Directing from the abyss!

Articles and Interviews

In 2017 a chat online led to me to the strange Italian film CREATRUES FROM THE ABYSS aka PLANKTON, which I subsequently picked up on DVD for only a couple of pounds. Receiving the disc just a few days later I was excited to see what all the fuss was about and immediately stuck it into my home entertainment system, cracked open a drink and sat back as what could only be described as nautical lunacy unfolded.

Once the credits had finished rolling and my senses came returned I was left with so many questions not just about the film itself but also the director; who the hell was Al Passeri and why hadn’t I heard of him or this film before?

A quick cursory search online seemed to confirm my initial suspicions, Al Passeri must have been either one of many non-descript one-hit Italian directors who got involved in the VOD boom of the early nineties or perhaps a low budget director using a pseudonym, not wanting to stifle a potentially promising career while still needing to make some money and learn his craft.

Neither of these hypotheses turned out to be true and instead I wound up discovering a man who had spent the previous two decades toiling away in the background of Italian genre cinema before getting his directorial break.

Born in Nocera, Umbria back in 1950 Alvaro Passeri would move to Rome soon after, where he has lived ever since. A keen artist from his teenage years, he enjoyed painting and musical studies but perhaps it was his interest in electronics that would ironically set him up for a career in the creative world of film making. After graduating in Sculpture at the Art Institute of Rome he spent a few years working backstage in the opera before landing a position as a sculptor on the TV series JESUS OF NAZARETH starring Robert Powell and Laurence Olivier, a production that I am sadly familiar with due to attending a Catholic school in England and being forced to watch it during lessons in which the teacher felt particularly lazy.

Anyway back to Alvaro Passeri; he followed up this initial foray in the world of film with sculpture and special effects on the 1977 rampaging octopus flick TENTACLES by Ovidio Assonitis. This additional work came around as the previous crew member charged with creating the effects had unfortunately missed a lot of them out, resulting in the director calling up Alvaro and giving him his first opportunity to not only showcase his emerging talent but discover a new world of (professional) enjoyment.

After working on the set of  CALIGULA by Tinto Brass the following year, a flurry of work rolled in and a young Alvaro Passeri would go on to gain more experience with a number of productions including work by Enzo Castellari (THE SHARK HUNTER), Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH; ALIEN 2; HERCULES), Paolo Cavara (LA LOCANDIERA), Sergio Martino (2019 – AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK) and even with the great directors Sergio Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) and Dario Argento (INFERNO), for whom he contributed scenic artwork and special effects including the building of the gothic castle.

Looking back to this period we are presented with an impressionable rookie on the set (not to mention literally building them) of several masters of the Italian scene, with these experiences both direct and indirect helping to skill him in the art of working with small budgets. No doubt a necessary skill as over time the horror and fantasy markets started to wane, especially in Italy.

Alvaro Passeri took these experiences and formed his own production and special effects company in 1982. This is the reason why his company carries that number. From this moment on his career would continue in the fashion and frequency he had no doubt become accustomed to despite the market downturn.

He would later go on to return to working with Enzo Castellari as well as with the likes of Ruggero Deodato (THE ATLANTIS INTERCEPTORS; THE BARBARIANS; OCEANO) and several other known directors such as Aldo Lado, Dino Risi, Duccio Tessari and Sergio Martino. Not to mention the legendary Lucio Fulci on productions of THE NEW GLADIATORS and AENIGMA.

When asked about his time working with Lucio Fulci, a man who several have said is demanding and cruel on set, Alvaro Passeri remembers fondly their working relationship as the iconic director would allow him to get on and work without supervision, trusting in his output.

However these cult films were only one aspect of Alvaro Passeri’s work and he would also have the opportunity to contribute and work on several other genres and films, most notably the critically acclaimed CINEMA PARADISO by Giuseppe Tornatore.

Speaking with Alvaro Passeri about what it was like watching these directors both from afar and up-close it becomes apparent that he took the most out of these opportunities and was always learning and very appreciative of everyone’s unique skills; not only technique from the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore but also some practical ideas from the future Hollywood directorial star James Cameron, for who Alvaro Passeri spent a month with in the early 1980s. This period also included the making of a piranha effect for the film PIRANHA II. No doubt this professional collaboration was the result of Ovidio Assonitis who had acted as an uncredited director on the film.

With all these experiences, in 1992, now 42 years old, Alvaro Passieri finally took the step into directing with his first feature film – CREATURE DAGLI ABISSI otherwise known as CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS or PLANKTON depending on which English language market you are in, and it is this film that was the catalyst for this article.

A film that combines elements of the aforementioned PIRANHA II, just look at all the flying prehistoric fish and POV shots, with John Carpenter’s THE THING, in regards of hideous ‘alien’ mutations; and then throws in more than just a touch of off-the-wall bizarre humour; It really has to be seen to be believed and honestly I would recommend that you did see it!

To quote one guy on Twitter (@Seamaster73) who replied to me after a post regarding the film, he described it as: “The film Jaws *could* have been…if it had featured a scene in which a woman gives birth to caviar”. If you are a fan of crazy low budget horror then that description should be sending you straight to Amazon (other suppliers are available).

Now the plot itself is quite straight forward, a bunch of obnoxious teens head out in a boat for a party only to get stranded at sea. Luckily they come across a deserted yacht which just so happens to be kitted out for two things – sex parties and mad fish-based science, what else!

Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth our party animals get down to the business of getting down, well most of them….only to soon realise something fishy is going on and they are not alone on board….with hilarious consequences.

According to the ever increasingly inaccurate IMDB, it was shot on a reported budget of $250,000 across Miami, USA and Rome, Italy and was written by the no doubt fictitious Richard Baumann (whose only other credit was starring in 2 episodes of a 1950s TV series CAVALCADE OF AMERICA). Hmmmm. Although I do suspect the credited story co-coordinator John Blush may have had an early career role in this although all the internet details are very fuzzy. Now what was it I saying earlier about pseudonyms?

Having spoken to the director he admitted that he undertook the old b-movie director trick of inventing many of the crew in order to give the appearance of a bigger production than it actually was and this is perhaps closer to the truth.

In fact the director would go on to say “I could not write that I had done everything, in addition to the actors my troupe was 5 people, you realise that this movie was produced with the money that in a normal movie pay only the lunch for the crew.” Making the film even more of low budget triumph and success and to my mind, I even doubt the budget given on IMDB as when you have the special effects knowledge on hand and quite frankly set the movie in one location your costs are in all likelihood notably reduced.

Having been privileged to get the opportunity to speak with the director, I go on to explain to him the purpose of my interest and how I discovered his largely forgotten film from 1992 [although it was trapped in distribution hell for a couple of years before finally being released].

He seems humbled and somewhat surprised admitting that he “did not know that ‘CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS’ had fans” and that although he “had directed the film with great passion” he still could believe that it was gaining new fans.

To me this really highlights the benefits of the digital age to film makers and older work, no longer are these esoteric films the hidden away in the confines of murky store basements or underground mail order catalogues available only to the chosen few but now with the click of a button people from all across the world can discuss and share their latest find or oddity and within minutes trailers found and viewed thus perpetuating the cycle.

Although kept busy with special effects work (including on the terrifically titled and themed but hugely disappointing JURASSIC PARK rip off CHICKEN PARK) it would be a further sixteen years before Alvaro Passeri would return to direct.

Between 1998 and 2004 he made a further four films (THE GOLDEN GRAIN [check out the trailer under its original title FANTASTIC GAMES at the very end of the article]; THE MUMMY THEME PARK; FLIGHT TO HELL; PSYCHOVISION – many of which are now on YouTube) but these were not met favourably by many critics and in 2004 he hung up the directors cap as the commercial market and backing for these sort of films had completely disappeared.

Despite this end, Alvaro Passeri had worked on and contributed to several significant and notable Italian films and gave us the highly entertaining and memorable CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS and for that I salute him!

Nowadays he spends his time on his passion of mechanical electronics, robotics and music. You can find out more and visit his official website here.

Finally I would like to thank Alvaro Passeri for his time and generosity in replying to me and humouring what must be a strange request from a random viewer about a film that is now 25 years old!

If you have even just a few pound (or dollars) find this gem on Amazon where it is cheap, grab some drinks and snacks and settle in for a night of fun. I always believe that films should at least entertain or have something to say, the rare few have both, and this film certainly does one of those two.

Addition: After posting this article I spoke a little more with Alvaro Passeri about his time in the industry and his favourite pieces of work to which he intrigued me by describing his follow up directorial effort FANTASTIC GAMES, which was retitled THE GOLDEN GRAIN after a distributor shall we say acted not in the best interest of anyone other than themselves forcing a drastic overhaul.

Intrigued by this I probed a little further and to my delight the director posted online a showreel trailer for the film – I was certainly captivated. A million miles away from the crazy fucked up fish violence of CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS, instead FANTASTIC GAMES comes across as if Luigi Cozzi made a 1980s sci-fi combined with THE NEVERENDING STORY and INDIANA JONES by way of the Jim Henson Company and Ray Harryhausen.

After this movie was completed the bottom really did fall out of the industry and he saw his budgets reduced down to a tenth of what they once were. Reminiscing on this point he displays some regret over whether he made the right decision to continue in the face of increasing obstacles but when you own the studio and have the responsibility of several people’s livelihoods to contend with it suddenly is a whole different situation.

I hope Alvaro enjoyed his time talking to me as much as I did him, and looks back fondly on a career not only well spent but still enjoyed by b-movie and cult film fans across the globe.

Check out the trailer for PLANKTON aka CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS below

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 CRUCIFIXION (2017) BY XAVIER GENS

Reviews

Director: Xavier Gens
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Year: 2017
Starring: Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Brittany Ashworth

Synopsis:
When Nicole comes in contact with Father Anton more and more inexplicable events occur. The pair begin to believe that the priest lost the battle with a demon.

Review:
French director Xavier Gens (FRONTIER(S); HITMAN; THE ABCs OF DEATH) returns to directing after a brief hiatus with this Romanian set satanic mystery which was written by American duo Chad and Carey Hayes (HOUSE OF WAX; THE REAPING; THE CONJURING; THE CONJURING 2) who bring with them a recognisable if slightly safe horror pedigree.

Like many supernatural or satanic horror films the film claims to have been inspired by true events, in this case it is the 2004 “Tanacu Exorcism” in which a nun died and Father Daniel Corogeanu was convicted of murder. Inspiration taken this results in the opening pre-title sequence comprising of a priest and a group of nuns forcibly handling a distressed woman, pinning her down onto a cross as the priest attempts to deliver an exorcism which we soon learn went wrong resulting in the death of the afflicted woman and the arrest of the Priest who performed the unsanctioned act.

It doesn’t take long for news to spread across the globe and journalist Nicole Rawlins (Sophie Cookson) seizes this opportunity to push her own anti-religion agenda by begging her editor, and inconsequently Uncle, to give her this story to which he reluctantly agrees on the basis that she maintains at least some journalistic objectivity.

Arriving in Romania, it is clear that Nicole is a fish-out-of-water but thankfully this approach isin’t one that is pursued but rather a more intriguing retrospective investigative narrative. This choice for the opening act works well as it provides all of the relevant exposition without having to have just one character sit down and talk at us for a good five minutes as sometimes happens with this sub-genre of film.

Furthermore it is refreshing for a film to not just be all about the cattle-prod scares and rather than being just another low-substance, high-jump throwaway horror, there are elements that are more reminiscent of demonic mysteries such as CUSTODES BESTIAE or THE NINTH GATE. That is not so say that THE CRUCIFIXION is not packed with jump scares, only that they do not define the film and are at least supported at times by genuine tension.

As the film starts to progress it relegates the incarcerated priest and the dead woman to the background shifting focus to Nicole’s own crisis of faith and as her sanity seemingly decreases the jump scares increase, but thankfully on the whole they work even if a few are a little telegraphed at times. No doubt the increased frequency was to ensure that mainstream horror audiences, that most likely picked the film up due to the marketing blurb pushing recent hits ANNABELLE and THE CONJURING being plastered all over the films promotion, did not feel shortchanged.

Overall thanks to the initial investigative approach and moments of real tension, THE CRUCIFIXION manages to differentiate itself enough from its peers and in the process provide a more engrossing and complete viewing experience than had it relied solely on its use of derivative jump scares and its generic look, in which even the rural Romanian setting could not make the cinematography stand out – after all there is always a farm, a barn and a church in these films.

If you are looking for a decent modern entry into the exorcism genre then THE CRUCIFIXION is for you, it won’t make your top ten of the year but equally won’t be a complete waste your time.

SLUGS (1988) BY JUAN PIQUER SIMON

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Slugs, muerte viscosa; Mutations; Salingaria tou tromou; Slugs – Vorice d’orrore
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Writers: Jose A. Escriva, Juan Piquer Simón [Based on a novel by Shaun Hutson]
Year: 1988
Starring: Michael Garfield, Kim Terry. Philip MacHale, Alicia Moro, Santiago Alvarez

Synopsis:
The townsfolk of a rural community are dying in strange and gruesome circumstances. Following the trail of horrifically mutilated cadavers, resident health inspector Mike Brady is on the case to piece together the mystery. He soon comes to a terrifying giant slugs are breeding in the sewers beneath  the town, and they’re making a meal of the locals!

Review:
Based on the novel by Shaun Hutson, the author would go on to say in an interview with thisishorror.co.uk that the “film isn’t great… but it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen in my life” and this is not surprising as the film makes several distinct changes to the writers novel. To which its sequel Breeding Ground was also due to be adapted but unfortunately never was. 

Onto the film itself and we are greeted by water bubbling in an isolated still lake as a bickering couple argue in a small row boat. The young man, fishing, falls in while his nubile partner begins to panic when he doesn’t immediately resurface. This aquatic creature feature is, you’ve guessed it….Slugs: The Movie!

With the opening credits and the seemingly pointless lake scene over we are transported to the town of Lyons as a bunch of youths speed past the local down and out Ron Bell who pretty soon also succumbs to slimy critters and sets the scene for the films reasonably high body count.

Although be warned it is not only death that litters this film but also inconsistencies and dodgy dialogue, no better exemplified by the first interaction between our lead protagonist, town health inspector Mike Brady and the local asshole Sheriff Reese.  As the reluctant duo travel in a cop car towards the late Ron Bell’s house not only do we need to put up with some bad humour but also on not one but two occasions our characters throw items out of seemingly rolled up windows!

Now once at the property the hilarity continues with a deputy, surely no older than 30 stating that the corpse was worse than anything he had seen in Vietnam….which had ended thirteen years previously. Hmm something doesn’t add up here but why let that get in the way of a good line. In fact in the extras, production manager Larry Ann Evans would even state that she informed Simón of some the script inadequacies but what the hell, this is entertainment.

Back to the film and the problems come thick and fast for Brady as both he and the town sanitation officer Don Palmer receive a call from a no doubt lonely grumpy old woman who is kicking off about the smell coming from a nearby sewer and on this our investigative team is formed and they embark upon a slimy mystery.

Never one to let a bit of time go by without any action by the end of the first act things get kicked up a notch as an elderly couple are blown up and Brady’s finger nearly chomped off by a giant slug, leading them to think that maybe just maybe there is something going on.

So, when you suspect that slugs might be going around town bumping people off but you aren’t quite sure what to do – the logical thing is to go and speak to the local English chemistry or biology (it’s never quite established who he is or what he does) nerd Foley; the brains behind the brawn provided by the health and sanitation officers. Foley knows his shit and sets about investigating exactly what they are up against and how they can defeat this underground evil.

If all this sounds like there might be too much plot creeping in for your liking don’t worry because in SLUGS you are only ever a few minutes away from action or hilarity as more brutal and slimy slayings occur and no one is safe, from the business man just trying to seal a deal to the horny naked teenagers also just trying to seal the deal. All the while Brady is trying to tell everyone that slugs are behind all of this but his explanations just fall on deaf ears as first the Sheriff retorts “Killer slugs for Christ’s sake. What will it be next? Demented Crickets?” and much later Frank Phillips, the head of the water department responds to Brady’s demands to declare a health emergency with a reply of “You ain’t got the authority to declare Happy Birthday!” Classic stuff.

Perhaps the main highlight of the film however occurs in between these two pieces of dialogue gold as a council representative is at lunch and just about to finally secure a major land development sale only for the dinner and deal to be interrupted by something that would not look out of place in fellow 1980s film STREET TRASH.

By now you probably understand that SLUGS does not really do subtlety or even pay much credence to build up as it hurtles towards a final climax where Brady and Palmer are forced to go rogue and take matters into their own hands by deciding to hunt down the slugs breeding ground and end this once and for all, no matter what the cost. Epic stuff indeed. 

SLUGS is a fast paced entertaining piece of trash with humorous dialogue and lashings of over the top action and gore. If you only watch one gastropod movie this year…make it this one and make it the Arrow release.

Version Reviewed:
I watched a copy of the Arrow Video 2016 blu ray release.  Featuring English only audio and subtitled for the hard of hearing the film itself looks and sounds great, unsurprisingly as the only blu ray release it is not difficult to see that this is the best presentation of the film out there.

Arrow haven’t stopped there however and have commissioned a bunch of new extras for this release. Starting with Here’s Slugs in Your Eye, an interview with Emilio Linder in which the actor tells about his enjoyment of working with director Simón and the relaxed atmosphere he cultivates on his sets. Later he tells an endearing story about his famous restaurant scene, but rather than discussing his definitive moment in the film, rather he indulges us with a tale of his love for actress Silvana Mangano, who he had the pleasure of meeting as she took a surprising cameo role for the restaurant sequence.

The disc also gives us They Slime, They Ooze, They Kill in which special Fx artist Carlo De Marchis talks about his work on the set, what worked the best and the obstacles which he faced. Unsurprisingly he also discusses the difficulty in directing and working with slugs – not the easiest as we can all imagine. Once again the interviewee only has positive words about the director even going as far as stating that “Piquer was as good as Spielberg”, strong words.

Further interviews include Invasion USA where the very thrifty but practical art director Gonzalo Gonzalo gives us some fascinating insights into the films production and is a joy to learn more from. Finally we have The Lyons Den in which production manager Larry Ann Evans takes us around the town of Lyons where the American exteriors (and some interiors) where shot. Despite bizarrely referring to Hutson’s original novel as an American book this feature is a fantastic tour of the locations used and the story behind them. Evan’s enthusiasm for the film is infectious and it doesn’t take long to be sucked into, and dare I say learning from, this informative little segment.

Furthermore we are also treated a trailer and a couple of audio commentary options, the first with writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander and the second with the original novel writer Shaun Hutson. Hutson’s commentary is fantastic as he speaks about his writing process, his influences not to mention the many scenes in the film that are not even in his novel let alone changed. Hutson’s self-deprecating but humorous comments really make this a commentary worth listening to on subsequent watches.

Ghostly goings on at Villa Clara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.