Monday, September 10, 2018

GIALLO IN VENICE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

How do you follow-up the wild excesses of Andrea Bianchi’s sordid Gothic soap opera MALABIMBA (1979)? Returning producer Gabriele Crisanti definitely gave it a try when he decided to bankroll Mario Landi’s GIALLO IN VENICE, an overtly sadistic and dingy giallo, which turned out to be one of the more notorious entries the genre has to offer. Most viewers caught up with this film via shoddy grey-market bootlegs, but now, thanks to Scorpion Releasing, this once-difficult-to-see film finally makes its North American Blu-ray debut, and – for lack of a better word – it looks superb.

Even before the credits roll, a man is repeatedly stabbed in the gut while a woman drowns in one of the Floating City’s many canals. Through the efforts of Inspector De Pol (American ex-pat Jeff Blynn), the deceased pair in question at the outset turn out to be Flavia (Leonora Fani) and Fabio (Gianni Dei), a married couple whose sexual proclivities were always centered around Fabio’s penchant for voyeurism and rough sex, albeit much to Flavia’s chagrin. With the help of her friend Marzia (Maria Angela Giordano), Insp. De Pol continues gathering info on the couple’s shady past, but, complicating matters still further, a rather cagey fellow (Michele Renzullo) in mirrored sunglasses continues to terrorize Venice…

Despite the in-your-face title and its vicious mean-streak, Mario Landi’s GIALLO IN VENICE does, at times, almost appear to be a parody of the genre as it gleefully (and gratuitously) wallows in many of its clichés and excesses, but with none of the style or mystery that made these films popular in the first place. As with Mario Gariazzo’s squalid PLAY MOTEL (1979), another sexually explicit, lowly giallo– which even had hardcore inserts added for some theatrical bookings – Landi’s film doesn’t quite go all the way in its depiction of graphic sex. However, unlike PLAY MOTEL’s rather tepid murders, which almost seemed like afterthoughts, while depicting his killings in GIV, Landi doesn’t hold back anything at all. Although perfunctory in their execution, the kill scenes remain some of the most gruesomely graphic to be found in the genre; including a jarring crotch-stabbing (which Crisanti and Landi managed to top the following year in PATRICK STILL LIVES [1980]!), plus a prolonged, and quite harrowing, dismemberment. On the other hand, much of the film also seems to be poking fun at the genre as represented by Inspector De Pol, an inquisitive, shaggy-haired detective dressed in a casual sport coat and baggy white pants whose penchant for eating hardboiled eggs must be some sort of joking reference to all those hardened, jaded film noir detectives of yesteryear. At one point, De Pol questions Flavia’s ex-boyfriend Bruno (discount spaghetti western star Vassili Karamesinis), a fumetti artist whose misogynist artwork greatly interests the police, as it prominently features scissors, one of the killer’s preferred murder weapons, but as Bruno smugly points out, “Sometimes reality exceeds fantasy”. And is it just a mere coincidence that both Flavia and Marzia prominently wear yellow dresses in a couple of key scenes? Subtlety is definitely not one of the film’s – nor producer Crisanti’s – strongpoints, but it’s this lack of restraint that makes it stand out from the norm. 

Largely-seen on VHS through one of the film’s initial home video appearances on Star Video, a Swiss-based company that specialized in Italian language films, GIALLO IN VENICE began to make the rounds in VHS trading circles throughout the ’90s via bootleg copies in either un-subtitled or subtitled editions and, although dubbed from Star Video’s tape or the longer Greek videotape, these second-or third-generation dupes of a poor, cropped transfer of an already dreary-looking film left plenty to be desired. 

In 2016, Germany’s X-Rated Kult released GIALLO IN VENICE as part of their “X-Rated Eurocult Collection” series of flashy Mediabooks. Numbered 26, this Limited Edition Blu-ray / DVD combo went OOP very quickly, but in early 2017 as part of their “X-Rated Italo-Giallo-Series”, they revisited the film and packaged it in one of their familiar oversized hardboxes in multiple-cover editions. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, X-Rated’s Blu-ray looks excellent, and although it does feature some brief instances of dirt and scratches, it appears that some very slight digital manipulation may have been performed. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is offered in both German and Italian, the latter of which is presented with English subtitles, which is obviously the preferred option. For the record, extras include an audio commentary with film historian Kai Naumann as well as on-camera interviews with German voice talent Vera Bunk (10m01s) and Nicolai Tegeler (12m50s), all of which are in German language only. Other extras include an “audiotrack” suite (5m37s) featuring Berto Pisano’s languid, pieced-together music; the logo for Stefano Film (18s), which were the film’s original distributor; and trailers for Enzo Milioni’s THE SISTER OF URSULA (1978) and Francesco Barilli’s THE PERFUME OFTHE LADY IN BLACK (1974). 

For its North American Blu-ray, Scorpion Releasing prepared a (quote) “Brand new 2018 HD scan with extensive color correction here in the U.S.”, which appears to be the same film print as X-Rated’s release, so it also contains some speckling and such, but unlike the X-Rated edition, it appears a tad sharper here, plus doesn’t have any sort of digital tweaking at all; anyone even remotely familiar with all those dreadful bootlegs will quickly realize just what an eye-opener Scorpion’s new disc is. Audio is provided by an Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track with (quote) “proper English subtitle translation”, which differs slightly (for the better) from X-Rated’s disc. The most substantial extra included with Scorpion’s new Blu-ray is an audio commentary with So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films author Troy Howarth, who approaches the project with a good deal of exuberance, all the while taking proverbial swigs of J&B Scotch throughout. He immediately points out that GIALLO IN VENICE is (quote) “many things, but DEEP RED [D: Dario Argento, 1975] it ain’t!”, and even though he has plenty to say, he most certainly doesn’t defend the film but instead discusses many of its (quote) “extreme situations” and just how (quote) “grubby and tasteless”, the entire endeavour is, which is precisely why it has endured over the years. Some of the other topics discussed include De Pol’s head-scratching infatuation with hard-boiled eggs (which infuriates Troy!); the film’s haphazard script; the dubious porno giallo subgenre; the various edits of the film over the years; as well as many of the actors and technicians who worked on the film. A triptych of trailers for Lucio Fulci’s THE PSYCHIC (1977), THE GATES OF HELL (1980) and MURDEROCK (1983), as well as Dario Argento’s OPERA (1987) and Alberto Negrin’s ENIGMA ROSSO (1978), finish off the extras.

At this point, the initial 1000 print run of GIALLO IN VENICE (which includes reversible cover art, a nicely-rendered but appropriately lurid slipcover featuring artwork by Devon Whitehead, and a bonus poster) has already sold out via Ronin Flix, but Scorpion Releasing have already arranged to print an additional 500 units, which should be available via Ronin Flix and DiabolikDVD in the near future, so keep checking their sites. 

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