Saturday, October 21, 2017

FRANKENSTEIN '80 - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Outside of some dubious DVD bootlegs, directorial one-timer Mario Mancini’s lowly, schlocky splatter flick FRANKENSTEIN ’80 (1972) has – during this the still-ongoing digital age, at least – remained conspicuously absent in anything even close to resembling a passably watchable version. But now, thanks to Germany’s ’84 Entertainment, this unabashedly seedy, skeezy and sleazy Italo-horror finally gets a real first-class presentation on their fine-looking Blu-ray / DVD Mediabook.

Top surgeon Dr. Rudolf Schwarz (Bob Fiz) has developed a revolutionary anti-lymphocytic serum, which is supposed to help (quote) “modify the morphological picture and avoid rejection” during organ transplants. Apparently, this serum – which looks a lot like blue mouthwash, and quite possibly was! – is so innovative that it’s the only one of its kind in the entire world (!); and which, of course, shortly gets stolen from Schwarz’s office by a mysterious nocturnal intruder, right when the good doctor – and especially his current patient – needs it most. Enter Karl Schein (John Richardson, whose character name, despite what both the cast-crawl and IMDb say, is actually clearly repeatedly heard being pronounced more like “Schellen” [sic?]). Schein is a reporter assigned to the (quote) “crime news desk” at some unspecified local newspaper, and is visiting his terminally-ill sister at the hospital, who is awaiting an urgent heart transplant c/o of Doc Schwarz, and will surely soon die without one.  Due to that mysterious third party having absconded with Schwarz’s crucial serum the night before, Karl’s sister dies not long after her operation when her incompatible physiognomy rejects the donated heart, so her grieving brother – who doesn’t really seem all that bothered by her ‘tragic’ demise, quite frankly (chalk it up to underacting ‘star’ Richardson’s bored lack of interest in the material!) – is put on the (quote) “Schwarz serum case”, a special enquiry which leads him to the hospital’s head pathologist, Dr. Otto Frankenstein (Gordon Mitchell) and his misshapen, stitched-together – and sexually voracious – monster, whom/which his creator has dubbed Mosaic (Xiro Papas). Incidentally, you’d think that any hospital which would hire-on an employee named Frankenstein (who makes no effort whatsoever to disguise his identity by simply assuming an alias) in a capacity which gave him free access to all the dead patients’ body parts might at least be suspicious of his motives and keep an eye on him, especially after hours… but apparently not!

Bearing some passing similarities to Mel Welles’ vastly superior LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1971), starring Rosalba Neri, Mickey Hargitay and Joseph Cotten, this micro-budgeted modern-day retelling of Mary Shelley’s most famous work – which was produced in ’72 but evidently meant to be set in the ‘future’ year of 1980 – is every bit as piecemeal as Frankenstein’s human jigsaw puzzle Mosaic in the film. As intriguing/puzzling as its ‘futuristic’ title is, most of this film’s running time is devoted to Mosaic its ‘Modern Prometheus’ simply roaming the streets of an unspecified European city (in what was evidently intended to be Germany, judging by the excess of Teutonic names in the cast of characters; although an olive-green Giulia polizia cruiser pegs the true location as being a whole lot closer to home in Mamma Italia). Rather than merely wandering aimlessly, Mosaic goes off searching for women and fresh body parts, much to his master’s chagrin. “You’ve got to stop killing! I’ll get you the organs you need! exclaims Dr. Frankenstein, alarmed by his cobbled-together creation’s increasingly murderous and uncontrollable behavior. Bald-pated, with big bushy eyebrows and sporting fresh surgery scars all over his face and body – as an ill-fated, short-lived hooker discovers, much to her horror – Mosaic also wears a Gestapo-like black leather trench-coat and black fedora hat (and a rather goofy one at that!) which makes him look like some wannabe ’40s-era hoodlum with a leather fetish. Unable to speak beyond uttering a few unintelligible grunts and groans here and there, he somehow still manages to pick up the odd unwary prostitute (“What’s the matter with you, eh?” asks one. “You made-up for Halloween?”), who definitely get more than they bargained for when they take this ‘john’ home to their bedsit.

Like the protagonist of some third-rate giallo, our disinterested hero Karl snoops about both figuratively and literally in the dark, and along with Schneider (Renato Romano), a very frustrated police Inspector (“Give me the essence of it! The juice, ya know?!”), they discover Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, which is secretly – laughably enough – hidden behind a swinging partition within the very hospital itself. Later in the film, when Insp. Schneider is unable – or more likely just can’t be bothered – to put out an APB on the rampaging monster, due to a lack of the required Schwarz serum to keep Mosaic’s organs functioning properly, they simply wait for them to be rejected and fail. In the meantime, Mosaic goes on a continuous killing spree while the police sit back twiddling their thumbs and biding their time, if nothing else doing their bit to pad the film out to an, um, ‘respectable’ running length. Another purely extraneous bit of business involves ‘special guest star’ Luigi “Gigi” Bonos, the then-sole-surviving brother of the once-popular Fratelli Bonos acting trio (he too passed away in the year 2000). A seasoned specialist at playing stock comedic characters, Bonos herein cameos without saying a word as a grubby old vagabond who has a particularly unpleasant (and fatal) encounter with the man-made monster and a large, heavy car part in an auto graveyard after dark.

Clumsily-executed across the boards and strung-together with only the flimsiest of plotlines – albeit still highly entertaining nevertheless – FRANKENSTEIN ’80 represents usual cinematographer Mancini’s sole endeavour as a director. He was actually a fairly prolific DP on many a low-budget Italian film and, again in 1972, he also worked in that capacity on F.L. Morris’ (a.k.a. Ferdinando Merighi) equally shoddy giallo, THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS (1972); it too features the same economical and garish lighting schemes, which comes as quite the surprise in the case of the present film, since it was shot by no less than Emilio Varriano, one of Mario Bava’s most trusted camera operators (who, two years later, went on to lens Bava’s claustrophobic, nail-bitingly suspenseful crime thriller RABID DOGS [1974]). Talented composer Daniele Patucchi also provides a fun, if wholly appropriate, piano-driven score, but he also reuses a cue from his languid, easy-listening score to Elò Pannaccio’s IL SESSO DELLA STREGA (1972). Following a drawn-out peeler act at a stripclub, bits of Patucchi’s score for Carlo Croccolo’s low-end Klaus Kinski spaghetti western BLACK KILLER (1971) can also be heard.

Beginning with a disclaimer about the film’s new HD transfer, some (quote) “short scenes were no longer available on 35mm film and had to be inserted from an inferior source”, which in this case was a grainy VHS videocassette. Apart from these thankfully-only-brief inserted scenes (including longer-lingering extra bits of nudity and gore), which jar quite noticeably with the bulk of the film’s transfer print proper, ’84 Entertainment’s Blu-ray is most definitely worth the upgrade. Miles better than any other version on the market, all of FRANKENSTEIN ’80’s previously problematic day-for-night scenes come through just fine here, and will serve as a real revelation to anyone familiar with Gorgon’s long-out-of-print, badly pan-and-scanned fullscreen VHS tape. Detail on the Blu is excellent, with stable, robust colours, an aspect which only helps better accentuate all the glistening viscera and stage blood on display.  This is also the first time (at least to English-language viewers) that the film has been made available in its original widescreen aspect ratio, which makes for a far-less-confining and claustrophobically constricting viewing experience all round. The LPCM 2.0 audio is also available in both German and English language options, although the English track does feature some audible hiss, but overall it sounds just fine in light of the film’s obvious relatively primitive technical attributes, whose shortcomings would have been apparent enough (perhaps more-so) even on the film’s original theatrical release.


Extras include a fairly beat-up, but most-welcome original trailer, with some brief German narration; alternate opening credits from the U.S. and German (as MIDNIGHT HORROR) VHS versions (3m30s), which really makes you appreciate just how fine this new transfer is; a brief gallery (1m07s) of the entire set of Italian fotobuste; plus ‘lost film scenes’, which are all the extra inserted scenes, including surrounding context (3m55s). Apart from one extra brief artwork gallery (57s) of video and promotional art present only on the DVD, both discs include the same transfer and extras. Available in three separate Mediabook editions, Cover A (limited to 333 copies) features a nice, retro-styled rendition of the film’s original German VPS (Video Program Service) VHS videocassette, while Covers B (222 copies) and Cover C (250 copies) feature, respectively, the French Mike Hunter VHS artwork and French theatrical poster art.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

FANGO BOLLENTE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

A well-made, thought-provoking social drama, Vittorio Salerno’s FANGO BOLLENTE (1975) is usually regarded as a poliziesco, simply by virtue of its urban “street” setting and the inclusion of Vittorio’s brother Enrico Maria Salerno, a distinguished actor who became inseparable from the genre after his defining performance in Carlo Vanzina’s ground-breaking FROM THE POLICE… WITH THANKS (a.k.a. THE EXECUTION SQUAD, 1971). While the present film was difficult to see for years, genre specialists Camera Obscura have remedied this oversight with their prestigious new Blu-ray edition, which not only looks spectacular, but sheds further light on this entertaining and alarmingly prescient title.

In the city of Torino, Ovidio Mainardi (Joe Dallesandro) and his co-workers Giacomo (Gianfranco De Grassi) and Peppe (Guido De Carli) suffer from the drudgery of the everyday rat-race. Working as a computer technician at a government-run statistics bureau, Ovidio observes a bunch of lab-mice as they tear each other apart when he over-crowds their shit-strewn cage. Wondering whether people would respond in the same way under similar overcrowded conditions, the presiding scientist responds confidently, “There’s always one who starts biting the others.”  In a nicely-measured bit of cutting, the action then shifts to a soccer stadium, packed with enthusiastic fans, where Ovidio and his pals incite a riot, an incident of hooliganism that leaves one participant dead and injures forty more. In the chaotic aftermath, the instigators steal a Ferrari and then side-swipe a motorcycle and speed off on that. Their crime spree soon escalates to murder when, in one of the film’s defining moments – shot in super slow-motion – Ovidio sticks a truck driver with a screwdriver during a motoring altercation.

Meanwhile, inspector and ex-Flying Squad member Santagà (Enrico Maria Salerno) is assigned to the ongoing case, and he firmly believes these ‘incidents’ are not politically motivated, as his superiors would have him believe, but merely a result of ordinary people breaking under the strain and stresses of living in modern society (“We’re always under pressure. It might be the stress, the mistreatment,” he surmises). Under the capable direction of his kid brother Vittorio, E.M. Salerno contributes yet another committed, believable characterization as the run-down but determined Inspector. This middle-aged, game-legged character, still clinging tenaciously to his once honourable profession (“My balls are exploding!”), might almost be seen as an extension of Salerno’s Insp. Bertone from THE EXECUTION SQUAD.

Locandina courtesy of Peter Jilmstad.
A succession of murder and sexual assault continues for much of the film’s running time, with the rogue trio going on to beat and viciously stab a pimp in the groin with his own switchblade, and then – off-screen – rape one of his hookers. The very next day, they kidnap a pair of ‘upper class’ women (Carmen Scarpitta and Ada Pometti) and again have their way with them during a sequence which ends in a particularly gruesome fashion.  It turns out one of the victims was the wife of a highly influential government official, so at the behest of the deputy minister, the apprehensive police commissioner (Luigi Casellato), offers Santagà a deal: clean things up as quickly and quietly as possible!

Punctuated by a terrific progressive rock score from Franco Campanino, who also scored Dallesandro’s first foray into Italian crimeslime, Pasquale Squitieri’s superb THE CLIMBER (1975), Vittorio Salerno’s FANGO BOLLENTE appears to be – on the surface, at least – yet another entry in a short-lived subgenre of mid-’70s Italo ‘youths-run-wild’ films, featuring themes which were further explored in such polizieschi as Romolo Guerrieri’s upscale YOUNG, VIOLENT, DESPERATE (1976), Renato Savino’s bottom-of-the barrel I RAGAZZI DI ROMA VIOLENTA (1976) and Segri & Ferrara’s lowly VIOLENCE FOR KICKS (1976). In spite of their boyish looks, these are not the usual spoiled, bored rich kids with negligent parents unaware what their offspring are up too. Ovidio, Giacomo and Peppe all have regular jobs and ‘normal’ unassuming lives, but are simply bored by it all. Never fully-explained or expanded upon, the jaded trio’s collective boredom may be the main perpetrator of their initial crime spree but, in an interesting turn of events, their inherent sadistic streak is antagonized by the aggressive environment in which they live, just like those desperate lab-mice at the start of the film; the over-crowded cities add further fuel to their fire as everyone tries to defend their ‘space’ or personal ambitions, without even considering the possible consequences of their actions. In a further example of this, Ovidio’s wife Alba (Martine Brochard) will stop at nothing to further her medical career by sleeping with her boss (Claudio Nicastro) without even a moment’s hesitation.

Better known as SAVAGE THREE (its English-language export title) to the few who have actually seen it, FANGO BOLLENTE was barely released on video outside of Italy, but thanks to Camera Obscura, it’s great to finally have this noteworthy film show up in such a fine-looking edition. In what has now become customary, CO’s 1080p Region B Blu-ray features yet another superior transfer, with optimally balanced colours, strong contrasts, excellent black levels and a nice, consistent amount of film grain; it looks just about perfect.  The DTS-HD MA mono audio, which features both German and Italian language tracks, also sounds perfectly balanced and clear throughout. English and German subtitles are provided.

Extras begin with an audio commentary from genre specialists Pelle Felsch and Christian Kessler, wherein they discuss the social climate at the time in Italy and the violence associated with it; the film’s director and its numerous stars and co-stars, Campanino’s unique score and the film’s primary themes. As usual, it’s a thorough, comprehensive listen from a pair of film scholars that really know their stuff. In the first featurette, Rat Eat Rat (39m08s), produced by Freak-O-Rama, director Vittorio Salerno and Martine Brochard discuss how the film came about, as well as the formation of Comma 9, an independent production company which, along with Salerno, comprised directors such as Squitieri, Francesco Barilli and screenwriter Massimo D’Avack to name a few, which unfortunately only ever produced just this one film. Further topics of discussion includes Goffredo Lombardo’s Titanus distribution company; some of the film’s locations in and around Torino; and the casting of Dallesandro (“I like his somewhat weird face”). In The Savage One (40m56s), yet another Freak-O-Rama-produced featurette, Severin’s David Gregory interviews Dallesandro in what is essentially a career overview, beginning with his early years working on Andy Warhol pictures, and just about every other facet of his time working in Europe, including all his poliziotteschi; not afraid to tell it like it is, Dallesandro even refers to his SEASON FOR ASSASSINS (Marcello Andrei, 1975) co-star Martin Balsam as a “knucklehead!” He also discusses the political turmoil in Italy at the time during the proliferation of the “Brigate Rosso”, and that they were (quote) “scary times”. A liner notes booklet with an essay (e.g., “With sticky fingers in hot mud”) from Robert Zion is also included, and it even features a nice reproduction of the misleading artwork that once adorned the now-exceedingly-rare Greek VHS videocassette edition.

A far more incendiary film than your average Italocrime effort, it’s great to finally it back in circulation, and thanks to Camera Obscura’s superb Blu-ray, it’s unquestionably never looked better. Order it from DiabolikDVD.