AFTER MIDNIGHT (2018) BY VARIOUS DIRECTORS

Reviews

Directors: Various
Writers: Various
Year: 2018 [Various]
Starring: Various

Synopsis:
A collection of eight Italian short horror/sci-fi films.

Review:
Coming from Italian production houses ‘Demented Gore Production’ and ‘Moonlight Legacy Production’ is AFTER MIDNIGHT, a collection of eight short films bundled together.

As a result of this there is little thematic or production conformity between the stories, and as expected the quality does vary particularly as a lot of the short films used in this release were recorded for separate purposes.

On to the films and experienced director Daniele Misischia steps up first to the plate with ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ (The last video of Sara) which thematically raises questions about not only our online desire for validation but also the attitude and acts in which online behaviour can elicit.

We watch as vlogger Sara tackles the issue of her own online trolls which has caused her to have to ban or ‘censor’ people on her channel. An act that some seemingly obsessive people did not like and have let her know. However as the vlog continues we begin to realise that she is not alone in her house.

On a superficial level this short film reminded me somewhat of the 2015 American horror film Ratter although arguably with a little more to say while the insertion of subliminal cuts offered a smart piece of variety to the single frame shot utilised throughout the rest of the short running time.

In my opinion ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ is a solid effort but would work best as a web clip as opposed to being on a home entertainment release. Featuring reasonable Fx, a few nice ideas and a reasonable concept this story is a nice start to the collection but I would not have expected any less from this director.

We follow this with ‘The Taste of Survival’ from director Davide Pesca who has recently contributed to the anthologies A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX (as well as previously contributing to the compilation 17 A MEZZANOTTE) and so he too should know a thing or two about making a short story work.

Set 27 years after an almost apocalyptic event, ‘The Taste of Flesh’ plays somewhat with traditional convention (good) but without committing enough to the required grindhouse style (bad – although the music was spot on) and coming across quite frankly as just a bit too modern and digital.

When one of the highlights is that one of the bad guys is wearing a Wacken festival t-shirt then you know that this segment is not living up to its potential and that is a shame as the concept works a little more than the execution.

Third up is ‘Nyctophobia’ from Francesco Longo. This is a short film that I have reviewed in detail previously on this very blog and so I won’t repeat myself and go into detail here. However it forms one of the strongest stories across the board (direction, acting, story) in this release and provides an entertaining, thoughtful and at times tense watch.

A tough act to follow but Davide Cancila is commendable in his effort which centres around an almost catatonic woman and her seemingly guilt-ridden yet caring brother. 

In its short time ‘Nel buio’ manages to smartly tell the past and show the present with a few twists thrown in along the way. Overall the supernatural horror is about guilt, revenge and penance and is worth a watch.

‘Io non le credo’ from Luca Bertossi is next up and sadly compared to the previous two stories feels a little incomplete. The majority of the short follows the dialogue between a man, afflicted by a demonic nun, and an unconvinced priest to whom he is begging for help.

Possessing all of the right pieces ‘Io non le credo’ just fails to pull it off in part due to some weak performances but perhaps mostly due to lacking any real set up or emotional involvement. That having been said it potentially could be seen as a nice critique on the cowardice and ineffective nature of the church. Either that or it was simply made because evil nuns are relatively popular now.

If ‘Io non le credo’ was attempting to capture what is popular now then ‘Escape from Madness’ from Nicola Pegg is trying capture the essence of a classic.

As a woman is walking through an empty park at night she soon realises that perhaps she is not alone as first thought. From here the viewer might be expecting this short to go one way but what classic influence could I have been previously referred to?

Well this influence bizarrely comes from Tobe Hooper and the seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Now to say this is a rip-off would certainly be a bit harsh but ultimately the story descends into a fanboys dream to make.

Although competently made it would have certainly been improved with better SFX but with a brief ten minute run time ‘Escape from Madness’ does not overrun its welcome and will hit the mark. Not quite prime meat but enjoyable to digest nonetheless.

Now the penultimate story ‘Che serata di merda!’ (I translate as ‘That evening of shit’) from Roberto Albanesi is perhaps the lightest of all the shorts featured in the collection and the only one that is inherently tied to the release due to it’s self-and release-referential nature.

Considering he was behind NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME and the sequel, as well as being involved in the wraparound of CATACOMBA I had high hopes for ‘Che sedate di merda’ and the short certainly grew on me as it played.

In the short film a missing farmer re-appears blood covered and staggering through the small town while a couple share a glass of wine and a film at home….the NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME references are plentiful, I hope the director paid himself royalties!

In a true case of ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’ revenge it is unsurprising to see that these characters have some sort of prior business but here the narrative is not so straight forward as first the director himself turns up at the house (playing himself) and then through a dialogue with the farmer in which they discuss being the fictional construction of the real Roberto Albanesi.

It is in using this device that the film excels but the final takeaway message of “Let’s drink up” perhaps resonates the most.

We end with perhaps the most ambitious of all of the stories, ‘Haselwurm’, from director Eugenio Villani, which dates back to 2011 making it a strange choice to feature in terms of contemporary work (although thankfully the quality more than makes up for this).

‘Haselwurm’ initially plays as a sci-fi survival adventure as two explorers manage to capture a mythical haselwurm but during their struggle one of the duo was seemingly scratched by the creature with effects of an almost Lovecraftian or Ridley Scott nature.

Not only is the story interesting, and in my opinion should be developed into a feature-length, but along with ‘Nyctophobic’ it is one of the strongest entries in the collection thanks to a strong story, cinematography, Fx and editing. It is a shame that it is the last story but if you get the opportunity to watch this short – do so.

Overall AFTER MIDNIGHT is, as most collections often are, a mixed bag but unfortunately one where the weaker entries outnumber the strong (‘Nyctophobic’,’Nel buio’,’Haselwurm’). That being said these stronger entries are worth checking out but as someone who advocates the (slow) return of the contemporary Italian horror scene, AFTER MIDNIGHT as a holistic collection is perhaps not the best example to put forwards.

You can find out more about the film on the official Facebook page.

UNDERCOVER MISTRESS (2016) BY GIULIO CIANCAMERLA

Reviews

Director: Giulio Ciancamerla
Writers: Giulio Ciancamerla, Lucio Massa
Year: 2016
Starring: Stefania Visconti, Leonardo Pace, Asia Liguori

This review first appeared on my older website Cosi Perversa.

Synopsis:
During a photo show, a man enjoys scaring a girl until she decides to leave the exhibition. The man runs after her along increasingly dark and isolated streets. A man and a woman? Which one is the dominant genre?

Review:
This short film opens in a contemporary art gallery with a handsome man catching a woman’s eye, if only for a second. Shy and retiring she is clearly too nervous to do anything but steal frequent glances. However she has also caught the eye of another, a sexual predator, who carries a look of disgust and lust over his face and the pursuit of only one action on his mind.

The performances of our two leads, Leonardo Pace and the Cinecittà graduate & transgender model Stefania Visconti, are terrific. Working without dialogue both are still able to convey the required complex emotions required allowing the viewer to innately understand their thought processes. The ability of both helps provide an added level of believability to the films set up.

Now with director Giulio Ciancamerla having established these, sadly prevalent, social norms he immediately sets about subverting the role of gender as a discordant soundtrack emphasises both the sadistic and non-conventional approach the film takes to tacking its subject matter. It is this ‘torture’ sequence that is vaguely reminiscent of the way a couple of giallo masters would frame their sexual transgressions as the activity builds up to a disturbing climax that undoubtedly will elicit a reaction from the viewer.

At the most simplest, base level this is an empowered and violent role reversal of the sexes but Ciancamerla imbues the film with much more complexity for those willing to delve further down the rabbit hole, beyond the preliminary visual layer as he strips away the social concept of gender roles and masculinity in particular as our male (Leonardo Pace) is emasculated rather than dominant.

What we are left with is the realisation that our identities are a performance piece, sometimes for the admiration of others and sometimes for our own gratification at the expense of others. To paraphrase British playwright Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts” and this is never truer in UNDERCOVER MISTRESS where our projected self may in fact be very different and our capabilities exceed that of even what we expect when pushed.

According to the press release the idea behind Undercover Mistress is a contamination of “gender studies” with “erotic…psychological horror” and as such tackles subjects such as sexual identity, harassment and roles. 

It is a challenging movie that no doubt will alienate many but for a few, it will raise societal questions and realisations as ugly as the violent acts it depicts. The fact that UNDERCOVER MISTRESS will appeal just as much to the arthouse liberal as the horror fan provides verification that the film has succeeded in its objectives perhaps even lending creedence to the subjects it tackles.

Visit the films Facebook page here.

Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the 13-minute short film which was at the time was winning several awards on the festival circuit. The film is nicely shot with clean, modern visuals and clear sound.

VIOLENT SHIT (2015) BY LUIGI PASTORE

Reviews

Director: Luigi Pastore
Writers: Emanuele Barbera, Luigi Pastore, Lucio Massa
Year: 2015
Starring: Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Antonio Zequila, Lilli Carati, Steve Aquilina, Vincenzo Pezzopane, Erika Kamese, Antonio Tentori, Luigi Cozzi, Enzo G. Castellari, Barbara Magnolfi

Synopsis:
Rome is shattered by a series of gruesome murders that paint the Eternal City deep red. The suspicion grows that these atrocious crimes are connected with the return of one of the most heinous serial killers of our time – Karl the Butcher.

Review:
The original VIOLENT SHIT was released in 1989 and directed by Andreas Schnass (ANTHROPOPHAGOUS 2000) – who has a cameo in this version along with the returning Steve Aquilina who additionally had a key role in the creating, filming and editing of the version. The original film started off as a gore Fx showreel before turning into a feature length and that initial focus shone through in both the quality of the Fx and the lack of quality in the film…but overall it proved to be a solid amateur effort and an enjoyable watch.

After several sequels of, let’s be honest, limited quality it was quite surprising that Italian director Luigi Pastore became involved in a reboot twenty-five years later. 

Now no contemporary reboot would be complete without an origin story and this is no different with the pre-title sequence set, conveniently, 25 years in the past as we witness a young Karl being locked in a cupboard by his mother and subsequently being seduced (no not like that!) by the devil thereby starting his transformation from human to inhuman.

Now jumping to contemporary times we are treated to a monologue by the late and still beautiful Lilli Carati who continues the occult theme as she foretells of the coming of the antichrist and his puppet thereby setting the scene for the action that will come later.

Only being familiar with the original VIOLENT SHIT and not it’s sequels this supernatural element certainly added something new to the origin of Karl, however I was not expecting this and initially was left confused by the developing, lets call it , triumvirate of evil comprising of the devil, Professor Vassago (Lombardo Radice) and the Kevin Costner lookalike, Senator Vinci (Zequila) in particular the relationship between the three, not to mention the role of Karl the Butcher himself.

In almost complete contrast to the original, and apologies for the seemingly constant comparisons, the opening half hour is primarily taken up with exposition at the expense of any real onscreen action as myths are explored, the past explained and characters introduced. Out of this however we do get to witness the aftermath of  a couple of murders with the finding  of a bloody torso in a Rome park being of key interest.

It is this murder that introduces us to our primary detectives, the young Aristide D’Amato (fantastic joining of the real name of the director Aristide Massaccesi and his alias Joe D’Amato) as competently played by Vincenzo Pezzopane and Interpol agent Hans Ebert, which see’s VIOLENT SHIT stalwart Steve Aquilina reprising his detective role from an earlier film.

After more exposition between the two we are introduced to a couple more characters, and although just a cameo, Enzo Castellari (director of THE BRONX WARRIORS, IL GRANDE RACKET, THE LAST SHARK) and Luigi Cozzi (director of CONTAMINATION, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN) steal the show. In particular, Castellari’s bitter, wise cracking forensic doctor is a particular highlight, emphasised even more thanks to the English dubbing he receives.

Due to this new story angle the occult takes precedence, aided by a creepy looking Giovanni Lombardo Radice (CANNIBAL FEROX, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) who in the role of the mysterious Professor Vassago is clearly at the centre of what is going on but as a result of this shift and the inclusion of an origin of Karl’s evil and motives, the plot receives an extended explanation and set-up thereby relegating Karl the Butcher and any violence to the background for the majority of the movie.

It is because of this necessity to explain, or at least the writers belief in its necessity, that the film suffers, in order to allow the new plot narrative greater emphasis needed to be given to character, set up and mystery – which Pastore and co. manage but in a film entitled Violent Shit and one with a history such as it has, fans might be expecting something less subtle and less developed and more direct, more violent.

It is not until the final third that things really begin to heat up as the creepy professor hosts a dinner party cum orgy for the Senator and a few of his friends. Things clearly get out of hand here in an orgy of drugs, sex and cannibalism, with the inclusion and excess of the perversions no doubt aided by the influence of co-writer Lucio Massa (HIPPOCAMPUS M 21th) and this set up perfectly juxtaposes life and sex with death and violence. Pastore delights in showing us the outer flesh one moment and the inner flesh the next as Karl the Butcher finally makes his real entrance and brutally slaughters all those in his path.

As with all lower budget films the performances are mixed both in terms of in front of camera and of course the dubbing, with some suffering more than others and you can’t shake the feeling that some voice actors are just reading through the lines with no inflection, accents or passion while others have that 1980s style high pitched voice that no one actually sounds like. But there are several positives namely Antonio Zequila as the sleazy Senator, Vincenzo Pezzopane as the detective and best of all Enzo Castellari.

Overall this effort is much more restrained than the original films which is a shame as it fails to find that balance between characterisation and extreme violence. However when the violence is shown, much credit must go to David Bracci (SLEEPLESS, EATERS) for his work which is exceptional, in particular the castration of one young male is exceptionally well done and it is clear that he has learned well from the master Sergio Stivaletti.

One could also argue that this is a meta-film, aware of both itself (the detectives watch footage from the original film showing Karl’s past action) and the industry (namely the character names such as D’Amato and Fulci as well as those playing versions of themselves such as Castellari, Cozzi and Tentori) and these moments are both a lot of fun and interwoven well into the story.

VIOLENT SHIT: THE MOVIE makes it difficult for a critic or even a genre fan to either like or dislike. While it is commendable that Pastore and co. take the series in a new direction and attempt to add some texture and background to the characters, it is done so at the expense of the films essence. The very thing that had previously defined the series, namely the frequent over the top gore has been replaced with a supernatural mystery with the result being a more layered and considered film but one lacking the direct, brutal action that it requires.

Credit has to go to the team for trying something new and while it fails to hit the mark the cameos, the references and the humour all work particularly well and make this film worthwhile for fans of Italian horror to check out and ending on a high note, the soundtrack performed by Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin again is spot on. Having previously scored Luigi Pastore’s last work SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED, these two appear to be forming a strong professional relationship and long may it continue.

Version Reviewed:

I reviewed the 2015 media book version as put out by 8-films which featured a blu ray and dvd version of the film alongside a CD of he original soundtrack by Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin. This version is limited to 999 copies. Standard versions of the film have been released.

The extras feature a stills gallery, the almost mandatory film trailer and international trailer as well as a tribute to the actress Lilli Carati. The tribute features her last interview which although brief is very nice and quite moving as she discusses her past and excitement to working alongside Luigi Pastore and in the horror genre. Unfortunately she passed away before the full project that she was working on could come to fruition.

Other extras include a ten minute ‘The origins of the myth’ in which Steve Aquilina discusses the reason behind the films name and how the reboot came around. Steve is a very interesting guy and the only shame is that this segment was not longer. However a counterview to this comes in the shape of the ‘Making of’ which tells the story of this film came about but from the Italian perspective, adding further context and details alongside several behind the scenes shots and explanation of why certain filming and plot decisions were made. These revelations or rather justifications actually added a different element to the film and made me reconsider my thoughts on the film and its plot points and drivers with Pastore stating that they “tried to combine the German ultra gore with the Italian thriller” and on reflection that does come across even if the balance is not quite right. A further interesting piece goes on to explain the inclusion of the sequence with the late Lilli Carati, which threw me on first watch. Initially her role and the footage was meant for another movie only for it to be adapted posthumously into this film as a tribute.

Finally we are treated to brief interviews with the cast which is interestingly and it is always nice to see on these types of films that the actors are there for the right reasons and not just a paycheque, although it adds little compared the previous two additions it still is worth checking out.

SEXUAL LABYRINTH (2017) BY MORGANA MAYER

Reviews

Director: Morgana Mayer
Writers: Emma Davis, Lucio Massa, Alan Rainer, Marta Rot
Year: 2017
Starring: Marta Rot, Giada DaVinci, Fausto Moreno, Francesco Malcom, Mary Rider, Silvia Lamberti, Stefania Visconti

Synopsis:
A mysterious woman is in love with a girl who, after yet another rejection, is kidnapped and taken to a bizarre and secretive prison where she will undertake a surreal journey through the maze of pleasure.

Review:
The debut film from German director Morgana Mayer opens with some quality extreme metal (which will later be juxtaposed with classical music – seemingly the go-to genre to lend some sophistication to proceedings) and a dedication to Joe D’Amato (the film is peppered with references) and Luigi Zanuso, SEXUAL LABYRINTH sets its intentions out early in regards to both the content and the audience of this 68 minute bizarre erotic horror. Although a comparison to German director Andreas Bethmann wouldn’t be too far off either albeit with more emphasis on conceptual perversity and desire as opposed to the blunt, more direct approach of Bethmann.

Back to the movie and it really starts with a brief bit of exposition thereby setting the scene for our unfortunate lead female, who I have to say undertakes the most lax security in a public toilet cubicle I have ever witnessed and before you can even say ‘occupied’ she is grabbed, drugged and degraded.

Waking up she is told by a spurned, would-be lover, that she is about to go on an erotic journey, one which would end up not only with feelings of love between the two but also a sexual awakening in our kidnapped woman.  What follows is a series of sexual abuse…or exploration, depending on your point of view.

These experiences take place throughout several vignettes, not all including our unwilling slave, and cover areas such as the sharing of (not the usual) bodily fluids, fisting and much more with some of this activity having a brutal, violent effect and others perhaps possessing a metaphorical meaning.

However the latter was few and far between for me and while the aim might have been a strong critique of religion and contemporary society though post-porn art the reality is that several of these attempts came across as purely there to titivate or shock, particularly in reference to the nun scenes although to be fair these deliver visually what THE EXORCIST could only hint at.

As a result I feel there were several missed opportunities for philosophical musing or genuine commentary throughout the film where perhaps Mayer preferred to prioritise and depict perversity.  It must be noted however that I am approaching this film purely from my own experiences and cultural interpretation and therefore others may read more into the proceedings.

On the other hand one area that does his the mark is the cinematography. Perhaps I am doing the film a disservice here when I say that I was pleasantly surprised at how innovative some of the angles and shots were in this film, no doubt a bit more of the D’Amato influence coming across here and credit has to go to Rhea Silvia and Andrej Chinaski from Hot Chilli Productions for this.

It cannot be understated that if you are prudish or narrow minded in terms of sexuality, even just slightly then this film will not be for you and even if this criteria does not disqualify you there is still a high chance that SEXUAL LABYRINTH is not for you, just like BEYOND MADNESS this film is esoteric with an open mind not only being required of the viewer but demanded.

Nauseating, perverse and oddly compelling there is no denying that at times SEXUAL LABYRINTH is an uneasy watch, although I suspect it is meant to be but ultimately it is not as good at covering gender politics and identity as well as others, most notably UNDERCOVER MISTRESS by Giulio Ciancamerla but nonetheless it does explore a niche area of society and manages to capture, in an extreme form, the Annie Sprinkles book ‘Post Porn Modernist’ which is referenced in the final half of the film.

Is SEXUAL LABYRINTH the most extreme, abstract performance piece that discusses the notion of society, religion, true love and the total submission of oneself to another or purely an unadulterated, unabashed decadent piece of trash with a flimsy narrative holding it together. That I cannot answer for you and no doubt the answer will depend on your own interpretation of the film. If you wanted sadism as a metaphor for politics then check out Pasolini’s SALO but if you are happy to settle for sadism masquerading as political commentary then come on down!

What I will say however is that if D’Amato and Zanuso collaborated it is highly likely that post-porn surrealism like this would be the result.

Discover more about the film and yourself over on the official Facebook page.

On a side note I would like to add that although not everything from Black Lava Entertainment is my kind of thing they do put out decent releases with a relatively high standard and so for them to be associated with this film it should act as a seal of quality for fans of this genre.

Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the film.

TWO LEFT ARMS (2013) BY DOMIZIANO CRISTOPHARO

Reviews

Director: Domiziano Cristopharo
Writers: Andrea Cavaletto, Francesco Massaccesi (Translation)
Year: 2013
Starring: Paolo Stella, Federico Pedroni, Yvonne Sciò , Yuri Antonosante, Irene Baruffetti, Carlo De Mejo, Ruggero Deodato

Synopsis:
Randolph Carter arrives in Italy to restore an old painting inside an unconsecrated church. He soon discovers that he is in the middle of a strange, secretive town, surrounded by weird people and a mysterious lake….which legend has it was created by the impact of a meteorite.

Review:
Opening on a dark night in what appears to be a palatial villa, or at least a set designed to emulate one, a man mourns the death of his wife and renounces God for what he has taken away. As his grief overtakes him a meteorite flies overhead and crashes nearby, starting a series of strange events.

This opening pre-credit sequence looks exactly as you would expect from a lower budget independent film and may cause a few viewers to start having doubts about continuing however after this sequence we jump into the modern day and thanks to an engaging (and budget-realistic) script the film succeeds on its own merits and terms.

As per the synopsis, Randolph Carter arrives in a small Italian town having been commissioned to restore an old painting, very HOUSE OF LAUGHING WINDOWS you might think, but here in this place with the stereotypical small town mentality, not only are the locals unfriendly but his contact Emma (Yvonne Sciò – ARMAGEDDON; THE MUSEUM OF WONDERS) seems oddly close to falling apart.

Now at this point it is worth noting that TWO LEFT ARMS is not a direct adaption of any particular Lovecraft story but rather a Lovecraftian story that builds on and takes influence from the writers tales. A couple of key points will jump out to fans of the writer very quickly; for instance the lead character name would be familiar, having ‘starred’, if you will, in several published stories. Although rather than hailing from Boston, here, Randolph (terrifically played by Paolo Stella – MOTHER OF TEARS, who really manages to convey the classic ‘fish out of water’ persona) is an Italian who, after the untimely death of his parents moved to Rhode Island, Providence to be raised by his Uncle. That location should also be familiar to the Lovecraft fans too.

As Randolph acclimatises to his new surroundings his inquisitive nature is met at times with a thin veil of secrecy and at others with outright hostility, one highlight being the town drunk Ernesto (played by famed director Ruggero Deodato) who comes across almost in the same vein as Crazy Ralph from the Friday 13th franchise, but perhaps with less helpful advice.

It is for reasons like this that credit must be given to Andrea Cavaletto for while his script puts Randolph at a disadvantage, we the viewers are given only a few breadcrumbs more. Due to this the story manages to install a certain level of intrigue and as ritual elements appear to enter the fray comparisons with CUSTODES BESTIAE appear, at least on the surface.

As the mystery deepens Randolph becomes drawn further and further in, driven by curiosity yet seemingly compelled to keep going by fear. This is most apparent once he is shown the nearby lake and through his meetings with the mysterious Antonio Mezzanotte. Now the pieces slowly start to come together while his mind does the converse as it begins to dawn on him that the whole town may be in on a bizarre plot to bring about the dawn of chaos and  instill a new world order or rather one should say return to an old world order.

Ultimately TWO LEFT ARMS is a film about the corruption of innocence and the decaying of the soul. To reach this message it takes in concepts such as freedom and slavery but sets these in a Lovecraftian universe where the external is often shown as a physical manifestation of the internal.

A slow burner (much like the previously mentioned CUSTODES BESTIAE, TWO LEFT ARMS is a decent watch thanks to a strong script and highly competent directing and is a film which can be enjoyed with and without prior knowledge of Lovecraft’s tales.

Version Reviewed:

This was reviewed from an online screener. If you are in the USA you can order the film on Amazon.

SHANDA’S RIVER (2018) BY MARCO ROSSON

Reviews

Director: Marco Rosson
Writer: Nicola Pizzi
Year: 2018
Starring: Marcella Braga, Claudia Marasca, Margherita Remotti, Diego Runco

Synopsis:
A professor, Emma, travels to the small Italian town of Voghera, in order to study the story of the witch Shanda killed in the 16th century. Soon after arriving however Emma finds herself trapped in a nightmare where she forced to relive the same day, the day of her death, over and over again.

Review:
SHANDA’S RIVER opens in the 16th Century, as a terrified woman is pursued and strangled in the woods and the quality immediately struck me as being much better than I had expected.

This sequence over and we jump to the modern day as Emma, a history professor writing a piece on women who were sacrificed in inquisitions style hunts, arrives into the small town of Voghera in order to meet a tour guide named Julia.

Visually the film does not take long to start incorporating historical flashbacks into action, hinting at perhaps some occult ritual sacrifice or injustice, almost as if Emma is remembering a past life. To further add to this, as viewers, we learn that these scenes are tied to the river in which the tour is to incorporate but Emma is not the only one interested in the areas history.

Daniel, a Croatian Investigative Reporter, has paid his way onto the tour at the last minute and appears to have in mind a story about contemporary ritual killings somehow being linked to the site. These sorts of hunches never really work out well do they.

On the way to the tour we get given the Shanda backstory, but soon out in the rural countryside things appear to go wrong as the car breaks down and some hooded assailants appear and our tour participants find themselves waking up tied to a tree – here things start to go a bit WRONG TURN or at least they appear to start to. For writer Nicola Pizzi clearly had other ideas as he deviates from the normal taking things into time-loop territory along the lines of FINAL DESTINATION (stay with me), GROUNDHOG DAY and perhaps more recently and relevant HAPPY DEATH DAY – with this twist marking something quite different than the occult mystery or slasher that I had expected from the trailer.

As you can tell from these cinematic references there is an element of premonition and repetition that comes into play, and for our lead character Emma, hell certainly is repetition. However every time her day restarts she learns a little more, but with this gain in knowledge she appears to be losing a little bit of her sanity as she begins to question are any real consequences when the end result is the same, much like Francesco in DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, leading to a realisation and choice of what to do in order to free herself from this curse of simultaneously not being able to die yet being condemned to be killed over and over again.

Director Marco Rosson is smart in how he portrays this, and although he has plenty of opportunity to show blood and violence, he does not over indulge and that is to the benefit of the film as it allows the narrative to maintain a strong narrative flow rather than becoming reduced and stifled by constant bloodshed that adds no value to the film.

Smartly written and cleverly constructed, SHANDA’S RIVER shows great maturity by the filmmakers and a sense of intelligence that is not often displayed (or rather successfully conveyed) in these types of productions. It would not surprise me if the film was picked up for a bigger budget remake (and on a personal note a new title for marketing) giving it the resources it deserves.

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Now let me clarify the film looks very nice, and it is terrifically edited but there are a few moments that show its independent status. Although inconsequential in the grander scheme of things viewers will notice a few audio level issues (most notable in some dialogue scenes) and a few cinematography issues which have very little to do with the skill level of the crew but are common amongst all films of lower budgets.

SHANDA’S RIVER was a very different film than I had expected and all the better for it. A clever, intriguing plot that manages to seamlessly incorporate genuine tension, scares and intrigue; however I am still baffled by the animal magnetism that journalist Daniel appears to possess. That remains the unsolved mystery.

Version reviewed: 

I watched an online screener with English audio. SHANDA’S RIVER was released on Friday 16th March 2018 on blu-ray and DVD and can be ordered from the European Cine Museum store and other online outlets.

THE MAN WITH MY NAME (2017) BY SIMON O’NEILL

Reviews

AKA: L’uomo con il mio nome
Director:  Simon O’Neill
Writer: Simon O’Neill
Year: 2017
Starring: Simon O’Neill, Ruggero Deodato, Luigi Cozzi, Catriona MacColl

Synopsis:
Irish writer/director Simon O’Neill investigates the career of the only Simon O’Neill more popular than him on the IMDB – who just so happens to be the Italian scriptwriter Giovanni Simonelli.

Review:
After a brief introduction on who he is (he’s Simon O’Neill) and who the other Simon O’Neil’s are on IMDB we get started with a whistle-stop tour of some of the career highlights from Italian scriptwriter Giovanni Simonelli aka Simon O’Neill.

This straightforward opening sets out the premise quite clearly, instantly drawing loose comparisons to the British TV series ‘ARE YOU DAVE GORMAN?’, but although THE MAN WITH MY NAME is centred around this novel concept it is certainly not limited to it.

With the purpose of this documentary now explained we take to the road in a bid to hunt down more information on Simonelli, beginning in the most unlikely of places – Luton!

Here Simon meets a talkative Ruggero Deodato and they discuss not only the translation of an Irish name but also the use of pseudonyms in the Italian industry during the sixties and seventies. This is an area we all know a bit about but in my opinion is never discussed enough, and so it is a pleasant surprise that this topic forms a significant part of the documentary as Catriona MacColl, Luigi Cozzi and (archive footage of) Antonio Margheriti, a frequent collaborator of Giovanni Simonelli, all go on to discuss the necessity of changing one’s name in order to boost the chances of success, be it with English-speaking audiences or even Italian.

On an unrelated note, one thing that does come across during the discussion with Luigi Cozzi, is how alive he becomes when talking about film and the industry. As always he is captivating and so easy to listen to, cementing his place as one of the sweetest guys in horror and sci-fi.

Back to the documentary and at this point it is in danger of being sidetracked away from the actual premise but through a Simonelli related story, Cozzi brings things full circle and we are back on track.

Lead first by some archive footage of the man himself, the late Giovanni Simonelli, we are soon joined by his son who seems genuinely surprised and curious that a random Irish man was making a short film about his father.

Although clearly shot on a very low budget, THE MAN WITH MY NAME works not just on an endearing labour of love level but because, no doubt thanks to Simon O’Neill’s professional experience, it provides a tightly edited and terrifically structured look at both an unsung member of the Italian b-movie scene and also the nuances of working in the fringes of Italian cinema as the brief running time touches on additional topics such as the anglicising of names and the disdain of native audiences for the work of their own countrymen. It is also refreshing for once to not have the subject as a Dario Argento or a Lucio Fulci, but rather someone who perhaps is not well known even though their films are.

A celebration of Italian b-movies and those who helped bring them to us, THE MAN WITH MY NAME is light-hearted, fun and guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of fans of Italian genre cinema. Admittedly for some this may come across as too lightweight, but it was never meant to be a detailed analysis and should not be judged as such.

Sure if it had bigger budget then it would look more polished and ok it could have featured more clips and longer interviews but that is not what this is necessarily about nor is it really in the spirit of what I believe Simon O’Neill set out to achieve.

The Man with My Name is currently on the festival circuit. Find out more information on the official website.

Version reviewed:

An online screener of the film.