HOUSE OF SALEM (2016) BY JAMES CROW

Reviews

Year: 2016
Director: James Crow
Writer: James Crow
Starring: Andrew Lee Potts, Jessica Arterton, Jack Brett Anderson, Liam Kelly, Leslie Mills, Dean Maskell, Anna Nightingale, Nalân Burgess

Synopsis:
A group of kidnappers become a child’s unlikely protectors after discovering they have unwittingly been set up to take part in a satanic ritual. As they begin to uncover the truth of the house they find themselves trapped, they must battle demonic forces and uncover a legacy of over a hundred years of murder in the name of the Devil

Review:
Coming from experienced short film British writer/director James Crow, HOUSE OF SALEM represents his sophomore feature effort and continues with the rough theme of the occult which could be seen in his debut CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE.

The film opens in familiar horror territory; a beautiful babysitter (Nalân Burgess) and a young child who clearly has either suffered some early trauma or has some mystery in his past. It is never just a normal kid perhaps with a tough paper round.

Early on we learn that the child, Josh, suffers from nightmares if he does not take his pill and rather unsurprisingly he deceives his babysitter into believing he has taken these bringers of peaceful sleep. Now this action also serves another purpose as we, the viewer, are thrown into uncertainty about whether what we are about to view is real or all in Josh’s head.

Whichever is the case it does not matter and we are not given the time to overthink for very quickly an armed gang, dressed in scary clown masks infiltrate the house and kidnap the boy leaving the babysitter unconscious on the floor. 

After being taken to an isolated rural estate house, Josh starts to hear voices, but not only ones that want to protect him but ones that do not have his best interests at heart. At this point the film slowly develops more supernatural overtones and what was only hinted at before begins to dominate the proceedings as the waking nightmare becomes more vivid. These moments are more than competently handled aiding the unsettling possibilities of both the house and those behind orchestrating the kidnapping. 

Objectively speaking however the opening act is a little slow for my tastes and suffers from inconsistency in terms of quality which reduces the impact and arguably the interest of what has the potential to be an engaging slow burning occult mystery.

Thankfully however by the second act the script begins to find its rhythm as more breadcrumbs are laid and engagement generated in regards to the real mystery behind the safehouse that the gang find themselves holed up in at the request of an unknown client.

Soon all around the property a mysterious symbol begins to appear with increased frequency as do the hallucinations of not only Josh but also those who took him. During this middle act HOUSE OF SALEM really hits its stride managing to create some genuine moments of tension and intrigue but unfortunately the film seems unable to capitalise on this resulting in a final act that was executed perhaps not as well as it could or should have been.

As with many low budget films the locations are limited and although not directly, HOUSE OF SALEM is comparable to that of a siege movie, Perhaps think in terms of the hospital in the terrific American film THE VOID, although much less expansive and a much lower budget. 

One aspect of this almost siege like environment is that it places by emphasis on the acting, simply by default more than anything. This is both a strength and weakness of HOUSE OF SALEM as the few moments of action are unfortunately weak while the acting, which takes precedence is a little inconsistent although Jessica Arterton, Leslie Mills and Dean Maskell put in commendable performances while Liam Kelly in his first credited role as the boy Josh makes a strong start to his acting career.

Despite its promise HOUSE OF SALEM is unfortunately neither claustrophobic or brave enough in its depiction, I am talking both in terms of script and visuals, resulting in an inconsistent movie in which moments of inane and weak dialogue are followed by genuine tension. The pieces for success are all there and James Crow clearly knows his stuff leading me to suspect that these lulls and moments of inconsistency are down more to the transition from short to feature length production.

HOUSE OF SALEM is one of those small independent films that hovers around in distribution limbo for a couple of years after being made, before finally being granted a long overdue release. Thankfully though it manages to avoid being dated or missing a trend and so this delay has not or should not affect its release.

Overall there is still enough to recommend about this sometimes effectively tense movie to make it worth your while picking it up  but if you are looking for an independent occult horror film might I recommend the Italian films CUSTODES BESTIAE by Lorenzo Bianchini or SHANDA’S RIVER by Marco Rosson ahead of this one.

HOUSE OF SALEM is receiving a home entertainment (DVD) and digital release courtesy of Left Films and Wild Eye Releasing coming October 1st 2018 if you are interested.

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.

THE WASHING MACHINE (1993) BY RUGGERO DEODATO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Vortice mortale
Director:  Ruggero Deodato
Writer: Luigi Spagnol
Year: 1993
Starring: Philippe Caroit, Ilaria Borrelli, Katarzyna Figura, Barbara Ricci

Synopsis:
A police detective investigates the murder of a man found dismembered in a washing machine and is drawn into a web of deceit and murder by the dead man’s lover, Vida, and her two sisters, Sissy and Ludmilla.

Review:
Many will be intrigued by this giallo not just for the peculiar name but also because it is directed by the infamous Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK), a director who is not widely known for his gialli despite this film, PHANTOM OF DEATH and DIAL: HELP all falling loosely into the genre. 

Coming two decades after the golden period of giallo, it is unsurprising that this effort is more influenced by the sexual sleaze that infested the sub-genre in the late eighties as THE WASHING MACHINE delivers a trashy, twisted and bizarre tale of love, jealousy and murder which is as high on (simulated) eroticism as it is suspense.

Set in Budapest, the film begins as it intends to continue, with a sexualised argument between wannabe playboy Yuri and his girlfriend Vida. Thinks however take an almost sinister edge as their kissing is spied on by one of Vida’s sisters while later on a third sister joins them to see Yuri out of the apartment. 

After this argument and make-up everything appears fine. That is until in the night one of the sisters, Ludmilla is awoken by a noise and while investigating discovers Yuri’s dismembered body in the washing machine…which would then disappear somehow before the police arrive.

Enter the blue-eyed and not of sound mind Inspector Stacev who seeks to pump the three sisters for information as to not only where the body lies but if there in fact was even a murder. Matters become complicated as the sisters each spin (pun intended) a different tale to the inspector, while seducing him with their charms, sending the Inspector into a downward spiral of obsession and lust as he seeks to discover what truly happened that night.

During the course of the police investigations by Stacev and his suspicious yet diligent subordinate Nikolai we are introduced, if only very briefly, to several potential subplots such as a suitcase full of money and jewels; currency money laundering and even S&M all of which might be relevant to plot or not but at a loose push all could fit in with elements but I feel that might be stretching the level of complexity that this film possesses. Interestingly, after the S&M revelation a character commits suicide (off-screen) and then that whole plot thread appears to be dropped as quickly as it was introduced and so we ask the question was this part of a wider story removed from the final cut or merely substance behind one of the characters motivations?

In THE WASHING MACHINE Deodato has crafted a highly sexualised giallo but one where the mystery is still quite strong, and it is because of this that the film works as you are intrigued as to what is actually happening as you start to doubt if what you are seeing is even real as represented by the lack of a body. This is supplemented by the additional element of the Inspectors mental instability which Deodato represents both in his loss of objective and professional rationalisation and also with the way that the (editing) shots are put together.

One of the films strengths is that it does not try to emulate a bygone era but rather plays with the conventions within a contemporary lurid framework, as it interlinks eroticism and mystery together with a playful nod to the tropes of the genre where the viewer will expect one thing but be suddenly given another. Meanwhile Deodato never misses a trick to mislead with this climaxing with a fake ending but the timing of this would indicate that there was more to come.

It is also worth noting is the excellent score by Claudio Simonetti, which not only helps to heighten the mood of the scenes but also lends the film that ‘Italian’ feeling which could have so easily become lost due to the Euro-pudding cast and eastern European location.

Ultimately THE WASHING MACHINE is a bizarre and sleazy yet somewhat fun film with a fantastically crafted mystery at its heart. But one that sadly almost seems to play in the background in order to make way for the almost hallucinogenic nightmare of sex and deceit. Featuring more twists and turns than a curly-wurly, Ruggero Deodato packs the film with multiple red herrings and knowing nods to successfully bring things together for a fitting finale but one which unfortunately still leaves many elements unanswered.

Despite being one of the best of the time period (it did not have much competition) this is one for trash and gialli aficionados only, but if that last term described you then you won’t be disappointed with the feast of flesh that THE WASHING MACHINE provides.

Oh and pay attention, as with many directors working in the genre, Ruggero Deodato gives himself a little cameo appearing as a neighbour to the inspector.

ANTHROPOPHAGOUS: THE BEAST (1980) BY JOE D’AMATO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: The Beast; The Grim Reaper; Zombie 7; Man Eater; The Savage Island; Gomia, Terror en el Mar Egeo
Director: Aristide Massacccesi aka Joe D’Amato
Writer: Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman
Year: 1980
Starring: George Eastman, Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Serena Grandi, Margaret Mazzantini

Synopsis:
A group of tourists arrive on a desolate Greek island where they are stalked by an insane, violent, and grotesque killer that slaughtered the town’s former residents.

Review:
This video nasty came out at the peak (volume wise) of the Italian splatter boom and ANTHROPOPHAGOUS was co-written as part of a flurry of productivity by Joe D’Amato and George Eastman who would work together both in front and behind the screen of several films including EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and ABSURD (1981), a loose sequel to this film.

ANTHROPOPHAGOUS kicks off with the deaths of, if the dubbing is to be believed, a German couple at the beach and this set up includes a shot clearly indebted to JAWS. As always D’Amato sets his stall out early treating us to a particularly brutal killing as a hatchet meets a head. Unfortunately however the film drops down a notch quite soon after thanks to the obligatory introduction of our pretty nondescript main cast and the tag-along character whose role it is to disrupt the group dynamic and become the catalyst for the story, much to the chagrin of medium Carol, one of the few memorable personalities in the group.

Things continue at a pedestrian pace as the group arrive on a Greek island and the inevitable group separation occurs.  By this point it becomes clear that on this occasion not only are Eastman and D’Amato failing on the dialogue front but they aren’t faring much better on the suspense stakes either. Although utilising staling POV shots to try and imbue a feeling of danger the result disappointingly only manages to stir boredom in the viewer.

That said credit has to go to George Eastman for his on-screen portrayal of the maniacal, dishevelled Nico. Perfectly cast in this role due to his size and the fantastic make up, coming across as a murderous insane tramp, you can really see the loss of humanity in his character. Something that is further reinforced in a flashback scene as to how the poor wretch lost his mind, and it is moments like this that show flashes of quality that we know are there…somewhere. Genre fans might also be tempted to give this a try thanks to the casting of Tisa Farrow (ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS), the debut of Serena Grandi (DELERIUM; THE GREAT BEAUTY) and Zora Kerova (THE NEW YORK RIPPER; CANNIBAL FEROX).

But before you rush off and buy this film, barring a few moments of excitement to break up the monotony the film only really comes to life in it’s final act. It is in this portion of the film we witness an iconic scene, not just for the film but perhaps the whole video nasty period.

Known for its gore and reputation, the film does deliver these goods on several occasions as throats are torn, foetuses (well, skinned rabbits) are eaten and bowels spilled but unfortunately the pacing is way off making for a very tedious and uneven film for which the very patient viewer is rewarded but barely enough to have made the first fifty minutes of tedium worthwhile.

Therefore ANTHROPOPHAGOUS is disappointingly less than the sum of its parts. The all but deserted locale, the mystery of the island (it is beginning to sound like they had one premise for this and EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and two directions to take it resulting in these two films) are so poorly explored in a cinematic context that our protagonists spend too much time walking around and without the opportunity to cut in random erotic scenes D’Amato seems at a loss as to what to do or what to show in order to keep the movie flowing or the interest up.

Arguably by making something more focused and more like a straight horror, D’Amato loses that element of excitement as he fails to replace those tawdry erotic elements that would define and dominate so many of his other films. Many fans will get bored on more than one occasion during this film and despite its video nasty reputation only one scene is truly shocking. But some people are seemingly big fans of this film and so if you are still intrigued we recommend you pick up the 88 Films release due to the picture quality and the 42nd STREET MEMORIES documentary extra.

Oh and as a side note the musical score for this film is simply grating.

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.

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.