FROM UNDER THE COVER

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A bit of a more personal post here and one that starts off with a huge thank you to the Italian director Giulio Ciancamerla for taking the time (and cost) to send me a full DVD-CD media book of his film UNDERCOVER MISTRESS which was only just released by X-Rated.

Now UNDERCOVER MISTRESS is a revenge film with a difference…it actually has something to say. Here credit also has to go to producer Lucio Massa and his Aborsky Produktion through which he has overseen five features and this short in under five years in which he has proven himself to never be one to shy away from the extreme, the controversial and the challenging.

Working together for the third time (Giulio Ciamcamerla was the assistant director on both HIPPOCAMPUS M21TH and VIOLENT SHIT: THE MOVIE from Aborsky Produktion) the director would act as a provocateur here and take a story based in the world on bondage and suffuse it with a tale of gender violence and identity.  Now I am not going to go and write a review (I did that here) but I am going to say that X-Rated have done justice to the film with this release which also features a very insightful set of interviews  with several members of cast and crew (in Italian with a choice of English or French subtitles), two additional old short films from the director, footage from the audio recording session and a CD of the music from across all three short films. Oh and a multi-lingual booklet detailing the influences and memories from the older short films.

Now I have waxed lyrical about how good this release looks (available from several independent European web stores and Amazon.it) but why is it a personal post?

Well that is because I had the very good fortune to review the film on my old website Cosi Perversa and a quote from my review made it onto this release! Now for the more seasoned writer or critic this may be a regular occurrence but this is a first for me…and to get a copy of the release is just the icing on the cake. Of course now I have changed sites, rather frustratingly I did this only a week before hearing from Giulio about the release, but I have ported the review across here.

So let’s raise a glass to the discussion about gender identity, revenge and how we perceive others. And then raise it again to Giulio, Lucio, Leonardo, Stefania and the rest of the cast and crew for making this film.

Grazie Giulio.

Cin cin.

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.

SEXUAL LABYRINTH (2017) BY MORGANA MAYER

Reviews

Director: Morgana Mayer
Writers: Emma Davis, Lucio Massa, Alan Rainer, Marta Rot
Year: 2017
Starring: Marta Rot, Giada DaVinci, Fausto Moreno, Francesco Malcom, Mary Rider, Silvia Lamberti, Stefania Visconti

Synopsis:
A mysterious woman is in love with a girl who, after yet another rejection, is kidnapped and taken to a bizarre and secretive prison where she will undertake a surreal journey through the maze of pleasure.

Review:
The debut film from German director Morgana Mayer opens with some quality extreme metal (which will later be juxtaposed with classical music – seemingly the go-to genre to lend some sophistication to proceedings) and a dedication to Joe D’Amato (the film is peppered with references) and Luigi Zanuso, SEXUAL LABYRINTH sets its intentions out early in regards to both the content and the audience of this 68 minute bizarre erotic horror. Although a comparison to German director Andreas Bethmann wouldn’t be too far off either albeit with more emphasis on conceptual perversity and desire as opposed to the blunt, more direct approach of Bethmann.

Back to the movie and it really starts with a brief bit of exposition thereby setting the scene for our unfortunate lead female, who I have to say undertakes the most lax security in a public toilet cubicle I have ever witnessed and before you can even say ‘occupied’ she is grabbed, drugged and degraded.

Waking up she is told by a spurned, would-be lover, that she is about to go on an erotic journey, one which would end up not only with feelings of love between the two but also a sexual awakening in our kidnapped woman.  What follows is a series of sexual abuse…or exploration, depending on your point of view.

These experiences take place throughout several vignettes, not all including our unwilling slave, and cover areas such as the sharing of (not the usual) bodily fluids, fisting and much more with some of this activity having a brutal, violent effect and others perhaps possessing a metaphorical meaning.

However the latter was few and far between for me and while the aim might have been a strong critique of religion and contemporary society though post-porn art the reality is that several of these attempts came across as purely there to titivate or shock, particularly in reference to the nun scenes although to be fair these deliver visually what THE EXORCIST could only hint at.

As a result I feel there were several missed opportunities for philosophical musing or genuine commentary throughout the film where perhaps Mayer preferred to prioritise and depict perversity.  It must be noted however that I am approaching this film purely from my own experiences and cultural interpretation and therefore others may read more into the proceedings.

On the other hand one area that does his the mark is the cinematography. Perhaps I am doing the film a disservice here when I say that I was pleasantly surprised at how innovative some of the angles and shots were in this film, no doubt a bit more of the D’Amato influence coming across here and credit has to go to Rhea Silvia and Andrej Chinaski from Hot Chilli Productions for this.

It cannot be understated that if you are prudish or narrow minded in terms of sexuality, even just slightly then this film will not be for you and even if this criteria does not disqualify you there is still a high chance that SEXUAL LABYRINTH is not for you, just like BEYOND MADNESS this film is esoteric with an open mind not only being required of the viewer but demanded.

Nauseating, perverse and oddly compelling there is no denying that at times SEXUAL LABYRINTH is an uneasy watch, although I suspect it is meant to be but ultimately it is not as good at covering gender politics and identity as well as others, most notably UNDERCOVER MISTRESS by Giulio Ciancamerla but nonetheless it does explore a niche area of society and manages to capture, in an extreme form, the Annie Sprinkles book ‘Post Porn Modernist’ which is referenced in the final half of the film.

Is SEXUAL LABYRINTH the most extreme, abstract performance piece that discusses the notion of society, religion, true love and the total submission of oneself to another or purely an unadulterated, unabashed decadent piece of trash with a flimsy narrative holding it together. That I cannot answer for you and no doubt the answer will depend on your own interpretation of the film. If you wanted sadism as a metaphor for politics then check out Pasolini’s SALO but if you are happy to settle for sadism masquerading as political commentary then come on down!

What I will say however is that if D’Amato and Zanuso collaborated it is highly likely that post-porn surrealism like this would be the result.

Discover more about the film and yourself over on the official Facebook page.

On a side note I would like to add that although not everything from Black Lava Entertainment is my kind of thing they do put out decent releases with a relatively high standard and so for them to be associated with this film it should act as a seal of quality for fans of this genre.

Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the film.

BEYOND MADNESS (2016) BY LUIGI ZANUSO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Oltre la follia
Director: Luigi Zanuso aka Dario Lussuria aka Luigi Atomico
Writers: Lucio Massa, Luigi Zanuso
Year: 2016
Starring: Michelle; Rosario Gallardo; Julian D’Annunzio; Simon Hunter; Mark Rock; Giselle Class; Rick McRoy; Venus T.Gender

Synopsis:
A film director dreams his deepest nightmares…and real life is not always worse than the imagination. Beyond Madness is a pornographic film, so raw and direct that it contrasts the costumes and the decadence of contemporary society.

Review:
BEYOND MADNESS is a pornographic and surreal visual representation of madness from the mind of prolific director Luigi Zanuso and if anyone comes into this expecting something easily digestible, then like the raw meat that is utilised in several scenes here, this film is not for you.

Split into eight episodes, each separated by brief philosophical musings which are seemingly an attempt to interject some conceptual and dare I say intellectual substance to the acts of gratification that we witness. Unfortunately for me however this came across as more of a practical decision than for any true philisophical purpose as they added little value to the movie but merely allowed an easy cut from one episode to the next.

Talking of the film from the opening segment you know that this is not a simplistic, definable or even conventional film but rather a surreal orgy of passion, liberation and perversion. Opening with the director taking the role of Diogenes, yes that cynic philosopher, Zanuso wastes no time in getting down to something that is part THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMAN, part porn and fully bizarre as bodily fluids are shared and we essentially are introduced to our cast for the evenings entertainment.

Moving onto the second part entitled ‘Arrogant man’s folly’, what is meant conceptually as a criticism of modern arrogance is not something that I took away or fully understood. Rather I understood it more as about greed and the mindless, indiscriminate devouring of resources but in reality or at least visually it was a mature blonde devouring offal and raw meat before blow jobs are liberally dispensed which is in turn followed by the blonde wearing a scarf made of offal and raw meat being used as sex toys, perhaps indicating the meat market and the raw base action of human fornication when we strip it back down to the fundamental act.

The film then introduces more of a (psychologically) horror centred theme…as well as semen while the appearance of mannequins adds a strange angle to the proceedings and indeed perception of them. As we run through the episodes the levels of meat and blood rise, the volume a woman gushes is increased, an actress wearing a pair of animal eyes drinks semen soup and the sexual activity works up into a frenzy. By the final sequence I have no doubt that one of the actresses, a mature blonde, is off her head and has truly gone insane as she primes a man with one end of a double ended dildo before urinating into his face. If this wasn’t enough she then enters him with a bottle following that up with some impressive fisting and some sexual activity with a decapitated pigs head that would make even David Cameron blush.

It is abundantly clear that the director does what he wants with no regard for convention or conformity and as such has produced something that is all but indefinable. Is it art? Is it porn? Is it trash? In truth it is a surreal beast incorporating all of this.

Of course BEYOND MADNESS has it’s issues, from the lack of continuity in cuts and the overuse of repetition this most certainly isn’t for everyone, one could even go as far as to say it is the very definition of esoteric but it has something. Even if that something is simply watching a woman ejaculate (courtesy of the slightly scary yet still sexy Rosario Gallardo) into a mannequins head. This is one of those rare films where no other title could do justice to the scenes that the viewer witnesses.

Extremely decadent, conceptually dubious and at some points disgusting these sexual tableaux’s succeed in their mission and leave an indelible mark on the viewer. Whether this is good or bad only you can decide but I assure you that you will be stained. And what of poor Diogenes, what would he say of all this? For a man who believed that you can even derive pleasure from despiising pleasure once you become used to it, I think Zanuso’s discarding of convention would have pleased the man.

Version Reviewed:
We reviewed a screener copy of the film supplied by Aborsky Productions, incidentally it will be Zanuso’s first film in HD, as well as a 20 minute interview with the director.

The interview segment titled Beyond Madness shows Luigi Zanuso to be surprisingly charming as he effortlessly manages to hold your attention and dare I even say captivate you with his thoughts from subjects such as the death of pornography because ‘it lacks fantasy and reality’, his career and how he accepts that not everyone will appreciate his decisions and creativity all the way to his thoughts on life in general. It is a surprisingly honest and refreshing talk which endears the director all the more to the viewer as he lays out for the foundation for this, this porn film about madness. Meanwhile on the commercial release I am lead to believe there will also be some interviews with the actors and a trailer.

Find out more on the official Facebook page here.

FEMALE TOUCH (2018) BY MORGANA MAYER

Reviews

Director: Morgana Mayer
Writers: Eleonora D’Arco, Diane De la Barthe, Lucio Massa, Gughy Rossi
Year: 2018
Starring: Morena Capoccia, Giada Davinci, Ishara Gabri, Rebecca Gems

Review:
From Aborsky Produktions, the company behind the post-porn surrealism of Luigi Zanuso/Luigi Atomico’s BEYOND MADNESS and the directorial debut of Morgana Mayer, SEXUAL LABYRINTH comes FEMALE TOUCH, a film which continues the appeal towards a specific counter-culture of free thinkers.

The film is dedicated to the Italian film maker Alberto Cavallone, a man who himself flirted with surrealist eroticism in his work, and is clearly influenced by the works of Luigi Atomico and Joe D’Amato, so if those names appeal to you then this is certainly one for you but if you are still unsure read on with an open mind.

Opening with what would undoubtedly be an uncomfortable scene for almost every male, the visual representation employed here immediately overpowered the underlying message and while this attempted philosophy hinted at something deeper, something profound, for me it ultimately failed to connect. 

With this opening performance piece over and the introductory credits finished, the sexual tapestry that helps to comprise this film continues although rather surprisingly in a manner more restrained (quite literally) than perhaps one relatively new to this sub-genre would expect. The result being something strangely compelling, whether you want it to be or not.

With movies (or should that be performance pieces) like FEMALE TOUCH it is hard to describe the witnessed narrative in a literal way without losing the meaning behind it while a synopsis is clearly open to interpretation from the non-existent to the pretentious, but this way of looking at a movie is not what FEMALE TOUCH is set up to allow. It proves unconventional from whichever way you approach or classify it. An example being the glimpses of putrid and slimy flesh or organs which are interspersed seemingly at random between sexualised segments while no assistance is provided to explain or help guide you through this series of images that become more bizarre as time progresses – at least until the final two segments in which the message behind them becomes a little more overt.

FEMALE TOUCH is certainly too graphic to be an arthouse film, the scenes of female ejaculation and bondage see to that, and too artistic to be pornography (although I am not overly familiar with  the Post porn movement of which Anne Sprinkles book helped influence Morgana Mayer’s previous film SEXUAL LABYRINTH) but is something altogether different, something esoteric that exists within and for a specific underground movement. 

My interpretation is that FEMALE TOUCH is about embracing our differences and desires, about seeking individual liberation from the restrictions and containment as put into place by the status quo, the white heterosexual males, that run Western society…or something like that. 

Challenging, subversive and (potentially) with a message, FEMALE TOUCH is a great example of the question, what is art? What can be called art? And who decides?

For this viewer I found any message to be overshadowed by the methods employed, its subtext difficult to decipher, if there is indeed anything really there although much of this could have been condensed making much of the 78-minute run time more superfluous.