Hiatus, lack of enthusiasm or just damn busy?

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It is clear to see that my blog has been neglected of late and with an ever-growing to watch list (an affliction we all suffer from I am sure) that includes several screeners for review it is feeling like it will be almost a slog to get out of this content funk.

However despite my lack of updates on here and a reduction of posts through my Twitter account I have still been watching films, although perhaps not as many as I should or want to be. Recent watches have included the Italian football-themed but ultimately formulaic chalk-and-cheese buddy film LA COPPIA DEI CAMPIONI (available on UK Netflix) which served to entertain despite the baffling and blatant theft of a scene from DUMB & DUMBER.

In case you are interested also check out ‘fellow comedy ‘Welcome Mr President’ and the more sombre ”’Forgive Us Our Debts’ starring the always impressive Claudio Santamaria.

But due to changing jobs and a daily commute of over two hours a day my time for films during the week has unfortunately diminished but in the meantime make sure you keep checking the site and pick up the recent copy of Weng’s Chop magazine (Issue #11) as my article on the Comissario Betti trilogy features. Merlitastic!

 

Imperoli, Clever, Batzella, Lazer and Milewski!

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It must have been around four years ago and with the short film VIOLETS BLOOM AT AN EMPTY GRAVE that director Chris Milewski was first brought to my attention, although that short was credited to his pseudonym Luciano Imperoli through which he also put out THE COLD EYES OF DEATH, which I managed to see shortly after.

Not only were these two short films directed by some unknown Italian, or so it seemed at the time, but they were steeped in the atmosphere of the horror output of Lucio Fulci and were accompanied by 80s synth horror soundscapes reminiscent of the legendary Fabio Frizzi…which was hardly surprising when I found out that the great man had contributed to one of the short films.

But I was surprised to learn that these films had been crafted by an American, located thousands of miles away from the homeland of the maestro of horror but seemingly so close in terms of artistic vision and mindset.

As Milewski’s portfolio (and use of pseudonyms) grew so did his fanbase and thankfully his opportunities. To date his most distributed work includes segments in the anthology movies POE4: THE BLACK CAT (which I reviewed for Diabolique magazine here) and also A TASTE OF PHOBIA which has recently completed its festival run and I believe is now available on VOD.

But after all these years you are probably wondering why only now I am writing about him…and he’s not even European. Well in answer to these questions I have put this brief piece together because he has released another Fulci-inspired short film (and I feel a bit behind the curve having waited so long to do this) and secondly because he makes films that hark back to the output of the golden age of the early 80s Italian horror scene. Something that no doubt will interest many who visit this site.

With his new short film, PHANTOMS OF THE FOG, Milewski takes influence from not only his favourite genre but also the horrors of the Vietnam war. But this is no CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE action-filled romp but rather a maggot-infested journey by way of the undead. In the words of the French website Toxic Crypt it “… could be described as a Lucio Fulci achievement based on a script by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso.” and I for one certainly concur. Additionally I have to say the make up is fantastic, think along the lines of BURIAL GROUND and ZOMBI 2.

This eleven minute short stars Filmiracle Productions regulars Karen Lynn and Terry Reilly, while newcomer Ryan Fargo plays the part of an American soldier wandering around in the jungle for reasons unknown.

So if you have a penchant for Lucio Fulci inspired 80s Italian horror then why not jump on the bandwagon with Fabio Frizzi and myself by watching the below and judging for yourself.

You can view a number of short films by Chris Milewski on the Filmiracle productions YouTube channel.

Blaxploitalian

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The Western World has gone through many societal changes over the last century, and it is crazy to think about the number of things that have changed even in the last fifty years alone. It does appear that we have a come long way in such a short amount of time but we must not kid ourselves, for changes in allowing every citizen to vote or for the pursuit of equal rights might be victories for societal equality but they are changes in legality and not necessarily the mindset. Admittedly the latter often causes the former when enforced en masse but there are always pockets of people who may disagree or those who, through no clear fault of their own, cannot adjust.

But for me as someone raised in a time of ever growing liberty it seems strange that we are still struggling with cinematic issues surrounding race (whitewashing, lack of diversity) and gender (unequal pay, the ‘casting couch’ audition) and these two areas feed into the influence and motivation for this piece.

Now I do accept that films, like many other creative endeavours, are often a product of their time. Not necessarily in a zeitgeist way but still in a way that represents the sensibilities and thoughts of the paying public. This is nothing new, for example Shakespeare could be unsympathetic to specific people or religions should the paying audience (and the royalty) of the time demand it. This almost certainly makes it tough for certain groups to breakout from almost defined and limited opportunities for fear from the producers or directors that such a bold move may sink their film.

But should it be a bold move even nowadays? The first black actor appeared in an Italian film over 100 years ago! Yet in that time I can probably name on one hand those who have succeeded this uncredited trailblazer.

Although being European I am also British and I am aware that our experience of immigration and our attitude to it has historically been different to that of our mainland cousins, one only has to look at the diversity in our sporting teams to see that. But I am digressing, I am here to write about two actresses that for me stand out in Italian genre cinema as having been there and helped shape opinion and the normality of diversity on screen.

As one of the few black women working in Italian genre film in the nineteen-seventies Carla Brait stood out for me and it was in fact while I was watching TORSO that I first conceived the idea for this blog post.

In the film she has a supporting role playing one of the friends of Jane (Suzy Kendall), now this is pretty innocuous as she is one of several friends and is held up as some sort of exotic foreign beauty by a group of small town men purely due to her skin colour (and perhaps alluring clothing). She is also a lesbian ensuring that the cinema crowds get their pound of flesh.

A short while later I revisited fellow giallo THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS, which had a cinematic release the previous year and in which Brait played Mizar, an exotic and somewhat erotic beauty who wrestled men in a nightclub with a style akin to that of the stereotypical African warriors. Or at least so I believe from other films. Once again she is held up almost as a sexual, exotic object perhaps even one that is a little taboo. Well until she meets her untimely death that is.

Simply scanning her sixteen film credits on IMDB shows that several of her roles are limited to that of being a maid, quite often listed as a black maid at that (a similar role that Angela La Vorgna held in YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY both in terms of servitude and sexuality) but I can’t help but feel that simply by being on the screen and normalising the appearance of non-whites on screen would have helped contribute to bringing on a change, if even only a slight one, in Italian genre cinema.

Then there is perhaps the actress most people who read this blog will know. The fun, the entertaining and the one and only Geretta Geretta. Perhaps best known for her role as Rosemary in DEMONS she is arguably one of if not the most successful black actress in Italian genre history having also starred in 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS; MURDER ROCK; SHOCKING DARK and of course RATS:NIGHT OF TERROR, as the kick-ass character Chocolate. Hmm.

While Carla Brait was there to bring a touch of the ‘exotic’ and arguably servitude (be it to a master or in general men) to the the films by the eighties things were different and Geretta Geretta was able to bring more independence and action to her roles.

However both of these women I believe helped normalise the normal through their appearances in these films and for that I salute them, but I do appreciate that we all have a long way to go.

Historically in Italian films it would seem that in the main black women are seen as servants, as exotic objects or quite simply in the end as victims but I think that did change in the eighties. Although since then I struggle to think of many other female actors of colour in contemporary Italian cinema (in fact from the top of my head the only one I can think of is Lorena Cesarini in the TV series Suburra who is an immigrant and a prostitute despite being one of the nicest and most genuine characters in the show. However in the shows defence this is a depiction of the Roman neighbourhood and nothin more).

If this topic is of interest to you then there is a documentary titled ‘BLAXPLOITALIAN‘ by Fred Kudjo to check out.

Ghostly goings on at Villa Clara

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Well it is Halloween season, the time that ghosts, ghouls and goblins come out to play and everyone becomes a horror fan. But none of that really makes a jot of difference to this post as I will be talking about the Italian supernatural film Clara.

Now I am a big fan of paranormal & supernatural films and in recent years Hollywood has put out some good stuff such as some of the films in the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING series, not to mention the OUIJA sequel. However I do feel that the Europeans are often left behind in this genre, especially during the last decade or two, so I am hoping director Francesco Longo can prove me wrong with his upcoming feature-length effort CLARA, which is scheduled for a December 2018 completion date.

The story of the film sees the British woman Helen Ludovisi, an art graduate, inherit an old palazzo known as the ‘Villa Clara’ near the Italian city of Bologna.

Arriving in Italy with her boyfriend Jacob and three members of the cultural heritage superintendency of the United Kingdom, there to help with the restoration, the group discover a dark history to the villa which perhaps is not consigned to the past as strange occurrences start to haunt the group one-by-one.

I will admit that this in itself does not seem all that unique but as stated I am a fan of these types of films and let’s be honest the sub-genre is more about what you do within an almost standard framework rather than coming up with something wholly unique. I like to compare this situation with that of the artists working in the low renaissance where quite often the topics would be the same but the originality comes in how they present and individualise it. Judging from the photo stills that you can see at the end of this article I think you will agree that this is the case here.

This brings me on to the reason that I am giving this film a bit more attention – writer/director Francesco Longo. I have been left very impressed with his eye for a shot (again see the photos if you have not seen his short films), use of light and the strong narrative he has managed to display in his short films NYCTOPHOBIA and THE THIRD DAY, not to mention his contributions while working on the visual effects for INSANE; IN ARTICULO MORTIS and THE WICKED GIFT.

Additionally it would be remiss of me not to mention a couple of the cast for CLARA which includes Veronika Urban (NYCTOPHOBIA; HERBERT WEST: RE-ANIMATOR, the series by Ivan Zuccon), the prolific Michael Segal who has starred in too many contemporary Italian genre films to mention, and Roberto Ramon who returns to work with the director once more after starring in NYCTOPHOBIA and THE THIRD DAY.

In my opinion Francesco Longo certainly has the potential and the network in the contemporary Italian genre scene to make this work, especially if he does not play it too safe.

Keep an eye out for this film and the director. CLARA is expected to gain its premiere at the 2019 Creepy Crypt event in Berlin but you can keep up to date over on the official Facebook page.

The Nightmare continues

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In 1990 Lucio Fulci unleashed his own personal nightmare upon the world with A CAT IN THE BRAIN and now it is the turn of his fellow countryman Domiziano Cristopharo to continue the fantastical and horrific vision with his upcoming film NIGHTMARE SYMPHONY.

As horror film fans we often read about directors channelling past masters or continuing legacies and it has become almost standard promotional waffle but here there is something more to it. Something both tangible and conceptual.

So what is this link between these two particular films and these two unique film makers? Primarily it is as simple as it having been reported that NIGHTMARE SYMPHONY pays homage to Fulci’s aforementioned meta-film and if that was not enough, both films share a screenwriter in Antonio Tentori – a man who straddles the old guard and the new and both have its main theme composed by the iconic Fabio Frizzi, a regular Lucio Fulci collaborator.

Sure this could just be window-dressing, after all any old production could theoretically hire the relevant people. Thats the nature of the industry and it doesn’t equate to or guarentee a genuine connection.

But having watched several films from Domiziano Cristopharo, a man who through several of his films displays an artistic flare for bringing the surreal and the strange to the screen, I am of the belief that he is perfectly placed to do justice to a modern take on the work of Lucio Fulci.

Seemingly the shared passions of art, horror, Lovecraft and a deeper philosophical drive leads me to believe that conceptually they may both be of the same vein while the addition of Antonio Tentori does help lend the film more validity than would be possible without featuring someone who had a direct working relationship with the great man. After all I don’t think it is a stretch to argue that Lucio Fulci was somewhat of a mentor, if only briefly, for a young Antonio.

Now onto the film itself and although very little has been leaked so far, plot wise the film unsurprisingly see’s a director (played by Frank LaLoggia) attempt to take up and finish an old ‘cursed’ film but the lines between reality and fiction soon merge no doubt with surreal and violent results.

I am intrigued however at whether this film will be self-referential, for either Cristopharo or LaLoggia, and whether it will draw comparisons to other films such as Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 in terms of execution of delivery or whether it will play things a bit more direct. Either way I am curious to find out more and hope some promotional footage lands soon.

A few exclusive images of the production have been put on the Italian site DarkVeins which I won’t reproduce here out of respect (check out the site which handily has an American-English translation button for its articles) but at the moment very little additional information exists on this film which is due to land in early 2019.

Keep an eye out for it.

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La Serenissima…until the killing starts

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A couple of weeks ago I visited Venice for the second time and in honour of my little trip I thought that I would once again return to my favourite films that have been set, either entirely or in part in this historic and beautiful city.

Normally when you mention Venice, chances are the first things that come into peoples minds is the  sun reflecting off the water of the canals, the intimate narrow winding streets and couples enjoying a romantic cruise on a gondola. However there is a darker side to the city that is also known as La Serenissima where our expected and imposed characteristics become inverted and what was once a close, cosy and calm setting suddenly becomes claustrophobic, dangerous and a little unsettling.

Based on this and my own personal opinions this piece will focus more on the horrors that occur in the dark, winding labyrinth of the city. Forgetting about the big budget visits of James Bond and Indiana Jones and most certainly banishing memories of THE TOURIST and the remade THE ITALIAN JOB, here this is the real cinematic beauty and horror of the city. Ones in which the city itself may play a character rather than a backdrop.

  • THE EMBALMER (1965)

THE EMBALMER sees a crazed killer on the loose in Venice who flits between donning scuba gear and a monk’s outfit with a skull mask. Fashion is clearly not his number one priority.  Much like Dario Argento’s terrible 2009 effort GIALLO, our assailant stalks beautiful women, taking them to his secret lair before killing them. After this however he would also embalm then, thus preserving their beauty and adding them to his collection.

Synoptically it is a deviation from the earlier HOUSE OF WAX  although the killers’ hideaway reminds me more of a low-budget take on the home of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA meanwhile finally the canal side setting invites comparisons to Dick Maas’ later Dutch mystery AMSTERDAMNED from 1988.

THE EMBALMER will perhaps be a slight change of pace for many horror fans and is certainly a product of it’s time. Tonally think more THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963) than Hammer horror.

  • WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972)

Preceding the arguably more famous DON’T LOOK NOW by a year, Aldo Lado’s giallo benefits from a star cast which includes former James Bond, George Lazenby alongside the beautiful Anita Strindberg and the familiar face of Adolfo Celi. Not forgetting young Nicoletta Elmi who also appears in genre fare such as A BAY OF BLOOD; BARON BLOOD; FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN; LE ORME; DEEP RED and finally when all grown up she appears in DEMONS. Quite a résumé.

Anyway, back to the film. Opening with the murder of a child, this act sets the grim tone for what will follow as we are transported to Venice where estranged father Franco (Lazenby) welcomes his daughter Roberta (Elmi) to come stay with him.

Everything starts off well enough, despite Franco having some very peculiar friends, but eventually his selfishness leads to young Roberta being left playing with local kids and then left on her own out in the street while her father gets busy first with a female friend and then his own work, seemingly forgetting he has his daughter come to stay. Hardly father of the year material.

The inevitable occurs, giving us the title, and Venice descends into a dark and story night, paralleling Franco’s anguish as he sets out to get justice or vengeance for his daughter.

The weather and the colour scheme beautifully represents the mental state and pain of the lead characters, and this remains throughout with a fog enveloping the city as the mystery becomes more and more convoluted and socially expansive. And it is for this reason, and the cinematography by Franco Di Giacomo (IL POSTINO) that I strongly recommend the film.

WHO SAW HER DIE? is overall a solid entry into the giallo genre which manages to please both aesthetically and in terms of plot.

  • ANIMA PERSA (1977)

Yet to receive an official English language release (to be the best of my knowledge and searching at least) is this gem from Dino Risi, which is based on a novel by Giovanni Arpino – the man BOCACCIO ’70 and SCENT OF A WOMAN. Hoo-ah.

Starring the enormous talent of Vittorio Gassman (RISO AMARO; KEAN; SCENT OF A WOMAN; SLEEPERS) alongside Parisian Catherine Deneuve (THE HUNGER; POTICHE) and Danilo Mattei, who can also be seen in CANNIBAL FEROX and IRONMASTER amongst others, ANIMA PERSA is a film about loss and much like Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW (which I do seem to mentioning a surprising amount considering it hasn’t made my list), this film uses the city to portray a mental state.

However while Roeg’s film is arguably more ambiguous in terms of story, ANIMA PERSA is a lot more direct and in my opinion it is a lot better for it.

In basic terms the film follows Tino (Mattei) as he does to stay with his Aunt (Deneuve) and Uncle (Gassman) in Venice so that he may begin his studies at an art school. Not long after moving in Tino begins to hear bizarre noises coming from a supposedly empty room in the building. Although presented like a straight-forward maniac-in-the-house situation this story is all wrapped up within the first act leading you wonder what more is to come.

And it is from here that the film really comes into its own as it conceptually deals with not only issues of love and loss but also the duality of man and the fluctuating status of relationships. A must watch for all fans of Italian cinema…if you can track down an English language version.

  • THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW(1978)

Also known as SOLAMENTE NERO, the action here actually takes place primarily on the nearby island of Murano, famous for it’s glassworks. On a side note I find Murano much more relaxing to stroll through on account of it’s lower footfall. However director Antonio Bido paints a much darker picture of the island.

The film begins with the body of a schoolgirl being found in a field (what is it with Venetian-led films and child deaths) but no killer being identified. Years later and a young man, Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) returns to the Island in order to see his brother who is now the local priest. This return however coincides with a new spate of murders and threats against the man of God, forcing young Stefano to don the amateur sleuth role and solve the mystery. Which is not easy to do in a small paranoid community…one which is seemingly getting smaller by the day.

Mixing Catholicism, paedophilia and backstreet abortions with a hint of the occult, THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW weaves a tale of suspense and mystery from the very beginning and thanks to it’s almost oppressive atmosphere and a convoluted plot all fans of gialli will get something out of Antonio Bido’s sophomore effort.

  • GIALLO A VENEZIA (1979)

Now it would not be a Venetian film round up without mentioning this infamously sleazy entry. Marking the end of the decade, quite literally having been released on December 31st, GIALLO A VENEZIA is the perfect example of the change in giallo from a mystery-focused genre to that of one of sleaze, sex and graphic brutality.

We follow boiled-egg connoisseur Inspector De Paul as pieces together the double murder of a couple. Taking in drugs, perversion and violence GIALLO A VENEZIA became best known for its lurid take on the genre but now thanks to the source materials being cleaned up and put out on Blu-ray I believe that the actual substance (and yes I genuinely believe there is some) behind the shock can finally be appreciated.

Despite what many would say Mario Landi (CRY OF A PROSTITUTE; PATRICK STILL LIVES!) actually proves himself to be a more than competent director as the film manages to display a strong technical awareness alongside some beautiful shots which complement the script by Aldo Serio (WATCH ME WHEN I KILL).  However I do have to admit that some of the more salacious scenes are overlong and do serve more to kill any momentum than add any excitement.

That said, although admittedly not executed perfectly, “sex is the key to the mystery” in this film as our Inspector states in-between the scoffing of another egg and so there is no escaping it being a vital component of the story, but it just does not have to be dwelled on for so long is all I am saying.

Moving past that gripe of mine however and regardless on which aspects attract you to this film, be it the sex and violence or simply to check out an obscure giallo that is only now more widely available – you will not be disappointed as there is much in GIALLO A VENEZIA to reward you thanks to its tale of love, lust, depravity and death (not to mention eggs) that just like Venice, has a lot more under the surface if you care to look.

So, there you have it – my five favourite films set in Venice or around it’s islands. A location that provides the perfect juxtaposition between beauty and decay. A place that straddles the line between the intimate and the claustrophobic. It is therefore no wonder so many (good and not so good) films have been set in this most captivating of cities.

Notable mentions also go to ‘DEATH IN VENICE’, ‘DAMNED IN VENICE’, ‘AMUCK!, and of course Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW, all of which are worth your time.

If you are interested in finding out more about the films of Venice you can see my piece in Issue 9 of Weng’s Chop magazine, which for some reason saw me accidentally omit Luigi Cozzi’s enjoyable but somewhat disappointing overall 1989 film PAGANINI HORROR.

 

The Case of the Bloody Iris comes to UK Blu

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Now I don’t normally write stuff based on press releases I receive, from my previous site Cosi Perversa I found this to be a pointless exercise in the main, but as I am such a big fan of both the label and the film I thought I would make an exception. Especially since one member of the cast, and I doubt it is who you expect, has helped inspire me with a forthcoming article.

So without much further ado (and it is very obvious from the title) coming from the terrific UK label ‘Shameless Films’, and for the first time on UK Blu-Ray is Giuliano Carnimeo’s (RATMAN) 1972 giallo THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRISa giallo featuring the iconic duo and giallo royalty of Edwige Fenech and George Hilton.

After two beautiful women are murdered in an apartment block, Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) move into the flat of one of the slaughtered girls. But before long, the unknown predatory pervert soon turns his salacious attentions to the gorgeous Jennifer. The list of suspects of who this maniac could be grows ever longer as we start to consider a woman and her deformed son, a crazy lesbian and even Jennifer’s own lover!

All the while throughout the film we are serenaded with Bruno Nicolai’s enrapturing (and extremely memorable) score and terrific cinematography from Stelvio Massi, this long-sought-after 70s sleaze gem will be available on Shameless Blu-ray in a 2k restored special edition for the first time ever in the UK!

With Bonus Features including a new candid chat with the always handsome George Hilton, as well as one with the bubbly Paola Quattini, I certainly do believe that it is time to upgrade from the old ‘Beyond Terror’ DVD release or even discover this neat little giallo for the first time. I even suspect that your favourite character will the quirky and hilarious Police Inspector.

One watch of the trailer should be enough to make you purchase this essential film.

THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS is released on Blu-ray (and also DVD) from Shameless on 19th November and will be available for pre-order and order from all the usual places and also direct from Shameless themselves here.

[Also of interest, the original story by Italian screenwriting legend Ernesto Gastaldi has also been novelised by Michael R Hudson and is available in both paperback and digital edition. This version has several differences to that of the filmed version.]

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