TORSO (1973) BY SERGIO MARTINO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale; Carnal Violence; Torso – Violencia carnal; The Bodies Presented Traces of Carnal Violence
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino
Year: 1973
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson

Synopsis:
Students at a Perugia summer school are being killed with the only clue being a red and black scarf. In order to get away from an obsessed, spurned suitor, American Jane and her friends decide to travel to an isolated villa in the country, only for the spate of killings to follow them.

Review:
Beautiful women and ugly violence combine in this psycho-sexual thriller from Sergio Martino. Wasting no time in getting to the point (or arguably also the clichés) TORSO immediately introduces us to the power, or rather temptation of the flesh, placing it at the heart of this violent mystery. As a camera shoots pornographic images, white flesh becomes entangled inside a black, featureless room and a child’s doll is shown to us, clearly hinting at a future significance and perhaps perversion.

This intriguing beginning soon gives way to a summer school in the beautiful Italian city of Padua and after a quick introduction to our key group of characters we jump to yet more sex although this time it is rudely interrupted by a menacing POV shot, a technique by  now firmly established in the genre. It is here that first exemplifies one of the values that Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi bring to the genre as what could be an exploitative, simple yet mediocre sequence is imbued with genuine moments of tension before giving way to moments of light relief, for the viewer at least, as post-murder, the assigned Detective Martino questions a local peasant who was in the area.

As a result of these slayings the local police make a plea to the art students providing them with one key piece of identifying evidence and one of our group, Dani (Tina Aumont) just knows that she recognises it from somewhere…but where, although she seems desperate to pin the blame on her creepy and infatuated classmate Stefano.

In a bid to get away from it all, her voyeuristic Uncle sends her and her friends off to his isolated rural villa as he needs to leave the country on business. Needless to say the group of girls arrive in the village and cause quite a stir with the local men including with the local part-time Val Kilmer look-a-like and full-time village idiot, but they aren’t the only ones with their eyes fixed on the group as death follows them too.

Culminating in a tense and engrossing final act, including the inversion of the conventional (killer) POV scene where in this case we witness our protagonist spying on the unaware killer, the film will have you screaming for the final girl to not try and escape and these scenes really are a credit to the terrific pacing which never once loses the viewers attention in its orgy of suspicion, violence and sex.

This is thanks to the skill and experience of Ernesto Gastaldi and Sergio Martino that throughout the films tight 90-minute runtime that it manages to spend enough time on the supporting cast and wider narrative allowing for not only the foundations of the overriding mystery to be set but also for the successful framing of the narrative allowing the possibility of a few potential killers to remain instead of relying on a cheap trick at the end.

As a result we have a decent story that manages to divulge information and implicate with every turn and although a little heavy handed at times on some beats (the fall down the stairs for example) this is at least done out of necessity in order to drive the narrative forwards. Credit also has to go to the duo for the subtle injection of humour at work, primarily provided by the background characters, which helps provide a tonal break for the viewer allowing the films more convoluted aspects to remain fresh and engaging.

Featuring almost as many suspects as breasts and a rampant killer this top tier giallo will undoubtedly entertain fans of the genre. Despite having a motive based upon a slightly flimsy origin, albeit one that perfectly conformed to the tropes of the genre at the time, TORSO works because it manages to strike that perfect balance between exploitative sleaze, violence and mystery.

If you are yet to watch this film get online or to your local store and pick up a copy. You won’t be disappointed and in all likelihood will love this film to bits. If the dodgy cover is putting you off, don’t worry it has a reversible sleeve which you will most certainly use.

Finally I would like to give regular Sergio Martino cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando (ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK; YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM…;THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS; the list goes on but you get the picture, and the pun I hope) credit for his work on this film in which he creates many iconic moments while maintaining that level of consistency and visual coherence that to me, helps define a Sergio Martino film.

Version Reviewed:

The 2017 blu ray release from Shameless Films is as one would expect, superior to the previous DVD versions. In direct comparison to the 2007 Shameless DVD it is not only a nicer looking HD version but includes English language scene inserts, which although not necessarily vital do add an extra level of completion or rather variety .

Shameless have also answered my gripes with the previous DVD release, in so much as they have now included an ‘Italian version’ with revised English subtitles (although the inserted scenes remain in Italian with English subtitles as the English language track was never recorded for these) and this time they have actually included a genuine ‘extra’ feature away from the usual company portfolio showreels (but don’t worry a couple of trailers for the most recent blu’s is included here) – in the form of a new, 22 minutes interview with director Sergio Martino.

In this interesting and somewhat (although minor) revealing interview the director briefly discusses the influences of the character traits held by the killer as well as how the production came about. Sergio Martino goes on to speak rather candidly, and sadly fleetingly, about a few of the casting choices and also some elements of the film that he is now not so keen on…and a few sections that he is, not to mention the origins of the now iconic white mask.

SHADOW (2009) BY FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Rémképek
Director: Federico Zampaglione
Writer: Federico Zampaglione, Domenico Zampaglione, Giacomo Gensini
Year: 2009
Starring: Jake Muxworthy, Karina Testa, Ottaviano Blitch, Chris Coppola, Nout Arquint

Synopsis:
Returning from a devastating tour of duty in Iran, David decides to go on a mountain biking adventure in the Alps to put his horrific memories of war behind him but the nightmare has only just begun.

Review:
SHADOW opens up in almost DELIVERANCE territory as hero and war veteran David sticks up for fellow traveller Angeline in a remote bar as she is harassed by two aggressive hunters. This altercation sets up the proceedings well and without dwelling on the past (or even the present) but it does manage to drive the film forwards as it turns into a tense survival thriller (which is at odds with the films marketing) and it is not until an exposition conversation between David and Angeline later that the seeds of future misfortune are sown.

This occurs at around the halfway mark as the film shifts not only tone but also the sub-genre as it becomes more sinister and the roles of hunter and hunted become somewhat reversed.

Sequences skip ever so slightly, almost like a dream in a bid to drive the narrative forwards leaving the viewer sometimes unsure as to how they arrived there but thankfully due to the strong technical (and visual) competencies of the crew things never feel jilted or forced and before you know it SHADOW has reinvented itself as a potential torture porn film. Whether this was always the intention or simply an attempt at improving commercialisation (after all it was shot in English to appeal to an international market) we can only speculate but from Zampaglione’s aversion to showing us gore (one scene excluded) that is vital to these films I know which way I would argue. However that is not to say that SHADOW doesn’t make up for it in other ways, for what those films lack in subtly and atmosphere SHADOW has in abundance thanks to its nightmarish and atmospheric feel and subtle, sly, sometimes political, humour. Zampaglione has made something that has substance along with the style even if it is potentially at the risk of alienating some of the core audience….but potentially not the mainstream.

It is also around this point that we meet the true villain of the piece. Looking somewhat like the creature from Christopher Smith’s 2004 British film CREEP, here the toad-licking stoned mad scientist Mortis is granted a subtle emotional depth thanks to actor Nout Arquint who portrays the disturbed harbinger of death perfectly. In my opinion one of the films strongest scenes centres on Arquint and the aforementioned toad, where the strong acting performance combined with a building powerful musical accompaniment really works, raising viewer expectations that it is such a shame that the very next scene fails to deliver off it and this ultimately sums the film up.

There is a lot to praise SHADOW for, from the tremendous locations that take in dense, thick forests and misty, snow-capped mountains all the way to dark, decrepit lairs not to mention a fantastic soundtrack (unsurprising considering the directors background) and editing of such a high quality you are always engrossed into the film.  The scant 74 minutes fly by thanks to some great scenes and the editing mixing it up with fast and frantic cuts along with slower, more drawn out and tense scenes which really allowing the viewer to be absorbed into the world Zampaglione has created without ever feeling bored or comfortable.  

But not everything works as the main villain is woefully underused (and had much unrealised potential) while the varying accents of the international cast took a little bit of adjustment but thankfully aren’t a major issue as they all put in strong performances. However the key gripe many viewers will have is the ending. Almost certain to make the majority shout at their TV screen it is a shame but it could not be changed as Zampaglione weaves in many ever-so-subtle and intricate clues throughout the film leading to one final result.

Overall SHADOW is a strong calling card for a very promising director but it never quite consistently hits the right notes as it just falls short of all of the genres it takes it influence from and one would be better off checking out French films such as FRONTIER(S) or THE ORDEAL as well as North American films such as LIVE FEED and HOSTEL first instead.

On a side note director Federico Zampaglione is also the frontman for unconventional Italian pop/rock band Tiromancino who have put out over ten albums since 1992 and helps explain the fantastic use of music in this film.

Version Reviewed:

I watched the UK Frightfest Features release which presents the film in 16:9 format. The disc comes with a few extras including the obligatory trailer, a stills gallery and a 22-minute behind the scenes featurette. This extra is surprisingly engaging and allows not only for some interesting shots of the production but we also get to understand why a pop-rock star has turned genre director. Federico Zampaglione’s love for the alternative cinema of his nation is infectious as he speaks of his love for Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci – a love that no doubt culminated with his film TULPA. Worth twenty odd minutes of anyone’s time I actually felt a bit more love for the film because of it as my initial anger at the ending subsided thanks to seeing the work and decision making that went into the film justifying minor yet key decisions on the whole.

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

Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SUFFERING BIBLE (2018) BY DAVIDE PESCA

Reviews

Director: Davide Pesca
Writer: Davide Pesca
Year: 2018
Starring: Nicola Fugazza, Mary Rubes

Review:
THE SUFFERING BIBLE from Daniele Pesca is an episodic film that revisits select Biblical passages or fables but rather than showing us a Christian paradise THE SUFFERING BIBLE takes us on a hellish journey. Director Davide Pesca has previous for creating uncompromising short films having contributed to the anthologies 17 A MEZZANOTTE, A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX as well as the Black Lava released TALES FROM DEEP HELL, which looks terrific but I am yet to see, and so expectations are high.

The harrowing black and white sequence that opens THE SUFFERING BIBLE certainly is promising and lives up to the directors reputation as we witness a near naked woman scrambling across a woodland floor while a discordant almost white noise sound rings out of the speakers. If the aim is to unsettle then THE SUFFERING BIBLE achieves this feeling very early on.

From here the first act is presented to us; titled ‘My Only God’, and a colour palette is introduced into the film but the visuals are no less disturbing as we see a woman tied to a bed, bound and gagged. Approached by another woman, a nice change from the usual trope, we learn that our incapacitated victim had promised the other that they would “be together forever”.

Suddenly it becomes clear that this is a tale of insecurity, of jealousy and undoubtably a tale of warped, disturbed love. Displaying quite literally the intertwined bonds of love, this opening act is a powerful start for the film but additionally it is also its pinnacle.

We return briefly to woodland footage which is not so much a wraparound segment rather than cogent interlude and we soon begin the second act; San Toma.

This act begins with a static shot of ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’ (Doubting Thomas) as by one of my favourite artists, Caravaggio, and plays out almost as another literal translation.

In this act, a monk engages in self-flagellation causing Christ to appear. Praise Jebus! Success you might think however rather than rejoice things become rather heretical, blasphemous and bloody as a sort of perverse pleasure takes over the monk whose devotion spills over into madness and he cannot help but taste the body of christ and drink his blood, taking the communion to its logical, literal almost orgasmic conclusion. 

Meanwhile Act 3: ‘In the Name of the Father’ possesses a melancholic start and a reasonable solo performance by the female actress. However this is the first story in which I did not understand the symbolism resulting in the whole thing merely being graphic self-harm and not much more.

Moving on and the forth act, ‘The Pact’ despite looking a lot more artistic suffers from the same problem, although to a slightly lesser degree, but are the actions a metaphor for something or part of her psyche? I have no idea but I do know that my mind started to wonder at several points during this tale. 

The final act. ‘Redemption of the Lost Souls’ takes thing back up a notch with a tale of suicidal desperation and exploitation. Here the message is clearer to pick up and rather than being one of society eliminating those it deems unworthy, as it initially seems, it rather surprisingly (and pleasantly) plays to the notion that many who feel suicidal believe that others will be better off without them…and by suffering they ensure that. Benefitting from some good Fx and a clear message, ‘Redemption of the Lost Souls’ ensures that the THE SUFFERING BIBLE ends on a high.

It certainly won’t be for everyone and I found it a mixed bag with little personal replay value but big fans of the Black Lava and recent Unearthed Films releases will enjoy it enough. However THE SUFFERING BIBLE does little to alleviate my worries that often these films are little more than technical portfolio exercises for the director as opposed to anything deeper. Although I do concede that perhaps it is due to my lack of knowledge around theology and the bible that has led me to not fully understand the messages at play here.

Either way, Davide Pesca is someone with the potential to make something truly worthwhile so check out the trailer below and decide for yourself.

FORM OVER CONTENT

Articles and Interviews

The hidden romanticism Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy

Please note that this article may contain spoilers.

The Gates of Hell trilogy of films from the Italian director Lucio Fulci defy classification to a certain extent. Sure they are horror but what type? As fans of the genre will understand, using such a broad classification is too simplistic when discussing not only our love of these films but the artistic intent and style contained within. 

By using such an umbrella term one may fail to do justice to the work and the (variety of the) genre. Consider the films of Lucio Fulci alongside the horror of Tobe Hooper (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE; POLTERGEIST), Wes Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and Alexandre Aja (HIGH TENSION; PIRANHA 3D). All of which are notably different and may appeal to slightly different audiences but yet all come under the bracket of horror.

So there is often the need to discuss and classify sub-genres but what kind of horror do the Gates of Hell films fall under? 

General consensus would place them in the filone of the zombie sub-genre however at certain points they may also incorporate the supernatural, the haunted house, the fantastical, the slasher and maybe even a little touch of the giallo. One thing however is that these three films are art.

In his book How to Read A Film, James Monaco argues that art is what you can’t specifically define and these three films certainly adhere to this. 

But ironically even the undefinable needs to be classified. I propose that these films do in fact conform to the definition of later period romanticism. That is to argue that they are art for art’s sake; in this case to elicit a sense of trepidation and fear. The same argument could be made for SUSPIRIA by Dario Argento, but that is a topic for another article.

Taking the movement of romanticism, which promoted form over content, we can see clear parallels between it and the work of Lucio Fulci covered here. Hardly surprisingly and I doubt a coincidence or mere conjecture considering that the director himself started out as an art-critic.

Throughout each film of the trilogy we are quick to realise that despite a relatively basic story that the films themselves do not directly relate to our reality, that is the world in which we live in, but rather to the relationship between the film and the artist (that is to say Lucio Fulci) and to the relationship between the film and us – the viewer.

Ever since the Ancient Greeks and their creation of drama a psychological element has been evident in performance but here it is taken to a logical, or perhaps that should be illogical, extreme wherein the emotion felt is the art and therefore is also the film. As such the three films that make up this trilogy focus on the visual and the atmospheric as opposed to plot or character development. A clear prioritisation for the makers is the focus on abstractism.

Although that is not to say the trilogy was exempt from contemporary economic demands or pressures. Those zombies are not there necessarily because they suited Lucio Fulci’s artistic vision but rather because distributors insisted that they be there and besides it was the early nineteen eighties and zombies sold. And who was he to argue with their demands considering it was their money paying for it all. Not to mention that it was arguably the zombie which gave him his biggest box office returns and may do once again.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD was originally proposed under the title Paura, which translates as fear in Italian, and according to Italian screenwriting legend and frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator, Dardano Sacchetti, after the success of ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS the director had realised the potential success that could be had from the horror genre and so he began reading H.P. Lovecraft, falling in love with the atmosphere of the books, in a bid to further his own journeyman career. This perhaps explains why the flesh-munching voodoo inspired ghouls from his previous film were put aside for more cranial, teleporting creatures. 

With a desire to reach critical and commercial success, a refined and well-read palette and having shown himself to have his own artistic capabilities (see A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN for evidence) it was as if now “(Lucio) Fulci had let go of reality and embraced the fantastic…[taking] horror into a more primal subconscious place” (Eli Roth in An Introduction to The Beyond [Arrow blu-ray booklet]). 

City of the Living Dead

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Starting with CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, a film which critics and fountains of Italian genre cinema knowledge Antonio Bruschini and Antonio Tentori state “oscillates between splatter and fantasy, visual cruelty and metaphysical poetry” (from their book Lucio Fulci: Poetry and cruelty in the movies). A brief synopsis of the film sees a reporter and a psychic traveling to Dunwich to close a gate of hell which opened due to the suicide of a priest, courtesy of a powerful and heretical opening – it all sounds rather straightforwards.

However a deep Lovecraftian influence pervades the film lending it a sense of the strange. Additionally there is further literary influence as opposed to a cinematic one, by way of the likes of Edgar Allen Poe (the rural gothic atmosphere; premature burial) and Stephen King (influence from Salem’s Lot). These influences are moulded into something that would almost define what many would think of when they think of Lucio Fulci’s body of work – surreal visual horror.

All of the Lovecraftian illogical and unpredictable horror utilised actually generates its real horror from the evil of men and their sadistic nature. This dark cynicism is a theme common in several of Lucio Fulci’s films.

In CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD perhaps this is most clearly shown in the brutal killing of Bob (as played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice). Here this act represents arguably one of the most brutal moments in the film and without a supernatural aspect in sight.

Talking of the supernatural, the séance in the opening of the film is unfortunately borderline Garth Marenghi, just take a look at the flames that occur after the first incident, but does a job in setting the tone for the rest of the movie.

Another moment from the otherworld, and one in which makes very little narrative sense, is where familiar faces Michele Soavi and Daniella Doria are sat in a car when our problematic priest reappears and disappears causing eyes to bleed, intestines being vomited up and skulls being crushed by teleporting zombies. Here the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ are irrelevant making it about the form and not the content. 

Free from the restrictive shackles of the George Romero inspired undead or even the requirement for a tight script and continuity, Lucio Fulci is able to focus more on the form. As Fangoria editor Chris Alexander is quoted in the booklet ‘Fulci of the Living Dead’ by Calum Waddell, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD see’s “Fulci at his most uninhibited, free to jam his curious camera into the crevices of creepiness…with grandiose, abstract gore and surreal shock.”

Further support for the argument of art for art’s sake can be found in the films ambiguous ending. Like with a painting (more on that later), we the viewer are invited to overlay our own thoughts and interpretation to the piece. This is device that is repeated across the three films and the idea of the innocence of children is explored further also.

The Beyond

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A year later and THE BEYOND would continue with not only many of the same themes but also an ending that is also open to interpretation. 

Due to its focus on visual horror and supernatural themes some have compared THE BEYOND to the first two (SUSPIRIA; INFERNO) of Dario Argento’s ‘3 Mothers’ trilogy however this is slightly misleading as although there are several commonalities the key driver and execution are significantly different. 

In THE BEYOND Lucio Fulci eschews the more traditional thriller plot structure and instead fully commits to creating “an experiment in total terror” (Antonio Bruschini and Antonio Tentori). The film builds on the abstract and the surreal which again gives the director free reign to terrify us with no logical rhyme or reason. But that is ok as this almost dreamlike narrative flows like a nightmare as again the how and why is superfluous to the resulting action. 

Now THE BEYOND is the perhaps the best example of form over content, with critics such as Arnold Blumberg & Andrew Hershberger (in their book Zombiemania: 80 Movies to die for) stating that “the key to appreciating the proceedings is not to get wrapped up in the plot and instead focus on the mood.” Something that the director is on record as stating as the aim indicating a very conscious effort. Upon its release Lucio Fulci is believed to have been quoted as saying:

“People who blame The Beyond for its lack of story have not understood that it’s a film of images, which must be received without any reflection. They say it is very difficult to interpret such a film, but it is very easy to interpret a film with threads: Any idiot can understand Molinaro’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, or even Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, while THE BEYOND or Argento’s INFERNO are absolute films.”

THE BEYOND opens in Louisiana, 1927, as an armed mob slowly descend upon a large rural hotel. A psychic reads the book of Eibon telling us of seven gateways but it is not her that the vigilantes are interested in but an ungodly warlock, played by the distinctive Antoine Saint-John (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN), who resides in room number 36.

More than a simple whipping later we jump to contemporary times as Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits said old building and is having it renovated so that may give her a much needed fresh start. Throw in a handsome local doctor (as played by David Warbeck) and we get what initially looks like playing out as a classic gothic horror but with Italian horror sensibilities. However after an attack on Joe the friendly plumber, things begin to change. 

This act of shocking barbarity is followed immediately by a beautiful and expansive shot of an empty bridge, save for Liza travelling in her car. But in the middle of the bridge, quite literally stands a blind woman, Emily, and her canine companion. Very strange. Even more so considering Emily was stood there waiting for Eliza and we get a sense that whatever conventional narrative (in horror terms at least) that had begun to take hold was about to be twisted into something a little stranger. On a side note the arthouse film INFERNO VENEZIANO would take influence from the image on the bridge and prove to be equally out-there in terms of abstract horror.

Now after some much needed exposition, courtesy of our blind friend, we get a first look towards a barren and bleak painting, showing us more that what is just on the canvas. Such as with any painting the meaning is personal and open to interpretation. While in his review Donato Totaro states that the “painting that becomes integral to the thematic and metaphysical landscape” and I am certainly one to agree.

In THE BEYOND Lucio Fulci has shown us the materials for which we can either interpret, simply accept and be entertained or as is the case with most genre fare, to scorn and ridicule it’s lack of spoon-fed narrative. However you see it though, you cannot deny that THE BEYOND has the feeling of a film in which anything could happen and it does.

The House by the Cemetery

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It is hardly surprising that the thematic influence of Lovecraft would seep into the final entry of the trilogy, only this time it is seemingly merged with a variation of the myth of Frankenstein. Only this time the doctor and the monster are one and the same.

In the film, rationality once again takes a backseat and rather than mull over lines such as “You really should take those pills your baker prescribed” we should instead accept and appreciate that it plays out almost in a dream-like state where brutal random violence is juxtaposed with childlike innocence by way of situations that assault our senses.

Much like CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD the film is a mesh of several strands of horror; the slasher, the giallo, the supernatural and the haunted house movie. Because of this THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is the hardest film of the three to rationalise in terms of a (neo)romaticism angle, as it could just as easily be argued for as a disjointed and incomplete mess as it could a poem of childhood anxiety and fear. 

For those unfamiliar with the film the basic storyline focuses on Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his family, rounded off by Catriona MacCall as the wife and Giovanni Frezza as the oddly voiced son, who relocate to the rural town of New Whitby (a Bram Stoker reference perhaps?) so that he may continue on the research of his recently departed mentor. Oh did I forget to mention that the research was on suicide and the late mentor had also committed suicide – the ill omens are all there. While discussing strange coincidences this is a second pivotal character in the trilogy named Bob. 

From the very beginning Lucio Fulci lays his cards out on the table for all to see, indeed even before the opening titles, a female victim (played by the ever suffering Daniela Doria) is brutally murdered. If anyone had wondered what type of film they were about to watch they did not have long to wait in order to find out. 

Interestingly throughout the film the script drops what may be seen as a few clues as to both the absurd nature of the proceedings and also the underlying objective and direction of the film. Examples of this include when the babysitter (Ania Pieroni) is cleaning up a large pool of blood on the kitchen floor and is questioned about it by the lady of the house, Lucy. Rather than answer she simply states that some coffee is in the pot and this random bit of information placates Lucy who simply forgets about the unexplained spillage. Although this is perhaps also explained by the previously mentioned line regarding Lucy Boyle’s pills (as prescribed by her baker) in order to supress her hallucinations, leading us to question is any of this real? After all Bob is a bit too odd but he seemingly isn’t the only one. 

Talking of odd, a member of the local community while speaking to the Dr suggests that he had visited the town previously only that time with his daughter. While it is very possible that the citizen had heard but not seen Bob and just assumed it was a girl this is very unlikely. However just as these points are raised quite often they are ignored although both do hint at another reality so to speak, one in which the young girl May exists in, only whether this is genuinely real or a figment of someone’s imagination is never made clear. 

Supernatural aside, and there are several ethereal moments, arguments of the neo-romanticism influence on the film can be made rather interestingly through the use of the ugly. Ugly in the terms of the gratuitous violence that is employed. Not only through the framing (credit to Sergio Salvati here) but also in the way that THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY makes the viewer feel like a helpless voyeur during the carnage as the director elects to revel in the violence. Instead of shying away from the action we are actually invited in for a closer, longer look and just like those visiting the grand guignol shows of Paris we love it. We are captivated by it and it draws us in. Check out the death of the Estate Agent for some prime action.

For fans of horror THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is a must watch. It is a film built on many things including the creation of suspense, the mystery of the murderer and perhaps most of all, the visceral thrills of the violence. In short it is about eliciting and heightening a select group of emotions through its visual medium.

While watching the film viewers will have many questions, including the symbolism at the end as Bob emerges from the tomb that is located in the front room.

What does this all mean? After all he is too young to be ‘born again’ but is it even representative of a birth of anything? Meanwhile his ghostly friend May does not seem too bothered about the final confrontation that Bob had just been a party to but then again neither does Bob despite both parents fates…as he has seemingly travelled back in time without a care in the world. 

A singular vision

The Gates of Hell trilogy are three films brought together by a singular idea; to create emotive horror free from the logical constraints of a traditional narrative. Incorporating a Lovecraftian influence, as Jamie Russell would say in his book “Book of the Dead”, Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti “set out to create …radical, avant-garde gore movies” and to an extent this is an accurate take.

As all three films reject conventional and traditional film structures instead focusing on “just a succession of images” (Lucio Fulci in a printed interview with Starburst Magazine) that are interested in exploring personal fears and anxieties. 

Indeed the Tate Gallery define Romanticism as a “movement in art and literature distinguished by a new interest in human psychology, expression of personal feeling and interest in the natural world” which Neo-Romanticism builds upon to overlay the more abstract. In which it is the message and not the content that matters. 

Clearly as evidenced by the men involved these three films are built on abstract literary sources and were created for a specific form of expression and feeling in which we, the viewer, are then invited to impose our own interpretations upon.

So it is not surprising when people talk about the poetry of Lucio Fulci’s films, or when some of them are are described as “delirious, dreamy and often demented” (Calum Waddell in his booklet ‘Freudstein Revisited’ for Arrow films) because like a dream many scenes and sequences have no logical starting point or arc to help feed into the narrative but instead jump from action point to action point. Thankfully however Dardano Sacchetti never forgets to throw in some exposition so that we have some context and to aid the flow of images.

The deeper level of artistic endeavour employed adds weight to the argument that Lucio Fulci is, as many of us would already believe, a creative artist and not merely a workmanlike artisan or even a hack as some would have you believe and that the Gates of Hell trilogy stand up as a collective yet singular piece of art.

These films therefore in my mind are akin to an artist’s collection, which we as fans have dubbed the ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy, held together by a common concept and artistic execution. Like individual paintings each film can be enjoyed on its own and viewing of the whole collection is not necessarily detrimental or mandatory but when viewed together Lucio Fulci’s vision can be best understood. Whether or not it was his original vision is another matter.

And remember…Fulci lives!

UNDERCOVER MISTRESS (2016) BY GIULIO CIANCAMERLA

Reviews

Director: Giulio Ciancamerla
Writers: Giulio Ciancamerla, Lucio Massa
Year: 2016
Starring: Stefania Visconti, Leonardo Pace, Asia Liguori

This review first appeared on my older website Cosi Perversa.

Synopsis:
During a photo show, a man enjoys scaring a girl until she decides to leave the exhibition. The man runs after her along increasingly dark and isolated streets. A man and a woman? Which one is the dominant genre?

Review:
This short film opens in a contemporary art gallery with a handsome man catching a woman’s eye, if only for a second. Shy and retiring she is clearly too nervous to do anything but steal frequent glances. However she has also caught the eye of another, a sexual predator, who carries a look of disgust and lust over his face and the pursuit of only one action on his mind.

The performances of our two leads, Leonardo Pace and the Cinecittà graduate & transgender model Stefania Visconti, are terrific. Working without dialogue both are still able to convey the required complex emotions required allowing the viewer to innately understand their thought processes. The ability of both helps provide an added level of believability to the films set up.

Now with director Giulio Ciancamerla having established these, sadly prevalent, social norms he immediately sets about subverting the role of gender as a discordant soundtrack emphasises both the sadistic and non-conventional approach the film takes to tacking its subject matter. It is this ‘torture’ sequence that is vaguely reminiscent of the way a couple of giallo masters would frame their sexual transgressions as the activity builds up to a disturbing climax that undoubtedly will elicit a reaction from the viewer.

At the most simplest, base level this is an empowered and violent role reversal of the sexes but Ciancamerla imbues the film with much more complexity for those willing to delve further down the rabbit hole, beyond the preliminary visual layer as he strips away the social concept of gender roles and masculinity in particular as our male (Leonardo Pace) is emasculated rather than dominant.

What we are left with is the realisation that our identities are a performance piece, sometimes for the admiration of others and sometimes for our own gratification at the expense of others. To paraphrase British playwright Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts” and this is never truer in UNDERCOVER MISTRESS where our projected self may in fact be very different and our capabilities exceed that of even what we expect when pushed.

According to the press release the idea behind Undercover Mistress is a contamination of “gender studies” with “erotic…psychological horror” and as such tackles subjects such as sexual identity, harassment and roles. 

It is a challenging movie that no doubt will alienate many but for a few, it will raise societal questions and realisations as ugly as the violent acts it depicts. The fact that UNDERCOVER MISTRESS will appeal just as much to the arthouse liberal as the horror fan provides verification that the film has succeeded in its objectives perhaps even lending creedence to the subjects it tackles.

Visit the films Facebook page here.

Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the 13-minute short film which was at the time was winning several awards on the festival circuit. The film is nicely shot with clean, modern visuals and clear sound.

VIOLENT SHIT (2015) BY LUIGI PASTORE

Reviews

Director: Luigi Pastore
Writers: Emanuele Barbera, Luigi Pastore, Lucio Massa
Year: 2015
Starring: Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Antonio Zequila, Lilli Carati, Steve Aquilina, Vincenzo Pezzopane, Erika Kamese, Antonio Tentori, Luigi Cozzi, Enzo G. Castellari, Barbara Magnolfi

Synopsis:
Rome is shattered by a series of gruesome murders that paint the Eternal City deep red. The suspicion grows that these atrocious crimes are connected with the return of one of the most heinous serial killers of our time – Karl the Butcher.

Review:
The original VIOLENT SHIT was released in 1989 and directed by Andreas Schnass (ANTHROPOPHAGOUS 2000) – who has a cameo in this version along with the returning Steve Aquilina who additionally had a key role in the creating, filming and editing of the version. The original film started off as a gore Fx showreel before turning into a feature length and that initial focus shone through in both the quality of the Fx and the lack of quality in the film…but overall it proved to be a solid amateur effort and an enjoyable watch.

After several sequels of, let’s be honest, limited quality it was quite surprising that Italian director Luigi Pastore became involved in a reboot twenty-five years later. 

Now no contemporary reboot would be complete without an origin story and this is no different with the pre-title sequence set, conveniently, 25 years in the past as we witness a young Karl being locked in a cupboard by his mother and subsequently being seduced (no not like that!) by the devil thereby starting his transformation from human to inhuman.

Now jumping to contemporary times we are treated to a monologue by the late and still beautiful Lilli Carati who continues the occult theme as she foretells of the coming of the antichrist and his puppet thereby setting the scene for the action that will come later.

Only being familiar with the original VIOLENT SHIT and not it’s sequels this supernatural element certainly added something new to the origin of Karl, however I was not expecting this and initially was left confused by the developing, lets call it , triumvirate of evil comprising of the devil, Professor Vassago (Lombardo Radice) and the Kevin Costner lookalike, Senator Vinci (Zequila) in particular the relationship between the three, not to mention the role of Karl the Butcher himself.

In almost complete contrast to the original, and apologies for the seemingly constant comparisons, the opening half hour is primarily taken up with exposition at the expense of any real onscreen action as myths are explored, the past explained and characters introduced. Out of this however we do get to witness the aftermath of  a couple of murders with the finding  of a bloody torso in a Rome park being of key interest.

It is this murder that introduces us to our primary detectives, the young Aristide D’Amato (fantastic joining of the real name of the director Aristide Massaccesi and his alias Joe D’Amato) as competently played by Vincenzo Pezzopane and Interpol agent Hans Ebert, which see’s VIOLENT SHIT stalwart Steve Aquilina reprising his detective role from an earlier film.

After more exposition between the two we are introduced to a couple more characters, and although just a cameo, Enzo Castellari (director of THE BRONX WARRIORS, IL GRANDE RACKET, THE LAST SHARK) and Luigi Cozzi (director of CONTAMINATION, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN) steal the show. In particular, Castellari’s bitter, wise cracking forensic doctor is a particular highlight, emphasised even more thanks to the English dubbing he receives.

Due to this new story angle the occult takes precedence, aided by a creepy looking Giovanni Lombardo Radice (CANNIBAL FEROX, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) who in the role of the mysterious Professor Vassago is clearly at the centre of what is going on but as a result of this shift and the inclusion of an origin of Karl’s evil and motives, the plot receives an extended explanation and set-up thereby relegating Karl the Butcher and any violence to the background for the majority of the movie.

It is because of this necessity to explain, or at least the writers belief in its necessity, that the film suffers, in order to allow the new plot narrative greater emphasis needed to be given to character, set up and mystery – which Pastore and co. manage but in a film entitled Violent Shit and one with a history such as it has, fans might be expecting something less subtle and less developed and more direct, more violent.

It is not until the final third that things really begin to heat up as the creepy professor hosts a dinner party cum orgy for the Senator and a few of his friends. Things clearly get out of hand here in an orgy of drugs, sex and cannibalism, with the inclusion and excess of the perversions no doubt aided by the influence of co-writer Lucio Massa (HIPPOCAMPUS M 21th) and this set up perfectly juxtaposes life and sex with death and violence. Pastore delights in showing us the outer flesh one moment and the inner flesh the next as Karl the Butcher finally makes his real entrance and brutally slaughters all those in his path.

As with all lower budget films the performances are mixed both in terms of in front of camera and of course the dubbing, with some suffering more than others and you can’t shake the feeling that some voice actors are just reading through the lines with no inflection, accents or passion while others have that 1980s style high pitched voice that no one actually sounds like. But there are several positives namely Antonio Zequila as the sleazy Senator, Vincenzo Pezzopane as the detective and best of all Enzo Castellari.

Overall this effort is much more restrained than the original films which is a shame as it fails to find that balance between characterisation and extreme violence. However when the violence is shown, much credit must go to David Bracci (SLEEPLESS, EATERS) for his work which is exceptional, in particular the castration of one young male is exceptionally well done and it is clear that he has learned well from the master Sergio Stivaletti.

One could also argue that this is a meta-film, aware of both itself (the detectives watch footage from the original film showing Karl’s past action) and the industry (namely the character names such as D’Amato and Fulci as well as those playing versions of themselves such as Castellari, Cozzi and Tentori) and these moments are both a lot of fun and interwoven well into the story.

VIOLENT SHIT: THE MOVIE makes it difficult for a critic or even a genre fan to either like or dislike. While it is commendable that Pastore and co. take the series in a new direction and attempt to add some texture and background to the characters, it is done so at the expense of the films essence. The very thing that had previously defined the series, namely the frequent over the top gore has been replaced with a supernatural mystery with the result being a more layered and considered film but one lacking the direct, brutal action that it requires.

Credit has to go to the team for trying something new and while it fails to hit the mark the cameos, the references and the humour all work particularly well and make this film worthwhile for fans of Italian horror to check out and ending on a high note, the soundtrack performed by Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin again is spot on. Having previously scored Luigi Pastore’s last work SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED, these two appear to be forming a strong professional relationship and long may it continue.

Version Reviewed:

I reviewed the 2015 media book version as put out by 8-films which featured a blu ray and dvd version of the film alongside a CD of he original soundtrack by Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin. This version is limited to 999 copies. Standard versions of the film have been released.

The extras feature a stills gallery, the almost mandatory film trailer and international trailer as well as a tribute to the actress Lilli Carati. The tribute features her last interview which although brief is very nice and quite moving as she discusses her past and excitement to working alongside Luigi Pastore and in the horror genre. Unfortunately she passed away before the full project that she was working on could come to fruition.

Other extras include a ten minute ‘The origins of the myth’ in which Steve Aquilina discusses the reason behind the films name and how the reboot came around. Steve is a very interesting guy and the only shame is that this segment was not longer. However a counterview to this comes in the shape of the ‘Making of’ which tells the story of this film came about but from the Italian perspective, adding further context and details alongside several behind the scenes shots and explanation of why certain filming and plot decisions were made. These revelations or rather justifications actually added a different element to the film and made me reconsider my thoughts on the film and its plot points and drivers with Pastore stating that they “tried to combine the German ultra gore with the Italian thriller” and on reflection that does come across even if the balance is not quite right. A further interesting piece goes on to explain the inclusion of the sequence with the late Lilli Carati, which threw me on first watch. Initially her role and the footage was meant for another movie only for it to be adapted posthumously into this film as a tribute.

Finally we are treated to brief interviews with the cast which is interestingly and it is always nice to see on these types of films that the actors are there for the right reasons and not just a paycheque, although it adds little compared the previous two additions it still is worth checking out.