ArteKino Festival returns for a third year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleepless by Dario Argento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curse of the Blind Dead continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the official  film Facebook page here.

THE SERMON (2018) BY DEAN PUCKETT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.