Sunday, December 29, 2013


On November 19th, Retromedia Entertainment quietly released Alberto De Martino’s gothic horror film HORROR (1963) or The BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER (a title more commonly associated with this film) in a very welcome, improved edition.

Northern France, 1884, Emily de Blancheville (Ombretta Colli, credited here as Joan Hills) is returning home from school with her best friend Alice (Irán Eory) Taylor and Alice’s brother John (Vanni Materassi, credited here as Richard Davis).  As their carriage travels through a barren, forest landscape with heavy rain, the atmosphere is suitably ominous, which beautifully sets the appropriate mood.  Upon their arrival at the secluded de Blancheville castle, Emily learns from her brother Rodrigue (Gérard Tichy), that her father perished when the old abbey burned down, but she is also intrigued by some new staff members including Miss Eleonore (Helga Liné), a rather cold-hearted but captivating woman clad in an all black dress and a mysterious doctor (Leo Anchóriz).  When Alice does the obligatory, but very welcome walk through the castle, she discovers a horribly disfigured man in one of the many darkly lit rooms. 

According to the DVD, this was “loosely based on Poe’s The PREMATURE BURIAL” and, although it contains some elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, it’s certainly a bit of a stretch.  In actuality, this Italian/Spanish production was made in response to the success of Roger Corman’s AIP (American International Pictures) Poe pictures and in that respect, it succeeds pretty well.  Written by Giovanni Grimaldi and Sergio Corbucci (under their respective pseudonyms Jean Grimaud and Gordon Wilson Jr.), the film relies on an over abundance of dialogue, which, despite the rich atmosphere, is quite tedious under De Martino’s workmanlike direction with many of his actors.  At one point, during a somewhat convoluted sub-plot involving a family curse (“the House of de Blancheville will end with this generation, when the female descendent reaches the age of 21”), the film gets lost in some far-fetched ideas that, even for a horror film, don’t make a whole lot of sense.  On the other hand, De Martino does create a gloomy, palpable atmosphere thanks to both the castle itself and the numerous exteriors (including a terrific crumbling abbey and eerie forest locales) adding priceless production value to the rather conventional plot.  Still, despite some illogical missteps and too many talking heads, the film delivers all the usual ingredients of Italian gothics, which should leave most fans relatively entertained.

Originally released on DVD in 2004 as The BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER by Alpha Home Video, that transfer was indicative of the company’s many other releases with an outdated fullscreen transfer and smudgy picture quality. Retromedia has decided to put this out as a “50th Anniversary Edition” in a much nicer, 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.66:1) version under its original and, incredibly bland, title HORROR and, although this version still looks a little tight on the sides in a few shots, the improved transfer definitely helps better appreciate Alejandro Ulloa’s moody B&W photography.  Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of this disc is the somewhat muted audio, which makes it difficult to make out some of the dubbed dialogue during quieter moments in the film.  In an odd choice, the disc also contains the 2003 Retromedia version of Mario Caiano’s NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) under their bogus title of The FACELESS MONSTER, a completely unnecessary extra following Severin’s beautiful and definitive DVD from 2009.  How they can do this is anybody’s guess.  You can order HORROR here.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Welcome once again to the long, lost world of VHS tapes.  For this fourth installment, we’ll travel to the south of Switzerland and check out Mario Imperoli’s rarely seen 1977 poliziesco Canne Mozze.

According to early press announcements, Sabato’s character was supposedly based on Graziano Mesina, an infamous Sardinian bandit that was implicated in numerous kidnappings throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.  During this time, he also became famous for a number of daring prison escapes and, subsequently, became somewhat of a folk hero among the younger generation in Italy.

In the Sicilian countryside, an unknown man is suddenly and ruthlessly gunned-down at the behest of the wheelchair-bound Don Carrara (Attilio Dottesio).  While in prison, Giovanni Mole (Antonio Sabato) learns of his brother’s death and is naturally bent on revenge, so during a routine transport, he overtakes a guard and seizes an opportunity to escape.  Desperate to find shelter, he wanders into an empty villa in order to hide from the onslaught of carabinieri searching for him, but his plans are soon thwarted with the arrival of Michele (John Richardson) and Silvia (Ritza Brown), the well-off rightful owners of this holiday getaway.

Although this film is “very loosely based” on Graziano Mesina (Mesina’s brother was actually assassinated in the fall of 1962, which prompted him to seek revenge that was unsuccessful), it is conceivable that usual actor and scribe Luigi Montefiori (better known to most as “George Eastman”) may have drawn some inspiration from some of these events, but the film’s association to the real life activities of Mesina are tenuous at best; perhaps it was nothing more than a marketing ploy at the time of the film’s release.  In actuality, the finished product has more in common with Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS (1971), which is especially evident during the middle portion.  However, instead of a tense nail-biting drama, Imperoli piles on the soft-core sex for much of the films 2nd act, but when one of Carrara’s soldiers shows up at the villa, the film really kicks into gear right up until the bloody showdown at a rundown slaughterhouse.

Director Mario Imperoli was a marginal talent within the Italian exploitation film world, who is probably best known for directing some of Gloria Guida’s first films such as BLUE JEANS (1975), which were typically light-hearted comedies that tended to have a slightly darker edge.  Canne Mozze on the other hand is a tough, gloomy film with a hopelessness that permeates just about every frame.  Every character in going through some sort of personal crisis; Giovanni has just lost his brother; Don Carrara is resentful that he’s stuck in a wheelchair; even Michele and Silvia are stuck in a loveless marriage, which is further complicated with the arrival of Giovanni.  The only glimmer of hope the film offers is Giovanni’s revenge against his slain brother, but even Giovanni is a hard character to root for.  The verbal and physical abuse he inflicts upon Silvia and Michele makes it very difficult to feel anything but contempt for him.   It would be interesting to see if Imperoli’s other crime film Come Cane Arrabiati made the year before is just as downbeat.  

On the technical side, Canne Mozze benefits greatly from some solid camerawork courtesy of Romano Albani, a talented DP that went on to lens Dario Argento’s INFERNO (1980) and PHENOMENA (1984).  He creates some skillful compositions that highlight the beautiful surrounding countryside with an attentive eye for detail not usually seen in lower-budgeted efforts such as this, which, when complimented with Manuel De Sica’s morose, but highly effective score creates a suitably threatening atmosphere.  This is especially potent whenever Giovanni is roaming the countryside not knowing whether a carabinieri or one of Carrara’s soldiers could be lurking over a hill waiting to strike.  As usual, Sabato is convincing as the anti-hero and seemed perfectly suited for such roles while co-star John Richardson is virtually wasted in a dull, inconsequential part.  Sabato and Richardson also co-starred together in Gianni Siragusa’s minor caper film 4 BILLION IN 4 MINUTES (1976).

Apparently, this film actually had an English language version at least prepared and was also known as both SAWN-OFF SHOTGUN and VENDETTA – REVENGE OF THE MAFIA CLAN but this English version has never appeared on video anywhere in the world.  The southern region of Switzerland is home to a number of Italian-speaking Swiss citizens, so it’s no surprise that a number of Italian language tapes emanated from this part of the country.  This Swiss PAL VHS courtesy of Olympia Video International (they also released Gian F. Pagani’s 1978 poliziesco Porci con la P. 38 with Marc Porel) is a decent widescreen print, but it looks as though a few instances of below the waist nudity may have been edited out.  As of this writing, Canne Mozze still hasn’t received a DVD release anywhere in the world. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Welcome back to the world of long, lost VHS tapes.  For this third installment, let’s travel to Greece and check out Stelvio Massi’s 1979 poliziesco HUNTED CITY starring Maurizio Merli.

A recent rash of murders involving highly respected and influential people have been afflicting Milan.  Working at the European Anticrime Organization in France, commissario Paolo Ferro (Maurizio Merli) is transferred back to Milan to help sort out the escalating problem.  Upon his arrival, a businessman is violently gunned down by a group of masked men and, in a highly contrived scene, Ferro just happens to be in the vicinity and gives chase.  A brief but appreciated car chase follows, which ends in a spectacular explosion as the car careens into another.  Milan is about to explode and, with the help of his partner Arrigo (Nando Marineo) and an expedient local underworld figure (Francesco Rabal), Ferro has come to the conclusion that all these murders must be part of some “Murder Incorporated”, which involves the unctuous and very powerful Don Raffaele Acampora (Mario Merola).

Similar in tone and feel to much of Umberto Lenzi’s best poliziescos, the main narrative involving the mysterious “Murder Incorporated” almost seems like an afterthought as Ferro and his partner Arrigo wind their way through all of the film’s numerous sub-plots; Ferro disrupts a “secret meeting” between the warring factions of the Sicilian and French underworld; his nephew is selling drugs that leads to the inevitable conclusion as they face off with their guns drawn; and, in another highly contrived scene, a robbery prevents Ferro from enjoying his mid-afternoon coffee as he gives chase once again.

At 103 minutes, Stelvio Massi’s effort is a little more reliant on dialogue than your usual Merli outing, but the film still features enough bursts of gunplay and motor vehicle mayhem that should please most crime film enthusiasts. Pier Luigi Santi’s effective and well-balanced photography is one of the film’s stronger points with nice location shooting and some frenzied compositions during the action scenes.  Unfortunately, the film is a little episodic and fat through the middle that slows considerably whenever Merli or Merola aren’t on screen.  As usual Merli plays the one-dimensional, no-nonsense cop you’ve come to expect with relative ease, his character is virtually indistinguishable from any other commissario he’s essayed in similar films.  Merola’s role as Don Acampora is considerably smaller than first anticipated, which is a shame as more interaction between he and Merli would have been welcome.  Aside from Rabal’s comatose presence as the helpful Don Alfonso, the rest of the cast is comprised of mostly unknown bit players.  Massi, Merli and Rabal would collaborate on The REBEL (1980) the following year.

Be forewarned, the English dubbing on this particular production is rather wretched which, even for those that are quite accepting of this common practice in Italy, seriously lowers the overall quality of the entire production.  The same dubbing team also collaborated on both Michele Massimo Tarantini’s A MAN CALLED MAGNUM (1977) and Gianni Siragusa’s 4 BILLION IN 4 MINUTES (1978) as well as most Eurociné productions.

Originally released in Italy as Sbirro, la Tua Legge è Lenta… La Mia… No!, HUNTED CITY was available on VHS in Greece courtesy of LEV and, like most Greek videotapes, it was in English with Greek subtitles.  Along with fellow Greek VHS companies Key Video and Sunrise, LEV’s tapes were some of the better-looking tapes to come out of Greece, which tracked properly most of the time and the Greek subtitles were not big and obtrusive.  Hunted City also turned up in Japan on Shochiku Video in English with Japanese subtitles.