TetroVideo – A new player in town

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As genre film fans we live in a new golden age, here in the UK we have the likes of Shameless, 88 Films, Cult Films, Nucleus Films and Arrow dusting off the old film reels and granting new life to some old classics and the rest. But what about modern independent horror and cult cinema?

Sure Arrow put out the odd thing but not much with a European twist and that is where new player TetroVideo, a UK/Italian distribution label focusing on cult and independent horror for the discerning collector, come into their own.

Promising that all releases will come as a double disc set, featuring a dvd pack with 3
panels, transparent tray, booklet and slipcase with alternative cover.

The first two releases are  due out this month (January 2019) and they are:

LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG (2009) 

A grimy film from Slovenian director Mladen Djordjevic in which a young failing director strikes up a working partnership with a porn director leading him to delve further into this lifestyle and ultimately one of sleaze, betrayal and desperation.

DEAD INFERNO (2014)

This is another title for the terrific Lucio Fulci influenced American film BOMBSHELL BLOODBATH from director Brett Mullen (BLOODY BALLET), who I had the pleasure of interviewing a good few years ago when I ran a zombie blog site.

Playing almost like a homage to the glory days of 80’s Italian zombie flicks, by way of an excellent score from Umberto, and RE-ANIMATOR the story sees Cara try to protect her father and his secret experiments all while fighting the living dead.

Future announced releases that have also been announced include the Domiziano Cristopharo led anthology DEEP WEB XXX and the Slovenian action-horror KILLBILLIES aka IDILA and perhaps most exciting for me is  LA CASA DEL BUON RITORNO aka THE HOUSE OF THE BLUE SHADOWS a mystery thriller from 1986 courtesy of director Beppe Cino.

You can find out more about the label or pre-order the films over on their official website at tetrovideo.com

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2018 I hardly knew thee

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Well as we approach Christmas we are also approaching the end of the calendar year. One in which on a personal level not much of note has really happened and quite frankly on a cinematic level one in which for the first time in years I have barely watched any new releases.

HEREDITARY, HALLOWEEN and the reimagining of SUSPIRIA have all passed me by for one reason or another but I doubt any of these would usurp TERRIFIER as my horror film of the year. Although I am hoping to watch Lars Von Trier’s THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT soon as if the film is as good as the controversy is created then I think Art the Clown might have some competition.

So what have I been doing with my time if not watching new releases? Well I have just watched films as and when the opportunity presented itself. This year saw first viewings of French films Rififi (1955) and Mon Oncle (1958), of several Italian films produced throughout the years (including modern fare such as SMETTO QUANDO VOGLIO and FORGIVE OUR SINS) and of films from a variety of countries such as Spain, Romania and of course Britain.

In addition to this I have had another article published in issue 11 of the fantastic Wengs Chop magazine (on the Comissario Betti trilogy) and had my first ever DVD release cover quote! For the fantastic Italian short film UNDERCOVER MISTRESS by Giulio Ciancamerla, check it out.

Although I am quite happy that this year also saw me discover the upcoming film maker Dean Puckett with his short films THE SERMON and SATAN’S BITE. It is rare to find film makers from the South West of England to champion (last one was Ryan Haysom with his short film YELLOW) but hopefully 2019 will see a few more come through.

But what about 2019? Well aside from no doubt catching up on several films from 2018 that I missed as well as seeking to get my writing out through a couple of further publications (keeping this hush for now) and working on a few personal more creative projects.

So here’s to not spending 2019 in an alcohol-induced slumber watching films and barely managing to review or write about them!

 

Directing from the abyss!

Articles and Interviews

In 2017 a chat online led to me to the strange Italian film CREATRUES FROM THE ABYSS aka PLANKTON, which I subsequently picked up on DVD for only a couple of pounds. Receiving the disc just a few days later I was excited to see what all the fuss was about and immediately stuck it into my home entertainment system, cracked open a drink and sat back as what could only be described as nautical lunacy unfolded.

Once the credits had finished rolling and my senses came returned I was left with so many questions not just about the film itself but also the director; who the hell was Al Passeri and why hadn’t I heard of him or this film before?

A quick cursory search online seemed to confirm my initial suspicions, Al Passeri must have been either one of many non-descript one-hit Italian directors who got involved in the VOD boom of the early nineties or perhaps a low budget director using a pseudonym, not wanting to stifle a potentially promising career while still needing to make some money and learn his craft.

Neither of these hypotheses turned out to be true and instead I wound up discovering a man who had spent the previous two decades toiling away in the background of Italian genre cinema before getting his directorial break.

Born in Nocera, Umbria back in 1950 Alvaro Passeri would move to Rome soon after, where he has lived ever since. A keen artist from his teenage years, he enjoyed painting and musical studies but perhaps it was his interest in electronics that would ironically set him up for a career in the creative world of film making. After graduating in Sculpture at the Art Institute of Rome he spent a few years working backstage in the opera before landing a position as a sculptor on the TV series JESUS OF NAZARETH starring Robert Powell and Laurence Olivier, a production that I am sadly familiar with due to attending a Catholic school in England and being forced to watch it during lessons in which the teacher felt particularly lazy.

Anyway back to Alvaro Passeri; he followed up this initial foray in the world of film with sculpture and special effects on the 1977 rampaging octopus flick TENTACLES by Ovidio Assonitis. This additional work came around as the previous crew member charged with creating the effects had unfortunately missed a lot of them out, resulting in the director calling up Alvaro and giving him his first opportunity to not only showcase his emerging talent but discover a new world of (professional) enjoyment.

After working on the set of  CALIGULA by Tinto Brass the following year, a flurry of work rolled in and a young Alvaro Passeri would go on to gain more experience with a number of productions including work by Enzo Castellari (THE SHARK HUNTER), Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH; ALIEN 2; HERCULES), Paolo Cavara (LA LOCANDIERA), Sergio Martino (2019 – AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK) and even with the great directors Sergio Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) and Dario Argento (INFERNO), for whom he contributed scenic artwork and special effects including the building of the gothic castle.

Looking back to this period we are presented with an impressionable rookie on the set (not to mention literally building them) of several masters of the Italian scene, with these experiences both direct and indirect helping to skill him in the art of working with small budgets. No doubt a necessary skill as over time the horror and fantasy markets started to wane, especially in Italy.

Alvaro Passeri took these experiences and formed his own production and special effects company in 1982. This is the reason why his company carries that number. From this moment on his career would continue in the fashion and frequency he had no doubt become accustomed to despite the market downturn.

He would later go on to return to working with Enzo Castellari as well as with the likes of Ruggero Deodato (THE ATLANTIS INTERCEPTORS; THE BARBARIANS; OCEANO) and several other known directors such as Aldo Lado, Dino Risi, Duccio Tessari and Sergio Martino. Not to mention the legendary Lucio Fulci on productions of THE NEW GLADIATORS and AENIGMA.

When asked about his time working with Lucio Fulci, a man who several have said is demanding and cruel on set, Alvaro Passeri remembers fondly their working relationship as the iconic director would allow him to get on and work without supervision, trusting in his output.

However these cult films were only one aspect of Alvaro Passeri’s work and he would also have the opportunity to contribute and work on several other genres and films, most notably the critically acclaimed CINEMA PARADISO by Giuseppe Tornatore.

Speaking with Alvaro Passeri about what it was like watching these directors both from afar and up-close it becomes apparent that he took the most out of these opportunities and was always learning and very appreciative of everyone’s unique skills; not only technique from the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore but also some practical ideas from the future Hollywood directorial star James Cameron, for who Alvaro Passeri spent a month with in the early 1980s. This period also included the making of a piranha effect for the film PIRANHA II. No doubt this professional collaboration was the result of Ovidio Assonitis who had acted as an uncredited director on the film.

With all these experiences, in 1992, now 42 years old, Alvaro Passieri finally took the step into directing with his first feature film – CREATURE DAGLI ABISSI otherwise known as CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS or PLANKTON depending on which English language market you are in, and it is this film that was the catalyst for this article.

A film that combines elements of the aforementioned PIRANHA II, just look at all the flying prehistoric fish and POV shots, with John Carpenter’s THE THING, in regards of hideous ‘alien’ mutations; and then throws in more than just a touch of off-the-wall bizarre humour; It really has to be seen to be believed and honestly I would recommend that you did see it!

To quote one guy on Twitter (@Seamaster73) who replied to me after a post regarding the film, he described it as: “The film Jaws *could* have been…if it had featured a scene in which a woman gives birth to caviar”. If you are a fan of crazy low budget horror then that description should be sending you straight to Amazon (other suppliers are available).

Now the plot itself is quite straight forward, a bunch of obnoxious teens head out in a boat for a party only to get stranded at sea. Luckily they come across a deserted yacht which just so happens to be kitted out for two things – sex parties and mad fish-based science, what else!

Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth our party animals get down to the business of getting down, well most of them….only to soon realise something fishy is going on and they are not alone on board….with hilarious consequences.

According to the ever increasingly inaccurate IMDB, it was shot on a reported budget of $250,000 across Miami, USA and Rome, Italy and was written by the no doubt fictitious Richard Baumann (whose only other credit was starring in 2 episodes of a 1950s TV series CAVALCADE OF AMERICA). Hmmmm. Although I do suspect the credited story co-coordinator John Blush may have had an early career role in this although all the internet details are very fuzzy. Now what was it I saying earlier about pseudonyms?

Having spoken to the director he admitted that he undertook the old b-movie director trick of inventing many of the crew in order to give the appearance of a bigger production than it actually was and this is perhaps closer to the truth.

In fact the director would go on to say “I could not write that I had done everything, in addition to the actors my troupe was 5 people, you realise that this movie was produced with the money that in a normal movie pay only the lunch for the crew.” Making the film even more of low budget triumph and success and to my mind, I even doubt the budget given on IMDB as when you have the special effects knowledge on hand and quite frankly set the movie in one location your costs are in all likelihood notably reduced.

Having been privileged to get the opportunity to speak with the director, I go on to explain to him the purpose of my interest and how I discovered his largely forgotten film from 1992 [although it was trapped in distribution hell for a couple of years before finally being released].

He seems humbled and somewhat surprised admitting that he “did not know that ‘CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS’ had fans” and that although he “had directed the film with great passion” he still could believe that it was gaining new fans.

To me this really highlights the benefits of the digital age to film makers and older work, no longer are these esoteric films the hidden away in the confines of murky store basements or underground mail order catalogues available only to the chosen few but now with the click of a button people from all across the world can discuss and share their latest find or oddity and within minutes trailers found and viewed thus perpetuating the cycle.

Although kept busy with special effects work (including on the terrifically titled and themed but hugely disappointing JURASSIC PARK rip off CHICKEN PARK) it would be a further sixteen years before Alvaro Passeri would return to direct.

Between 1998 and 2004 he made a further four films (THE GOLDEN GRAIN [check out the trailer under its original title FANTASTIC GAMES at the very end of the article]; THE MUMMY THEME PARK; FLIGHT TO HELL; PSYCHOVISION – many of which are now on YouTube) but these were not met favourably by many critics and in 2004 he hung up the directors cap as the commercial market and backing for these sort of films had completely disappeared.

Despite this end, Alvaro Passeri had worked on and contributed to several significant and notable Italian films and gave us the highly entertaining and memorable CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS and for that I salute him!

Nowadays he spends his time on his passion of mechanical electronics, robotics and music. You can find out more and visit his official website here.

Finally I would like to thank Alvaro Passeri for his time and generosity in replying to me and humouring what must be a strange request from a random viewer about a film that is now 25 years old!

If you have even just a few pound (or dollars) find this gem on Amazon where it is cheap, grab some drinks and snacks and settle in for a night of fun. I always believe that films should at least entertain or have something to say, the rare few have both, and this film certainly does one of those two.

Addition: After posting this article I spoke a little more with Alvaro Passeri about his time in the industry and his favourite pieces of work to which he intrigued me by describing his follow up directorial effort FANTASTIC GAMES, which was retitled THE GOLDEN GRAIN after a distributor shall we say acted not in the best interest of anyone other than themselves forcing a drastic overhaul.

Intrigued by this I probed a little further and to my delight the director posted online a showreel trailer for the film – I was certainly captivated. A million miles away from the crazy fucked up fish violence of CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS, instead FANTASTIC GAMES comes across as if Luigi Cozzi made a 1980s sci-fi combined with THE NEVERENDING STORY and INDIANA JONES by way of the Jim Henson Company and Ray Harryhausen.

After this movie was completed the bottom really did fall out of the industry and he saw his budgets reduced down to a tenth of what they once were. Reminiscing on this point he displays some regret over whether he made the right decision to continue in the face of increasing obstacles but when you own the studio and have the responsibility of several people’s livelihoods to contend with it suddenly is a whole different situation.

I hope Alvaro enjoyed his time talking to me as much as I did him, and looks back fondly on a career not only well spent but still enjoyed by b-movie and cult film fans across the globe.

Check out the trailer for PLANKTON aka CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS below

To review or not to review? That is the question.

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So I’m sat here on a Saturday night with a can of Birra Moretti next to me and the Derby della mole (aka the Turin derby) on TV and yet rather than my mind being on the match it is replaying a conversation that I have been having with myself for the last couple of months.

To review or not to review?

The combined reviews on my site bring in a reasonable amount of traffic and help serve the purpose of my – to promote modern European cinema and raise the profile and availability of content of older, less covered genres.

So what has changed over these last months. Well my job and my free time. These shifts have forced me to reappraise my time management and considering I was struggling to work through things I wanted to watch let alone review I started questioning should I bother. Throw into the mix the doubt over whether this aspect of the blog is helping me to achieve any paid or worthwhile freelance gigs and the question gained strength.

So over the Christmas period there will be a few more changes to this blog as I seek to make a go of securing freelance work, of contributing to wider distributed publications and to pursue my passion for creative writing.

Sadly this means (with the odd exception) that I won’t be doing any more reviews but hopefully it means that time saved can go towards the often neglected articles that I have planned.

Bring on 2019!

From L’Avventura to Zombie 4!

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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: