by Lucifer himself!”), including interviews with his biographer Blanche Barton, also Peter H. Gilmore and Peggy Nadramia, the Church’s current high priest / priestess. The consensus which emerges is that LaVey had a ball making The Devil’s Rain and got on famously with everybody while doing so, but wasn’t crazy about the finished film and would probably have been prouder of appearing in one of Lupino’s noir efforts. Further interviews follow with Skerritt, FX technician Tom Burman, pundit Daniel Roebuck and a short, contemporary one with Shatner. As well as her reminiscences, we get to see the on set Polaroids taken by script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana and of course the expected trailers, TV and radio spots are present and correct.b3-24-78.jpgThere’s also an invaluable 2005 audio commentary with Fuest (who passed away in 2012), mediated by Marcus Hearn. The director is every bit as distractedly eccentric as I remember from my own brief meeting with him. He frequently seems to tune out of the conversation, only to admit to Hearn that he’s getting wrapped up in watching his film. They still manage to cover his career in reasonable depth and it’s interesting to learn that after doing the Phibes movies, he turned down the chance to direct Vincent Price again in the thematically similar Theater Of Blood, though he makes a point of praising the job Douglas Hickox did on that in 1973. He declares his philosophy of production design to be “anything to disturb the eye” and refutes, in passing, the claim (originating in Cinefantastique magazine) that he suffered a nervous breakdown while making the picture under consideration here. Fuest reveals that much of the “most incredible ending of any motion picture ever” was shot by a second unit and that he finds it “like some sort of wake… it goes on and on… you could take about 20 minutes of that stuff out!” His keenness to make what is already a pretty pacey movie into something even pacier (perhaps it was Fuest’s extensive TV experience that influenced his apparent desire to constrain things within something like an hour’s running time) is evident when he attributes TDR’s “unrelenting” momentum to an apprehension that “if you stop to think about it too much, you get into trouble”.

 

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Fuest’s Faustian folly is indeed a gloriously senseless, massively entertaining mess of a movie. What a cast! What a visionary director! What a fantastic release by Messrs Daft &  Gregory, doing what they do best… rescuing cinematic oddities that have fallen into disregard or indifference from late night screenings on obscure standard definition channels and affording them definitive HD restorations, with a crop of boss extras to boot. Hail Severin!

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When Bobs collide… Freudstein & Fuest at Manchester’s third annual Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 1992.

 

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SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?

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Suspiria, 1977. Directed by Dario ArgentoProduced by Claudio Argento and Salvatore Argento. Story by Daria NicoldiScreenplay by Dario Argento and Daria NicolodiCinematography by Luciano TovoliEdited by Franco Fraticelli. Production Design by Giuseppe Bassan. Musiby Goblin. SFX by Germano Natali. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.

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… you wait forty years for a 4k restoration of Suspiria then two turn up at the same time! Over in The States, Synapse’s Don May has been struggling manfully with his for something like a tenth of that period but CultFilms have stealthily beaten him to the punch with their European release of TLE’s take on the most visually beautiful of all Horror Films. Before either of them had aired in public there was much internet discussion and comparing of screen grabs with the intention of establishing which version would prove most successful in correcting the technical errors (too fiendishly complicated to go into here) that have marred previous releases. May’s strongest hand all along has been that Luciano Tovoli, the film’s cinematographer, has supervised his Suspiria… then again the CultFilms / TLE rendering was overseen by Dario Argento himself, who’s presumably entitled to a view on how the film should look and sound.

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Ultimately we’ll all have to pay our money / take our choice and as long as each version is only viewable in its own territory, one of the first things we Europeans (semi-detached and otherwise) will have to go on is this October and November’s Cultfilms UK mini-tour.  After its premiere at the BFI during the London Film Festival on 06/10/17, the TLE Suspiria rolled into Nottingham on the 14th October for a centrepiece Saturday late night screening at the Broadway Cinema’s peerless Mayhem Film Fest (full Festival report now active on this Blog).

Kudos to Festival co-curators Chris Cooke (who had previously told me that presenting such a restoration was a personal dream come true) and Steve Sheil, who introduced “Argento’s masterpiece” by asking how many audience members had never seen the film before. As it happened, a significant proportion of the audience admitted to being “Suspiria virgins”…

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… and what a way to lose their cherries! If the Synapse version is going to look any better than this, we’ve surely got to be talking infinitesimal degrees of cinematic lusciousness. Miraculously, considering the extent of the repairs that were reportedly needed, not a hair nor a scratch now sullies the candy coloured phantasmagoria of Argento’s vision. As for those much called-for corrections to the film’s pallet… suffice to say, you’ll feel an overpowering urge to lean into the screen and lick the marzipan walls of the Tanz Akademie, hopefully grabbing a kiss from Jessica Harper before returning to your seat and getting beaten up by the ushers.

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Soundwise, the film (not least Goblin’s celebrated score) is every bit as loud and frantic as you knew it was going to be… if a little flat. Was there something up with The Broadway’s speakers? Nope, various films of varying quality (none better than Suspiria) made effective use of the venue’s surround sound speakers throughout the Festival. Is it just that Suspiria was conceived, reasonably enough, without reference to the state of audio technology 40 year’s hence? Was there a problem with the relevant elements? With the sonic aspect of this restoration? With my ears? Will the Synapse jobby sound a little punchier? Watch (or should I say listen to?) this space…

Don’t get me wrong… it doesn’t sound crappy, it’s just not quite the outright audio assault for which Suspiria is famed. No matter, I didn’t begrudge one iota of the expense required to get me home after leaving this particular late, late show with those virgins’ applause ringing in my ears. They now knew what they’d been missing and I was reminded, after years of video / DVD / BD over-familiarity, that Suspiria is quite possibly The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. I don’t imagine too many visitors of this Blog are going to give me to much of an argument on that one.

Now for the contentious bit…

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What constitutes a giallo?  Various definitions have been offered. From the get-go we’ll dismiss the philistine broad stroke one that encompasses virtually any Italian exploitation picture. We’re talking here about those thrillers, descended in equal parts from the yellow (“giallo”) covered paper backs published by Mondadori and co, German krimis and Hitchcock, whose rule book was developed by Mario Bava during the ’60s and upgraded by Argento throughout the following decade.

So if we were to have a, er, stab, at definition, it would look something like this. A  killer is at large (usually in an urban Italian setting) and the viewer is challenged to work out his / her identity. His / her motivation can be madness, sexual sadism, an inheritance… it scarcely matters (and the motives revealed, even in some of the genre’s classier entries, are frequently risible nonsense) because the style and severity with which the crimes are perpetrated and filmed are more important than who is killing whom and why. Subjective shots from the killer’s point of view will keep you guessing, anyway, as flashy visuals continue to be prioritised over narrative coherence. The cops generally take a powder in these films, leaving the sleuthing to some obsessive amateur who, more often than not, has half-glimpsed an all important clue but is struggling to make sense of it. Just in case this recipe isn’t already sufficiently un-PC, among the bloodily dispatched victims we will typically find a disproportionate compliment of attractive young women.

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You don’t have to honour every one of these rules to qualify as a giallo. Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987) throws the whodunnit element right out of the window (we’re aware of the killer’s identity even before he inaugurates the movie’s sequence of killings) yet is frequently cited as one of the genre’s last great entries. Some gialli do admit cops, e.g.  Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (tellingly also known as The Police Require Assistance, 1974), Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975) and Alberto De Martino’s Strange Shadows In An Empty Room / Blazing Magnum (1976). Some of the grubbier gialli substitute smut for style (most notoriously in Mario Landi’s unpalatable Giallo In Venice, 1979) and setting their events outside of the Italian urban milieu has not discounted Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Womans Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Umberto Lenzi’s totally barmy Eyeball (1975) or just about all of Sergio Martino’s powerful entries in the genre… so why should its Bavarian setting disqualify Suspiria, a film which in every other way adheres to the genre’s golden rules?!?

So it’s not contentious at all, actually… It’s a no-brainer. It makes no difference that the question “Who’s the killer?” is answered with a shrieked “Witch!” I always get slagged off for arguing this and no doubt will be again, but if it looks like a giallo, struts like a giallo and cuts its way through its victims like a giallo, then it’s probably a giallo… and Suspiria is a giallo. Yes, it’s a turbo charged giallo with heavy Horror overtones, supernatural schtick and cinematic style to burn. But hey, let’s try not to hold that against it, eh?

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The Other OTHER HELL Review… Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso’s Jaw-dropping Spaghetti Exorcist / Nunsploitation Hybrid Arrives On Severin BD.

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BD. Region B. Severin. Unrated.

I previously dug up and reviewed the Redemption VHS edition of The Other Hell (1980) elsewhere on this site, where I rashly described it as Bruno Mattei’s “wildest and best” movie (or something along those lines… go click the link if you can be arsed, because I certainly can’t). Since then, courtesy of a clutch of fine Severin / Intervision releases, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with the gob-slapping cannibal / zombie / WIP atrocities that Mattei perpetrated in the last few years of his career / life and am obliged to reconsider my assessment of this one as Mattei’s finest hour-and-a-half…. or perhaps that should be twenty minutes, as much of the supplementary material on Severin’s spanking new Blu-ray of The Other Hell lends weight to ongoing speculation that its nominal director “Stefan Oblowsky” comprises something like one part Mattei to every four parts Claudio Fragasso.

Fragasso contributes an amusing, highly self-deprecating commentary track (sample quote: “Zombie nuns… that’s cool… because it’s blasphemous!”) He confesses that shots of a burning priest were bought in from the producers of The Legacy, drops the fascinating aside that at one point he was going to write a sequel to Bay Of Blood for Mario Bava and wonders: “Why is Umberto Lenzo always so angry?” Most memorably, one of the many faults he finds with The Other Hell is that it should have been a lot “crazier”… a mind-boggling judgement considering that the film’s pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more studied, subdued and subtle moments in this film, which subsequently relates the vain attempts of trendy cleric Father Valerio (Carlo De Mejo) to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!

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Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (you guessed, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from a certain Dario Argento picture. The film’s title is clearly intended to reference another Argento picture, although naming this farrago “L’Altro Inferno” makes about as much sense as calling Alan Briggs’ Suffer Little Children, another upcoming and suitably wholesome Severin (Intervision) release,  “The Other Suspiria”!

Nobody’s ever going to confuse The Other Hell with an entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy (hang on, I was forgetting Mother Of Tears!) but its sheer go-for-broke audacity, its all-out  sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium puts it ahead of even Joe D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, its fluffed “shock” ending and its female lead Franca Stoppi) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.

Stoppi is probably The Other Hell’s trump card, chewing the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza. She comes across very well in the short interview on this disc, reminiscing about days spent shuttling back and forth between the sets of The Other Hell and Mattei’s True Story Of The Nun Of Monza topped off by evenings on stage! Sadly, stage fright ended her career prematurely but she reinvented herself as an animal rights activist (and no, she wasn’t at all happy about that chicken decapitation, though Fragasso describes it as “inevitable… chickens always end up like this!”) before sadly passing away in 2011. The featurette To Hell And Back comprises archive interviews with Mattei and Carlo De Mejo. Elsewhere Fragasso offers some interesting observations as to why the careers of both De Mejo and Garofolo fell short of what those actors might otherwise have achieved.

Inevitably when a film of this vintage and provenance is re-rendered in Blu-ray there’s going to be a certain amount of grain in evidence, but Severin have managed to keep this element within acceptable levels on a disc that cannot be denied a place on your shelf… Satan himself demands it!

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Incidentally, towards the end of Fragasso’s commentary track, he and his interlocutor are scratching their heads over the identity of the actor playing the priest in the film’s lame “twist” ending. Is it not (I could be wrong) “Mark Shannon” (Manlio Cersosimo), who starred in any amount of goofy horror / porno crossovers for Joe D’Amato? If so, he manages the unprecedented feat here of keeping his dick in his trousers when confronted by a movie camera. Thank heaven for small mercies, eh?

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