From L’Avventura to Zombie 4!

blog

I was cruising the mean streets of Twitter one day recently, well if Twitter could have streets but if it did then they would certainly be mean, and I stumbled upon a post by Russ Hunter aka @sorgono in which he referenced a book on Italian Horror Cinema which he co-wrote along with Stefano Baschiera (available from Edinburgh University Press).

After briefly chatting with Russ online I discovered a man with not just a passion for but also a phenomenal knowledge of Italian genre cinema and a passion for Italian zombie cinema in particular.

A man after my own brain…and not in a Richard Johnson kind of way. But back on track and I had to share with everyone a terrific presentation he gave earlier this year in Slovenia at the Kurja Polt genre film festival.

In the presentation Russ discusses how the foundations of Italian genre cinema were laid, the societal context in which these films were born and of course how all of this resulted in Italian zombie cinema. Give it a watch and the fellow a follow!

Get on you janner!

Milano Calibro Nove

MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) BY FERNANDO DI LEO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Caliber 9; Calibre 9
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Writer: Fernando Di Leo (Based on stories by Giorgio Scerbanenco)
Year: 1972
Starring: Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Philippe Leroy, Lionel Sander

Synopsis:
Released after a three-year term in prison for a bungled robbery, Ugo Piazza plans to lead the straight life for a while. But no sooner is he back on the street than he’s picked up by a bunch of hoodlums under the employ of gang boss ‘the Americans’ – among them, the psychopathic Rocco – who are convinced that Ugo has stolen $300,000 from them. The gang forces Ugo to work for them in the hope that he will eventually lead them to their missing money.

Review:
Novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco is best known in Italy for his series of crime tales, including Milano Calibro 9, set in Milan, which when combined make up what is often referred to as the ‘black Milan’ universe.

It is this universe that lays the foundation for the film and its writer/director Fernando Di Leo accurately extends this bleak universe from the printed page to the visual screen with great aplomb.

Immediately MILANO CALIBRO 9 displays both self-assurance and intrigue as we witness an elaborate parcel exchange that begins outside of the city’s iconic Duomo and for the next five minutes plays out until a harrowing countryside explosion.  This opening sequence is arguably not just one of the best of the genre but one of the best committed to film!

Every element here blends perfectly, from the tension generating score courtesy of Luis Bacalv to the editing and the pacing of the frequent parcel exchange and the aftermath.

Almost everything you need to know about this sub-genre can be gleamed in the opening five minutes.

Credits over and we meet Ugo (Gastone Moschin), freshly released from jail for good behaviour after a robbery went awry, who is simply looking to start again. But crime boss The American won’t let him and sends his men to ask him to come visit him…or pay back the $300,000 he believes that he stole from him right before his robbery attempt and getting sent down.

It is here that we meet Rocco, the second in command for The American. This brash, greasy stereotypical Italian gangster stands in complete contrast to the silent, cold and patient Ugo and built on these two differences the two men wage a silent battle for supremacy.

One initial consequence of their difference sees poor Ugo forced to go to the Police Station in order to gain a temporary ID and it is here that we are introduced to the Comissario (Frank Wolff) and his new college Mercuri (Luigi Pistilli ) who provide an alternative angle to the films proceedings while breaking up the focus on Ugo’s life.

Fernando Di Leo however went on record stating that he would retrospectively have preferred to cut these two in order to bolster the action pacing of the film. Now while what he says is true, these two characters are ineffective in terms of policing and quite honestly superfluous to the whole film but despite this, their relative distance to proceedings, indeed they have very little really to do with the exception of perhaps one moment of tension, their constant theoretical debating of socialism and repression highlight the schisms between the old and the new. This is something which is mirrored in the criminal gangs themselves however here in the respect to the law, both debated approaches prove powerless to stem the tide of crime. Limited as they are in their narrow view and tied to specific ideological approaches which exclude the benefits of other thought. But MILANO CALIBRO 9 is not about social commentary and these debates are mere decoration at worst or a starting point for an external discussion at best.

So clearly not quite like Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST or Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION but through these conversations Di Leo does at least try to help frame the action within the context of the societal opinion of the time, not to forget also mentioning the perennial Italian north/south divide.

Back to the film and almost everyone believes that Ugo pocketed the money, from The American and his gang, to Ugo’s long suffering girlfriend Nelly (Barbara Bouchet) and the police themselves. The result of such widespread belief is that Di Leo finds the story in the life and action of our anti-hero who, perhaps predictably, is forced back into his life of crime in order to stay alive.

Now I say almost everyone because we are also introduced to the blind Don Vincenzo and his hitman Chino (Philippe Leroy). These two don’t care if Ugo did or didn’t steal the money as Ugo was one of them and it did not break any of the old guards rules. Despite his loyalty to the two the time inevitably comes when he has to choose between his new and his old employer.

The overall effect of all of this is that MILANO CALIBRO 9 feels like a personal story, no doubt in line with the stories held within Giorgio Scerbanenco’s novel, and because of this it distinguishes itself from the majority of its contemporaries while managing to create an emotional impact on the viewer.

This impact is further enhanced through the choice of audible cues, strong performances and fleshed out characters that allow for personal and relationship development that appear believable.

Of course no crime film could get by without some level of betrayal and MILANO CALIBRO 9 has it in spades and yet it does not seem overused. This is because of how it is dealt with, some are secrets only unveiled to Ugo and us, the viewer, at the same time and others show us the information ahead of time making us complicit in the deceit and even if we wanted to warn Ugo we are powerless to stop the inevitable so we can only scream at the screen and pray he can find his way out of it.

By the end of Milano Calibro 9 not only do you feel sympathy for our anti-hero Ugo but you certainly warm…or at least begrudgingly respect Rocco. A testament to the terrific character development this film allows.

Everything I have said makes this a great film but it would be remiss of me not to mention the shot choice and cinematography (see the way in which the faces are lit while travelling in a car at 1hour 9minutes) courtesy of Franco Villa. Utilising a wide variety of outdoor shots that show us the black Milan, from the foggy streets to the grey industrial areas and the bars this Milan has succumb to the trappings of gang crime.

So if you are still undecided about whether you need to watch this film I will leave you with this statement. MILANO CALIBRO 9 is a gripping crime film that packs an emotional punch as much as a physical one.

Di Leo has brought to life real characters in a gritty, brutal and engaging story and that start…worth the price of admission alone.

RAGE OF FIRE 2 (2018) BY MATHIEU CAILLIERE

Reviews

Director: Mathieu Cailliere
Writer: Mathieu Cailliere, Sebastien Petitjean, Jeremy Vazzoli
Year: 2018
Starring: Sebastien Petitjean, Mathieu Cailliere, Lorelei Meunier, Kevin Duragrin

One of my fondest memories as a child was waking up on a Christmas morning and discovering that Santa Claus had left me a brand new Sega Mega-Drive. I loved that console (and its rival the SNES which I also would later own) and the whole range of games available in particular the sideways scrolling beat-em-up’s that I would play constantly both at home and in the local arcade while on a seaside holiday. The Final Fight and Streets of Rage series were my equal favourites if you must know.

So over the last few years it has been nice from both a nostalgic and cinematic point of view that there has been a few short grindhouse-style film releases (KUNG FURY and JUST JUSTICE III being the best of the crop) that played into my love of 16-bit entertainment and action.

Courtesy of the Mase Brothers I can add another title to this ever-growing list;
RAGE OF FIRE 2!

Throwing in references to Streets of Rage, Street Fighter and Doom amongst others RAGE OF FIRE 2 follows cop Axel return from his self-imposed exile to vanquish the evil Mr Gun who has returned from the dead and taken Axel’s sister, Gina, hostage within an armoured warehouse.

Cue skateboarding gun-toting smart-ass action that really commits to the 16-bit video game style. All of the dialogue is delivered on-screen adding to the authenticity meanwhile the action is delivered through a combination of live action and in-game style action (and both, with a first person shoot-em’up style) with some neat touches like the eating of a digitalised apple to visibly boost a health bar thrown in for good measure.

RAGE OF FIRE 2 is a short film that perfectly recreates the 16-bit action game feeling and manages to do so along with some well judged humour, well lit cinematic shots (director Mathieu Cailliere knows his stuff) and a storming soundtrack.

Stay cool! Stay retro!

Oh and keep an eye out for the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in the background. You can watch the film on the Mase Brothers YouTube channel or below:

ArteKino Festival returns for a third year

blog

Today marks the opening of the third ArteKino European Film Festival, which is a fantastic annual event that brings a variety of independent European cinema to the masses online…for FREE!

This year up to 10, unfortunately sometimes country restrictions apply, films are available to watch for free (did I mention that already?) and they are available in ten different languages.

For me CRATER by Luca Bellino & Sylvia Luzi, FLEMISH HEAVEN by Peter Monsaet and PIN CUSHION by Deborah Haywood look like they could be this years highlights but why not take a look for yourself and discover something new.

Running until the 31st December you have plenty of time to check out these films.
Enjoy and visit the ArteKino Festival website.

I can’t sleep… …so I penned a love letter to Dario Argento’s Sleepless

Articles and Interviews

Appreciation of a film is very subjective, not just to personal resonance, the period of our lives in which we watch it and taste but also the wider context in terms of genre and technical competence. All or some of these elements may combine leaving us with both our personal impression and the wider accepted view. However it may also mean that we love films that perhaps we shouldn’t and dismiss films that maybe require reappraisal. 

In regards to the giallo genre one such film that I believe falls into the latter for many is SLEEPLESS aka Non Ho Sonno by Dario Argento.

No introduction is needed for this director or the impact that he has had not just on Italian horror but the wider genre overall and frequently when his name is mentioned amongst fans be it at a festival, in the pub or on a cult internet forum, the debate of what constitutes his last great film is raised.

For some it is TENEBRAE, for others it ended with OPERA although I have also seen cases made for THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and even DRACULA 3D….ok maybe that last one was a joke, in more ways that one. But for me it is unequivocally SLEEPLESS.

In fact I propose that SLEEPLESS is not only his best work in the last three decades but also represents the very best of all post-nineties gialli. Not because it is a Dario Argento film but because it is one of the very few that actually adheres to the tropes of the genre, incorporating them into a working narrative whilst simultaneously managing to engage with the audience.

Now let’s be clear I am not against innovation or adaption of the genre rules, the giallo genre throughout its history is rife with appropriation and adaption having gone through several cycles, adapting itself to the requirements and preferences of audiences at any given time from Hitchcockian and Agatha Christie murder mysteries, to the psychological or the psycho-sexual and then the straight-out erotic by way of the occult and supernatural, although not necessarily all in that order.

So films such as SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED from Luigi Pastore, FRANCESCA from Luciano Onetti not to mention AMER from Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani and THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN from Domiziano Cristopharo all have their merits but it is the likes of  ALMOST BLUE from Alex Infrascelli and EYES OF CRYSTAL from Eros Puglielli that sit alongside SLEEPLESS in that they are the most true to the genre, although a special mention has to go to Sergio Martino for the disappointing TV movie MOZART IS A MURDERER (1999) that also attempted to fit into the more traditional genre style.

However while ALMOST BLUE and EYES OF CRYSTAL provide a decent watch, they both fall by the wayside when talking about actual giallo, as we would understand it as opposed to the wider Italian interpretation of the genre – with one element of where we differ in terms of the mystery genre being the deployment of a professional detective.

Additionally, ALMOST BLUE  and EYES OF CRYSTAL are both based on novels, therefore they are constrained further due to having to remain true, to an extent, to the source material. While SLEEPLESS, although co-written by a novelist (Carlo Lucarelli) was free to be written purely for the screen – and as a result is better able to visually mimic the giallo film formula, with mimic being a key term.

It is at this point that I may lose the support of some of you, have I made a contentious claim here? Going back to my opening thought, it is clear that how we interpret the genre and how we define also shapes our arguments and our preferences.

For me, a black gloved killer, POV shots and plot absurdity, to some level at least, reign supreme as a staple of the genre. That is why I feel assured and certain in my argument that SLEEPLESS is not only the last quality film made by Dario Argento but also the best giallo of the last three decades.

But why do I rate this film so much and why should you check it out or give it another go?

Coming three years after the misguided attempt that was THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998), fan expectation was low and with good reason as Dario Argento had spent years proclaiming that he did not want to finish his ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy – he would – or make another DEPP RED just because of fan pressure and that he would rather indulge in his own creative interests. 

However for one reason or another he returned to the genre he made his own and whether he committed fully to the project or not, the brief footage in ‘The Making of Sleepless’ extra from Arrow Video’s UK DVD release certainly makes it seem like he had a change of heart, the end result is an energetic and authentic giallo that throws as much on the screen as it can.

Opening immediately with an upbeat killer theme tune, courtesy of Goblin in their first collaboration with the director since PHENOMENA, we witness retrospectively a scene set in Torino at some point during March, 1983 where a young boy named Giacomo is being consoled by Police Inspector Moretti after the brutal killing of his mother.

Jumping to modern day Turin, a prostitute is having trouble with her client but after the offer of additional payment she suddenly becomes a little more amenable to whatever perverse demands were put to her. Once her sadomasochistic customer falls asleep our luckless prostitute attempts to leave only to overhear sleep-talking about killing lots of people. Panicking she rushes to leave, knocking into a small cabinet and sending its contents along with that of her bag flying everywhere. Now a mixture of files, press cuttings and make up not to mention a kill kit lay strewn across the floor and in her rush to leave she hastily grabs her items and leaves. Taking with her a key piece of evidence and starting an exhilarating and brutal chase sequence complete with ramped-up tension, POV shots and of course excessive violence and blood.

A blistering twenty minutes opens this film and putting any implausibility aside, admittedly you might have to, it is highly satisfying to finally get a film that plays out like the genre of old.

Sleepless by Dario Argento

As the film progresses events lead a couple of investigating officers back to what was known as the ‘Dwarf killer’, a case that was investigated and solved by our old friend Moretti back in the early eighties. 

Now that this old case is awoken so is the murderer’s intent, with the ferocity and frequency that a slasher film would be proud of. Off-camera it is at the point of the films third murder that something rather strange for a Dario Argento film occurs – the gloved hands of the killer are not those of the iconic director but rather another crew member. The reason for this was simple, as stated to Almar Haflidason in an interview with the BBC, it was simply because the “gloves were too big” for his hands. With something as mundane as this a Dario Argento directorial tradition was broken.

The opening act of the film coming to a close we see a now grown-up Giacomo thrown back into the mix, along with a brutal alternative flashback of the films opening scene, completing our back-story while driving the narrative forwards as an entertaining modern amateur investigation links the past and the present almost like a play off Dario Argento’s greatest hits including a killer dwarf (a la Deep Red), fiction influencing reality (a la Tenebrae) and much more across displaying wider genre influence and history.

Constantly straddling the line between parody and authenticity SLEEPLESS takes an almost frantic, kitchen sink approach but the tight pacing, intriguing mystery and clever, if sometimes convenient, plot devices keep it ticking over as the writers leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the investigating characters (and viewers) to follow with twists, turns and red herrings at each and every step of the way and as we slowly understand more we find ourselves engrossed in this violent mystery.

In regards to the success of the scripting we must be careful giving Dario Argento all of the credit or perhaps even the lions share as alongside him was semi-frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini (EYES OF CRYSTAL; PHENOMENA; OPERA; THE CARD PLAYER) and, I would propose more importantly, crime television celebrity and author Carlo Lucarelli (writer of the novel Almost Blue) who is also credited with contributing to the story. Although his exact involvement is unconfirmed the fact remains that SLEEPLESS is above and beyond the films of Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini both immediately before and everything after , so the only difference in this respect being Carlo Lucarelli.  

But whatever the reason and all speculation aside every aspect of SLEEPLESS works, from the pacing and (preposterous) story to the Goblin score all the way to the excellent special effects which beautifully highlight the art of violence that Dario Argento is best known for. 

Sergio Stivaletti (DEMONS; OPERA; DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) has to receive the credit here as he does exceptionally well on a limited budget, never hiding the gore as he displays these not only extremely bloody but also inventive pieces of work as fingers are chopped, teeth smashed and heads exploded.

Although we must accept that this is still a modern day Dario Argento movie and for all the positives there are still a few areas in which the director misses the mark for one reason or another. One such example is the cinematography which is functional at best and admittedly lacking that extra bit of flair that was prevalent in his seventies output but perhaps more seriously there is a moment which cannot be simply chalked down to cultural or historical attitudes as one might do with some of the characters or scenes from his early to mid seventies output.

This is the insensitive choice of comical, almost circus-like music for the scene in which the police round up the city’s dwarves. This particular scene comes across as ill-judged at best. Meanwhile others may criticise the films over-the-top adoption of the genres tropes which at times leave the film open to being a pastiche of Dario Argento’s work rather than actually being from the director himself. Conversely this might also be to the films benefits in regards to the entertainment stakes.

Ultimately I can admit that SLEEPLESS is riddled with plot holes and conveniences, it panders to the needs of the giallo fan and can be seen as a souped-up TV movie, but what separates it from being another MOZART IS A MURDERER are these very same points.

The film counters any story issues with strong pacing…and violence, so sure it does pander to the needs of the giallo fan but is that such a bad thing when it is being delivered by someone with the credibility and validity of Dario Argento? 

Meanwhile the casting and performance of Max Von Sydow (THE SEVENTH SEAL; THE EXORCIST) lends the film a certain level of gravitas unreachable by many other films produced around the same time or the straight to TV produced gialli. Not to mention strong turns by Gabriele Lavia (DEEP RED) and Rossella Falk (BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA; SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS) giving the film yet another link to the past.

The giallo genre’s decline is well document and the new breed producing this cinematic art form have moved on, evolved if you will, that much is clear but every now and then is it so bad to want something modern that does more than just pay a slight visual or audio homage to the past? 

I say no and for those very moments SLEEPLESS is there. So if you are yet to see it or if you have only seen it the once I recommend you give it another go.

The Curse of the Blind Dead continues

blog

1972, 1973, 1974, 1975…2018.  Wait, 2018? What? How?

Now there have been several unofficial sequels and continuations to the myth of the eyeless Knight’s Templar since Amando De Ossorio ended the Blind Dead series back in the mid-seventies but Raffaele Picchio (MORITURIS; THE BLIND KING) looks to have brought back to life one that might actually be worth your attention. I am talking about CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD.

The trailer brings the action up to date, by way of refreshing the back story, but the more things change the more they stay the same and keen fans of the series will recognise a couple of familiar scenes or set ups within the trailer but this is not at the expense of viewers new to the undead templar myth.

Looking gritty, brutal and authentic (the portrayal of the reanimated Knight’s Templar’s is for me, spot on) the fact that CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD is also shot in English should mean that it is accessible to all horror fans while simultaneously ensuring that it has the best chance of distribution.

Due out in 2019 and with Marco Ristori and Luca Boni attached as Executive Producers, and as evidenced by the trailer below, you can be certain of flesh-munching extremity.

Oh, while I am unfamiliar with the majority of the cast I have read that the legendary Fabio Testi will appear in the film, no doubt as an uncredited cameo due to his stature and not (at the time of writing) being listed on the official IMDB page. Yet another reason to check this film out.

Once I get some more information on this film I will post it up on here so keep checking back…while you still have eyes!

Follow the official  film Facebook page here.

THE SERMON (2018) BY DEAN PUCKETT

Reviews

Director: Dean Puckett
Writer: Dean Puckett
Year: 2018
Starring: Molly Casey, Emilia Copeland, Grant Gillespie, Oliver Monaghan, Denise Stephenson

Synopsis:
In an isolated church community in the English countryside, a powerful hate preacher prepares to deliver a sermon to his flock, but his daughter has a secret that could destroy them all.

Review:
A melancholic tone pervades through the opening establishing shots of a craggy, desolate landscape before THE SERMON begins in quite a literal sense with a preacher (Oliver Monaghan) delivering a damning tale to his isolated community.

We hear an attack on immorality and on homosexuality as the preacher goes on with his damning stereotypical rhetoric before we bear witness to hypocritical and brutal judgement on those deemed abominations, courtesy of God’s children.

Powerful and intelligently composed, within the opening five minutes writer/director Dean Puckett has presented to us a tale about ignorance, hatred and perhaps equally as damaging, about conformity and the betrayal of ones own feelings and ideas. Or so it would seem but there is something darker lurking underneath.

If the script is to be commended, then so too is the cinematography, courtesy of Ian Forbes. THE SERMON through the utilisation of 35mm film manages to succeed in its aim of being reminiscent of seventies folklore horror, meanwhile the muted almost drab colour palette especially when combined with the bleakness of the surrounding countryside is a perfect representation of the limited and dare we say empty mindset of those living in the small rural town,

Although the resolution will not come as a surprise to many, at only eleven minutes long THE SERMON certainly does not overstay its welcome but rather serves as a highly entertaining and polished piece of work, the likes of which are a rarity these days [no Stewart Lee references please].

Tackling intolerance, ignorance and dare I say love in a small isolated religious community, THE SERMON is more than worth your time.

There are a few other elements that I have not touched upon in this review (the terrific music courtesy of Bizarre Rituals being one) which I will leave it for you to discover, to make your own interpretation and to draw your own conclusion.

This film was a collaboration between Grasp The Nettle Films and the Creative England/BFI Network and on the evidence of THE SERMON and Dean Puckett’s previous short of the same year (SATAN’S BITE: OR THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE WITCHFINDER THOMAS EASTCHURCH) this is a director with a very promising future.

If you wish to see THE SERMON for yourself, and I suggest that you do, then you can view it for free on Vimeo.

MV5BMDY0YjJkOTItYzQ1Ny00NmQ1LWI1NjItN2EwYjM4MTFmODFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk5NjI4MjY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,843,1000_AL_