Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THE SLAYER - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Unavailable for years in anything resembling a decent presentation, J.S. Cardone’s atmospheric slasher film, THE SLAYER (1982) has, thanks to Arrow Video, finally arrived in what is easily its best—and no doubt definitive—incarnation on home video.

Kay (Sarah Kendall) suffers from horrific, realistic nightmares, many of which involve some sort of sinister creature (“I was having that nightmare again… Something was after me!”), which has begun to affect her work as a prominent painter.  Deciding to get away for a much-needed vacation, Kay and her husband David (Alan McRae) agree to accompany her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) to a secluded island, but once there, Kay’s visions (“I feel like I’ve been here before.” She nervously intones) and nightmares begin to take more and more of a hold on her and, unfortunately for the others, begin to manifest themselves in actual reality rather than only in her mind.

Although produced at the height of the slasher boom, THE SLAYER isn’t your typical ‘body count’ outing of the kind that was so prevalent at the time, and while it does feature some exceptional horror set-pieces, Cardone’s intimate setting and minimal cast allows for a far more interesting take on the genre, which is also helped along by the desolate and striking island locale.  But what is probably the film’s biggest, and certainly most interesting plot development, are Kay’s dreams, which eventually reveal themselves to be the driving force of the film (“My life will be gone! Dreams will have taken its place!”).  It’s difficult not to think of Wes Craven’s seminal ’80s scare-film A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) when hearing such choice dialogue as, “She’s convinced if she goes to sleep, we’ll all DIE!”, but at the very same time, the film also bears some similarities to John Hancock’s sombre—and highly effective creeper-sleeper—LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971), which also delved into the unexplainable while focusing on the title character’s (brilliantly portrayed by Zohra Lampert) breakdown and her inability to make sense of anything around her—a kind of waking nightmare, if you will.  Like Hancock’s film, Cardone’s first feature film also has an unsettling quality to it; a disturbing atmosphere that slowly builds as Kay’s unresolved neurosis begins to take over the narrative.  In the present film, Sarah Kendall’s fragile, confused and equally terrified Kay has much in common with Lampert’s detached Jessica, and just like her, Kay reluctantly tries to escape these disturbing ‘nightmares’ by taking a sabbatical—or, as Jessica does, relocating to Connecticut from New York City—but instead, the tranquil (if equally distressing) island setting brings out the worst in Kay’s ongoing state of mental anguish…

While THE SLAYER did garner a stateside theatrical release courtesy of 21st Century Distribution Corporation, who also handled similar neglected favourites such as Eddy Matalon’s CATHY’S CURSE (1976), most people caught-up with this film either through Continental Video’s U.S. ‘double-feature’ VHS videocassette (which paired it up with Fred Olen Ray’s SCALPS [1983] and shortened the film by almost 15 minutes in order to fit both films on one tape) or Canada’s Marquis Home Video.  The muddy, unattractive transfers of those versions did the film no favours and THE SLAYER, despite garnering a fairly strong fan following, subsequently disappeared from circulation for decades.  Working with the original camera negative, Arrow Video commissioned a brand new 4K (!) scan, and it’s quite miraculous just how good it all looks.  Detail is perfect, colours are rich and naturalistic, and all of the film’s previously troublesome nighttime scenes are now made abundantly clear, and this development comes as a real revelation for seasoned viewers of the film who are used to seeing it in far-less-than-optimal form.  This is easily one of the more attractive restorations of a low-budget film this year.  Utilizing the original optical negative, the LPCM mono audio also sounds impeccable, which only enhances Robert Folk’s (quote) “lush, orchestral” music.

Beginning with a very informative audio commentary with director Cardone, production executive Eric Weston and star Carol Kottenbrook, disc producer Ewan Cant nicely moderates the discussion during which Cardone talks about his Val Lewton influences and much of the film’s subtle foreshadowing; Folk’s (quote) “atypical score”; Sarah Kendall’s (quote) “strange quality”, which suited the film perfectly, and Kottenbrook chimes-in about the rest of the cast members; Cardone and Weston go on to talk about some of the difficulties of filming with only four actors, which allowed him to take advantage of the striking location on Georgia’s Tybee Island and (quote) “fill the gap”.  It’s a wonderful talk, and he too is very happy that he can finally (quote) “see it” as he applauds Arrow’s new restoration.  In the second audio commentary, The Hysteria Continues wax nostalgic about some of the film’s VHS releases and their memories of renting said tapes, including Continental Video’s promotional compilation cassette, TERROR ON TAPE (1985), which featured most of THE SLAYER’s gory ‘highlights’; they also talk about the film’s place amongst the U.K.’s ‘Video Nasties’ furor and Vipco’s VHS and DVD releases. In addition, they casually chat about some of the film’s similarities to both John Hough’s INCUBUS (1982) and Percival Rubens’ THE DEMON (1979),  then go on to cover plenty of details about the film, including its unhurried pacing—which they’ve since gone on to appreciate—as well as the film’s (quote) “middle-aged cast”.  On yet another audio ‘interview’ (50m22s), Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher talks with the film’s composer, Robert Folk.  Initially wanting to be a songwriter and (quote) “pop musician”, he decided to attend New York’s prestigious Juilliard School, where he began studying classical music and obtained his doctorate.  Some of his first work included scoring documentary features for the prestigious IMAX. Then, after moving out to L.A., he composed his first feature film score for Robert Collins’ SAVAGE HARVEST (1981), on which, quite incredibly, he had the good fortune of working with London’s National Philharmonic Orchestra.  For his SLAYER score, he had John Williams’ work in mind, and in particular Pino Donaggio’s (quote) “melodic approach” to film scoring, and these influences only enhance and underscore the psychological themes of the film.  The interview with the composer is followed by ‘Isolated Score Selections’.

In what is undoubtedly the film’s biggest extra, Red Shirt Pictures’ Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer (52m54s) is a very thorough documentary from Michael Felsher (produced with Arrow Video), which gathers together just about everyone involved in the making of the film, including director Cardone, writer/producer Robert Ewing, production executive Eric Weston, DP Karen Grossman and camera operator Arledge Armenaki, plus special effects creator Robert Short and creature performer Carl Kraines.  Everyone talks very fondly of their experiences on the film, including their time on Tybee Island, which at the time was a (quote) “resort summer community” that was also used as a location for Burt Reynolds’ GATOR (1973).  The participants also discuss the film’s (quote) “certain pace” and many of the film’s effects work, one of the film’s showstoppers included, which they did in one take.  They also briefly touch on 21st Century’s shady dealings with the film’s distribution, which was quickly released into theatres from a (quote) “non colour-corrected answer print” that eventually made its way to home video, which only makes Arrow Video’s new restoration all the more remarkable to behold.

Other extras include Red Shirt Pictures’ Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer (13m18s), hosted by Arledge Armenaki, which is an excellent tour of the film’s many—still-extant—locations.  In The Tybee Post Theater Experience (17m50s), Ewan Cant moderates a Q&A session with Armenaki following a special screening of the film at the newly-refurbished Tybee Post Theater.  And, in yet another feature-length audio track (!), Arrow also includes this special screening’s audience reactions.  Other extras include the film’s original theatrical trailer (“What you’re about to see may shock you!”) and an exhaustive stills gallery (running a whopping 9m55s!) which includes numerous behind-the-scenes photos and promotional materials.  Additionally, as with all of Arrow Video’s first pressings, a thick liner-notes booklet is included, containing an insightful essay by author and film historian Lee Gambin as well as Ewan Cant’s recollections of first seeing the film and his visit to Tybee.

Perfect in every way, Arrow Video’s Dual Format Blu-ray / DVD combo of THE SLAYER easily ranks as one of the most impressive restorations of the year and is well worth revisiting!  Order it from Amazon or DiabolikDVD.

Friday, September 22, 2017

CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Reviewed by Steve Fenton, with Dennis Capicik.

Bouchet, as Margie spits at Silva’s character: “Listen, Tony Annianti, stop the crap! We’re all whores in this world. The only difference is that you don’t sell your body, you sell your soul. And when it comes to nastiness, I don’t know which one of us’d win the Oscar!

Based on an original story by Sergio Simonetti, director Andrea Bianchi’s CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (1974) incorporates many a spaghetti western motif while simultaneously combining key elements of Fernando di Leo’s THE BOSS and Vittorio Schraldi’s I KISS THE HAND, two other must-sees of Italocrime nihilism / misanthropy, both of which were made the previous year in ’73 (a fine vintage for the genre!). Absolutely raucous hard-rock power chords in the main title theme prepare you for one kickass viewing experience that really pours the slime into Crimeslime!

Right in the opening scene, traffickers employ the hollowed-out corpse of a young boy to smuggle heroin past border guards. Elsewhere, in Colipietra, Sicilian mob consiglieri under Don Cascemi (Vittorio Sanipoli) discuss the moral ramifications of using children as vessels for the ferrying of drugs. This is just one of the ‘innovative’ modern techniques exported to Sicily by Don Ricuzzo “Rico” Cantimo (Fausto Tozzi); a disgraced Mafia upstart who has been ingloriously deported from America because of his unscrupulous modus operandi. Back home on Sicilia, all-out gang war has since ignited between the equally volatile Cantimo and Scannapieco families.

Essentially reprising his ruthlessly charismatic title character from William Asher’s JOHNNY COOL (1963) – a role which he re-channeled often in his Continental crime flicks – here playing Don Cascemi’s cold, laconic hitman Antonio “Tony” Annianti (“I was never a two-bit crook!” he brags), Silva is first introduced while whistling an eerie personal signature tune punctuated by two perfect head-shots from his Lugar (which had also been the actor’s gat of choice in the aforementioned di Leo’s MANHUNT [a.k.a. THE ITALIAN CONNECTION, 1971]). No sooner have two of local mob capo Don Turi Scannapieco (Mario Landi)’s soldiers been ambushed and curtly dispatched by lupara-toting hitmen than Tony’s whistle – and pistol – resound yet again. Much like the disgraced Don Ricuzzo, Silva’s character – an expatriate Brooklyner – has some unconventional ideas of his own concerning mob business (“Because I’m a Sicilian. I was born in this country, and I hate and I despise those phony American Sicilians!”).

Locandina scan courtesy of Peter Jilmstad.
Don Ricuzzo’s seductive-but-alcholic American wife is Margie (Eurotrash cinema icon Barbara Bouchet), a sin-and-gin swilling ex-hooker (“It was three bucks a pop, and two bucks a handjob…!”). Casting bedroom glances at Silva from under her lustrous cascade of corn-yellow tresses, Bouchet is first seen enjoying a fully-clothed but nonetheless highly erotic milk bath (US admats teased: ‘Being a Hooker Never Stopped Me from Being a Woman’). Bouchet further teases Silva by virtually fellating a peeled banana at him from across the dinner table with the utmost suggestiveness; while her semi-impotent hubby Don Ricuzzo can only enjoy intercourse with his wife if she talks dirty to him first (i.e., describes her imaginary sexual escapades with well-hung black men). When Margie resorts to blackmail to force Tony into having sex with her, he responds by contemptuously buggering her on all-fours (“Turn around, we’ll do it my way!”) up against a gutted hog carcass (“You dirty pig! You PIG!” she protests, loving every second of it). Margie later confesses this impromptu dalliance to the pervy Don Ricuzzo, who is far from jealous upon hearing the news (“You know it turns me on…”).

Although Tony has already ingratiated himself with Don Turi by rescuing a bushwhacked shipment of smack disguised as a wagonload of fresh-picked cherries, Don Ricuzzo suggests that the ambitious junior hood should collaborate with him in ripping-off the rival Scannapieco clan. To this end, Tony goes on to further curry favour with Don Turi by rescuing his gimp-legged grandson Zino from enemy gangsters (for the brutal coup de grâce, Silva squashes his victims [quote] “like pancakes” under a steamroller!). However, after Tony brutally beats Margie with his belt then rapes her again (this time against her will), instead of being aroused by it, Don Ricuzzo’s burgeoning respect for him quickly degenerates into a rage for revenge…

CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (as it was titled for the film’s mid-’70s stateside release by legendary exploitation distributor Joseph Brenner) ultimately illustrates how the itchy trigger finger of vendetta beckons throughout the entire mob pecking order, impersonally disregarding both age and gender. Action highpoints include a slow-motion canne mozze attack by Cantimo soldiers at the Scannapieco sawmill, and a nocturnal seaside gun battle between rival dope smugglers. In another top scene, the ever-badass Silva (“Look motherfucker, I repeat myself: clean my shoes!”) engages in a pitchfork duel with one of Don Turi’s strapping sons (played by bodybuilder/stuntman Pietro Torrisi) after he has publicly insulted his honour.

Plot-wise heavily derivative of Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and steeped in messy soap opera along with other negative side-effects of Roman Catholic repression (“Do you think there’s a God, Tony Anniante?” – “Sometimes…”), CRY OF A PROSTITUTE ends with a startling twist that’s every bit as cynical as you might expect considering all that has preceded it.

Image scan courtesy of Michael Ferguson.
(And now here’s Dennis with the dope on the new Code Red Blu-ray edition of this mandatory crimeslimer…)

While it was originally released to U.S. theatres by Joseph Brenner Associates in 1975 with typical – and highly misleading – hyperbole (“For a lousy twenty-five bucks some people think they can do anything!”), most viewers probably stumbled onto this bloody mafia meller via Prism Entertainment’s clamshell videocassette from 1986, which also featured some equally misleading ad-copy (“She left prostitution… and found murder!”). Of course, that full-screen videotape severely compromised Carlo Carlini’s scope photography, and to top it all off, it also featured a substantially-truncated version of the film to boot. Earlier in the digital age, the film first surfaced in Italy on Flamingo Video under its original – and far blander – native title QUELLI CHE CONTANO (trans: “The Ones That Count”), which not only featured the original full 96-minute version, but also retained its original 2.35:1 Techniscope framing with 16x9 enhancement as well. Unfortunately, said disc only came with Italian audio and, despite finally retaining the proper aspect ratio, Flamingo’s version utilized a pretty beat-up transfer print, one which left a lot of room for improvement. The disc subsequently surfaced in Germany on Arcade Video as DIE RÄCHE DES PATEN (trans: “The Godfather’s Revenge”) in what appeared to be the same version, but with Italian and German audio options.

Licensed from Euro Immobilfin and Variety Communications, Code Red’s new Blu-ray is a vast improvement in every possible way. Taken from a (quote) “Brand new 2017 HD scan from the original nagatives”, their disc features a much-more-robust colour palette with solid details and healthier black levels, unlike the rather flat-looking Italian DVD. The DTS-HD MA mono audio also sounds solid and is about what you’d expect from many of these Italian-dubbed imports, but thankfully, (as he typically did) Henry Silva stuck around long enough to supply his own voice (hence earning himself an extra paycheck for the ‘overtime’). More importantly, though, Code Red’s disc represents the first time that this longer cut of the film has ever been made available in English anywhere in the world. The lengthier print features a number of quite significant additional dialogue exchanges, which not only help the flow of the film, but are also quite integral in helping to flesh-out the various characters and their motivations.


Extras are limited to Joseph Brenner’s altered – and severely-edited – opening sequence for the film, featuring those above-mentioned ‘raucous hard-rock power chords’, the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for some of Code Red’s other current and upcoming titles, such as Umberto Lenzi’s THE DEATH DEALER (a.k.a. ALMOST HUMAN [1974]), which features similar Joseph Brenner ballyhoo (e.g., “Morally and sexually this motion picture may shock you. But it’s an experience in psycho-sadism you will never forget!”), Sergio Martino’s THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS (1973), Ferdinando Baldi’s globe-hopping THE SICILIAN CONNECTION (1972), plus Clark Worswick’s obscure American-made mob opus FAMILY HONOR (1973). Order it from DiabolikDVD.