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.

NOTTE NUDA (2018) BY LORENZO LEPORI

Reviews

AKA: Nude Night
Director: Lorenzo Lepori
Writers: Lorenzo Lepori, Antonio Tentori
Year: 2018
Starring: Pascal Persiano, Henrj Bartolini, Yana Proshkina, Concetta Pagliarella, Simona Vannelli, Antonio Tentori

Synopsis:
Things spiral out of control for old friends Paolo and Andrea when they find themselves in the woods and in possession of a girls body. But are they alone?

Review:
Benefitting from an uneasy atmosphere, the very start of NOTTE NUDA places the viewer  on edge as it successfully builds tension. This feeling is formed from a fairly mundane and straight forward sequence in which a man slopes off from his marital bed, leaving his buxom wife, to go collect firewood from the nearby forest.

However the audio-visual choices chosen by director Lorenzo Lepori tell us that something is not quite right and when a heavily decomposed body is discovered by our male actor things begin to take horrific shape.

Hinting at erotic horror, think in the vein of Jess Franco, but delivering perhaps more in the way of a creature feature, the strong opening eight minutes of NOTTE NUDA encompass multiple influences that tease us with which direction things will go but also leave us wondering how they will be blended together.

Due to this it is perhaps more curious as to why NOTTE NUDA then decides to take an unexpected turn by seemingly moving away from what has been established and becoming almost a dark drama of sorts with the introduction of lead character Paolo (Pascal Persiano – DEMONS 2; PAGANINI HORROR; THE SWEET HOUSE OF HORROS; VOICES FROM BEYOND; CATACOMBA), a man missing his wife and in the midst of a downward spiral.  

Alone, run-down and presumably lonely it is hardly a shock that when Paolo heads out of town to meet up with his old friend Andrea (Henrj Bartolini – CATACOMBA) and his latest girlfriend Milena that it takes just one night of booze and drugs before all three of them end up in bed together.

Through these sequences NOTTE NUDA instills both character background and wider context but due to the length of time spent on this and the subsequent partying scenes the momentum does seem to drop and the film loses its focus somewhat. But thankfully with the (direct) introduction of a few more of the bar patrons the story is driven forwards giving us action, drama and what I would term dark humour before returning to horror territory which concludes a neatly worked if light story.

NOTTE NUDA is a commendable effort but one that ultimately attempts to fit in too much which proves more frustrating for the viewer hoping for more exploration of scenes as opposed to anything poorly executed.  That said I did like how the main tale of Pascal was concluded but I believe that Lepori and Tentori should have found the film in the development of the aftermath of Paolo and Andrea’s night out. To me, this is the films real strength due to the strong performances and chemistry between Persiano and Bartolini. Of special note is the lead actor Pascal Persiano who shows his experience at playing this type of character several times before.

Through its mixture of cheese, nudity and violence NOTTE NUDA will have moments that appeal to fans of 80s Italian horror, European erotic horror as well as Italian fumetti and will do enough to appease fans of all three, even if areas such as the Franco-esque eroticism appear if ever so slightly underplayed.

I say this last bit simply because although it technically fulfils its purpose in relation to the story as is presented in the final film, some of the shots used I found quite captivating and I wished that there was an alternative film that focused on this. The irony is that had this been a segment in something like Lepori’s previous release, the anthology CATACOMBA, that the restrictions and compromise forced on the director through shorter time limits would probably have seen this avenue separated and pursued a little more.

On a final note, the two feature length releases of Lorenzo Lepori are peppered with genuine talent and if the writer/director can continue along this path I can see a modern cult classic coming in the not too distant future.

NOTTE NUDA will be released this December on DVD. Check the usual places and follow the film on Facebook.

THE THIRD DAY (2018) BY FRANCESCO LONGO

Reviews

Director: Francesco Longo
Writer: Francesco Longo
Year: 2018
Starring: Roberto Ramon

Synopsis:
A man return to his home. Here, he will be faced with a dark truth, the world has been struck by a terrible plague.

Review:
With immediate effect a powerful, deep sound emanates from the speakers demanding your attention. This use of audio although somewhat generic, nonetheless elicits the desired response from the viewer and the short film, THE THIRD DAY, comes to life with a man bursting into his flat before frantically searching for some unknown item.

A sudden realisation or perhaps resignation comes over him as his erratic movement shifts from the external to the internal and starts to aggressively scratch his body. It is at this point that THE THIRD DAY gives us the old newsreader exposition cliche, filling us in regarding the backstory which here involves the standard tale of an infectious disease. Something our man is clearly showing the symptoms of.

Due to this and the brief length of the short – coming in at just under four-and-a-half minutes, THE THIRD DAY feels more like a strong pre-title sequence for a film in the vein of 28 DAYS LATER or the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake rather than a complete self contained piece. However based on the evidence of this and the directors previous work NYCTOPHOBIA I do hope that Francesco Longo gets the opportunity (not to mention budget) to expand this narrative into a longer piece of work.

The best…and worst of me

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What is the difference between love and obsession?

The trailer for the upcoming Albanian film LAST DAY (THE BEST OF ME), courtesy of Bad Trip Bros., promises to answer that question by way of the weirdest love story ever told, as it introduces us to a body horror that has been freely inspired by the real story of Ricardo López, Bjork’s stalker who descended into a dangerous madness in the mid-1990s.

Hold up I hear you say, an Albanian horror movie! Now this country’s output is a bit of a mystery for me however strictly speaking this journey into madness is an Albanian-Italian production having been directed by Domiziano Cristopharo (HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS; RED KROKODIL) and featuring a cast weighted in his countryman’s favour. This combination of countries is not as strange as it might seem however as Albania is one of the most polyglot nations in Europe with Italian being widely spoken. No doubt a fact that would have helped this production come about and potentially a common denominator that might see more films coming out of the country and getting distribution deals.

Promising lots of practical effects, and the trailer certainly looks like the film will deliver on that aspect, and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy a trip to the dark side of the human psyche…along with gore of course.

Oh on a final note it is not just the visual aspects that might grab your attention. Music for the film has been scored by frequent Domiziano Cristopharo collaborator Antony Coia (E.N.D; SCARECROWD; VIRUS) and perhaps more exciting the film will feature original songs by the American-Italian  multiple award-winning composer Susan Dibona, one half of the terrific duo The Villa Studios. As a big music fan myself I am very interested to see, considering the subject matter, will there be a Bjork influence? Will Susan Dibona take things in a different direction? There certainly is a lot of room for variation here.

Check out the trailer below and follow the film on Facebook for updates.

Half Neon, Half Demon, All Horror

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After the success of his arguably pensive sci-fi horror SCARECROWD: THE MUSK, Italian-American director George Nevada is back alongside Italian producer (as well as the films writer) Domiziano Cristopharo, and the intriguingly titled film JACK THE ST. RIPPER.

Utilising many of the same cast from SCARECROWD (Fabrizio Occhipinti, Antony Ferry) and previous Domiziano Cristopharo efforts (Cleverson Rodrigues, Mark Thompson), JACK THE ST.RIPPER has been tagged as a crazy mix between MAGIC MIKE (no doubt this is where the St.Ripper part of the name comes in) and CARRIE by way of a parody style that pays homage to the gore and violence of the classic 80s grindhouse films.

Oh and perhaps some nods to the more contemporary stylised horror and thrillers with THE NEON DEON being an obvious reference point from both the tag line, the audio utilised in the trailer and also the effect on the trailer credits.

Talking of the trailer it certainly plays all the right notes and in addition posses almost an 1980s giallo vibe which permeates throughout, even if the violence comes across as more schlock than sophisticated, meaning that this film should appeal to many genre fans.

As of yet no release information is available but you can keep up to date with the films progress over on the official Facebook page.

On a potentially unrelated note there was a London killer who operated between 1964-1965 who was named ‘Jack the Stripper’ by the national press as part of the ‘Hammersmith nude murders’ and although I know that Domiziano Cristopharo takes influence from real life events, from what I know so far this is just a coincidence. But one to be aware of. 

Regardless of all this conjecture, watch the trailer below and make up your own mind.

CUSTODES BESTIAE (2004) BY LORENZO BIANCHINI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Keepers of the beast
Director: Lorenzo Bianchini
Writer: Lorenzo Bianchini
Year: 2004
Starring: Giorgio Basile; Edo Basso; Laura Bau

Synopsis:
A story of religious revelation and conspiracy is uncovered after a professor goes missing soon after announcing an important discovery to a journalist. Intrigued, the journalist Londero takes it upon himself to solve not only what happened to the professor but the true nature of his discovery.

Review:
Opening with an unsettling audio track, that includes the religious chanting of a choir, we find ourselves in an Udine market during March 2003. Here Professor Dal Colle is immediately drawn to an old set of photographs which he subsequently purchases. 

Despite buying it off a random woman selling a diverse assortment of goods off a table in the market he pays her the princely sum of 60 Euros and is soon on his way. Jumping forwards four days now the Professor is kicking in a decrepit underground bricked up door, behind which he finds what appears to be a chained up corpse. Here writer/director Lorenzo Bianchini is careful not to show us too much with the room being enveloped in darkness allowing us only to see what he wants us to thanks to the brief light granted by a flashing camera.

The same evening a journalist, Londero visits the home of the professor in order to learn and write about this new discovery but before he can find out about the breakthrough they are interrupted by someone at the door. Visibly panicked the Professor hides Londero in a spare room like a cheating spouse telling him to be quiet as he goes to placate the unwanted visitor before suddenly going missing.

This disappearance marks the true beginning of the mystery as over the next few days Londero remains unable to contact the Professor. Attempting to visit him at home he notices  a strange handprint burnt into the lower portion of the Professors door and then later receives a bizarre phone call inviting him  round. Clued up like all amateur detectives or investigative journalists Londero approaches with caution wary that all is not as it seems and it is not long before his suspicions are confirmed.

His investigation soon takes in local parish records, an old photography store in a small town and most importantly a fresco that the Professor was working on. Elements like this hark back, if only loosely, to the gialli of Dario Argento as well as Antonio Bido’s A BLOODSTAINED SHADOW and Pupi Avati’s HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS in the way that images play a defining role within the mystery. In fact these works by Antonio Bido and Pupi Avati also contain the same small town claustrophobia and secrecy employed here and so it is no surprise that Lornenzo Bianchini regards his film as a giallo of sorts. Certainly in the Italian sense of the word it is.

One of the many things that helps elevate CUSTODES BESTIAE above its peers is the flow of the film. As we, the viewer, follow the story alongside our main protagonist, Lorenzo Bianchini ably utilises every story telling device he can to ensure that we never jump ahead of Londero in our thought process – it is almost as if we are a sidekick with him and the few times the film does break from this, often with a POV shot of a mysterious unseen character, it is again in real time, filling in the gaps but providing us with no more information than Londero already has or will have by the next scene.

Allowing the story to develop at roughly the same pace for both the characters and the viewer provides for not only some form of parity between us but also that sense of unease as we are drawn in further and further, attempting to piece this puzzle together before it is too late.

Another notable and commendable device utilised in this film is that of the flashback, often these are randomly interjected and used for exposition telling the viewer much much more than the characters could have or would have known. Not here. At first the flashbacks are quick vague cuts, more for the senses than the mind. We hear screams and the rattling of chains before learning of a fallen priest and only as we discover more through the contemporary investigation of Londero do the meanings and full actions become apparent. This not only keeps us engaged but also has the added practical benefit of both helping maintain the films pacing while providing some visual variety for the viewer keeping the experience fresh.

Throughout the films entire 92 minute runtime the film manages to craft and maintain an eerie atmosphere thanks to the use of cinematography, light and sound.

Meanwhile the mystery itself is fantastically well crafted and it is clear that Lorenzo Bianchini is as talented in writing as he is directing, as he feeds us little breadcrumbs guiding us through the clues allowing us to discover only when he deems necessary. 

Furthermore for a film that is about subtle leading it is not afraid to mix it up with one scene in particular displaying bestial rape and another providing a genuine quick scare showing that CUSTODES BESTIAE can entertain on several levels as it builds up towards its unsettling climax.

However some viewers may find the pace a little slow, especially those looking for something like bigger budget American fare such as THE NINTH GATE or THE CONSIPIRACY which intersperse the main story with much more dynamic set pieces but that is not what this film is about and as a result it is a much more honed (or should that be horned) and unsettling effort.

Made for an estimated €3,000 Lorenzo Bianchini shows that a budget is just a number as CUSTODES BESTIAE is a terrifically crafted story that manages to overcome any budget constraints by focusing on its core values of atmosphere and intrigue. There is no doubt with the volume of cast and direct action that this was always written with the level of finance in mind and it would be fascinating to see what a talent such as Lorenzo Bianchini could do given a larger budget and the same level of freedom.

Highly recommended not just for fans of Italian cinema but also occult mysteries such as THE WICKER MAN and THE NINTH GATE. CUSTODES BESTIAE is a severely undervalued film that for whatever reason is not more widely known but is genuine example of talent over budget.

Version Reviewed:
I watched the 2006 DVD release from RHV which is presented in 1.85:1 letterbox format and with audio options in Italian or Fruilian (regional dialect of Friuli-Venezia Giulia) but thankfully subtitle options are available in both English and Italian.

Rather pleasingly for such a low budget movie the disc isn’t bare. Containing a whole host of extras such as a trailer and a condensed version of SPORCO which has been stripped down to 1m 15secs and I had no idea what the hell was going.

The disc also contains a 25 minute making of featurette (with English subtitles) which although of an appalling visual quality does a decent enough job of documenting the film and the beauty of some of the locations, such as the rural villa of the professor, and shots shine through regardless.

Bianchini discusses the differences between this film and his previous effort as well as introducing the characters and actors behind them. Additionally we are treated to an interesting look into why some of the decisions were made both in terms of story, shot compositions and even the props utilised within the film adding a genuine layer of insight into the making of process rather than just a bland backstage shaky cam footage of the actors.

One of the most interesting things to come out of this is the decision to remain shooting in the Fruilian language – and the risks associated with the use of a seemingly rural, dare we say backwards, identity that may put some off. Bianchini however saw the contrast between the simple vernacular language and the detailed mystery and images as lending the film a certain unease, a conflict in the atmosphere.  Practically meanwhile the use of local actors meant there were no issues with shooting in the dialect as this was their accent, their language and that made for the decision to be even easier. Finally, the choice of shooting in the dialect was not just artistic but financial, because of this the film was able to benefit from the support of the Province of Udine who were the only authority of any kind to lend help to the films production leading to many benefits including access to some fantastic municipal buildings.

Like (2016) by Giulio Manicardi

Reviews

Director: Giulio Manicardi
Writer: Giulio Manicardi
Year: 2016
Starring: Antonio Pauletta, Yuri Casagrande Conti (Voice), Giulio Manicardi

Synopsis:
A mysterious serial killer hosts a macabre online show, where he puts on trial and executes his victims through a live streaming format. However the final judgement for the victim comes from the jury  – the shows viewers who can decide to kill or spare the victim with a simple vote of “Like” or “Dislike”.

Review:
Opening with footage of an idyllic family, my initial expectations of LIKE were that this would become something akin to a found footage horror but as soon as that thought appeared the tone and style shifted from that of being recorded by the family to being a recording of the family, and our mystery voyeur has an unhealthy fixation on the family patriarch, Jerry – and with good reason.

Soon Jerry finds himself waking up; tied and gagged in a black, featureless room with only a camera and projector facing him. Don’t worry however this is no torture-porn (I do hate that term) knock off but rather Jerry has unwittingly become the contestant in a bizarre online ‘judicial entertainment’ show where the stakes really are life and death.

The show is led by a strange yet compelling masked host who lays out the facts for his anonymous viewers and through a compelling (and very well written) exposition we are led to a final verdict as determined by the number of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ generated by the viewers.

Now essentially LIKE only has two characters and one location – and because of this initial layer of the movie it is vital for the dialogue, and the writing as a whole, to not only be compelling but also of an extremely high standard in areas relating to pacing, realism and quite frankly even just entertainment.

Without even one of these elements I have witnessed films devolve quickly into tedium and lose the interest of the viewer. Thankfully here, writer/director Giulio Manicardi manages to succeed with aplomb and the interaction between our two leads is both witty and compelling, holding up even on a second viewing when despite knowing what was going to happen I was still captivated by the dialogue.

Credit also needs to go to the actors; Antonio Pauletta as the desperate Jerry and Giulio Manicardi (performing another role on set as the killer) as well as Yuri Casagrande Conti (providing the voice of the killer) as the killer both of which combine to expertly bring the character to life. In particular the light-hearted and playful voice given by Yuri Casagrande Conti to the killer gives a sense of fun to the proceedings and arguably lends the whole affair a sense of inconsequential entertainment from which the voting audience can simply forget about the ramifications of their decisions while Jerry’s family and those around him cannot.

From this point, I did hint that there might be another way to see the film, away from our ‘two’ characters and that is in investigating the role of the jury; the viewers; the anonymous masses that get to choose the fate of Jerry.

Here, LIKE makes these peripheral, unseen masses a vital force in the narrative and although one would expect things to only go one way it nonetheless provides an important alternative angle for the story. The film does not go as far as to make the viewer complicit, the frequent change from second to third person camera angles sees to that, but nonetheless it leads us to ponder the very same as Jerry – are the vigilantes any better than those they seek to punish in the name of justice?

Ultimately everything in LIKE is there for a reason whether it be to drive the story or the resolution and in these twenty minutes Giulio Manicardi has created a fantastic calling card that marks him out as a talent to watch.

Benefiting from a tight and engaging script, strong performances and a couple of nice little twists, LIKE takes the straight forward concept of vigilante justice and mixes it with contemporary themes of how we use and are emboldened by the internet and social media. As we participate from the safety of behind our own keyboards are we really aware of the impact one click of a button could have?

Version Reviewed:
I watched the English language screener version of the film online. Like looks and feels like a professionally shot film which is to say something of its quality and it is well edited. The only issue to be had is that the dubbing goes out of sync at some point in the final quarter however this is not a major issue and is reasonably common when dealing with dubbed European films.