Sunday, December 13, 2015


“I can’t stand to see that poor animal die!” exclaims Barbara (Delia Boccardo), to which Paolo (Philippe Leroy) adamantly replies, “Then shut your eyes!”

That’s one of the first dialogue exchanges in Paolo Cavara’s The WILD EYE (1967), a still-pertinent exposé on the lengths some reporters (or documentarians) will go to in order to get the ultimate scoop or indelible image.  Philippe Leroy stars as Paolo, a director of sensationalistic documentaries, who, along with his entourage – which includes Barbara (Delia Boccardo) and his trusted cameraman Valentino (Gabriele Tinti) – travels the world in search of the weird and horrific, but Paolo’s insatiable appetite for capturing anything and everything eventually leads to the team’s moral and ethical breakdown.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Italian mondo films, and in particular the fascinating cinema of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, will instantly recognize what – and whom (hint-hint) – Paolo Cavara’s film is about.  Director Cavara was, along with Jacopetti and Prosperi, a co-director of MONDO CANE (1962), one of the first and most influential ‘shockumentaries’, and he was quite obviously very affected by what he had seen during his tenure with Jacopetti; in a filmed interview with Lars Bloch (one of the actors from the film) included on this disc, Bloch reveals that this film was purposely made as a sort of “revenge on Jacopetti”.  

The opening of the film sets the tone immediately, as Paolo and a group of what appear to be tourists – including Barbara (Delia Boccardo), her boyfriend John (Bloch) and an elderly couple – are in the midst of racing across the North African desert in hot pursuit of a gazelle, but when their jeep breaks down, they are forced to walk the excruciating 60 miles back to town.  Paolo doesn’t hesitate for a second to film their fears, torment and anguish en route, exploiting every possible moment beneath the scorching sun.  At one point, they come across the carcass of a camel, and as Valentino’s camera rolls, Paolo calmly asks the elderly woman, “What would you give for a glass of water?” to which he rhetorically replies, “Would you give a year of your life?”  In a bizarre turn of events, Barbara is eventually wooed by Paolo’s worldly travels and jet-set lifestyle, even though she knows he “organized” that dirty trick out in the desert.  Even during her more lucid moments, she is fully cognizant that people are nothing more than mere disposable objects or characters to him, which he exploits unsparingly in his films, but this doesn’t stop her from following him off to the Far East, leaving John in the lurch.

During their time in the orient, they visit a rehabilitation centre where a majority of the patients are recovering drug addicts (opium, to be exact), but instead of curing them with “faith” to alleviate the “desire” of opium, as the resident physician demonstrates, they are viciously beaten on camera (all faked, of course) because Paolo doesn’t think that the real, far-less-cinematic method makes for “much movie-wise”.  When Barbara questions him, he simply states, “Reality is boring. Lies are entertaining.”  As they proceed from spectacle to spectacle, Paolo continues to dumb-down his audience, because it’s only a matter of “occasional stimulation that makes the public digest the rest of the film.”  It’s certainly a fitting and still prescient statement in these overstimulated times of ours when most people’s attention spans don’t last much longer than a 6-second Vine Video.  With input from Italian novelist Alberto Moravia, who himself narrated and even wrote some of the more extreme mondo efforts (including Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni’s MONDO MAGIC [1975] and Antonio Climati’s and Mario Morra’s uncompromising SAVAGE MAN...SAVAGE BEAST [1975]), there are further ruminations with existential leanings about just what it is that entertains people, the decline of the western world, and even mass-consumption in our relentlessly consumerist society.

As the film progresses, Paolo continues to put himself and his crew into increasingly dangerous situations, including the secret filming of a Vietcong ambush, during which Paolo takes a beating; to which the latter replies, “Any film of me while I was beaten?”  Later, in a bombed-out Vietcong square, Valentino is shocked at the blatant disrespectfulness of his own, and especially Paolo’s, moralistic convictions, when they shoot – no pun intended – a live execution, which may or may not have been planned by Paolo.  In yet another extreme bit of journalistic incredulity, they are informed of a possible bombing at “The Lion's Bar”, a popular G.I. watering hole, which Paolo insists getting on film both prior to the bombing (“Get good shots of the customers”) and the bombing itself, which finally puts Barbara and Valentino over the edge.

Released theatrically in North America by AIP but never released on domestic home video, The WILD EYE hits both Blu-ray and DVD thanks to Scorpion Releasing.  Available exclusively through Screen Archives, Scorpion’s 1080p Blu-ray presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16x9 enhancement, and is a real beauty, with excellent detail and naturalistic colours.  The mono sound is offered in both English and Italian languages, with the added bonus of English subtitles for the Italian audio track.  Extras include the aforementioned interview with actor Lars Bloch, who reveals all sorts of interesting info on the film, such as trying to shoot scenes in sequence, a method which was ultimately scrapped as unworkable; in addition, Bloch reveals how he inadvertently became the sound assistant on the film, and that Cavara was “a real gentleman.”  The only other extra is the American theatrical trailer.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Hot off the success of Francis Ford Coppola’s The GODFATHER (1972), Alberto De Martino’s COUNSELOR AT CRIME (1973) also treads much of the same territory as Coppola’s film, highlighting the Octopus-like ‘tentacles of the mafia’ and the conflicts usually associated between the various factions of the mob. Produced at the start of the then burgeoning poliziesco, De Martino’s film is definitely one of the early precursors to this once very popular and profitable genre of Italian film, although it should be more aptly referred to as a mafioso picture along the lines of Damiano Damiani’s MAFIA (1968) or Vittorio Schraldi’s criminally underrated I KISS THE HAND (1973) than your average poliziesco with hot-headed, vigilante-type commissarios.

Opening with picturesque locales of San Francisco, the film exposes the far-reaching and lucrative mob-influenced areas of business, such as the ports (complete with angered dock workers), the racetrack and junkyard, which seems to be Don Antonio Macaluso’s (Martin Balsam) primary headquarters.  When William Lucchesi, an out-of-control syphilitic mobster, begins stirring up shit with a local cop at a mob-controlled bowling alley (“I hate pigs! Always stealin’ money out of a dead man’s pockets!”), a hit is put out on him because, as one cop clearly states, “We got the canary, and they know he’s gonna sing.”  Although the hit doesn’t go as initially planned, Don Garofalo (Francisco Rabal), the second-in-command, eventually gets the job done when Santino, a local cop on the payroll, helps orchestrate the hit.

Meanwhile, Don Macaluso’s godson Thomas (Tomas Milian), his “consigliori”, is released from prison, but to Macaluso’s surprise, Thomas wants out of this life, which Macaluso begrudgingly agrees too, even though during an earlier “sit-down”, he forbade Garofalo to branch-out on his own.  Of course, this sparks all-out “mafia warfare” as Garofalo tries to “reshuffle the deck” within Don Macaluso’s once-powerful empire.

Italian locandina courtesy of Steve Fenton.

Considerably more expansive than your average Italian crime picture, De Martino and his crew make good use of the San Franciscan and Sicilian locales, including a brief but very welcome car chase through SF’s hilly streets.  For the duration of the film, Macaluso is on the run, which allows De Martino plenty of opportunities to stage various shootouts and altercations, including a hard-hitting gunfight where he and Thomas waste about two dozen of Garofalo’s men; the rooftop foot-chase in a small Sicilian hillside town is also quite effective, which leads to a terrific, poignant finale wherein Balsam and Milian really get to show off their acting chops.

Balsam and Milian have terrific chemistry and play well off each other, with Balsam giving an especially vigorous, physical performance (he also dubs his own voice), as a man who will stop at nothing to protect Thomas, the son he never had.  When Thomas decides to lead another type of life, Macaluso is fully aware of the repercussions this may have (“Thomas’ departure could be the last stone that starts the avalanche”), but he lets him leave all the same, hopefully to lead the kind of decent life he himself never could.  Balsam would continue to be an “American Guest Star”, usually as a token commissario, in numerous Italian crime pictures, such as Marcello Andrei’s SEASON FOR ASSASSINS (1977), but along with Damiano Damiani’s CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN (1971), this was one of his meatier roles.  Tomas Milian is also especially good as the laconic “Counselor” (export prints used the Anglo/Canadian “The Counsellor”, hence the title change by U.S. distributor Joseph Green); who, after realizing the trouble he’s got Macaluso into, doesn’t sit by the wayside, despite the protestations of his girlfriend Laura (Dagmar Lassander in a throwaway part).  Milian looks great here, with a much more naturalistic, down-to-earth performance (nicely-dubbed by Larry Dolgin) which is similar to his work in Stelvio Massi’s superb EMERGENCY SQUAD (1974); this before he embarked on many of his over-the-top but very well-known roles in his subsequent poliziotteschi, usually hiding behind very obvious wigs or a ton of makeup.

Outside of Balsam and Milian, Francisco Rabal also lends the film considerable weight and plays an Italian-American mafioso to utter perfection with his jet-black hair and deceptive behaviour; he is a man to be feared.  Anyone even remotely involved with Macaluso is ‘taken care of’, and they are sealed-up inside an oil drum then encased in concrete. One poor bastard even gets stuffed into his own pizza oven!  

Journeyman director De Martino, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 86, keeps everything moving at a nice pace, and, as in his other crime pictures, CRIME BOSS (1972) and STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (1976), he always got excellent performances from his ‘name’ casts.  Unfortunately, his output in the ’70s slowed considerably, and after directing The ANTICHRIST (1974) and HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977), two upscale EXORCIST-themed films, he capped his prolific career off with FORMULA FOR A MURDER (1985) and MIAMI HORROR (1985), a pair of instantly forgettable horror movies.

Handsomely shot by Aristide Massaccesi (better known to most as Joe D’Amato, director of an almost obscene amount of sleazy Eurotrash pics) and scored with one of Riz Ortolani’s typically brassy-but-effective scores, Germany’s Film Art DVD is a very welcome release, which finally retains the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is in English. Even though it’s still rather grainy and kinda soft, this is the best it has ever looked on home video, enabling the viewer to better appreciate Massaccesi’s carefully-composed compositions.  Extras include a brief photo/poster gallery and a wealth of poliziesco trailers for some of Film Art’s other releases.  For the record, these include Italian-language trailers for Mario Caiano’s BLOODY PAYROLL (1976), Sergio Martino’s SILENT ACTION (1975) and THE CHEATERS (1975), Enzo G. Castellari’s DAY OF THE COBRA (1980), Fernando Di Leo’s THE BOSS (1973), as well as English trailers for Stelvio Massi’s CONVOY BUSTERS (1978) and Umberto Lenzi’s BROTHERS TILL WE DIE (1978).  Of course, being a German DVD, this release also includes a German-language audio track as well.  Order COUNSELOR AT CRIME from Amazon Germany here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Inexplicably linked by producer-writer Renee Harmon, James Bryan’s The EXECUTIONER PART II and Frank Roach’s FROZEN SCREAM are a pair of insane, almost indescribable pieces of cinema, which are once again made available from the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome with this latest Drive-In Collection DVD.    

Despite the rather confusing title, it should be pointed out that James Bryan’s The EXECUTIONER PART II (1984) is NOT a sequel to Sam Wanamaker’s The EXECUTIONER (1970) with George Peppard, which was however, popular enough in Europe to gain financing on the title alone.  Clearly ‘inspired’ by James Glickenhaus’ rather slick New York-based revenge actioner The EXTERMINATOR (1980) with Robert Ginty (even the crudely-illustrated—if pretty cool—poster art features a Ginty lookalike), this extremely inept rip-off shifts the action to Los Angeles, where, instead of a flamethrower, the Executioner likes to use hand grenades and plenty of hand-to-hand combat.

A vigilante is on the loose in L.A. and the cops, led by detective Roger O’Malley (Chris Mitchum), are at a loss, even though some impromptu narration informs us, “Maybe we’d all sleep better if the police leave him alone.”  Celia Amhurst (producer Renee Harmon), a reporter on the case, tries to get answers, but she doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere.  Meanwhile, O’Malley’s daughter Laura (Bianca Phillipi) is trying to pay for her drug addiction (“I need dope!”), and through her friend Kitty (Marisi Courtwright) is introduced to Pete Vance (Frank Albert), a lowlife pimp who arranges “special entertainment” for Tony Casallas (Frisco Estes), the local underworld boss better-known as “The Tattoo Man”, who also wants this “modern-day superman or reckless vigilante” dead, because he’s seriously interfering with Casallas’ criminal empire.  O’Malley continues his investigation and begins to suspect his friend and fellow ex-Vietnam veteran Mike (Antoine John Mottet), who has been suffering from some serious flashbacks…

Laura (Bianca Phillipi) and "The Tattoo Man" (Frisco Estes).

Although on paper it sounds like any run-of-the-mill vigilante film, James Bryan’s The EXECUTIONER PART II is, like Bryan’s DON’T GO IN THE WOODS (1980), incomparable to what most regular movies should be and feel like.  Breathtaking in its ineptitude, it’s one of the more impoverished and chaotically-assembled films you’re likely to stumble upon, with its own set of rules.  According to “The Executioner’s Song” (a filmed interview with director Bryan included on this disc), this film was shot using 35mm short-ends over weekends in order to maximize longer camera rentals, and even though Bryan is credited as the director, his directing credit is negligible since he was essentially “the crew”, doing any and every job he could.  Pieced together with whatever footage he could salvage, most of the dubbing and sound effects were also done in post-production, so the cut-rate action scenes have an exaggerated, other-worldly feel to them; the excruciatingly awful dubbing only adds to the threadbare production values and just about turns the film into a comedy.  Even many of the so-called gang members look like third-rate rejects from Walter Hill’s The WARRIORS (1979) auditioning for FLASHDANCE (1983), which seriously harms their credibility, and at times, the film almost seems like a sendup of the genre.  Only Tony Casallas as the elusive “Tattoo Man” demonstrates any real threat, and with the help of Pete, he gets to indulge in his sadistic tendencies when he puts out his cigarettes on Laura.  Regardless of its MANY shortcomings, The EXECUTIONER PART II still has an infinite amount of infectious energy, and for that fact alone it remains hugely entertaining.

Moving onto the other feature on this “Drive-In Collection” disc, Frank Roach’s FROZEN SCREAM (1980) is another Renee Harmon production, which allows this “German war bride”-turned-filmmaker even more screen time, and to be honest, is all the better for it.  She stars as Lil Stanhope, a doctor experimenting with immortality (“Ever since the creation of life, I have dreamed of immortality”), which involves reanimated corpses, robe-cloaked murderers and ocean-side séances.  Along with Sven Johnson (Lee James), they kill their former partner Tom Gerard (Wolf Muser) after he suffers from an ethical crisis, but they didn’t count on Tom’s wife Ann (Lynne Kocol) and Detective McGuire (Thomas Gowen) snooping into Tom’s mysterious death.

Renee Harmon as the nefarious Dr. Lil Stanhope.

Again, what at first appears to be a regular, rather mundane plotline becomes an almost mystifying film experience due to its unique and haphazard execution, and it has no right to be as enjoyable as it is.  Made on a shoestring by Harmon utilizing some of her film class students, FROZEN SCREAM moves in-between dream sequences and flashbacks without any thought whatsoever, which is further complicated by yet another hollow, post-dubbed soundtrack (courtesy of James Bryan who, once again, handled most of the post-production work) only adding to the already bizarre, but highly entertaining nature of this entire production.  What begins as a standard slasher film, complete with a double murder by a bug-eyed, robed man and typical P.O.V. shots soon escalates into something entirely different.  More murders do occur, including a rather gory axe to the head, but FROZEN SCREAM seems much more preoccupied with existential themes about human existence and our destinies in the afterlife (“What we call death is merely a change”).  During a flashback, a séance on a deserted beach is taking place during Halloween where Stanhope and Johnson organize a “celebration of the spirit of resurrection” as everyone chants “love and immortality”, while Cathrin (Sunny Batholomew), who is like “walking ice”, drops her top.  Then, in a rather confusing turn of events, Ann has a flashback within a flashback about her dead husband Tom.  In case it all gets a little too confusing for everyone, Detective McGuire provides some film-noirish narration to try and help keep things in check, but in a sloppy or purposely arty bit of sound editing, his narration occurs during a dialogue scene.  A truly delirious experience, FROZEN SCREAM is a labyrinthine assemblage of grand ideas made on a zero budget, and, as such, is a completely invigorating and unforgettable bit of independent horror cinema.  

In spite of their humble origins, both films look far better than any previous available versions on this Vinegar Syndrome Drive-In Collection disc.  Mastered in 2K from the original camera negative, The EXECUTIONER PART II looks incredibly sharp and crisp, and unlike the old edited VHS version, it retains the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and is also completely uncut.  As for FROZEN SCREAM, it was also mastered in 2K from the original 16mm camera negatives, but due to the limitations of the 16mm photography it’s still quite grainy, but infinitely more watchable than any previous VHS or bootleg DVD release, with a clarity not seen in those earlier, and far inferior, releases.  Other than the aforementioned James Bryan interview, “The Executioner’s Song”, the only other extra is a very entertaining trailer for The EXECUTIONER PART II.  Order this amazing double feature DVD from Vinegar Syndrome here 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Director Zebedy Colt, who made The FARMER’S DAUGHTERS (1976) at the height of porno chic, was never interested in the high-gloss productions of his contemporaries; instead he focused his attentions on the downright nasty, and according to Stephen Thrower, author of the indispensible book NIGHTMARE USA, (quote) “some of the most diabolically honest products of American erotic cinema.”  Following his superlative, and still shocking, The DEVIL INSIDE HER (1976), Mr. Colt once again focuses his attentions on a small country family, but this time instead of devil possessions and satanic black masses, three escaped convicts not only terrorize, but also unleash a torrent of dirty secrets within the family that seriously challenge their already over-active libidos.

Zebedy Colt and Gloria Leonard (credited here as Gayle Leonard) star as the husband-and-wife couple whose three insatiable daughters (Marlene Willoughby, Susan McBain & Nancy Dare) gleefully spy on their lovemaking and then, in a heated frenzy, forcibly have sex with the local farmhand (Bill Cort).  When three escaped convicts looking for refuge barge in on their ‘antics’, these equally horny guys, led by future SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA (1987) star Spalding Gray, also get in on the action, leading to a prolonged outdoor orgy, incest, a rather startling twist, and a completely bizarre surrealistic ending. 

Taking its cue from the numerous ‘roughies’ (a brand of sexploitation film mixing sex with violence) and Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), this backyard production, which, incidentally, looks like it was shot over one long weekend somewhere in either upstate New York or New Jersey (The DEVIL INSIDE HER was shot in Lambertville, New Jersey, for those that care about such things), is an utterly irredeemable porno flick.  At just over an hour in length, director Colt strips the film down to the bare essentials with virtually wall-to-wall sex, and given the film’s horror-styled approach, it’s sadistic edge is definitely hard to forget.  As with most of Colt’s film work, The FARMER’S DAUGHTERS is a very low-budget affair and not exactly an inventive piece of filmmaking, but the rural setting (imagine an even lower-budgeted and far nastier version of all those Harry Novak hillbilly flicks like TOBACCO ROODY [1970]), and surprise casting of Spalding Gray (1941-2004) – future “legit” actor and monologist from such films as Roland Joffe’s The KILLING FIELDS (1984) and Steven Soderbergh’s KING OF THE HILL (1993) – give the film an odd distinction among the glut of ’70s smut. But what really separates Colt’s humble adult features of the time is his rather unflappable approach to the scuzzy material.  Although sloppily shot by Charles Lamont (who also worked with Colt on numerous occasions) with lots of hand-held camerawork, the rather unrehearsed feel also adds to the depraved verisimilitude, and to their credit, Colt and Lamont do the best they can with the ‘one-day wonder’ budget which producer Leonard Kirtman (working under his “Leon de Leon” moniker) most likely allotted them.  As for Kirtman, he produced a number of films throughout the ’70s, including the aforementioned The DEVIL INSIDE HER, he was also the director of CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1970), a low-budget carny horror featuring an early appearance from character actor Burt Young, and then, later in the decade – usually credited as “Leon Gucci” – he directed a number of adult features like INSIDE DESIREÉ COUSTEAU (1978).

Newspaper ad from the L.A. Herald (1978) courtesy of Mike Ferguson & Steve Fenton.

Originally available on DVD through Alpha Blue Archives in a Zebedy Colt Triple Feature and separately from Gourmet Video, both these versions utilized a cut, VHS-sourced version, which was quite the eyesore.  Don’t expect any earth-shattering restorations with this newest DVD release from Impulse Pictures; it includes all the usual scratches and splices indicative of no-budget stuff like this, but unlike those earlier, inferior releases, the picture quality is vastly improved and, even more importantly, this is the rarely-seen uncut version which, according to the ad-copy, is “one of the most eyebrow raising films in the Impulse Pictures library!” Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, there are no extras related to the release, but this disc does include a “sneak peek” at Impulse’s ongoing and exhaustive 42nd STREET FOREVER - THE PEEP SHOW COLLECTION series, which has so far spawned 13 volumes.  Buy The FARMER’S DAUGHTERS from DiabolikDVD here.