ROSSA VENEZIA (2003) BY ANDREAS BETHMANN

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Porno A Venezia
Director: Andreas Bethmann
Writer: Andreas Bethmann
Year: 2003
Starring: Sabine Ironheart, Romana, Marianna Bertucci, Jens Hammer, Daniel Ortolan

Synopsis:
After killing her cheating husband a woman is released from prison and goes on a killing spree while detailing her memoirs of a cruel and sexual prison experience.

Review:
Within the first five minutes we witness a very drawn out act of cunnilingus that only changes to become an act of fellatio and then as with all pornos, penetrative sex. Immediately we know that we are not in for a mystery as dark and labyrinthine as the winding streets of Venice but rather an overlong and uninspiring porno…with murder.

Now director Andreas Bethmann doesn’t show us this gentle lovemaking just to arouse us but rather additionally to build the importance for when we discover that one of our two love makers is actually committing infidelity and soon a jilted spouse enters and blows them away. Thankfully not in that way.

ROSSA VENEZIA isn’t afraid to take the sex and violence ethos of horror to a new level but struggles to successfully weave in any depth or context as it intersperses footage of a gate and decaying house and all this before the credits finish. Rather surprisingly after what we have just witnessed the post-credit shots, the camera positioned on the front of a gondola, do actually work and Bethmann gives us some hope that there might actually be a filmmaker behind all of this after all.

All hope is soon lost however as ROSSA VENEZIA descends into a depraved female in prison tale that has more in common with a third rate porno (and a fourth rate horror) and this makes the attempts to discuss duality using Venice as a metaphor seem a little pretentious painting Bethmann as a pseudo-intellectual with illusions of grandeur. The best example of this would be that while a voice over attempts to discuss this very nature not only does the dialogue lack any substance or depth but the on-screen image is that of a female masturbating, ANIMA PERSA this most certainly is not.

Any film that makes GIALLO A VENEZIA look almost erotic and sensual deserves recognition but sadly not for the right reasons.  Riddled with terrible acting, terrible sex and a terrible attempt to inject an understanding as to the nature of human kind at two hours and thirty five minutes long this feature film is at least two hours and thirty four minutes too long.

Certainly brutal in places (it is a German splatter porno after all) but this dull memoir’s only real redeeming point is the all too brief POV shot use but it cannot be recommended even for the most ardent underground cinema lover.

On a side note the film also features the euro-exploitation legend Jess Franco (who has appeared in several of Bethmann’s projects) and his wife Lina Romay which can only be down to their personal friendship as opposed to a reading of the script.

EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) BY JOE D’AMATO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Sexy Nights of the Living Dead; Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi; Nite of the Zombies, Le Notte Erotiche; Le Notte Degli Zombies
Director: Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi)
Writer: George Eastman (aka Luigi Montifiore)
Year: 1980
Starring: Mark Shannon, George Eastman, Laura Gemser, Dirce Funari, Lucia Ramirez

Synopsis:
EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD follows property developer and human hard-on John Wilson (Mark Shannon – PORNO HOLOCAUST, THE PORNO KILLERS) as he attempts to purchase a supposedly deserted Caribbean Island to be transformed into a holiday resort. Wilson enlists the help of sailboat captain Larry (played by the massive George Eastman aka Luigi Montefiore, who also wrote this film under his writing name Tom Salina  – ANTROPOPHAGUS, RABID DOGS) and rather oddly his sexy hotel room neighbour Fiona (Dirce Funari – EMMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS), whose only purpose on the trip is to seemingly service the gentlemen on board. Upon reaching the, seemingly, deserted Cat Island, it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems. John Wilson and co. come across a blind old man and his ghostly grand-daughter Luna (genre star Laura Gemser – EMMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE), who warn them to stay away but to no avail and the living dead soon appear to protect their land.

Review:
Now I know what you are thinking- that synopsis did not sound too bad, if a little derivative of some other, more famous Italian zombie movies- but let me tell you, there is a reason that this film is still only known to the hardcore (and for the hardcore) fans.

Beginning in a mental institute the film barely takes three and a half minutes before some sexual activity occurs between two patients (Larry and Fiona) and then a sudden quick cut takes us to a luxury yacht out deep sea fishing. If that sounds like bad editing, either stay away or get used to it for it will happen a lot in this film, which for the first hour is almost a mish-mash of scenes, predominantly sexual. What’s more if you are a person who can’t stand bad dubbing (Bob from the HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY excluded) then again you should stay away from this film. In some scenes it appears the mouths aren’t even moving, but that’s the least of this film’s problems.

Approximately 13 minutes in we are treated to some, loosely termed, zombie action (complete with terrible acting) and remaining true to the films style it is interspersed with a quick scene in a casino which is then followed by yet another sex scene; this one a full on hardcore scene featuring both oral and penetrative sex, which took even me by surprise due to it’s graphic nature.

But at least George Eastman in his writer guise penned some unintentionally hilarious lines as two prostitutes’ run from a hotel room, not due to Mark Shannon’s hideous warty testicles (which as the viewer you will have a front row seat to), but because he asked about Cat Island. This seemingly innocent question caused them to flee and be pursued by Shannon’s character shouting “wait a minute you dumb whores, you forgot your money!” down the hotel corridor. But never fear, rather than any guests lambasting him for his oh-so-subtle behaviour, his alluring neighbour Fiona actually is seduced by it.

By around 25 minutes into the film, you are starting to forget you are even watching a zombie film as the sex scenes come thicker and faster than a teenage Peter North, and I start to doubt my own critical analysis and consider reviewing this as porno instead of a horror. Thankfully my own self doubt is quickly erased as I remember I put this film on for gut munching not cock munching, and thankfully it does also deliver the later…quite literally.

Eventually some zombie action re-occurs and the make up of the morgue zombie sets the benchmark for the make up in the rest of the film. Sadly though it’s a benchmark that won’t be reached as even ‘Flowerpot’ zombies are too creative for this film, where the budget was most likely spent on lube than latex.

Another issue with the film,  and its 1 hour 50 odd minutes running time,  is that many of these sex scenes (and others to be fair) drag on too much and some are just bizarre; such as a stripper inserting and uncorking a bottle of champagne with her vagina, exploitation and sleaze with no justification to the film at all but which no doubt titillated the audience at the time. Once our merry band of protagonists (can we even call them that?) reach the island things do improve very slightly, but the core of the movie remains the same. Although the film introduces (but does not explain) a supernatural element to the film in the form of what can only be described as a ghost and a cat that possesses the strangest meow I have ever heard. Taking well over an hour before it gets going, it’s sad to say that even by removing the first 75% of the film you won’t have enough shots for a decent zombie short film. The long running time does not justify the three to four horror money shots that litter the film- but the out of no where blow job scene does come close- even if viewers can find that kind of action from many other films if they looked around.

But what of the zombies I hear you moaning, tell us more about them in this film, after all they are in the title so there must be some decent action? Well yes and no. There are perhaps three or four memorable scenes in the the whole film but on the whole for the very little screen time the zombies get they tend to prefer to walk around in slow motion simply looking like the unfortunate from the developing world. Like almost every other character in the film they are partial to human flesh, and in line with the movie that kick started the Italian zombie splatter cycle these are voodoo inspired creatures who can only be stopped with a bullet to the head or fire. When put down in writing it all sounds very promising, which is what makes it even more disappointing when you watch the film. In this movie, the sex is far more important than the horror causing the vast majority of critics to call it sleazy at very best. But I would also add that it may appear distasteful and misguided to a contemporary audience.

The use of jump cuts, in particular between sex and horror scenes is a strange one, offering an almost juxtaposition of libido (life) and death but these actions also pose the worrying question of whether they are just haphazardly cut together with no real thought or it D’Amato wants us to relate violence and sexual pleasure. From the evidence I would argue for the latter- with particular reference to the infamous blow job scene.

Although don’t be fooled, this is no promiscuity means death moral tale, as everyone is at it in this film, regardless. Interestingly, the “awkward mixture of soft-core and hard-core footage is the result of D’Amato being forced to go back and shoot additional hard-core material at the insistence of his distributor” (Blumberg and Hershberger, 2006) and this would on the face of it at least help to justify the poor editing choices and sexual focus.

However, simply looking at the back catalogue of D’Amato, one must think he really did make the film he set out to make, a film which placed a quick financial return ahead of lasting quality, and that is evident when audiences revisit it today.

Filled with poor dialogue, convenient character actions and very little horror but much sex, this is a terrible film no matter how you approach it. Although there are moments that work, and despite its lack of quality there is something more than competent about D’Amato’s work which begs further questions about his motivations and effort. What works about this film however is the music. Sometimes it lends a more sensual and emotional aspect to the film (similar to that of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) hinting at a deeper meaning, despite the viewer knowing none exists and can see none exists. While Eastman has a strong screen presence helping to pull the film through. As for  the violence, or what little there is of it, is more hit than miss, but that is not enough in an over-long, crass, ugly and cheap production that will appeal only to the most hardcore of fans. For those of you looking for more zombie hardcore action, perhaps check out D’Amato’s PORNO HOLOCAUST from the same year which shares locations and cast in a true economies of scale film production.

The best way to describe this film is to use an Italian saying, Mi fa cagare.

Version Reviewed:
I watched the Media Blasters Shriek Show line extended cut of the film and the terrible alternative ending, but would advise people to find the shortest version possible if you must watch it.

Rebuilding the house

Articles and Interviews, blog

If you are reading this blog then in all likelihood you are open minded regarding your films and see age as just a number. The advent of home entertainment has provided several opportunities for films to be released and re-released with every iteration from VHS onwards and with each release the opportunity to find new fans. 

Generally speaking the films that benefit most from this process are decades old and as such manage to appeal to both new and old audiences due to the superior quality offered or additional material they provide over past releases. Although recent times have also seen more modern films receive this treatment, after all how many different versions exist of the major Hollywood blockbusters, which are at best an attempt to provide fans with as much footage and value as possible and at worst a cynical cash-grab. Normally the latter.

With that in mind there one version of a re-release that is most likely to have some artistic merit – the director’s cut. Often released after the producers and distributors have made their required money, these versions allow a film to be seen as it was originally intended (or at least they would have you believe) and theoretically give the director another chance of putting their vision on screen away from the pressures and requirements of the business philistines or distributor demands.

In genre cinema we have seen several companies do this with older films, one only has to look at Shameless with their release of Cannibal Holocaust, although perhaps this is not the best example given that some of the cuts made were enforced by the BBFC. 

Regardless of the reasoning behind it however each release, of both new and old movies, gives the market the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-discover films within not only a new, wider context (allowing us to use hindsight and take into account movies that followed) but also a personal one – had we been lucky enough to be witness it the first time.

One such film that I believe was overlooked upon its initial release back in 2009 was HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS, the debut film from Italian director Domiziano Cristopharo, which is now due to benefit from an extended director’s cut to mark its ten year anniversary.  I say extended as a 2009 release also boasts being a directors cut, although I suspect that this release was more of a business decision made by others with an aim for a quick return as opposed to any desire for the film to be seen.

Talking of the film, it follows a loner artist named Sebastian (Domiziano Arcangeli) who has a history of abuse and a strange fixation but when he meets a beautiful woman (Irene Violette) who takes an interest in his life and work despite the reservations of her father (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) things set off on a path of no return.

A strange and compelling watch, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS displays influences from not only the likes of Joe D’Amato but also David Lynch and Michael Powell amongst others all wrapped up within some beautiful cinematography and an almost arthouse sensibility combining to make something unique and that would arguably go on to define the directors own personal style.

Seemingly buried by distributors, while an unrated edition that exists is even more hidden and perhaps targeted at a very specific section of society, in that time that has passed since these releases the Roman director has been extremely prolific and is only now seeing the fruits of his labour, particularly in the United States of America, where his more recent films such as RED KROKODIL; THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN and TWO LEFT ARMS amongst others are now readily available

So why revisit the past? And why a directors cut?

I managed to speak with the director who informed me that this release was simply to mark the ten year anniversary of its release and rather than a simply be a straight up re-release that this special edition will be used to “bring back the original shape of the movie”. Something that sounds very intriguing. 

This release will feature new music alongside additional footage that has never been seen before, with this covering original footage that he “had to cut because it was considered too obscene,(but) now thanks to movies like A SERBIAN FILM that were released four or five years after our movie, extreme is more acceptable, more normal but [back then] it was a different story”. Considering that HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS was no playful, family friendly romp in the first place one can only wonder what else will be included.

On this note Domiziano Cristopharo promises that this release will be “unrated and more shocking” and I have no doubt will appeal to many if it gets the distribution it deserves. Including the Unearthed Films audience, a company who also distributed A SERBIAN FILM, and who will be familiar with the Italian director thanks to his recent contributions to the label (such as RED KROKODIL and a number of the AMERICAN GUINEA PIG series).

Despite never quite benefitting from first mover advantage, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS arguably helped contribute to kickstarting to the erotic and sexual horror sub-genre, an area in which its director has generally continued to pursue, and it is hoped that this release will go some way in claiming some of the dues that it thoroughly deserves.

Domiziano Cristopharo has some way to go in claiming the fame and notoriety of the forerunner Joe D’Amato, despite arguably creating more technically competent films, but his past, present and future (see the poster for NUDI E MORTE) all point towards him finally claiming that throne.

Although no distributor or release date has been announced this is one release that is worth keeping on your radar. Discover the trailer for the HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS below: