DOLCEZZA EXTREMA (2015) BY ALBERTO GENOVESE

Reviews

AKA: Sick Sock Monsters from Outer Space
Director: Alberto Genovese
Writer: Massimo Vavassori
Starring: Alessandro Bianchi, Giovanni De Giorgi, Marco Antonio Andolfi, Paola Masciadri, Massimo Muntoni, Alberto Pagnotta

Synopsis:
In an unspecified year in the future, the Captain Pixws and his space pirate crew are forced to deliver tanning showers to every corner of the universe. Dolcezza Extrema starship will live an extraordinary adventure.

Review:
I feel that this review is almost pointless as after reading that synopsis the majority of film fans will have already decided if this film is for them or not. Clearly this film is absolutely bonkers, as a former drug taking hard rocker Captain Pixws (Giovanni De Giorgi) hurtles through space to sort out these bloody tanning showers and his crew of a plankton-loving (sock) fish, a desperate doctor who needs crew members to get ill in order to remain in a job and also nymphomaniac puppet who just wants satisfaction.

This plot is intentionally bizarre and the film revels in its own insanity proving at times hilarious while potentially borderline satirical of today’s body worship culture. Oh did I not mention that as well as tanning showers the beings in this film have to work out and achieve good bodies in order to stay warm enough to live. Yep, you read that right. So is this a take on today’s body worship culture or just a tale of ridiculous absurdity?

Away from the unique plot the fact that the film is filled with relatively cheap yet effective CGI (it was shot in front of a green screen) and some pretty nifty sock puppets, of which credit has to be given to the crew for the majority for, which rather than being just a quirky gimmick actually turn out to be a rather inventive bit of fun.

Additionally the music, courtesy of Antony Coia deserves special mention which on the whole was nicely done, varied and slightly bonkers; perfectly suiting the tone of the movie. One downside however is that even at just 80 minutes DOLCEZZA EXTREMA does unfortunately lag in some places and disappears into its own vortex of absurdity at others and so could benefit from a little bit more editing to tighten it up and add to the punchiness as witnessed in the trailer. Talking of punchiness the humour was a little hit and miss for me and I believe it will be for a number of viewers also but thankfully it is not jarring or too far off in terms of intention and so does not negate the overall experience of watching the film.

Born outoof a love for film and creativity this is a film which can be best described as a charming oddity, one that unsurprisingly had been picked up by Troma and distributed under the title SICK SOCK MONSTERS FROM OUTER SPACE, and it is either a piece of satirical genius or simply the writer Massimo Vavassori and director Alberto Genovese having fun and letting us join in with the laughs…I would recommend you have a drink beforehand and just go with the flow.

So if you are looking for a sexualised, surreal sci-fi film with puppets then DOLCEZZA EXTREMA is the film for you. If not, well I doubt you even made it this far in the review.

As well as Troma the film is distributed in Italy (and so should be reasonably accessible for all Europeans) on DVD and Blu-ray and if you are lucky you will be able to pick up a copy with a sock puppet! Makes sense and is certainly better than just a cardboard slip (which you may also get with certain editions).

MCBETTER (2018) BY MATTIA DE PASCALI

Reviews

Director: Mattia De Pascali
Writer: Mattia De Pascali
Year: 2018
Starring: Andrea Canaiello, Nik Manzi, Donatella Reverchon, Oscar Stajano, Sereno Toma

Synopsis:
A modern-day tragedy loosely based on Macbeth where the main character wants to conquer a fast-food restaurant chain instead of the Kingdom of Scotland. 

Review:
The synopsis of the film clearly states that this is a contemporary take of a Shakespearean classic and one would further assume, indeed I did, that this would be framed around a contemporary fast food joint, resulting perhaps in something like the American films WAITING (2005) crossed with THE FOUNDER (2016).

However MCBETTER plays more like a dynastic family struggle; a struggle for power and wealth with events unfolding within the mansion of a wealthy business man, Joe McBetter. The stakes though are for much more than just the future of the fast-food empire. De Pascali chooses to open the film with a televised mystic, a modern day witch if you will, providing encouragement to the portly figure of Malcom (Andrea Cananiello), a man who looks like a cross between Ron Jeremy and Joe Spinelli, and she tells our visually unlikely hero that his doubts are nothing and that he is the master of his own destiny. It is up to him to seize it.

Soon we learn that this is not strictly true as it is his girlfriend, Melanie (Serena Toma), who is really calling the shots. And as our power duo set off on a couples trip to her family home we start to grasp the extent of their duplicitous plans in which Melanie’s estranged father, the eponymous McBetter, is the key.

Much like Macbeth we are taken on a tale in which there are plans to usurp a king, to take and create a dynasty and the dangers of ambition but there is so much more in play here. From the quirky off-beat business idea of Malcom to the familial struggles of Melanie, MCBETTER works its black comedy into what at its heart is a much darker story…and it is all the better for it.

Throw in a doddering old housemaid, a young vivacious step-mother and her son, aptly named Little Joe, and you also have the recipe for a dysfunctional family drama in which talking solves nothing forcing our scheming duo into more drastic action. But they aren’t the only ones who are willing to go to such lengths.

By keeping the tone relatively consistent through his script Mattia De Pascali gives himself the leeway to experiment with visual styles (some of the lighting is positively Mario Bava or Dario Argento-esque) and tones as required by whichever strand of the story the narrative is following. While at just over one hour ten minutes long the film is perfect length, not once overstaying its welcome.

There are plenty of influences competing inside of MCBETTER but thankfully none of them overpower or unbalance the final project and as debuts go Mattia De Pascali has made a darkly comic tale which takes the themes of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and updates it with some Wes Anderson (RUSHMORE; THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS; ISLE OF DOGS) sensibilities and Italian style. 

Thanks to decent performances, strong direction and varied cinematography MCBETTER is an accomplished debut that is worthy of your time, but this is hardly surprising considering it features a supporting crew that includes David Bracci, Lucio Massa and Giulio Ciancamerla – all names who are growing in stature in the independent Italian scene.

Despite all of this I do worry that MCBETTER will be resigned to playing only a few festivals outside of its home country as has happened with many independent Italian films before BUT if it can get exposure I know it will find a fanbase, if in all likelihood only a small one.

However if you like quirky dark comedies, fancy taking a risk (check out the trailer below) and don’t mind ordering from (mainland) Europe then you will be able to pick up the film on DVD and Blu-ray in November as it gains a release from Home Movies.

Follow the film on Facebook.

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AFTER MIDNIGHT (2018) BY VARIOUS DIRECTORS

Reviews

Directors: Various
Writers: Various
Year: 2018 [Various]
Starring: Various

Synopsis:
A collection of eight Italian short horror/sci-fi films.

Review:
Coming from Italian production houses ‘Demented Gore Production’ and ‘Moonlight Legacy Production’ is AFTER MIDNIGHT, a collection of eight short films bundled together.

As a result of this there is little thematic or production conformity between the stories, and as expected the quality does vary particularly as a lot of the short films used in this release were recorded for separate purposes.

On to the films and experienced director Daniele Misischia steps up first to the plate with ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ (The last video of Sara) which thematically raises questions about not only our online desire for validation but also the attitude and acts in which online behaviour can elicit.

We watch as vlogger Sara tackles the issue of her own online trolls which has caused her to have to ban or ‘censor’ people on her channel. An act that some seemingly obsessive people did not like and have let her know. However as the vlog continues we begin to realise that she is not alone in her house.

On a superficial level this short film reminded me somewhat of the 2015 American horror film Ratter although arguably with a little more to say while the insertion of subliminal cuts offered a smart piece of variety to the single frame shot utilised throughout the rest of the short running time.

In my opinion ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ is a solid effort but would work best as a web clip as opposed to being on a home entertainment release. Featuring reasonable Fx, a few nice ideas and a reasonable concept this story is a nice start to the collection but I would not have expected any less from this director.

We follow this with ‘The Taste of Survival’ from director Davide Pesca who has recently contributed to the anthologies A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX (as well as previously contributing to the compilation 17 A MEZZANOTTE) and so he too should know a thing or two about making a short story work.

Set 27 years after an almost apocalyptic event, ‘The Taste of Flesh’ plays somewhat with traditional convention (good) but without committing enough to the required grindhouse style (bad – although the music was spot on) and coming across quite frankly as just a bit too modern and digital.

When one of the highlights is that one of the bad guys is wearing a Wacken festival t-shirt then you know that this segment is not living up to its potential and that is a shame as the concept works a little more than the execution.

Third up is ‘Nyctophobia’ from Francesco Longo. This is a short film that I have reviewed in detail previously on this very blog and so I won’t repeat myself and go into detail here. However it forms one of the strongest stories across the board (direction, acting, story) in this release and provides an entertaining, thoughtful and at times tense watch.

A tough act to follow but Davide Cancila is commendable in his effort which centres around an almost catatonic woman and her seemingly guilt-ridden yet caring brother. 

In its short time ‘Nel buio’ manages to smartly tell the past and show the present with a few twists thrown in along the way. Overall the supernatural horror is about guilt, revenge and penance and is worth a watch.

‘Io non le credo’ from Luca Bertossi is next up and sadly compared to the previous two stories feels a little incomplete. The majority of the short follows the dialogue between a man, afflicted by a demonic nun, and an unconvinced priest to whom he is begging for help.

Possessing all of the right pieces ‘Io non le credo’ just fails to pull it off in part due to some weak performances but perhaps mostly due to lacking any real set up or emotional involvement. That having been said it potentially could be seen as a nice critique on the cowardice and ineffective nature of the church. Either that or it was simply made because evil nuns are relatively popular now.

If ‘Io non le credo’ was attempting to capture what is popular now then ‘Escape from Madness’ from Nicola Pegg is trying capture the essence of a classic.

As a woman is walking through an empty park at night she soon realises that perhaps she is not alone as first thought. From here the viewer might be expecting this short to go one way but what classic influence could I have been previously referred to?

Well this influence bizarrely comes from Tobe Hooper and the seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Now to say this is a rip-off would certainly be a bit harsh but ultimately the story descends into a fanboys dream to make.

Although competently made it would have certainly been improved with better SFX but with a brief ten minute run time ‘Escape from Madness’ does not overrun its welcome and will hit the mark. Not quite prime meat but enjoyable to digest nonetheless.

Now the penultimate story ‘Che serata di merda!’ (I translate as ‘That evening of shit’) from Roberto Albanesi is perhaps the lightest of all the shorts featured in the collection and the only one that is inherently tied to the release due to it’s self-and release-referential nature.

Considering he was behind NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME and the sequel, as well as being involved in the wraparound of CATACOMBA I had high hopes for ‘Che sedate di merda’ and the short certainly grew on me as it played.

In the short film a missing farmer re-appears blood covered and staggering through the small town while a couple share a glass of wine and a film at home….the NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME references are plentiful, I hope the director paid himself royalties!

In a true case of ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’ revenge it is unsurprising to see that these characters have some sort of prior business but here the narrative is not so straight forward as first the director himself turns up at the house (playing himself) and then through a dialogue with the farmer in which they discuss being the fictional construction of the real Roberto Albanesi.

It is in using this device that the film excels but the final takeaway message of “Let’s drink up” perhaps resonates the most.

We end with perhaps the most ambitious of all of the stories, ‘Haselwurm’, from director Eugenio Villani, which dates back to 2011 making it a strange choice to feature in terms of contemporary work (although thankfully the quality more than makes up for this).

‘Haselwurm’ initially plays as a sci-fi survival adventure as two explorers manage to capture a mythical haselwurm but during their struggle one of the duo was seemingly scratched by the creature with effects of an almost Lovecraftian or Ridley Scott nature.

Not only is the story interesting, and in my opinion should be developed into a feature-length, but along with ‘Nyctophobic’ it is one of the strongest entries in the collection thanks to a strong story, cinematography, Fx and editing. It is a shame that it is the last story but if you get the opportunity to watch this short – do so.

Overall AFTER MIDNIGHT is, as most collections often are, a mixed bag but unfortunately one where the weaker entries outnumber the strong (‘Nyctophobic’,’Nel buio’,’Haselwurm’). That being said these stronger entries are worth checking out but as someone who advocates the (slow) return of the contemporary Italian horror scene, AFTER MIDNIGHT as a holistic collection is perhaps not the best example to put forwards.

You can find out more about the film on the official Facebook page.

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.

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.

Lucky or not so lucky Ros!

Articles and Interviews

Wait, you’re that guy from that movie, aren’t you?

Many may not know his name but almost every Italian genre fan will know his face. Having appeared in over 70 movies, although not always credited, the career of Luciano Rossi appears almost a paradox. 

Constantly in work but barely ever in truly memorable roles, Luciano Rossi would be seemingly invisible in the grand scheme of things, often reduced to a mere footnote, due to the frequency of being cast in a minor or extra role, usually as a glorified punch-bag.

However thankfully his contribution has been not only noted, but actually the sole purpose of the book A Violent Professional by Kier-La Janisse, and it is in this spirit of recognition that I wrote this brief piece on his more known genre work. And if you enjoy this piece (or even if you don’t) I would suggest picking up A Violent Professional, which marks an interesting read and discovery of the man’s roles. 

Luciano Rossi was born in Rome on the 28th November, 1934 and would begin adulthood working at an import/export business before deciding that acting would be the career for him. As a result he began visiting Cinecittà regularly looking for any work that he could find as an actor.

No doubt aided by his distinct and stereotypically un-Italian appearance his first, albeit uncredited, role was as a German soldier in the 1962 war drama ‘Dieci italiani per un Tedesco (Via Rasella)’ which literally translates as ten Italians for a German. 

For whatever reason it would be a further four years before he would return to the big screen  – this time appearing in the Franco Nero fronted DJANGO.  Although uncredited once again, this brief role saw him play a lackey to the town Major, and would set the tone for many of his future roles as viewers would witness him being violent towards a woman before being killed. Normally I might consider that bit of information a spoiler but as this is Luciano Rossi we are talking about these actions are almost a given. 

Several varied roles followed across a range of genres as Luciano Rossi, like many other Italians in the industry, forged a journeyman career but at least for him there was one constant – Django! In total he would go on to feature in seven Django films during the late sixties (including ‘Sentenza di morte’) as well as a handful of other westerns and crime flicks.

After a very active 1968/69 his career was on an upward trajectory, at least in terms of volume of work, but it would be another uncredited role in 1970 that would see him appear in perhaps the most successful film he would ever be involved in – Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST. It is just a shame that his role is so brief that you might miss him even if you don’t blink.

However things would soon click for Rossi however with a role in Roberto Bianchi Montero’s 1972 giallo-esque thriller SO SWEET, SO DEAD which is also known by the catchy title THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC or if you manage to get hold of the US hardcore sex version, PENETRATION. Although I suspect that version had a very targeted audience for whom plot and mystery had little to do with the appeal.

Roberto Bianchi Montero’s film features an almost moralistic killer who targets adulterous women resulting in several denouncements for misogyny and it certainly does attempt to live up to the more salacious and presumed stereotype of the sleazy side of the genre, However due to the cast this film is still worth your time, but don’t go expecting a classic. 

In it Luciano Rossi plays a morgue attendant who likes to engage in, let’s say, extracurricular work activities but portrays the character more as pitiful than perverse – a distraction or a lead suspect, that is for you to find out.

In addition to this, Luciano Rossi would go on to feature in a small but notable role in Luciano Ercoli’s giallo DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS, 1971. Playing Hallory, a very distinctive village local, he managed to briefly steal some of the attention away from our leads in a terrific and intriguing little robbery thriller-come-giallo.

Now whatever he did on set, he clearly did it well enough to feature in the directors second ‘Death walks…’ feature, released the following year. Although in truth it was probably harder to not be recast by Luciano Ercoli than it was to be cast as highlighted by the return of several actors. 

Only this time in DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT he gained a bit more screen time with his memorable role as Hans, seeing him cast as a German once again while also maintaining his default comeuppance and ultimately taking a beating.

Crazy and hamming it up, Luciano Rossi not only looked fantastic in this film but also puts in arguably one of his best performances, even if he was had very little dialogue or variety to work with. 

Now death isn’t a good thing for most people but Luciano Rossi thrived off in a manner of speaker as he followed up these two films with appearances in Maurizio Pradeaux’s neat little giallo DEATH CARRIES A CANE, seeing the actor once again feature alongside Luciano Ercoli’s other half and muse Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott. This film of ‘death’ was soon followed by DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER by Joe D’Amato. In this he managed to secure a relatively awful lot of screen time as the hunchback Fritz in what Janisse would call “one of the most satisfying roles of Rossi’s career”.

By this point the Italian industry saw the giallo wane, at least in terms of its golden period, with this genre being overtaken in popularity by the rise in eurocrime and poliziotteschi. So it would be no surprise to see Luciano Rossi, along with many others in the Italian film industry which no doubt suffered from cronyism, make the move across. However this would not be it for him and the giallo as he would return later to the genre, if only loosely with 1974’s PROSTITUZIONE by Rino Di Silvestro – a curious hybrid of giallo and social sleaze.

However back on cinematic trend, Luciano Rossi went on to appear in THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS (1973) alongside Luc Miranda, Silvano Tranquilli and American actor Richard Conte…however he would not event make it out of the first act, such is his lucky.

This role however would set him off on a spate of eurocrime including an uncredited role in EXECUTION SQUAD (aka Le mano spietata delle legge; The Bloody Hands of the Law) in which he receives a blowtorch to the groin courtesy of the one and only Klaus Kinski. According to writer/director Mario Gariazzo this scene was somehow set to be even more violent but was shortened in order to appease both the producers and the ensure an easier ride with the censors.

Roles soon followed as part of the Comissario Betti films, first as a low life rapist in the 1975 film VIOLENT ROME before scoring a more substantial role in Umberto Lenzi’s follow up VIOLEN NAPLES in which Maurizio Merli reprised the role of Betti handing out judo chop after judo chop.

In VIOLENT NAPLES Luciano Rossi plays young thug Quasimodo who, as part of a small gang kidnap a married couple and rape the wife. This action all occurs near the start of the film and is the initial trigger for Comissario Betti to rally against the bureaucratic and restrictive system and culminates in a battle against John Saxon and the mob. Although that is not before the world’s worst escape attempt in which poor Quasimodo is impaled on a spike in an almost comedic manner. VIOLENT NAPLES proves that rarity of a sequel in that it actually manages to surpass the original with Luciano Rossi playing the small-time, loathsome criminal perfectly as ever.

Once again, the by now dare we say character actor, must have made a good on-set impression as Umberto Lenzi would also give him a part in his 1976 crime drama Il trucido e lo sbirro which was co-written by Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci regular Dardano Sacchetti and stared another genre icon, this time in the shape of Tomas Milian.

Now Luciano Rossi was ever worried that he would be typecast as a low-level criminal he needn’t have worried as that another stereotype – a Nazi – would provide him with some variety. First briefly in SALON KITTY by Tinto Brass and then in Fabio De Agostini’s THE RED NIGHTS OF THE GESTAPO.

Based on a book by Bertha Uhland, the ridiculous plot sees a group of German industrialists try to overthrow Hitler . This film however is one for the dedicated only.

Unfortunately it was around this time that depression began to sink in, perhaps due to the frustration of always being the nearly man. Eventually the actors health began to give way as severe weight loss and muscular dystrophy took hold and the mid-to-late 70s marked the beginning of the end for Luciano Rossi.

The final act of Luciano Rossi’s career saw more brief roles in minor films, primarily in the ailing eurocrime genre with little of interest except perhaps the 1977 film CRIME BUSTERS starring former Django Terence Hill (who he featured alongside in THEY CALL ME TRINITY and DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN) and Bud Spencer.

It wouldn’t be until 1980 when, thanks to Lucio Fulci, Luciano Rossi would be back on the cinema screens thanks to CONTRABAND in which he played a chemist and in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, released the same year, where he played a policeman. Both very small roles but he is instantly recognisable if inconsequential.

Eventually Luciano Rossi would see out his career with roles in a few footnote films (HOTEL PARADISE; SANGRAAL; La spade di fuoco) culminating with the comedy LONG LIVE THE LADY! in 1987 which was the end of a deteriorating career that would parallel his health.

Having starred alongside and for many greats of the 1970s Italian film industry, many of which he would work alongside on multiple occasions it is a shame that someone who toiled away in the background so often and on so many entertaining and quality films would ultimately be remain overlooked struggling to get his due for many decades.

For whatever reason that breakthrough to the next level of success eluded him but thankfully now with the re-release of many classic and not so classic films he is finally, albeit posthumously, getting the attention that he deserves.

So next time you recognise that blonde haired, short little sleazeball or that chemist that the camera holds on for slightly too long think of Luciano Rossi and what a life he must have lived.

Brief note, depending on the film and the release you have Luciano Rossi may also be known by one of his anglicised pseudonyms such as Lou Kamante, Lucky Ros or Edward/Edwin Ross.

WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972) BY ALDO LADO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Chi L’Ha Vista Morire?; ¿Quién la ha visto morir?;
Director: Aldo Lado
Writers: Francesco Barilli, Massimo D’Avak
Year: 1972
Starring: George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Adolfo Celi, Peter Chatel, Nicoletta Elmi

Synopsis:
When Franco loses his daughter to a shadowy, elusive murderer he sets off on an unnerving journey of retribution that will bring him to the very edge of his sanity and quite possibly his life too as he seeks to unravel the mysterious circumstances of his daughters death. [Adapted from the Shameless DVD Release]

Review:
Blessed or should that be cursed with a highly distinctive soundtrack courtesy of the prolific and revered Ennio Morricone the film opens with the unpleasant act of child murder taking place in France.

Director Aldo Lado sensibly shy’s away from showing us the detail and quickly whisks us away to Venice where artist Franco (George Lazenby – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) is greeting his daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi – BARON BLOOD; DEEP RED; DEMONS) who has arrived from London for what is meant to be some good old fashioned father/daughter bonding.

Everything starts off well enough for the two of them despite Franco having some very shady friends with one scene in particular raising questions about the interest one friend has in young Roberta. Most likely meant as a poorly executed red herring but when evaluated with today’s sensibilities it stands out, making the viewer question the shown intimacy.

With this brief scene over, Lado begins to show us more of the streets, the stores and the square’s that make up the City rather than its more famous landmarks and through strong use of framing and editing, we come to realise that young Roberta is in a very real and immediate danger. Thanks to some expertly crafted tension, the opening act is elevated further as we begin to understand that we are dealing with not a madman or an opportunistic child killer but someone who is patient, meticulous and most unsettling of all focused just on poor Roberta.

It is also at this point that that the film begins to show us Franco’s failings as a father with it being surprising that after having spend some time apart and perhaps not used to having his daughter around, Franco’s sense of responsibility is all but forgotten when his mistress comes around looking to indulge in some fun. Even after the fun is over and the lover kicked out, our father of the year seemingly forgets that his daughter has been left outside playing and rather than bringing her indoors he simply begins working on one of his sculptures and this apparent neglect unsurprisingly ends up with a bad situation occurring. 

Here Lado uses Venice almost as a character as it descends into a dark and stormy night paralleling Franco’s torment (and no doubt guilt) and like many other films, particularly the often compared yet more ambiguous and emotionally focused DON’T LOOK NOW, in which the weather and colour palette represents the mental state and pain of the lead characters. This device remains throughout as a fog begins to envelope the City and the mystery becomes more and more convoluted, socially expansive and disorientating for poor Franco.

Despite his failings, his suspicious friends and the lack of afforded support to his suffering wife Elizabeth (in a strong performance from genre star Anita Strindberg), joining him in the city to arrange the funeral, we begin to genuinely feel for the pained Franco who, in true giallo style, takes on the role of the amateur detective which much aplomb. His fervent determination and focus contrasts a killer who becomes more and more desperate as the hunt goes on as they are forced into acting in plain sight such as in a busy cinema. However WHO SAW HER DIE? Cannot maintain this level of pacing forever and unfortunately does suffer from a brief lull before things step up a notch for a superb and beautifully shot final act. 

First we are treated to a terrific sequence in an abandoned warehouse, a true example of tension and cinematography combining to great effect and vaguely reminiscent of the great Vittorio Storaro (THE FIFTH CORD), before a frantic and highly entertaining unveiling where the only criticism could be that to contemporary, seasoned watchers of giallo it is a tad predictable, and very in vogue, resolution.

Overall WHO SAW HER DIE? is a strong and pleasing effort which is elevated thanks to George Lazenby’s 

terrific performance, the brilliance of Aldo Lado’s direction and the cinematography of Franco Di Giacomo which is not only aesthetically pleasing but subtly and wonderfully utilises subconscious cues and misdirection to the viewer. WHO SAW HER DIE? is not necessarily one of the greats of the genre but a solid effort that is worth checking out.

Additionally WHO SAW HER DIE? would also represent a personal return to Venice for director Aldo Lado (SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, THE HUMANOID) who spent some of his formative years in the city and this experience no doubt would have provided him with historical and an intimate knowledge of the city’s topography, weather and more importantly its darker side all of which he would use to great effect here.

Oh and remember the sound advice provided in this film:

“If you can’t play ping pong, don’t get mixed up in politics!”

Wise words indeed.

I watched the Shameless Films release from 2008 which has English audio and the longest ever UK runtime of the film at 90 minutes and 34 seconds.