Wednesday, May 23, 2018

SHOCKING DARK - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Watching Bruno Mattei’s SHOCKING DARK (1989) now, it becomes quite obvious it’s one of those endearingly inept ‘bad films’ that hasn’t garnered nearly the same fanfare as say, something along the lines of Claudio Fragasso’s TROLL 2 ([1990] Fragasso also penned the script for SD), which is most likely attributable to the film’s general unavailability for years outside the grey market. Well now, thanks to Severin Films, SHOCKING DARK is making its worldwide Blu-ray and DVD debut in a brand-new, eye-popping transfer and, in spite of its many hackneyed attributes, it remains a must-see for trash-film fans, especially of the Euro variety. 

After an opening showing typical travelogue footage of Venice, Italy, we learn that the city’s water has – as is told through some laidback and nonsensical narration – become (quote) “putrid” and created a “giant toxic cloud”(?!?), which has engulfed this once-prosperous, history-steeped tourist destination. In the ‘future’ year of 2000, Venice is declared a (quote) “dead city”, and many of its last inhabitants are evacuated, but beneath the city’s labyrinthine network of tunnels, a research facility has been set up by the Tubular Corporation in order to try and purify the waters. However, something has slaughtered most of the researchers, so a crack team of marines – who are hilariously referred to as the Megaforce ([!] shades of the kitschy Hal Needham sci-fi actioner of the same name from 1982) – along with scientist Sara Drumball (Haven Tyler) and Samuel Fuller (?!? [Cristopher Ahrens]), an ex-marine now representing the Tubular Corporation, are sent in to try and rescue them.

Bravely released in some territories as TERMINATOR 2, this utterly shameless rip-off of James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR (1984) and ALIENS (1986), is so upfront with its plagiarism that, even for an opportunistic director such as Bruno Mattei, it is utterly mind-boggling, even more-so than his earlier – and equally shameless – PREDATOR (1987) rip-off, ROBOWAR (1988). The general set-up, entire sequences and even characters from ALIENS are copied almost verbatim with some of the most wooden, stilted actors ever seen in any Italian exploitation film. While most Italian films were usually dubbed into English by a talented – and familiar – group of voice artists, SHOCKING DARK is actually shot with sync sound, flubbed lines and all, which lends the film an even cheaper quality than usual. ’80s Italian trash-film regular Geretta Geretta (who also starred in Mattei’s RATS: NIGHTS OF TERROR [1984] as ‘Chocolate’) has the most fun here as a fast-talking, bigoted marine named Koster. Her character is a distaff blend of ALIENS’ Hudson and Apone (as played by Bill Paxton and Al Matthews, respectively), and she gets to mouth some of the film’s best lines (“Alright, ya bunch of pussies! I’m back and I’m kickin’ ass!” or “What you greaseballs eat to make yer shit smell like that?!”), while Fausto Lombardi (Geretta’s co-star in RATS) is Franzini, the sole Italian grunt, who is also the recipient of many off-colour remarks (e.g., “Wopface!”) courtesy of Koster. 

Shot in and around Italy’s oldest and – still-functioning - power plant, Mattei gets the most out of this terrific location, which tries to emulate the harsh, industrial look of ALIENS on a 100thof that film’s total budget, and actually does so quite admirably. Although, Francesco and Gaetano Paolucci’s creature effects leave a lot to be desired and are a far cry from H.R. Giger’s original designs, but at least Mattei had the foresight to keep their screen time relatively limited or obscured with smoke and plentiful shotgun blasts. Anyone even remotely familiar with James Cameron’s highly influential film has already seen most of SHOCKING DARK, but in a bizarre, unexpected twist, scriptwriters Fragasso and Rossella Drudi (Fragasso’s wife, who goes uncredited for her efforts here) decided to incorporate that other Cameron film in a completely ‘out-there’ last act that just about redeems many of the film’s faults. As awful as it is, it really is an unforgettable experience!

Never released on U.S. or Canadian Beta/VHS videocassette, SHOCKING DARK first flabbergasted many viewers via Caution’s Japanese VHS tape, which was retitled ALIENNATORS and housed a nice, letterboxed print in English with customary Japanese subtitles. Scanned in 2K from (quote) “the director’s cut negative”, Severin’s new Blu-ray looks terrific in spite of the film’s low-budget nature, which also retains the more spacious and better-balanced 1.85:1 framing as opposed to the Japanese VHS, which had a 1.66:1 aspect ratio; and while Severin’s new transfer is not perfect, marred by some occasional dirt and debris, it looks pretty spectacular just the same, especially during many of the film’s more darkly-lit scenes, which were a tad problematic on the old Japanese tape, especially with all those rather troublesome diffusion effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English track also sounds fine, but be aware at 29m20s, as the sound here is poorly-recorded and gets pretty faint for a few seconds. Unbelievably, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks in Italian, German, Spanish and Chinese are also included, as are closed captions for the hard of hearing.

Once again Severin have included a number of unique extras, beginning with Terminator in Venice (13m14s), another on-camera interview with Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi where they discuss the foreign markets and their hunger for product, plus how they were (quote) “commissioned” to write SD. They also go on to discuss the film’s original concept about (quote) “alien spaceships landing in the Venice lagoon”; the hilarious CHiPs-styled wardrobe of the marines; and the (quote) “shameless” producers. In Once Upon a Time in Italy (12m44s), Geretta Geretta talks about her time working with and landing a part in Susan Sidelman’s SMITHEREENS (1982) and her eventual migration to Italy in the early ’80s for modelling assignments, which led to an extended acting career working with such admired directors as Lamberto Bava, Bruno Mattei, and even Lucio Fulci, whom she was initially warned to be cautious with (“Don’t talk back, mind your manners and do what you’re told!”), but goes on to say what a pleasure he was to work with. Other extras include the alternate Italian TERMINATOR 2 opening credits and the Japanese video trailer, titled ALIENNATORS (“A ferocious, indestructible, ruthless Terminator!”).

Undeterred by his lack of budget or anything resembling an iota of originality, Bruno Mattei has, in spite of everything, still managed to produce one of his most audacious and irresistible copycat films yet, which you’ll want to revisit, perhaps even more than twice! And if you’re feeling particularly courageous, why not set-up a double bill with Mattei’s ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING (2007 – also available from Severin’s subsidiary, Intervision), which pilfers the ALIENS storyline yet again! Severin Films are currently offering “The Zombie Dark Super Deluxe Bundle”, “The Zombie Dark Deluxe Bundle”, “The Zombie Dark Blu-ray Bundle”, the Blu-ray (including one with a very limited and controversial slipcover) and DVD for pre-order. It’s also available for pre-order from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Friday, May 18, 2018

ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Following the troubled, Philippines-based production of Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE 3 (a.k.a. ZOMBI 3, 1988), on which co-directors Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso were hired to finish after Fulci was unable to deliver a complete film, Fragasso was given an opportunity to direct AFTER DEATH (1989), yet another zombie epic – and again shot in the Philippines – for producer Franco Gaudenzi. Written by his wife and frequent collaborator Rossella Drudi, the film takes its cue from Fulci’s vastly-superior ZOMBIE (a.k.a. ZOMBI 2, 1979) by incorporating mysterious islands and voodoo rites into its frenetic, often mindless blend of gore and low-rent action. Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut, this zany barrage of genres is given first-class treatment courtesy of Severin’s extras-laden new disc.

While conducting research at the forefront of a revolutionary cure for cancer, a group of scientists on a remote Asian island anger the local voodoo priest when his daughter dies after having been treated with their so-called cancer vaccine. In retaliation, the priest opens one of the doors to Hell (“You wanted to defy Hell, and now Hell has accepted the challenge!”), and his daughter, who is now a drooling zombie/demon, slaughters these well-meaning – if heavily-armed! – scientists, while the island is destined to become (quote) “The Island of the Living Dead”. Years later, a rather eccentric group of (what appear to be) tourists and mercenaries (!), are mysteriously drawn to the cursed island when the engine on their boat begins to act-up. But unbeknownst to them, Jenny (Candice Daly) is one of the lone survivors from the massacre all those years ago. Meanwhile, a small group of researchers led by David (Alex McBride) and his two students Chuck (Chuck Peyton / a.k.a. Jeff Stryker) and Valerie also get caught up in the island’s (quote) “strange plague”; at one stage in a candy-coloured, candle-lit cave, they even read some incantations from ‘The Book of the Dead’ (the cover actually reads ‘The Book of Death’), which – natch! – brings forth even more zombies to join those that are already free-ranging all over the isle.

Hilariously, endearingly inept, AFTER DEATH has very little in the way of plot or character development (why complicate matters?!). Following its lengthy prologue – which, incidentally, was shot back home in Rome on the set of Michele Soavi’s flashy occult shocker THE CHURCH (1988) – these (quote) “soldiers of fortune” and hangers-on are simply plopped onto the island by some unexplainable force, and thereafter begin battling cloth-covered zombies. They eventually make it to the island’s dilapidated hospital where, amidst a barrage of machine gun fire, they fend-off the (small) horde of oncoming walking corpses (“Shoot the motherfuckers!”), some of which just shamble aimlessly about, while others run, talk and even use weapons. Pilfering elements from a number of other films which are too numerous to mention, AFTER DEATH is perhaps closest in spirit to Andrea Bianchi’s consummately trashy BURIAL GROUND (a.k.a. THE NIGHTS OF TERROR, 1980), mixed-together with one of Flora Film’s ubiquitous ’80s action films, most of which, as with the present one, were also shot in the Philippines. 

Never released on U.S. or Canadian Beta/VHS videocassette, AFTER DEATH was mostly seen via SPO’s Japanese tape, which was uncut and in English (with Japanese subtitles, of course) but was presented full-screen, an unusual anomaly for Japanese tapes back then (most of whose transfer prints were presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio, which was always a nice bonus). The film received its official North American debut via Shriek Show’s 2002 DVD, which was properly shown in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and, just like Severin’s new Blu-ray, also retitled ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH on its packaging. The disc featured a nice, colourful transfer of the slightly shorter “Uncut Original Version” as opposed to the “Export Version” included on both the Japanese tape and Severin’s new disc. This latter version doesn’t include any extra gore, but it does have a few extended scenes, including Jenny’s backstory and the island’s history (click here to see the differences). Extras on that earlier disc featured a solid interview with Claudio Fragasso, and a very short one with Candice Daly; plus another lengthier one with Jeff Stryker. The disc also featured a trailer for AD, as well as trailers for some other Shriek Show product.

Following a proposed-but-aborted Blu-ray edition from the same company a few years back, Severin have now debuted the film on Blu and, as with their other Italian releases, it’s another fine-looking disc indeed. The misty, fog-enshrouded settings and colourful action scenes look great here, and while it’s maybe not quite on a par with Severin’s ZOMBIE 3 Blu, it still looks miles better than any releases which came before it. Mostly shot at night (more on that later), Luigi Ciccarese’s photography benefits greatly from the added clarity of the crisp new 2K transfer, which exhibits nice, deep blacks and rich, stable colours. The sound likewise registers mighty fine, with the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track clear enough for us to be able to better appreciate (!) the wonky dubbing of the entire cast, as well as Al Festa’s driving, highly-’80sesque synth score, further highlighting the unforgettable title track “Living After Death”, which Severin have (for the first 3000 units) also included on a bonus CD featuring the film’s entire soundtrack (18 tracks, totalling 52m19s). What more do ya want when it ain’t even Christmas?!

In Run Zombie Run (31m50s), what is basically Part 3 of their ongoing interview with Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi from their earlier Blu’s of VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1982) and ZOMBIE 3 (1988), the always-chatty couple discuss the origins of the project, and how it represented Fragasso’s (quote) “personal revenge” on zombie movies; the discussion also covers the challenging shooting conditions of the film, as well as how it was shot concurrently with Bruno Mattei’s ‘straight’ actioner STRIKE COMMANDO 2 (1988) utilizing the same cameras, which resulted in Fragasso shooting all his scenes at night, while Mattei got to use the cameras during the daytime! Both Fragasso and Drudi go on to praise George A. Romero as the (quote) “maestro” and get into the social significance of zombie films, also discussing the current (sorry) state of the Italian film industry, and how directors of genre films are labeled as (quote) “Z-grade” in Italy. It’s another great, informative interview, which once again features their kitty-cat trying to hog even more screen-time! In Jeff Stryker in Manila (9m32s), the once-popular gay porn icon talks about his start in the business, how he was touted as the (quote) “cat’s meow” and how he landed roles in a couple of Italian films (the other one being Joe D’Amato’s DIRTY LOVE [a.k.a. 11 DAYS, 11 NIGHTS PART 3, 1988]), this due to German character actor Werner Pochath, who was a fan of his work. As for AFTER DEATH, he talks about the (quote) “handwritten” script, which resulted in a lot of improvisation, and how he would (quote) “play it by ear” as they went along. In Blonde vs Zombies (2m18s), a reedited interview from Shriek Show’s DVD, Candice Daly talks briefly talks about her experiences on the film. Also included is some behind-the-scenes footage (3m43s) of Fragasso and art director Bartolomeo Scavia shooting the film’s prologue, plus AD’s trailer, which finishes-off the extras. 

While inherently silly, Fragasso’s film is nevertheless a gory, fast-paced zombie-action film, which strips away much of the fat – not to mention any intelligence – in its rudimentary storyline, but ably succeeds at mustering-up enough energy for an undemanding night’s entertainment. Severin Films are currently offering The Zombie Dark Super Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Blu-ray Bundle, the Blu-ray and the DVD for pre-order. It’s also available for pre-order from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Friday, May 11, 2018

ZOMBIE 3 - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Anticipation ran high when it was announced, sometime in 1987, that Franco Gaudenzi’s production company Flora Film were moving ahead with ZOMBI 3 (1988), a sequel to Lucio Fulci’s extremely successful and unparalleled gore epic ZOMBIE (a.k.a. Zombi 2, 1979), which also had the good fortune to have Fulci signed-on as its director. Following a troubled production in the Philippines, the film premiered at the 1988 Rome Fantafestival, and whatever excitement was generated leading up to its premiere almost unanimously turned into derision as this vastly inferior sequel unreeled.  It was eventually revealed that Fulci, due to illness, actually didn’t finish the film himself, so it was taken over in midstream by directors Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso, who had also helmed HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (a.k.a. THE NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, 1980), a cheap but spirited rip-off of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). It’s difficult to ignore just how silly the present film is, but, to its credit, it moves quickly and never fails to entertain (sometimes for the wrong reasons!). At the very least, though, Severin Films’ newest Blu-ray is downright flawless, and it’s the best that ZOMBI 3 has ever looked on home video.

Somewhere in Asia – represented by the Filipino locations – a pair of scientists led by Dr. Holder are experimenting with “Death One”, a nasty “bacteriological weapon” which not only brings the dead back to life but mutates them into infectious ghouls in the process.  Deemed (quote) “very dangerous”, this mysterious toxin is destined to be destroyed, but during a routine exchange, it falls into the wrong hands (“They have to stop him, or it will mean the end of everything!” exclaims Dr. Holder). In the ensuing chaos, the canister is accidentally broken, which causes one of the thieves to become infected. Of course, he goes on to infect a bunch of other people at a resort hotel, but not before first cutting-off his own hand in futile hope of stemming the infection’s spread.  General Morton (Mike Monty) orders his men – who, incidentally, are all dressed in white HazMat suits similar to the ones seen in George A. Romero’s The CRAZIES (1973), from which this film borrows quite liberally – to (quote) “evacuate the premises, eliminate everyone and bury them in a mass grave”, but taking a cue from Dan O’Bannon’s THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), General Morton then orders the body of the primary infected incinerated in order to take (quote) “maximum precautions”. However, as in O’Bannon’s film, the rising ashes become assimilated into the air, which results in just about everybody getting infected… including even a flock of birds.  Meanwhile, three soldiers on a weekend pass (“I don’t remember her name, but I sure remember her tits!”), which include Kenny (Deran Sarafian, son of VANISHING POINT [1971] director Richard C. Sarafian), Roger (Richard Raymond) and Bo (Alex McBride) are soon embroiled in the escalating zombie apocalypse and, along with Patricia (Beatrice Ring) and a camper full of vacationers, they hole-up at the desolate Sweet River Hotel, where they are besieged by the walking dead…

Although there are a number of entertaining moments, including a flying zombie head and some admittedly atmospheric zombie attack scenes, apathetic, slovenly scripting and piecemeal filmmaking are easily this film’s biggest downfalls. In a complete lapse of logic, apparently this virus is (quote) “extremely sensitive to oxygen and dissolves less than thirty seconds after diffusion”, but when General Morton orders the body to be burned the ashes contaminate everything around it... including a passing flock of birds! Later on, in a hilarious Edward D. Wood, Jr.-style throwaway line, Dr. Holder – who, by the way, is played by one of the worst actors to ever grace a Fulci film! – explains that “…the heat must have mutated the virus and made it resistant to oxygen.” In yet another illogical moment, when our trio of soldiers arrive at the hotel, they conveniently ‘just happen’ to come across a crate full of automatic weapons, a fortuitous score which does admittedly help propel the action forward, but this ‘unexpected’ development amounts to simply another case of lazy writing. In a friendly nod to the aforementioned VANISHING POINT (in particular Cleavon Little’s “Super Soul” character), DJ Blueheart periodically drops into the film with his social commentary, but as one character so ‘mildly’ puts it, he merely spews more (quote) “ecological bullshit” over the airwaves. And, as in many Italo-horror pics of the period, the film resorts to some to rather excruciating ’80s-style pop songs (that threaten to infect your psyche like a zombie virus!), which Blueheart spins liberally throughout the bare-bones narrative.

Although never released on either U.S. or Canadian VHS (although it was rumoured at one point that Prism Video was going to issue it), ZOMBI 3 was seen by most via Tokuma’s Japanese VHS videocassette, which for the time, was a nice letterboxed transfer of the uncut print, with English dialogue to boot. In spite of all the film’s obvious issues, ZOMBI 3 has remained in circulation throughout most of the DVD era, beginning with Shriek Show’s 2002 DVD, which was a problematic composite utilizing a cut Italian print with spliced-in gore scenes from a very dupey-looking version. Extras thereon included interviews with ‘substitute’ director Bruno Mattei wherein he discusses the film’s (quote) “poor pre-production” and how (quote) “a little bit of me and a little of Lucio” are in the film. In the next interview, actors / stuntmen Massimo Vanni (a.k.a. “Alex McBride”) and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (a.k.a. “Richard Raymond”) discussed how they contributed to most of the action scenes and also their (at that time) ongoing collaborations with Mattei; in the last interview, Marina Loi discusses her brief involvement in the film and the difficult working conditions. In 2003, Shriek Show rereleased the film with added extras, including a lively audio commentary with actors Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring, where they clearly acknowledge the film’s many deficiencies, its troubled production and how physically taxing it was working in the Philippines. At one point, Sarafian points out how some of the film’s locations would be great for playing paintball in! He also, much to Ring’s amusement, begins paraphrasing some of the film’s more inane dialogue in a MST3K-type manner, which, to be honest, is quite amusing. In a bonus interview, make-up effects man, Franco Di Girolamo discusses the rushed conditions on the set and also demonstrates the ‘flying zombie head’ in his makeup studio. 

In 2015, its first Blu-ray incarnation arrived courtesy of 88 Films, and this was a vast improvement compared to previous releases, which made Riccardo Grasetti’s economical, hazy photography a great deal easier on the eyes, and for once, it didn’t just look like a smeary mess! Some of the extras with it included an interview with Claudio Fragasso (17m21s), who freely admits to not having very good luck with zombie movies, and that he and Mattei had essentially tried to remake their earlier HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, but were at the same time being respectful of signorFulci. In Veteran of the Living Dead (8m10s), Ottaviano Dell’Acqua talks about his experiences working in the Philippines and his now-iconic ‘worm-face’ zombie makeup from Fulci’s ZOMBIE, which graced just about every piece of promotional material worldwide. Other extras included Zombi Reflections (16m26s), a nicely-illustrated audio interview with Beatrice Ring and a live Q&A session with Catriona MacColl (29m30s) at the Spaghetti Cinema Festival in Luton, U.K.; the action-oriented trailer, plus the film’s Italian opening and closing credits rounded-out the extras.  

In 2018, those Italian-loving madmen at Severin have, if that’s even possible, bettered 88 Films’ Blu-ray with their bright, colourful and absolutely pristine transfer of this schlocky, clunky if lovable mess. Retitled ZOMBIE 3 on the disc’s packaging, Severin’s disc is, for the most part, exceedingly sharp indeed, with every squishy, colourfully gory effect getting the most out of the new 2K scan; the jungle foliage also looks especially lush, and even that problematic, colourful opening with all those heavy reds and greens finally looks spot-on as well. Severin's disc is also shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which displays slightly more information on the sides of the frame compared to 88 Films' 1.66:1 transfer. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English audio also doesn’t present any issues whatsoever. It’s entirely free of distortion and really shows-off Stefano Mainetti’s energetic score, which, in the disc’s first pressing of 3000 units, is included as a bonus soundtrack CD (15 tracks, totalling 43m21s).

Newly-shot for this release, The Last Zombies (18m49s), is an on-camera interview with Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi, who discuss the film at length, beginning with their first zombie film, Bruno Mattei’s aforementioned HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, and they remain (quote) “pissed-off” about the project to this day due to the fact that their initial script had to be changed because of a lack of budget. They go on to discuss their (quote) “apocalyptic” approach to the film and all the problems associated with the production, including Fulci’s poor health and how he gave Fragasso his (quote) “blessing” to re-work the film. It’s another great interview and, once again, like the interview segment from Severin’s VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1982) disc, watch for their pesky kitty-cat trying to hog some additional screen time here! The other new extras are The Problem Solver (8m30s) with Mattei; Tough Guys (4m55s), with Vanni and Dell’Acqua; Swimming with Zombies (4m30s), with Marina Loi; and In the Zombie Factory (5m56s), with Franco Di Girolamo, which all are reedited, newly-subtitled versions of the interviews which had first appeared back on the aforementioned Shriek Show disc. The audio commentary from that same edition is also re-included, as is the film’s trailer, which is in considerably poorer shape than the feature itself, making one appreciate just how good Severin’s disc truly looks.

Housed in a badass black amaray keepcase highlighting Enzo Sciotti’s now-familiar artwork, Severin’s truly outstanding Blu-ray of this troubled film finally looks picture perfect, and may very well garner some new fans of this admittedly flawed if cheekily entertaining film. Severin Films are currently offering The Zombie Dark Super Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Blu-ray Bundle, the Blu-ray and DVD for pre-order. It’s also available for pre-order from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Best-known for his numerous globetrotting Emanuelle films and a few notoriously gory horror outings, including BEYOND THE DARKNESS (a.k.a. BURIED ALIVE, 1979), Joe D’Amato was a prominent – and much-sought-after – cinematographer in the late ’60s and early ’70s before he embarked on his first ‘official’ directorial assignment, 1973’s DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER. It remains the only film he ever signed under his real name Aristide Massaccesi, and it’s a superbly realized horror gem, which not only incorporated hints of gialli, but some then-controversial sex and gore as well, which eventually became the raison d’être of D’Amato’s entire directorial career. Long relegated to inferior bootlegs and low-grade releases, Arrow Video’s eye-popping new Blu-ray will amaze most fans of this film, and hopefully generate a new appreciation for one of Massaccesi’s most neglected treasures from his vast filmography.

Bewildering, yet fascinatingly so, Massaccesi’s debut feature unfolds with a succession of loosely-connected scenes, which do, in their own unique way, come together in the end, fashioning this latter-day Gothic into one of the more memorable of the period. Attempting to properly put together a plot synopsis would be futile and ruin much of the film’s novelty, but the general outline revolves around Greta (Ewa Aulin), a mysterious woman who enters the lives of Walter (Sergio Doria) and Eva (Angela Bo) Ravensbrück after her carriage overturns near the castle grounds. Because she is suffering from what appears to be amnesia (“The poor girl’s mind is completely confused!”), Dr. Sturges (Klaus Kinski) is summoned and is baffled by some of his discoveries, which prompts him to return to his laboratory and begin work on a possible reanimating agent (“You’re going to live again!”). Meanwhile, a love triangle between Greta, Eva and Walter develops which unleashes the usual jealousies and, in a moment inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat (1843), the attempted murder of this mysterious guest. However, Greta has far more in store for both Eva and Walter, as well as Sergio’s father (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) too, all of which is somehow connected to her obsessive – and incestuous – brother Franz (played by Luciano Rossi, an actor who was pretty much exclusively consigned to playing unstable lowlifes for his entire career, often to memorable effect, especially in his westerns and crime films).

Beautifully aided by Berto Pisano’s remarkably lush and melancholic score, DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER is a stylishly compelling film, which features only a minimal amount of dialogue, with most of the cast instead constantly casting suspicious glances at one another as Inspector Dannick (Attilio Dottesio) tries to get to the bottom of everything. Everyone’s behavior is tinged with an air of mystery and we are treated to a number of mysterious events, including the film’s unique opening moments with Franz kneeling over the corpse of his sister (“Dear sweet sister…They killed you!”), as well as a haunting stalking sequence in a desolate cemetery, and also one of the more bizarre screen deaths involving a possessed pussycat ever seen.

Never released on U.S. or Canadian videocassette, DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (or as it is referred to on English language export prints, DEATH SMILES AT MURDER) was available in Greece on the Key Video label, and although that version was uncut, it seriously cropped Massaccesi’s ingenious camerawork, much to its detriment. The film was also available in Japan on the once highly-collectible Sony Video Software label in an edition which was also uncut, in addition to being handsomely letterboxed as well; like Key’s Greek release, the superior Japanese videotape version also came with English-dubbed dialogue and native subtitles. In the early 2000’s, Dutch DVD label Italian Shock gave the film its first DVD release, which was okay for the time, but it was non-anamorphic and featured an only mediocre transfer at best. In 2008, Legend House released the film on U.S. DVD paired-up with Harald Reinl’s THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (a.k.a. CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD, 1967), and, like the Italian Shock DVD, it too was non-anamorphic, but did feature a commentary track with American Cinematheque programmer Chris D. 

In 2018, the wonderfully diverse Arrow Video decided to tackle this once-rarely-seen film, and the results are nothing short of spectacular! The original camera negative was scanned in 2K, and while the film itself is beautifully crisp and clean, it also preserves a normal amount of grain. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 tracks in both English and Italian are also greatly improved-upon from previous versions, which were hissy and/or poorly recorded. Arrow have also included properly-translated English subtitles for the Italian audio, which differ slightly from previous versions, which adds a classier veneer to the film, while the more-familiar English audio features the oft-heard voice talents of Carolyn De Fonseca, Richard McNamara and others. 

As usual, Arrow have once again included plentiful extras, beginning with an audio commentary by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas whereon he discusses the film’s production history, plus many of the film’s principal actors and parts of their respective filmographies. He also talks about much of Massaccesi’s (quote) “modernistic” camerawork; Pisano’s (quote) “fluid and organic” score, which helps immeasurably to (quote) “carry the narrative”; many of the film’s (quote) “deliberately disorienting surprises”, and its rather ironic ending. It’s a solid listen, which will undoubtedly give most readers a better appreciation of Massaccesi’s distinct approach to this film. The most significant extra is All About Ewa (42m55s), in which the actress, in her first on-camera interview, talks about her entire career and her experiences working with directors Alberto Lattuada and Tinto Brass, latter of whom she describes as (quote) “one-in-a-million” and as someone who loved (quote) “life and sex”; her work on Giulio Questi’s DEATH LAID AN EGG (a.k.a. PLUCKED, 1967), Christian Marquand’s CANDY (1968), on which she was (quote) “showered with stars”, John Shadow’s MICROSCOPIC LIQUID SUBWAY TO OBLIVION (1970), Romolo Guerrieri’s highly-underrated THE DOUBLE (1971), and the present film. In Smiling on the Taboo (21m34s), a video essay filled with numerous stills and clips from Aristide Massaccesi’s films, Kat Ellinger discusses the filmmaker’s taboo-breaking career at some length with great affection and detail. A generous stills and collection gallery (7m20s) and the film’s English and Italian (subtitled in English) trailers are also included. For the disc’s first pressing, a well-illustrated, 43-page booklet includes a thorough essay by Stephen Thrower about how this film fits into his extensive filmography; a terrific piece by Roberto Curti detailing its production; and a previously unpublished interview with its writer / assistant director Romano Scandariato courtesy of Nocturno’s Manlio Gomarasca. This handsomely-packaged disc also features a reversible sleeve with new artwork by Gilles Vranckx along with the film’s lurid original Italian due-fogli manifesto art by the great “Symeoni”/Sandro Simeoni featuring a bloodied Luciano Rossi being clawed in the face by the killer kitty.

Languorously-paced, yet highly compelling, thanks to Arrow Video’s gorgeous new Blu-ray, Aristide Massaccesi’s DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER can now be properly regarded as one of the last great Italian Gothics. Order it from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video

Friday, May 4, 2018

VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Yet another of Bruno Mattei’s infamous back-to-back productions, VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1982) was, like his earlier nunsploitation twofer, THE OTHER HELL and THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (both 1980), helmed jointly alongside WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE (a.k.a. BLADE VIOLENT, 1983), another ‘Emanuelle in Prison’ movie starring Laura Gemser, which was actually directed by his frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso but attributed to Mattei.  Along with their recent slate of Italian trash films on Blu-ray, Severin have seen fit to give this unapologetically sleazy WIP film a very nice HD upgrade, which should please fans of both Mattei’s and Gemser’s outrageous filmic oeuvres. 

VIAWP follows the standard WIP template to a tee without ever straying outside the lines. Sent to prison for an unspecified stretch for drugs and prostitution, Laura Kendall (Laura Gemser) is soon witness to the usual acts of humiliation, subjugation, beatings and other such ‘niceties’ common to the women-in-prison genre; which are, more often than not, instigated by the head prison guard Rescaut (Franca Stoppi from BEYOND THE DARKNESS [1979]) and the quietly authoritarian warden, Delores (Lorraine De Selle). At first, Laura merely calmly observes the brutality on display from the sidelines, but she herself eventually becomes drawn into and embroiled in the prison milieu too, and in one of the film’s more memorably disgusting scenes, she dumps a bucket of excrement over a prison guard’s head (“I gave you an order! Obey it!”), resulting in a truly one-of-a-kind, shit-strewn scuffle on the prison floor. Thrown into solitary confinement, she is soon hungrily chewed upon by nasty red-eyed rats – possibly relatives of those later seen in Mattei/Fragasso’s notorious post-apocalyptic sci-fi schlocker RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR (1984)?! – during a scene where Gemser appears to be squirming in all-too-genuine discomfort, which only adds extra exploitation verisimilitude to an already sleazy, downbeat scenario. The requisite sympathetic doctor (Gemser’s real-life husband, Gabriele Tinti), himself also an inmate at the men’s prison located – handily – right next door (!?), naturally comes to Laura’s rescue, but, sure enough, one of the prison snitches (Italian porn starlet Françoise Perrot) soon discovers Laura’s covert true identity and motivations, which as a result, sees still more indignities being heaped upon her…

While ostensibly an unofficial Emanuelle entry, Mattei’s film is far removed from Joe D’Amato’s rather playful, globetrotting skinflicks starring the same character (which, in the inimitable Italian exploitation cinema way, were themselves unofficial cash-ins on the legit Emmanuelle [note double-“m”!] series). Shot in-and-around what appears to be a large abandoned villa, VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON is steeped in a morbid sense of decay and hopelessness. Even the sparsely-decorated DePaolis Studios sets are suitably grubby, another aspect that further augments the overall depressing atmosphere. Of course, being a Mattei film, it never fails to entertain, really piling-on the sexploitation staples throughout its almost 100-minute running time. The director also inserts plenty of sleaze in-between all the violence and, in one of film’s more stylistically-realized sequences, cons seek solace in each other’s arms during a montage of Sapphic couplings set to appropriate synth-’n’-sax ‘mood muzak’ courtesy of Luigi Ceccarelli. Over at the men’s wing of the big house, the token gay character (Franco Caracciolo) – who is dubbed with a particularly annoying voice – is constantly harassed by his fellow inmates, which comes to the fore (“Drooling savages! I satisfied you once!”) when one of the female prisoners (Antonella Giacomini) gives the sex-starved men next door a bad case of blue balls (“Look at those jugs!”) while teasingly stripping for them in her cell window, so near yet so far away. 

At the time of the film’s release, Gemser had been an established presence in Italian cinema for a number of years already, and she gives a committed performance (well-dubbed by English voice-talent Pat Starke) as the bruised-and-battered heroine and, as with their earlier co-starring roles, she and Tinti generate some believable onscreen chemistry. As expected, Franca Stoppi also puts in another lively, over-the-top performance, and much like her roles in both BEYOND THE DARKNESS and THE OTHER HELL, she seems to revel in portraying unstable, power-hungry characters who are prone to histrionics.

Released theatrically and on video simultaneously in the U.S. as CAGED WOMEN in 1984 by both MPM (Motion Picture Marketing, who also released Mattei’s zombie opus, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD [1980] as NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES), and Vestron Video, respectively, VIAWP film made its official DVD debut in 2002 courtesy of Shriek Show. This was, for the time, a nice-looking disc, which was repackaged by Shriek Show in 2010 in their Prison Girls Collection, a 3-disc set which also included Michele Massimo Tarantini’s WOMEN IN FURY (1985) and Derek Wan’s much-more-recent American zombie splatterfest SHADOW: DEAD RIOT (2006). In 2018, Severin decided to revisit Mattei’s present squalid little film with a new (quote) “2k scan from an uncensored inter-positive”, which still retains the adequate amount of natural film grain and some surprisingly colourfully-composed shots, which nonetheless doesn’t take away from the filthy atmosphere on display in abundance. The DTS-HD master audio 2.0 also sounds very good, with all of the post-synched dialogue coming through loud-’n’-clear.

Extras begin with Brawl in Women’s Block (29m03s), an on-camera interview with Claudio Fragasso and his wife and frequent collaborator Rosella Drudi, who discuss their humble beginnings working together when they (quote) “learned to do everything” on a film set; their initial collaboration with Mattei on the two-pack of aforementioned nun films, and the (quote) “successful formula” of shooting their films back-to-back; their mutual admiration for Gemser, as well as many of the other actors in the film… and, be ready for their camera-hungry cat, Milo, who photo-bombs the proceedings to share some unexpected screen time with its humans! The disc also includes an archival interview with Mattei (2m47s) which originally appeared on Shriek Show’s DVD, the film’s 30-second radio spot (“A bizarre world of violence where anything goes!”) and reversible cover art featuring two quite striking choices. 

Anyone accustomed to Bruno Mattei’s tawdry if colourfully sleazy/skeezy works will be more than satisfied with Severin’s newest, slick-looking Blu-ray of this admittedly scuzzy, straight-ahead WIP film. Order it from Severin Films as part of their Laura Gemser Deluxe Bundle, Blu-ray, DVD or from DiabolikDVD, and you Canadian readers can get it from Suspect Video.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

BLUE VENGEANCE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

In the midst of the ’80s VHS boom, enterprising filmmakers and distributors were taking full advantage of the insatiable appetite of the home video rental market, which allowed them to produce and successfully promote a sizeable quantity of low-budget, straight-to-video product. Blending elements of horror and police procedural, J. Christian Ingvordsen’s BLUE VENGEANCE (1989) was produced at the tail-end of this period, and at the time, it kind of slipped through the cracks and remained unreleased in North America. However, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray, which houses a brand-new 4K restoration, undiscriminating cinephiles should get a real kick out of this belated-if-not-entirely-forgotten blast from the past. 

Otherwise known as the “Mirror Man” killer, Mark Trex (John Wiener) escapes from the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate New York. Making his way to New York City, he hopes to track down members of his favourite rock band, Warriors of the Inferno, whose out-there lyrics fueled his passion for death and murder as a youngster. Having parted ways some years before, most of the band’s ex-members have since moved on to ‘regular’ jobs. Trex seeks sworn oaths from these ex-band members that they haven’t (quote) “betrayed” him, but they usually shrug him off (“You know the lyrics to that shit song?”) before succumbing to his brutal, schizophrenic mind. Meanwhile, disgraced cop Mickey McCardle (director Ingvordsen, acting under the alias of “John Christian”) is haunted by the controversial murder of his ex-partner (Buzzy Danenfelser) at the hands of Trex some ten years earlier, and despite resistance from his superiors, he vows to stop Trex’s murder spree, no matter what the cost…

First seen as a scruffy, delusional self-talking psychotic, Wiener really plays Trex to the hilt. In the film’s opening moments, he even manages to engineer an audacious escape from prison by first hanging himself, then, in a supreme bit of self-confidence, is eventually resuscitated by the prison doctor, which leads into a bloody mess at the prison’s infirmary. In an interesting – and at first bewildering – bit of juxtaposition, Trex’s near-death experience is depicted as a subconscious battle between himself and some sort of sword-wielding, “Conan”-inspired barbarian in a mask (there is a reason for this, but not what you may think!), which only further substantiates the skewed state of Trex’s inner workings. Meanwhile, Ingvordsen as put-upon Detective McCardle, who may or may not have been partly responsible for his partner’s death, is convinced that Trex is responsible for a recent rash of brutal murders, even though his prime suspect had cunningly staged his own death (cue a previously-shot insert of a pickup truck exploding) after escaping from prison. Although at times each portraying their characters appropriately over-the-top, if coming from different ends of the moral spectrum, both Ingvordsen and Wiener manage to bring an earnestness to their rather thinly-written roles which is a testament to their dedication and belief in the project. Ingvordsen also has the good fortune to star alongside Garland Hunter, who plays a spunky, no-nonsense punkette named Tiffany, whom he first meets at NYC’s now-legendary punk venue CBGBs, which is only one of many (quote) “pre-Disneyfied” locations used in the film, including Times Square. 

Although released in the U.K. and Europe on VHS courtesy of RCA/Columbia Pictures, and later on DVD via Shock Video in the Netherlands, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD combo is really the only way to go. Scanned and restored in 2K from (quote) “the original 35mm camera negative”, VS’s Blu is a real eye-opener, and it looks absolutely first-rate, with a perfectly-defined picture and a nice amount of natural film grain, which finally allows Michael Spiller’s photography to get some of the recognition it deserves. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds particularly full and robust, and doesn’t present any issues whatsoever. In short, VS’s restoration is quite outstanding.

Naturally, VS have also packed their release with a number of illuminating extra features, which shed plenty of light on the film itself, as well as the New York independent film scene. Starting-off with an audio commentary featuring director/star Ingvordsen, which is moderated by ex-Fangoria editor Michael Gingold, they discuss the (quote) “last great gasp of independent cinema” and guerilla filmmaking at the time; Ingvordsen’s time working as a key grip with Larry Cohen on such films as THE STUFF (1985); the re-development of NYC; the colourful locations, including the aforementioned CBGB’s and their graffiti-strewn bathrooms; the very uncharacteristic final battle in the film; plus his and John Wiener’s love for John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981), elements of which they manage to put into their film in a decidedly bizarre albeit fascinating way. Actor John Wiener flies solo in the second audio commentary, and he actually fills the running time with plenty of similar facts and anecdotes, including the film’s genesis as a horror film about (quote) “people who eat people’s hearts”; his friend’s band Nevermore (seen playing live at CBGB’s in the film); his research on the film itself, which led him to some (quote) “creepy website” in Germany and the film’s German title ZWANG ZUM TÖTEN (trans: “Compulsion to Kill”); and BV’s many (quote) “great locations”. 

In the documentary Making Blue Vengeance (19m26s), Ingvordsen (as well as writer/actor Danny Kuchuck and assistant director Matthew Howe) discuss the high demand for product at the time, his desire to produce a (quote) “NYC cop drama”, his love for NY cop films from the ’70s in general, and how his distributor at the time wanted a horror title instead. He also talks very highly of Larry Cohen and the (quote) “art of the sneak”, his amazing ability to get some truly incredible shots without utilizing a permit, something which Ingvordsen himself also does quite admirably in BV. Next up is On Blue Vengeance (13m28s), an on-camera conversation between Ingvordsen and Gingold, which covers similar territory, but also touches on his association with Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment; some of his earlier projects and his (quote) “big ambitions [with BV], despite the low-budget”. In a surprise extra, VS have also included Danny Kuchuck’s THE FIRST MAN (1996), a previously-unreleased, feature-length film starring Lesley Ann Warren, Heather Graham, Ted Raimi, Lisa Zane and Paul Ben-Victor. Although not entirely successful, this unusual sci-fi film with arthouse pretensions is an interesting inclusion just the same, but it’s easy to see why it has remained unseen for so long. As per VS’ usual standards, the disc also features reversible cover art featuring both original artwork designed by Derek Gabryszak, as well as artwork from the film’s German video release. The first 1000 copies also include a thick slipcover featuring Gabryszak’s eye-catching art. 

On the surface, BLUE VENGEANCE may appear to be just another low-rent action film, but between the spirited self-confidence of everyone involved and many of the film’s quirkier moments, the film distinguishes itself from the norm and is definitely worth checking-out, especially via Vinegar Syndrome’s impressive new Blu-ray. Order it directly from Vinegar Syndrome or DiabolikDVD.

Friday, April 13, 2018

EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

The hilarious and patently false opening blurb: “This is a true story as reported by Jennifer O’Sullivan.”

Produced the same year as Ruggero Deodato’s JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. The LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, 1977), with this outing the prolific Joe D’Amato decided to meld his successful Emanuelle films, starring his muse Laura Gemser, with the then-burgeoning cannibal films.  Of course, this wouldn't be the last time that D’Amato merged sex and horror into a potpourri of sleazy thrills: in 1980, he directed The EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD, a fusion of hardcore sex and zombie gore, and also, that very same year, he directed the notorious if undisputedly awful PORNO HOLOCAUST, which pretty much plumbed the nadir of both genres. Despite its own innate stupidity, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS remains an enjoyable bit of at times mean-spirited trash, especially for fans of either D’Amato’s Emanuelle films or the Italian Cannibal genre, so, if you’re gonna check it out or need to own it in your collection, Severin’s newest Blu-ray is easily the best way to go.

A patient at an NYC Psychiatric Hospital takes a nasty bite out of a nurse’s breast; an incident which hard-working ‘on-the-scene’ photo journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) happens to snap a photograph of with her conveniently-hidden camera, which is housed inside a children’s doll. Later that night, Emanuelle sneaks into the room of the bitten woman – who, by the way, is confined to a straitjacket – and (ahem) ‘eases her tensions’ (so to speak!) in a way that only Emanuelle could. Upon snapping a few more gratuitous photos of the half-naked bite victim just for extra ‘coverage’, she then reports back to her editor. After looking over the photos for what seems like ages, they finally happen to notice a (quote) “strange tattoo above her pubic region”… where else?! Immediately sensing a hot story (“The last cannibals! What a scoop!” exclaims her overzealous editor), Emanuelle is put in contact with Mark Lester [!] (Gabriele Tinti), a curator at the Natural History Museum, who goes on to educate her about various cannibal rites across the globe via some scratchy B&W movie footage, also revealing that it’s the Yapiakas from the Amazon she is seeking.  Of course, as per the usual standards of the genre, Emanuelle also jumps into bed with Mark as the film crosscuts them rolling around in the sheets with their journey to the Amazon (“Amazonia is a land that lives by its own rules”).  

Upon their arrival, they meet Wilkes (Geoffrey Copleston), who organizes their journey into the jungle to meet Father Morales, the only outsider who has ever had any contact with the elusive Yapiakas tribe.  Also along for the ride are Wilkes’ daughter Isabelle (Monika Zanchi, co-star of Giuseppe Vari’s sinful nunsploitationer SISTER EMANUELLE [1977], also starring Gemser), who will be their guide for the trip, and Sister Angela (Annamarie Clementi), one of the nuns working at Morales’ mission (yes indeed, nunsploitation rears its unholy head in this one too!).  During their trek, they also come across Donald and Maggie Mackenzie (Italo-based Irish actor Donal[d] O’Brien and Spanish actress “Susan Scott” a.k.a. Nieves Navarro), a bickering dysfunctional couple whose deceitful and uncooperative relations are the least of the expedition’s problems when the cannibals strike.

D’Amato’s rather juvenile exercise is a far-cry from some of Italy’s other, harder-hitting and rather unpleasant jungle horrors, and is largely more typical of morally simplistic earlier jungle adventures like William Witney’s JUNGLE GIRL (1944), a 15-part Republic serial, albeit with plentiful ’70s-style sex and gore, that D’Amato delivers at predictably regular intervals, and which certainly keeps things from ever getting too dull.  After appearing together in both EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976) and the infamous EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1977), both real-life partners Gemser and Tinti go through their usual paces while managing to keep straight faces throughout all the silliness.  In one of the film’s more blatant tip-offs to all those Italian ‘jungle girl’ adventures like Roberto Infascelli’s LUANA (1968) or Guido Malatesta’s SAMOA (1968) and TARZANA THE WILD GIRL (1969), D’Amato has our intrepid reporter getting it on with Isabelle as they casually wash each other’s more intimate areas in a jungle river, this while a curious chimpanzee rummages through their clothes while trying to smoke a cigarette (?!).  Nico Fidenco’s enthusiastic easy-listening music definitely makes all the absurdity more digestible, and it is undoubtedly one of the film’s most appealing aspects; incidentally, much of this music was later reused in the original European edit of Marino Girolami’s ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D., 1980).  Another definite bonus here is the casting of Donal(d) O’Brien, a frequent D’Amato collaborator who was such a memorable presence as the badass mercenary leader in D’Amato’s own African-set war actioner TOUGH TO KILL (1979) and who herein adds a convincingly nasty edge to the almost playful and highly naïve narrative.  When asked why he’s trekking through the Amazon, his character reveals he is a hunter and that (quote) “if my game happens to be a human being, I don’t mind.”  Suffering from impotence, he also has to endure his wife’s infidelities with his native guide (Percy Hogan) amidst the jungle fauna.  

Shot at Italian National Parks in and around Lazio, doubling for the Amazon (!?), not surprisingly none of the locations are all that convincing, but D’Amato nonetheless gives the film a handsome look – he was also its DP – despite his limited budget.  Many of the gore effects are also quite phony-looking, highlighting lots of rubbery latex as well as one laughable optical effect; Sister Angela’s demise, however, is actually quite gruesome, and one of the strongest scenes in the film.  

Available during the VHS boom on Twilight Video under its notorious U.S. release title of TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, this was released on DVD in 2003 courtesy of Shriek Show, whose edition featured a solid transfer (enhanced for 16x9) that was highlighted by quite robust colours and solid detail for an SD release.  This long out-of-print DVD included a generous stills gallery, a theatrical trailer, plus trailers for some of Shriek Show’s other titles.  As part of their “Italian Collection”, 88 Films’ Region B Blu-ray was the first out of the gate ever to present the film in full HD, and although it isn’t of sufficiently stunning quality to be used as demo material, the 1080p disc nevertheless looked quite satisfactory, and was noticeably sharper than the Shriek Show release; but that’s about it, as it left plenty of room for improvement.  The LPCM 2.0 Master Audio tracks also sound relatively fine, but unlike on earlier releases, 88 Films also provides an Italian language track with optional English subtitles. The original theatrical trailer and the film’s Italian opening and closing credits are the only extras related to the film, but the disc also includes trailers for some of 88 Films’ other product. A postcard insert with alternate art and a reversible sleeve round-out the extras.  

Less than a year later, Severin Films debuted the film on North American Blu-ray in yet another of their superlative packages, featuring a crisp new transfer and an excellent assortment of extras. Scanned in 2K from (quote) “original vault elements”, Severin’s new disc is far more detailed than any previous release, featuring a healthy amount of proper film grain, and while it does feature some imperfections that were inherent in the original source material, the clarity and depth of picture is superb. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 is also offered in both English and Italian and both sound clear and free of distortion despite the rather wonky dubbing on the English track. Happily, Severin have also included properly-translated English subtitles for the Italian track, which doesn’t have nearly the same unintentionally comedic feel of the more well-known English-dubbed version. Closed captions are also included.

The copious extras begin with The World of Nico Fidenco (27m04s), a career-spanning interview with the film’s music composer, who collaborated with Joe D’Amato a number of times. Initially studying to become a director at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografica, this ambition was cut short when Fidenco had to do his mandatory military service, but upon his return, he started singing and playing guitar instead. This led to him singing the title song “What a Sky / Su ne cielo” in Francesco Maselli’s SILVER SPOON SET (1960), which subsequently launched his musical career. Through further (quote) “coincidences”, this fortuitous event also initiated a prolific career composing film music, beginning with his sparse if highly-memorable score for Giovanni Grimaldi’s spaghetti western IN A COLT’S SHADOW (1966). Additionally, Fidenco goes on to speak of his long working relationship with D’Amato and his ability to make (quote) “three movies with the budget of one”; a piece of advice he took from famed composer Henry Mancini to (quote) “make one theme (or two, if necessary) that will be remembered” (which is most certainly the case with this film’s catchy score!); and finally touches on working with Gemser, Tinti, director Marino Girolami, and how his life is a (quote) “never-ending surprise”. Solid stuff, indeed! In Nocturno’s A Nun Among the Cannibals (22m53s), Annamarie Clementi talks about how she got into the business through her friend and agent Pino Pellegrino and how her life at that point was much akin to a (quote) “spin-dryer”; she also discusses her nasty demise in the film under review and found it (quote) “amusing”, but was less amused when she found herself covered in smelly offal on the set while shooting the scene. Next up, in Doctor O’Brien (18m47s), Donal(d) O’Brien discusses his early years at the Dublin Gate Theatre; his breakthrough on John Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN (1964) – in which he memorably portrayed a stubborn Nazi NCO opposite the film’s protagonist Burt Lancaster – and his migration to Italy where he (quote) “fell in love with Italy and its people”; he also goes on to call D’Amato’s nasty-nun shocker IMAGES IN A CONVENT(1979) a (quote) “semi-masterpiece”! In From Switzerland to the Mato Grosso (18m40s), Monika Zanchi talks of her turbulent lifestyle before she was ‘discovered’, which led to a brief film career that began with Pasquale Festa Campanile’s crimeslime road movie HITCH-HIKE (1977) and the aforementioned SISTER EMANUELLE; she also speaks warmly of maverick director Alberto Cavallone as (quote) “the most-human, the most-creative” director she ever worked with. The featurettes conclude with I Am Your Black Queen (11m25s), a reedited audio interview with the Indonesian-born Laura Gemser (full name Laurette Marcia Gemser), which originally appeared on Blue Underground’s DVD of Joe D’Amato’s EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1976). In it, she talks about making a living in Belgium while modelling, as well as her first foray into film with Pier Ludovico Pavoni’s FREE LOVE (1974) and eventually appearing in Adalberto “Bitto” Albertini’s BLACK EMANUELLE (1976); she also talks about getting naked on film and how she found her many lesbian encounters (quote) “embarrassing”, also citing director D’Amato as a (quote) “born comedic actor”; and, in a funny anecdote, she talks of her infamous snake dance from BLACK COBRA (1976), co-starring a seriously slumming Jack Palance, and how she ended-up getting covered in snake-piss as a result! Things finish off with the film’s theatrical trailer. 

In a nice gesture, the first 3000 copies of this Blu also include a soundtrack CD of Fidenco’s memorable score, which runs 59m04 and houses a grand total of 31 tracks. To top it all off, Severin have also seen fit to include reversible cover art, as well as a very colourful – and naughty! – slipcover depicting the film’s German poster art. For those wishing to splurge, it’s also available as part of “The Laura Gemser Deluxe Bundle”, but whichever edition you choose, this colourfully outrageous jungle romp still remains one of Joe D’Amato’s most consistently entertaining pictures, which Severin Films have finally provided fans in the nicest-looking edition to date. Pre-order it from Severin, DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.