Saturday, July 22, 2017

BLOODY FRIDAY - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Reviewed by Steve Fenton, with Dennis Capicik.

One-sheet poster tagline for Sunset International’s 1975 stateside release: “A Bizarre Plot Erupts In Violence ...Lives Are Shattered In The Gory Wake...”

Scorpion’s 1988 US videocassette cover blurbs: “Unleashing a Storm of Savage Crime.... Viciousness Fuelled by Desperation and Hatred....”   

Dating from 1972 and co-directed by Rolf Olsen (1919-1998) and Lee Payant, this is a predominantly Germanic crime meller, albeit with a strong Italo showing. Its German title BLUTIGER FREITAG was simply translated into English for its American release (just for the record, the film’s Italian title is VIOLENZA CONTRO VIOLENZA / “Violence Against Violence”).

“Filmed Where It Actually Happened!!” shrieked an alternate catch-line honestly (if rather meaninglessly, so far as most non-Germans were concerned) for this film’s North American theatrical release under the present title. As if the poster wasn’t sensationalistic enough, an introductory blurb on Scorpion Action Video’s originally-obscure-enough-and-now-even-more-so American Beta/VHS print (bearing the crudely computer-generated retitle of VIOLENT OFFENDER, plus a deceptive cover photo depicting a full-auto machinegun mama who is nowhere to be seen in the movie itself) claimed it was “based on a true story”, as does the cover to the new Blu-ray edition in similar fashion. Be that as it may, one of the few immediately recognizable names in the credits belongs to Italian musicman Francesco de Masi (1930-2005), who composed the garage/funky fuzztone guitar-and-brass score, which is highly ear-pleasing indeed, for the most part, if a tad bit blaringly overbearing in some scenes. Not specifically credited by name on Scorpion’s transfer print is the movie’s Italo-end co-producer Fernando di Leo (1932-2003), who – as every Italocrime buff worth his Beretta should be well aware – is also known as one of the genre’s top directors (whose arguable pièces de resistance—all dating from 1971-73—are THE ITALIAN CONNECTION, THE BOSS and CALIBER 9, just in case you don’t know; his 1977 Jack Palance starrer MR. SCARFACE ain’t too shabby none neither, even if it is generally considered to be a “lesser” work in the filmmaker’s canon). Di Leo’s usual outfit Cineproduzioni Daunia 70 – which he co-owned with Armando Novelli, and under whose banner most of di Leo’s directorial outings were produced – functioned as the minority-interest Italian production company hereon.

Seasoned rounder Heinz Klett (big, hairy and macho Raimund Harmstorf [1939-1998], who at times evokes a shaggier, meaner Chuck Norris looks-wise, if only when he keeps his big-lensed ’70s-style shades on) escapes from police custody under the pretense of taking a dump in the courthouse toilet (“It’s the lousy food you serve,” he complains to one of his guards. “The junk’s givin’ me the shits!”). A boorish brute (a.k.a. [quote] “vulgar beast!” or “dirty pig!”) who, amongst other far more obnoxious traits, seems to derive intense pleasure from providing way too much information about things people would rather not hear about at all, Heinz subsequently explains in another of his many scatological-themed outbursts, “I gotta take it easy on my hemorrhoids!” Aptly enough considering what an utter turd he is, he utters the word “shit” numerous times during the course of the movie (e.g., “…we don’t give a shit!”).

Having been sprung by his accomplice under cover of a diversion and now on the lam, hurly-burly Heinz hides-out at an abandoned warehouse with his loyal partner-in-crime, an Italian named Luigi Belloni (Gianni Macchia, who later appeared opposite Joe Dallesandro in di Leo’s not-quite-as-scummy-but-close MADNESS [1980]), along with Luigi’s weak-willed, clingy and ultra-dependent girlfriend, Helen Hofbauer (whose first name was “Heidi” on German prints; played by Christine Böhm). Also shortly showing up is her brother Christian (Amadeus August), a German army deserter accused of manslaughter in the unwitting (?) death of his bullying drill sergeant (“He spilled half his brains on the table when he fell…”). This Aryan blond prettyboy impresses Klett (whose surname Christian’s Anglo voice-dubber at one point pronounces much akin to “Clit”!) with his military-trained unarmed combat skills, and is promptly invited to join the gang on their proposed job: pulling off a bigtime Munich bank heist to the tune of a cool million Deutschmarks.

In preparation for this caper, Heinz and associates rip-off machineguns and hand grenades from the then-still-occupying American Army, no less (lest we forget, BLOODY FRIDAY was made two decades prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, so Germany at the time was still firmly divided into two sections: the Democratic West and Communistic East. [History lesson over!]). Occurring out in the picturesque Bavarian countryside, a rather too lifeless car chase – whose lethargic listlessness is put to shame by those seen in most 100% Italian crime dramas of the ’70s – follows, enlivened only when an innocent passing bicyclist is dragged for about a half-mile by the villains’ speeding (okay, coasting) getaway car, with a Polizei VW bug in “hot” (!) pursuit going at a snail’s pace, its siren wailing away feebly, like its battery might be running low. Let’s just say that judicious under-cranking of the camera (i.e., fast-motion photography) might have injected some much-needed velocity and energy into this frankly rather sluggish sequence. Dressed in blood-red hoods, the heavily-armed robbers then burst into the target bank; all exits are sealed-off when the manager sounds the alarm. Hostages are taken, and a stalemate ensues. Things turn ugly when a brave (read: stupid!) policeman selflessly protects the general public by hurling himself onto a stray live grenade… even though not a single person other than himself is anywhere in its proximity! (The literally miles of wide-open empty space around this needlessly self-sacrificing cop – whose act of apparent heroism may possibly have been suicidally motivated? – is all the more obvious in wider-screened prints!) This amounts to the goriest scene in the movie and, while seldom overly convincing, “blood” flows freely throughout, even if it does mostly just look like bright red paint, splattered willy-nilly. A million-dollar ransom and getaway car are demanded to ensure the surviving hostages’ release. For added security – as well as to provide temporary love interest for August’s fatalistic Christian character, who soon realizes that romance isn’t in his immediate future – the fleeing fugitives take Marion Lotzmann (guest starlet Gila von Weitershausen), the pretty daughter of a multimillionaire industrial magnate, along for the ride; a move which adds further complications to a situation that’s more than over-complicated enough as it is.

As if he wasn’t already enough of a walking – or rather, strutting/swaggering! – phallic symbol (“It is life that’s made him so hard!” his bud Luigi sympathetically exclaims), Harmstorf’s bomber-jacketed Heinz character further emphasizes his (ahem) ‘manliness’ by wearing skintight black leather bellbottoms for the entirety of the narrative, even leaving them on when he has sex. At one point during the hostage standoff, the camera zooms in for an emphatic close-up of the well-armed-and-hung Heinz’s bulging pants crotch, which seems to have at least two pairs of heavy woolen socks (possibly even three) stuffed down it for extra padding. Just to reiterate what a mean motherfucker he is, Heinz subsequently beats-up a blind old duffer, just for kicks (pun intended). Action soon slows to a crawl – if thankfully not a complete standstill – when plentiful superficial ‘tense psychological drama’ arises between interacting robbers / victims, the latter of whose ranks are filled with all the usual heist hostage stereotypes, or variations thereof. After their wheels get delivered by the authorities, Heinz & Co. hit the getaway trail with hostages in tow, Hungary-bound. Cops follow by means of a handy-dandy tracking device, and poor Luigi winds up getting badly chewed-up and potentially infected with rabies by a police attack dog that mistakes him for a sack of Puppy Chow.

During another lull, Heinz decides it’s time to molest one of the hostage females – or, to use his terminology, “broad” – namely Dagmar Neuss (Daniela Giordano, another representative of the film’s “Italian connection”); first treating her to that aforementioned intimate perspective of his bulging black-leather codpiece… which is about all the ‘foreplay’ she gets. In what is undoubtedly the film’s grimiest sequence, their ‘love’ (i.e., rape) scene is symbolically double-exposed over real-life footage of slaughterhouse workers butchering livestock: pigs’ throats are slit from ear to ear to drain-off their blood; a severed cow’s head also figures prominently. Confusing editing invests an hallucinatory, abstract and unsettling tone. This short superimposed montage also incorporates fleeting, indistinct XXX sexual imagery which seems to have been spliced in from some porno loop. [This is original footage shot by the film's DP Franz X. Lederle. - DC]. For its sheer audacity if nothing else, this comparatively depraved passage very nearly compensates for all of BLOODY FRIDAY’s previous slow stretches. The carnage-juxtaposed-with-carnality angle is not exactly original, but it is viscerally effective in its own queasy way and adds another even grimier onion later to the sordid proceedings. In the afterglow, Heinz gloats over his understandably disgusted, unresponsive victim – “Now there’s no question you’re a lesbian, is there? You’re just a piece of shit!” – whereupon, no sooner has he tucked the, um, ‘freshly-sated’ Mr. Happy back inside his leathers than he up and strangles her to death, just for extra spite (hey, we don’t make ’em, we just report ’em, okay?!).

The hysterical pre-climax utilizes such guaranteed crowd pleasers as accidental fratricide, projectile vomiting and much irresponsible firearms usage. Waves of armed police converge on the isolated mountain cabin where the fugitives have holed-up. A sometimes slo-mo BONNIE AND CLYDE-influenced massacre rounds out the jolly proceedings as Christian, Heinz and Helen (who’s long since become impregnated with the late Luigi’s bastard bambino!) are mowed-down in a hail of chattering 9mm Uzi machine-pistol fire. Regardless of all its preceding unapologetic mean-spiritedness – for which it deserves some credit for not playing hypocritically coy about its most exploitative elements – this flick actually closes with a moralistic quote accredited to none other than… Napoléon Bonaparte (of all people): “Crime is as contagious as the pest. No one can commit one without having to pay for it.” Remember that, you slimeballs! (Even if I do strongly suspect that something may have gotten lost in translation.)

If nothing else, this movie is worth seeing for its sheer obscurity value; and dubiously of note for exactly three (3) uses of the word “cunt” in a potentially misogynistic context (although, these days more than ever, I am reticent to slap such trendy PC catchwords as “misogyny” or derivatives thereof on things, being as such terms have oftentimes been thrown around so irresponsibly and inappropriately as to become virtually meaningless anyway). In summation, on basis of its scuzzy, spuzzy crimeslime elements alone, I’d have to give BLOODY FRIDAY an enthusiastic – if somewhat guilty – Two Thumbs Up. However, in terms of pure entertainment value, it sustains only intermittent interest, typically on basis of its scuzziness alone… which has just got to stand for something, right? That said, the new Blu edition makes it waaaayyy easier on the eye than it’s ever been before, so fans of the (ahem) “art” form should be pleased.

Versions of various runtimes have been released in different markets over the years, including shortened cuts at 97, 95, 93, 91 and 88 minutes duration. No less than three (!) different versions of the film are included in Subkultur Entertainment’s new German Blu-ray/DVD edition, about which we provide you with ample details below.

Although released theatrically – if a few years belatedly – as BLOODY FRIDAY by Sunset International Films and Danton Films in both the U.S. and Canada, respectively, way back in the mid-’70s, Olsen’s film was first released onto domestic home video in 1988 as VIOLENT OFFENDER via Scorpion Action Video’s long-since-discontinued Beta/VHS cassette.  Relatively early in the DVD format’s history, Germany’s Best Entertainment disc edition represented the film’s unimpressive digital debut, which was presented fullscreen and in German only.  However, in 2015, Subkultur initiated a successful restoration campaign via Kickstarter, which resulted in a vastly-improved – and completely remastered – version of BLOODY FRIDAY, which is now available in a jam-packed Blu-ray/DVD combo through them.

Issued as “Nr. 7” in Subkultur’s continuing line of Edition Deutsche Vita releases and as a Limited Collector’s Edition 2-disc Blu-ray – which was briefly made available from Mondo Macabro, its stateside distributors – the highlight of these particular editions is a previously-unseen “Extended Cut” of the film, which runs 101m39s and is touted as being a “world premiere”.  During their meticulous search for the best materials to use, Subkultur inadvertently discovered a longer, unseen version of the film, and thanks to their exhaustive efforts, these extra scenes were then (quote) “seamlessly reintegrated into the movie.”  Numerous extended dialogue scenes take up much of the reinstated footage, including a longer scene at a gas station where Luigi works involving one of his cantankerous customers (director Olsen himself in an extended cameo), who berates immigrants and their (quote) “hots for money, but not for work!” This longer version also restores several instances of violence and gore, which is especially evident during the film’s rape scene, which is nastier than usual (the level of nastiness varies depending on which cut of BF you watch). In this version, images of Heinz and Dagmar are not laid overtop of graphic imagery from a slaughterhouse and explicit lesbian porn footage, but instead unspool as separate sequences to better accentuate Heinz’s ‘brutal nature’ and Dagmar’s Sapphic proclivity; an alternate edit which, ultimately, loses its subliminal/psychological feel, but in some respects, it does come across as that much more shocking.

Scanned in 4K from the original negative, which was in dreadfully poor shape (more on that later), it’s actually a small miracle that the film now looks as good as it does. Yes indeed, Subkultur have truly outdone themselves!  Shown in its proper 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this new 1080p HD master is actually quite astounding to behold considering the sorry state of the original film elements, and although it appears virtually picture-perfect, it also maintains a highly filmic look apt to the celluloid medium.  The DTS-HD MA Mono audio also sounds exceedingly fine indeed, and comprises German, English and French language choices, along with optional English and German subtitles, plus “partial subtitles in English and French” for the extra scenes in the Extended Cut. 

Extras on the first disc are quite extensive, beginning with Sadi Kantürk’s “A Cold Day” (112m42s), a feature-length documentary – that runs substantially longer than the longest cut of the actual film itself! – featuring interviews with just about every last still-living participant who was involved in BF’s production. The doc gets underway with details surrounding the real-life bank robbery on which the scenario was based.  On August 4th, 1971, Dmitri Todorov and Hans Georg Rammelmayr stormed the Deutsche Bank on Prinzregentenstraße in Munich, which, following a lengthy standoff, resulted in the death of one hostage and Rammelmayr.  In the film itself, Heinz even talks about the robbery on Prinzregentenstraße, which adds a degree of verisimilitude to many of the film’s over-the-top scenes, but in Kantürk’s doc, Ursula Erber (who plays Irmgard, a bank employee) expresses her wish that the film had been presented in a more realistic manner, opining that it’s not (quote) “a valuable film concerning human matters” (!).  However, Gianni Macchia states that director Olsen was (quote) “very secure with his themes” and was also “very harsh and direct” as a director.  Macchia also talks about how his initial involvement in the project came through Fernando di Leo’s/Armando Novelli’s production company Daunia 70 (under which Macchia appeared in di Leo’s aforementioned THE ITALIAN CONNECTION the same year), who co-produced it along with Karl Spieh’s prolific German outfit, Lisa Film.

For the record, this incredibly thorough documentary also features further interviews with the film’s unit manager, Otto Retzer; DP Franz X. Lederle; and actors Claudius Casagrande (he played little Niki, the kid who finds the grenade!), Daniela Giordano, Horst Naumann and Gila Von Weitershausen.  The disc also includes two full-length audio commentaries, beginning with film historians Christian Kessler and Pelle Felsch, who go on to discuss all sorts of facts, including Olsen’s career and many of his (quote) “journalistic sensation” films, as well as how German audiences were not accustomed to (quote) “violence on this level.”  They too can’t help but laugh at Harmstorf’s exaggerated (quote) “handful in his leather pants!”  Other topics include everything from Lederle’s constantly moving camerawork to the unpreparedness of the local police force at the time.  It all amounts to a great listen, which gives us an even greater appreciation of the film’s controversial and (quote) “down-and-dirty” nature.  In the second audio commentary, Daniela Giordano and Italian journalist Giacomo di Nicolo talk about how she landed the role through her agency, and how, quite possibly, director Olsen saw her picture from an earlier Franz Antel movie, SEXY SUSAN SINS AGAIN (1968). They also touch on some of the differences between the Italian and German versions, and how Daniela had never even seen the final film until she bought it on Amazon a few years ago! They also go on to discuss many of her roles, including obscurities such  as Natuk Baytan's KARA MURAT SEYH GAFFERA KARSI (1976) and that film's producer Zeljko Kunkera, and, although they discuss many aspects of the production, much of it also serves as a career overview, which comes as a nice surprise. 

Additional disc extras include “The Restoration of BLOODY FRIDAY – Chronology of a Reconstruction” (13m29s), an incredibly in-depth – and most eye-opening indeed – look at the many setbacks and problematic issues the restoration team encountered in their quest, including a look at previous (quote) “home video masters” and the numerous prints they came across, which were (quote) “not suitable for any kind of exploitation”; a then-and-now tour of the film’s many German locations (9m37s); alternate English (“Bloody Friday”), French (“Vendredi sanguinaire”) and textless openings; German, English and French trailers; an impressive gallery of stills, posters and promotional materials (9m48s), and a trailer gallery for other EDV titles, including Roger Fritz’s THE BRUTES (a.k.a. CRY RAPE, 1970) and Christian Anders’ ROOTS OF EVIL (1979).


On the second “Limited Edition Exclusive Blu-ray”, the original theatrical version (96m42s) and the Italian version (90m24s) are included.  Although still quite shocking, the German version is noticeably shorter, a shortening which can be detected by a few noticeable jumps in the audio, while the notorious rape scene has all the shocking imagery jumbled together and superimposed over each other, resulting in a rather surreal effect.  The Italian version entitled VIOLENZA CONTRO LA VIOLENZA shortens numerous scenes of dialogue and bits of violence, but also contains an entirely different take on the rape scene.  In an obvious nod to Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS (1971), like Susan George in that film, Dagmar also begins to ‘enjoy’ her torment in this alternately – and far-less-successfully-executed – scene.  Like the “Extended Cut”, the German theatrical version is also derived from the same 4K master. It looks terrific, and contains the same DTS-HD MA mono audio in German, English and French languages, with optional German and English subtitles.  Hard-matted to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (as per the original Italian presentation of the film), the Italian cut also looks excellent – outside of that alternate, inserted rape scene – which was ‘reconstructed’ using the newly-remastered print, using the film’s (quote) “old telecine as a guideline”.  As in the previous versions, the DTS-HD MA Mono audio is once again available in German, English and French, but also includes an Italian language option, which can be viewed with either German or English subtitles.  The final extra is a brief ‘fragment’ of the original non-remastered Italian version (3m15s), which is in truly awful shape, and really makes one appreciate that much more just how much work and TLC went into the pristine restoration of this grottily unforgettable example of Euro trash cinema.

Monday, July 10, 2017

THE UNHOLY - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Released during the tail-end of the ’80s horror boom amid a glut of horror sequels, THE UNHOLY (1988) tried to accomplish something a little different, but in spite of the solid turns from the impressive cast, this sincere attempt at a thought-provoking religious-themed occult horror film eventually falls a little flat; but those wishing to reassess one of Vestron Pictures’ more successful releases of the time will be more than happy with Lionsgate’s latest Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray.

Archbishop Mosely (Hal Holbrook) and Father Silva (Trevor Howard), an elderly priest who specializes in demonology, are secretly agonizing over a series of murders which occurred at the St. Agnes Parish in New Orleans.  Believing this to be the work of some malefic supernatural entity, they grant this cursed Parish to Father Michael (Ben Cross), whom they believe to be (quote) “chosen” after he miraculously survives a fall from a high-rise building completely unscathed.


Unfolding like some colourful late-entry noir, Camilo Vila’s THE UNHOLY accents dialogue over horror for much of its running time, and features some spirited performances from a number of old-school veterans, also including Ned Beatty as a determined detective (“I don’t like unsolved cases.”).  Both Holbrook and Howard do what they can with the formulaic dialogue they’re given, delivering it with their customary professionalism, as expected.  Prolific TV actor William Russ also adds significantly to the roster of talented cast members (he also appeared in Gary Sherman’s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE [1987] the year before), playing the owner of The Threshold, a nightclub where he stages hokey Satanic rituals for people’s entertainment and edification, but whose admitted (quote) “gimmick is turnin’ into a nightmare”; this when, as similarly happens to Father Michael, he also begins experiencing some vividly horrific visions.  Skillfully shot by DP Henry Vargas using lots of coloured lighting and shadowy textures, the film looks great, and it musters-up plenty of atmosphere, emphasizing the much-touted “mystery” element.  However, this aspect is squandered away when, during the film’s exciting opening, it’s clearly revealed who is killing these priests: namely, a beautiful – and frequently nude – redheaded succubus (Nicole Fortier), who continually tempts Father Michael with the pleasures of the flesh up until the somewhat out-of-place special effects-laden finale.

As revealed in the disc’s audio commentary with director Vila, THE UNHOLY was never intended to be a full-blown horror film, but rather a (quote) “whodunit” instead.  The film was eventually recut in hopes of upping its commercial appeal, which also included a complete – and exceedingly unnecessary! – reshoot of its original ending without director Vila that added some (quote) “demonic oompa-loompas”, plus extra gore and nudity.  Although far from horrible, the F/X laden finale with its rubbery monsters and gratuitous gore is more akin to an Empire Pictures film, and it all simply feels out-of-place amidst the rest of Vila’s more smoothly/stylishly-done material.

As with all of these Vestron Video Collector’s Series entries, the 1080p HD transfer is superb, and this increased quality/clarity at last allows the glossy ’80s-style photography to reveal more of its subtler details.  The DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Audio also sounds excellent, without any discernible issues.  Overall, the disc looks and sounds pretty great.  The extensive extras begin with an informative audio commentary with director Camilo Vila that is moderated by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson who keeps things moving along nicely.  The Cuban-born director has plenty to say about his potential (quote) “ticket to Hollywood” and how his original story was planned to unfold during Lent, an idea which was quickly dropped.  He also has nothing but praise for his cast (“It’s like having a Rolls Royce with a driver.”) and casting director Carol L. Dudley.  In spite of some of the film’s similarities to Michael Winner’s shocker THE SENTINEL (1977) – of which Vila is also a big fan – he admits he never had a good ending, but the new finale (quote) “horrifies me and is the same concept but badly done.”  As an added bonus, the disc also includes an audio interview with composer Roger Bellon (41m21s - conducted by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher), who was brought in at the last minute to re-score the picture.  They discuss his time in France as a youngster; his time at Berkeley; and making sure (quote) “everything was moving in the right direction” when he improvised the entire score in just 10 days! A second audio interview with production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca (16m09s) is also included.  As promised on the packaging, Bellon’s score is also included as an isolated audio track, but the disc also includes Fonseca’s unused score as well!

In association with Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures, the disc includes three separate featurettes, which begins with “Sins of the Father” (19m09s). In it, English actor Ben Cross talks about how work brought him to the United States, and that he had (quote) “no ambitions for Hollywood.”  He too talks about his (quote) “utmost respect for his fellow cast members”, as well as the infamous nightmare sequence involving snakes, which he describes as (quote) “very uncomfortable.”  In “Prayer Offerings” (18m35s), production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca talks about his extensive contributions to the film and how he became attached to the project via its producer, Matthew Hayden.  Fonseca freely admits that he wore (quote) “too many hats” on the production, and actually becomes quite emotional when discussing Trevor Howard.  In the last Red Shirt Pictures produced extra, “Demons in the Flesh – The Monsters of the Unholy” (22m26s), Jerry Macaluso discusses his initial involvement in the production, his influences – including legendary F/X artist Dick Smith – and his many mistakes during the production… but then again, he was just a teenager at the time, after all!  Also interviewed is Steve Hardie and Neil Gorton, who were part of Bob Keen’s (an F/X guru best-known for Clive barker’s HELLRAISER [1987]) crew for the extensive reshoots. 

Thankfully, the disc also includes the original – and less F/X-heavy – ending (15m02s), which showcases much of Macaluso’s work and is more in touch with the tone of the rest of the film.  Rounding-out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer (1m17s), a pair of TV spots (2m15s), one of which includes audience reactions; a couple of radio spots (2m25s); an original storyboard gallery (18m40s); and an extensive still gallery (11m51s), which highlights numerous behind-the scenes photos and promotional material.


For all of the film’s initial hyperbole (“What in hell has taken over this place!”), THE UNHOLY doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but Lionsgate’s newest Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray certainly delivers the ecclesiastical extravagance.  Order it at DiabolikDVD.