Rebuilding the house

Articles and Interviews, blog

If you are reading this blog then in all likelihood you are open minded regarding your films and see age as just a number. The advent of home entertainment has provided several opportunities for films to be released and re-released with every iteration from VHS onwards and with each release the opportunity to find new fans. 

Generally speaking the films that benefit most from this process are decades old and as such manage to appeal to both new and old audiences due to the superior quality offered or additional material they provide over past releases. Although recent times have also seen more modern films receive this treatment, after all how many different versions exist of the major Hollywood blockbusters, which are at best an attempt to provide fans with as much footage and value as possible and at worst a cynical cash-grab. Normally the latter.

With that in mind there one version of a re-release that is most likely to have some artistic merit – the director’s cut. Often released after the producers and distributors have made their required money, these versions allow a film to be seen as it was originally intended (or at least they would have you believe) and theoretically give the director another chance of putting their vision on screen away from the pressures and requirements of the business philistines or distributor demands.

In genre cinema we have seen several companies do this with older films, one only has to look at Shameless with their release of Cannibal Holocaust, although perhaps this is not the best example given that some of the cuts made were enforced by the BBFC. 

Regardless of the reasoning behind it however each release, of both new and old movies, gives the market the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-discover films within not only a new, wider context (allowing us to use hindsight and take into account movies that followed) but also a personal one – had we been lucky enough to be witness it the first time.

One such film that I believe was overlooked upon its initial release back in 2009 was HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS, the debut film from Italian director Domiziano Cristopharo, which is now due to benefit from an extended director’s cut to mark its ten year anniversary.  I say extended as a 2009 release also boasts being a directors cut, although I suspect that this release was more of a business decision made by others with an aim for a quick return as opposed to any desire for the film to be seen.

Talking of the film, it follows a loner artist named Sebastian (Domiziano Arcangeli) who has a history of abuse and a strange fixation but when he meets a beautiful woman (Irene Violette) who takes an interest in his life and work despite the reservations of her father (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) things set off on a path of no return.

A strange and compelling watch, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS displays influences from not only the likes of Joe D’Amato but also David Lynch and Michael Powell amongst others all wrapped up within some beautiful cinematography and an almost arthouse sensibility combining to make something unique and that would arguably go on to define the directors own personal style.

Seemingly buried by distributors, while an unrated edition that exists is even more hidden and perhaps targeted at a very specific section of society, in that time that has passed since these releases the Roman director has been extremely prolific and is only now seeing the fruits of his labour, particularly in the United States of America, where his more recent films such as RED KROKODIL; THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN and TWO LEFT ARMS amongst others are now readily available

So why revisit the past? And why a directors cut?

I managed to speak with the director who informed me that this release was simply to mark the ten year anniversary of its release and rather than a simply be a straight up re-release that this special edition will be used to “bring back the original shape of the movie”. Something that sounds very intriguing. 

This release will feature new music alongside additional footage that has never been seen before, with this covering original footage that he “had to cut because it was considered too obscene,(but) now thanks to movies like A SERBIAN FILM that were released four or five years after our movie, extreme is more acceptable, more normal but [back then] it was a different story”. Considering that HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS was no playful, family friendly romp in the first place one can only wonder what else will be included.

On this note Domiziano Cristopharo promises that this release will be “unrated and more shocking” and I have no doubt will appeal to many if it gets the distribution it deserves. Including the Unearthed Films audience, a company who also distributed A SERBIAN FILM, and who will be familiar with the Italian director thanks to his recent contributions to the label (such as RED KROKODIL and a number of the AMERICAN GUINEA PIG series).

Despite never quite benefitting from first mover advantage, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS arguably helped contribute to kickstarting to the erotic and sexual horror sub-genre, an area in which its director has generally continued to pursue, and it is hoped that this release will go some way in claiming some of the dues that it thoroughly deserves.

Domiziano Cristopharo has some way to go in claiming the fame and notoriety of the forerunner Joe D’Amato, despite arguably creating more technically competent films, but his past, present and future (see the poster for NUDI E MORTE) all point towards him finally claiming that throne.

Although no distributor or release date has been announced this is one release that is worth keeping on your radar. Discover the trailer for the HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS below:

The Transparent Woman (2015) By Domiziano Cristopharo


Director: Domiziano Cristopharo
Screenplay: Andrea Cavaletto
Year: 2015
Starring: Roberta Gemma, Arian Levanael, Giovanna Nocetti

Anna is a fiercely independent blind woman. Her husband Carl sells their apartment and they move into his childhood rural home where, left alone during the days, Anna starts to believe that someone…or something is in the house with her.

THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN is the thirteenth directorial effort from the prolific writer/director/producer Domiziano Cristopharo and also the fourth time he has worked with actress Roberta Gemma (HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS; HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE; BLOODY SIN) and it is perhaps of little surprise for fans of these two that the film practically opens with nudity as our lead couple Carl (Arian Levaneal – BLOODY SIN; DARK WAVES; P.O.E 3) and his partner, the blind Anna (Roberta Gemma) are in the bathroom going through their usual routine, all while their actions are set to an almost sensual, playful seventies style track reminiscent of Nora Orlandi et al. from days long lost, courtesy of the award-winning American/Italian film composer team DiBona & Sangiovanni.

Rather interestingly, particularly considering all involved are not prudish, director Domiziano Cristopharo shows some restraint here and rather than leading us towards something a little more risqué or hardcore he switches things up courtesy of a glorious credit sequence. Of which the style genuinely took me by surprise. So  realistically gloriously retro is the feeling it invokes that it was up there with the rebooted French ‘OSS:117’ films in terms of fun. No doubt aided by another hugely enjoyable track.  

We learn that our happy couple are moving back into the childhood home of Carl, a man whose piercing blue eyes and rugged masculine looks are almost enough to make you brush off the subsequent bizarre nature of a scene in which he begins to start playing an accordion by the fireside only to briefly enter a physical trance that seemingly only we, the viewer, can see. This trance represents the rekindling of old memories as Carl appears to be trapped in a loop but also seems to serve almost as a turning point in the couples relationship – one where it now no longer just the two of them.

On an initial viewing this scene does appear to come out of nowhere on and as a British viewer the use of an accordion seemed somewhat strange (although admittedly not as strange as its appearance in HOLY MOTORS) but does serve a narrative function. I was fortunate enough to have discussed this film with the director after an initial viewing and discovered that this choice of instrument was inline with rural Italian culture and so perhaps, like with many films from a different culture, was a culturally-specific choice that while adding substance and authenticity would not be picked up by wider, international audiences. Or at least not in the way initially intended. 

Whatever the justification, the accordion playing worked and Anna becomes a little more settled into their new home, which is good as she will be spending her days alone in the house. It is in these moments of solitude that Anna starts to suspect there is someone else there. This seemingly standard woman-in-peril set up is coupled with the breadcrumbs dropped by writer and frequent Cristopharo-collaborator Andrea Cavaletto which leads us to speculate on a past emotional trauma that affected Carl and that also may have happened in that house previously. 

As the mystery progresses and unravels, when we move away from the story and begin to focus on the aesthetics it becomes apparent that Domiziano Cristopharo is no amateur when it comes to understanding the importance of light and composition in order both elicit and project mood. For instance as he bathes several shots in blue the end results are beautiful and serve to mark him out as a real talent in an industry that is becoming increasingly Americanised or should that be homogenised and less about individual style. 

The aesthetics, of which I include cinematography, are perhaps more impressive when one considers the films meagre budget but when we consider the directors past perhaps we should not be so surprised.

Again this point is important because this focus on the visuals (and sound) is arguably more important in THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN due to the limited dialogue employed. 

With the exception of our two leads, and even then Anna spends many days alone, there is very little interaction with anyone else but here every interaction counts and rather than be a hindrance it instead helps to generate additional tension and combines will all other elements to produce an engaging film. 

Furthermore this result is made possible thanks to the decent performances of our leads, which although not Oscar worthy are enough to keep you immersed in the world. Roberta Gemma in particular I have to say impressed me considering the role, due to its isolation, could have proven quite tricky even for a more accomplished actress.

Certainly not everything in THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN worked for me, and I doubt it will be very different for you but regardless of this the film is beautifully composed, competently acted and most importantly of all – it is intriguing; as you want to know what has happened previously and you need to know what is going to happen after.

THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN will appeal to fans of the neo-gialli of Cattet & Fozani (AMER; THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS) as well as Onetti (DEEP SLEEP; FRANCESCA) thanks to its peppering of artistic shots, at times reminiscent of the visuals of Bava and Argento, and its less traditional (at least in regards to the non-Italian interpretation of the giallo) take on the genre. 

It is interesting also to note that THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN was actually constructed by several writers with the initial story coming from Francesco Massaccesi, Elio Mancuso and director Domiziano Cristopharo before finally being scripted by Andrea Cavaletto and it is of great credit to this group that at no point does the film ever lose focus or become disjointed. No doubt having Cristopharo bookending the process meant that the concept was kept cohesive from beginning to end.

Ultimately a tale of loss, reliance and the inability to accept the consequences of one’s actions, THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN is well paced, beautifully crafted and a creative mystery drama that I believe everyone should check out.

Finally keep an eye out for the 1970’s singer Giovanna Nocetti who pops up in a very unexpected role.