Saturday, May 16, 2020

FORGOTTEN GIALLI: VOLUME 1 - BLU-RAY REVIEW

As they continually diversify their already extensive catalogue, Vinegar Syndrome have recently begun to explore the world of European genre cinema more often as seen in such previously-released titles as Juan Antonio Bardem’s superb THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER (1972), Ignacio F. Iquino’s lovably insane SECTA SINIESTRA (1982) and Andrea Bianchi’s unrepentantly sleazy MALABIMBA (1979). But with FORGOTTEN GIALLI: VOLUME 1, VS have released their most lavish Eurocentric release yet: a 3-disc box set comprising as many once-difficult-to-see gialli, all of which are making their worldwide HD debuts here. 

While Italo giallo thrillers have received plenty of coverage over the years, their Spanish counterparts, outside of an occasional title here or there (e.g., Carlos Aured’s Paul Naschy vehicle BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL [1973]), have remained largely unseen. In what turns out to be a fitting starting point for VS’s set, León Klimovsky’s TRAUMA (1978), is just such a film – a lesser-seen, late-breaking paella giallo which not only turned out to be his final film as a director, but also remains one of his most enjoyably trashy efforts.

In his attempt to find some solitude and pursue some writing, Daniel (Henry Gregor / a.k.a. Heinrich Starhemberg) locates a lakeside guesthouse tucked-away in the Spanish countryside outside Madrid. Said establishment’s owner/operator is Veronica (Ágata Lys), who at first seems to be just another lonely spinster. However, it’s soon revealed that she is actually caring for her invalid husband, who is not only confined to his upstairs bedroom, but on occasion, even forces her to disrobe at his perverse whim (“You’ll be my bitch whenever I ask!”). Although enjoying the seclusion, Daniel’s suspicions regarding Veronica begin to escalate when a few unexpected guests fall victim to a razor-wielding killer… 

Unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960), which turns out to be this film’s most noteworthy inspiration, TRAUMA is set in the sunny countryside, an idyllic milieu that belies the film’s oppressive and highly morbid atmosphere. In this diametrically-opposed – if no doubt intentional – bit of creativity, all of the murders also take place either outdoors in broad daylight or in brightly-lit rooms. This leaves little to the imagination as throats and bare torsos are savagely slashed to shreds. Aptly enough, the aforementioned PSYCHO’s renowned shower murder is even given brazen homage. Despite the film’s obvious mimicry of Hitchcock’s classic and its somewhat talkative narrative, Ágata Lys does a fine job in the lead here, while the script by Juan José Porto and Carlo Puerto (latter of whom also wrote and directed SATAN’S BLOOD [1978], which likewise features one of this film’s stars, Sandra Alberti) still manages to build and maintain a reasonable amount of tension. The less-than-explicable twist ending and various red herrings also amount to some of the film’s most memorable, head-scratching moments, which linger long after the film ends. 

Briefly released as a Region 2 DVD in Spain by Filmax (as part of their “Cine “S” de la Transicion Española” series), which was non-anamorphic and lacked any sort English language options, VS’s newly restored 2K transfer from the film’s camera negative is truly stunning in its crystal-clarity, and outside of the print’s slight uptick in contrast during the opening credits (possibly due to the film’s opticals?), it’s all perfectly balanced and gets the most out of the colourful image; the vividly crimson splashes of blood are suitably jarring and quite effective. The Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio mono track with optional English subtitles is also free of any noticeable hiss or distortion, and sounds just about right given the film’s lowly dubbing and limited soundscape. 

Apart from the film’s superb transfer, the other major bonus here is an audio commentary from author and film historian Troy Howarth, who admits he was rather harsh on the film in the third and final volume of his book series So Deadly So Perverse (Midnight Marquee, 2019), so he was happy to revisit it in this newly-minted incarnation. He discusses its many influences, also giving a quick primer on giallo films in general, remarking that, in certain aspects, Klimovsky’s last film is simply an “old-fashioned murder mystery”. Howarth also discusses many of the film’s awkward moments and characters, including the above-noted forced striptease, which is scored with some wholly-inappropriate (quote) “sexy-time dancing” music and just what a (quote) “robotic and weirdly-looking” lead Heinrich Starhemberg is. In addition, Troy seems just as perplexed by the film’s odd, twisty-type resolution as well. It’s an intriguing and entertaining listen, which not only helps put the film in perspective, but enables the viewer to better appreciate many of its offbeat charms. Solid work all around. A brief promotional image gallery is also included.

In the second Castilian-shot giallo comprised within VS’s set, Javier Aguirre’s significantly-more-upscale THE KILLER IS ONE OF THIRTEEN (1973) – freely adapted from Agatha Christie’s famous novel Ten Little Indians (Collins Crime Club, 1939 – later reprinted in the U.S. as And Then There Were None (Pocket Books, 1940) – focuses on a group of disparate people who are invited to a large country estate owned by the recently-widowed Lisa Mandel (Patty Shepard), but as the guests gather for dinner that night, Lisa reveals her true intentions – to try and find out who had murdered her husband two years earlier, knowing full-well that the murderer is someone among them. However, when someone begins killing the guests, Lisa quickly realizes the (quote) “game has gone too far!” 

Having written and directed both COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE (1972) and HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1972), two of Paul Naschy’s more laudable efforts, Aguirre’s film can certainly be construed as a Spanish equivalent of an Italian giallo, but its rather old-fashioned approach is also a bit of an anomaly in that it features none of the unique flair common to Italian thrillers, despite a few close-ups of black-gloved hands and some pleasingly vicious murders in the film’s final act. Lively characters and plenty of squabbling (much of it revolving around snobbery and class struggles) dominate much of the film’s running time, but interest is maintained by the twisty plot and game cast (which includes numerous other familiar faces from Spanish cinema, such as Simón Andreu, Dianik Zurakowska, May Heatherley, Jack Taylor, Eduardo Calvo and Paul Naschy, the latter three of whom also appeared in Carlos Aured’s THE MUMMY’S REVENGE [1973] the same year). Incidentally, in the special double issue of Bob Sargent’s Videooze from 1994, Naschy admitted that he (quote) “had no interest in working in it, and I did it simply to earn money”; which makes sense, given his minor role as Lisa’s chauffeur, which barely totals ten minutes.

As with TRAUMA, Aguirre’s film was also never released outside of Spain, and in 2008, it too received a Region 2 DVD release in its native country, this time as part of Filmax’s “Cine de Terror Español”, and once again that disc featured a non-anamorphic image and no English-language audio options. While the film was flatly-shot by Francisco Fraile, VS’s new 2K transfer taken from the film’s 35mm camera negative looks splendid here nonetheless, and is miles better than Filmax’s dull SD counterpart, which will undoubtedly please most viewers. The DTS-HD Master Audio  mono track, which is offered in Spanish with optional English subtitles also sounds fine, with Alfonso Santisteban’s fitting giallo-like music score sounding lush and robust.  

While it’s an obscure film to be sure, VS have thankfully commissioned author and Diabolique’s Editor-In-Chief Kat Ellinger to provide an audio commentary, so for anyone that’s listened to any of her previous informative chats (especially when related to Spanish genre cinema), her work herein is no different and features plenty of erudite observations and facts (including her discussion – and defense – of Spanish gialli), which helps us better appreciate a film that has (quote) “fallen through the cracks.”; it’s a very worthy listen, indeed! The only other extra is a brief image gallery displaying the film’s Spanish lobby card set.

Although produced in 1972, Helia Columbo’s THE POLICE ARE BLUNDERING IN THE DARK (1975) is easily one of the more obscure – and also one of the strangest– Italian gialli of the period, making for a perfect summation to VS’s set. Right in the opening scene, a young woman is gruesomely murdered on the outskirts of Rome when her car breaks down. Later, when Enrichetta Blonde (Margaret Rose Keil), a young model who had just finished a photo shoot at the surrounding Villa Eleonora, is also viciously murdered at a rundown pensione, her disappearance prompts her journalist friend Giorgio D’Amato (Joseph Arkim) to drive up from Rome and poke around this mysterious villa. There he meets Edmondo Parisi, an eccentric wheelchair-bound photographer, his neurotic wife Eleonora (Halina Zalewska) and their guarded niece, Sara (Elena Veronese), but despite their initial reservations, they invite him for dinner and even allow him to spend the night. It’s soon discovered that Edmondo has actually devised a machine that can photograph one’s thoughts (?!), which, after much ‘blundering’, eventually unveils an unlikely killer.

While it does open on a rather promising note, this strictly minor-league giallo will probably be a tough slog for more casual viewers of the form. Here hiding behind his Columbo pseudonym, this actually turned out to be Italian composer Pasquale Elio Palumbo’s one-and-only directorial effort, and despite the well-oiled machinations of its outlandish giallo plotline (which liberally borrows – and takes one step further – a key element from Dario Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET [1971]), it suffers the most from its uneven, almost leisurely pacing, so when the narrative begins waxing on the more, uh, ‘philosophical’ side of things, it just about stops dead in its tracks. Thankfully, interspersed between some of the lengthy expository dialogues, it also contains enough odd touches (highlighted by Edmondo’s science-fiction-like contraption) and some well-established local atmosphere thanks to Giancarlo Pancaldi’s decent, if at times, wonky cinematography, which really comes alive during some of the surprisingly visceral murders sequences. 

As with the other films in VS’s adventurous set, this once nigh-impossible-to-see giallo has been miraculously transferred in 2K from its original 35mm camera negative, so regardless of its humbled, troubled origins, it looks wonderful here. The lush greenery of the Italian countryside and some of the film’s previously unwatchable nighttime scenes display far more detail in VS’s newly-restored edition, while some of the film’s more outrageous, gel-coloured lighting also looks well-defined and problem-free. The Italian DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is also solid enough, sounding about how you’d expect from a low-budget affair such as this, which features plenty of the usual ADR work. 

While this disc doesn’t contain a feature-length audio commentary, it does include a thorough audio essay with film historian and critic Rachael Nisbet, who covers plenty of interesting and heretofore unknown facts about the problematic production (it was originally titled, in Italian, Il giardino della lattuga [trans: “The Lettuce Garden”] before being shelved for the better part of three years), the director and some of his questionable narrative choices, plus plenty more. But be warned: watch the film beforehand, as this essay drops a number of spoilers. As with the other discs, the only extra is a brief promotional image gallery. 

While there’s no denying that some of these films may not be for everyone, this altogether impressive set with its attractive transfers, striking packaging and a host of illuminating extras easily make this a highly-recommended purchase. Order it from Vinegar Syndrome.

Friday, May 1, 2020

POLIZIOTTO SPRINT - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Having by then honed his directorial skills on a number of high-profile Italocrimers, director Stelvio Massi embarked on what was to be the second ‘phase’ of his prolific association with polizieschi when he helmed POLIZIOTTO SPRINT (1977), the first of no less than six actioners he made in conjunction with mighty genre icon Maurizio Merli. Substituting much of the usual nastiness associated with such films, Massi and scribe Aldo Capone instead channel most of the film’s energy into a wide range of increasingly risky, over-the-top autobatics, which rarely—if ever!—let up, and yes, signor Merli also appears without his trademark ’stache, which may catch some first time viewers a little off-guard. Unfortunately, outside of second- or third-generation bootlegs, POLIZIOTTO SPRINT was never easy to see, so Camera Obscura’s newest HD overhaul serves as the ideal introduction to Massi’s anarchic high-speed smash-’em-up.

Merli stars as Marco Palma, a wannabe ace wheelman with the Squadra Volonte / “Flying Squad”, a highly-trained unit of the Italian State Police whose main specialty—in this film, at least—is driving real fast. His superior officer, the legendary ex-squad car driver maresciallo Tagliaferri (Giancarlo Sbragia), is understandably growing weary of Palma’s excuses after he totals car after car (all at the poor taxpayers’ expense, of course!). Palma claims his driving skills are compromised for the simple reason that he doesn’t have a sufficiently high-powered vehicle (“If I had more cylinder capacity, I’d become a legend too!”), so he soups-up a standard Alfa Romeo Giulia prowl car, much to Tagliaferri’s disapproval. Sure enough, in yet another high-speed auto pursuit—this time involving a gang of crash-helmeted armed robbers in customized Citroëns led by the highly-respected French getaway driver Jean-Paul Dossenà (alias “il Nizzardo” / Angelo Infanti)—Palma wrecks his ‘new-and-improved’ car too, same as the others. Having busted him many years ago, Tagliaferri’s and Dossenà’s mutual professional respect is still evident, but now Tagliaferri now realizes that the odds are stacked against him and his squad. Taking the hot-headed Palma under his wing, he personally trains and equips him with his old hopped-up 1960 Ferrari 250 GTO and a fake ID in a ploy to infiltrate Dossenà’s seemingly uncatchable gang…

Human performances all-round are solid enough, but not surprisingly of superficial depth and placed strictly secondary behind their even more mechanical non-human protagonists (including more wailing cop cars than were seen in the entire SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT [1977] series put together!). This really is a showcase for the talents of veteran stunt arranger extraordinaire Rémi Julienne, who, some years previous, had provided plenty of breakneck metallic mayhem for such top Eurocrime flicks as Henri Verneuil’s THE BURGLARS (1971), Alberto De Martino’s Canadian-shot-and-set STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (a.k.a. BLAZING MAGNUMS, 1976) and Maurizio Lucidi’s STREET PEOPLE (1976). Frenetic and at times sloppily-executed stunts endow action with a realistic tone, including a logistically impressive sequence that has Julienne driving (or rather tumbling end over end!) down the Spanish steps outside of Rome’s Trinità dei Monti church. In another brief-but-harrowing sequence, a man is seen unloading his .38 revolver at Palma’s oncoming car, and as the latter’s fast-approaching vehicle goes into an uncontrollable tailspin, its rear-end collides violently with the unlucky—and hopefully well-insured!—guy standing in its path. 

While far from his grittiest or best poliziesco (that honour would be reserved for EMERGENCY SQUAD [1974]), the film’s lighter tone and almost playful approach to the material clearly demonstrated that smash’n’crash action was an undeniable selling point, but it also proved Massi’s versatility as a director. POLIZIOTTO SPRINT is technically very accomplished, with enough inventive camerawork (it took two cinematographers to capture Julienne’s chaotic stunts) to keep things fresh and exciting for each and every elaborate chase sequence. Given the enormous impact of Merli’s previous successes in such prime Italocrimers as Marino Girolami’s VIOLENT ROME (1975) and Umberto Lenzi’s THE TOUGH ONES (1976), his appearance herein is also a bit of an anomaly as the youthful-looking upstart whose only interest is to become the most skilled driver in the entire police force and then nab—or perhaps just outdrive—that gentleman bandit, il Nizzardo

Outside of Italy, Massi’s film probably had the biggest exposure in Japan, where, as HIGHWAY RACER (its English-language export title), it was released onto Japanese VHS videocassette by Pony Canyon as “Ferrari Falcon” (the Anglo translation of its Japanese title). Released as part of their long-running Italian Genre Cinema Collection, Camera Obscura’s newest all-region Blu-ray is yet another absolutely gorgeous release, boasting a beautifully-detailed and colourful image, with no digital enhancement of any sort. Although this is POLIZIOTTO SPRINT’s first-ever English-friendly release, no English audio option is included, but the disc instead features Italian and German audio options, both of which are LPCM 2.0 mono, with the added bonus of either German or English subtitles. While it’s a cryin’ shame that English audio wasn’t included (Merli was dubbed by the prolific Ted Rusoff on English prints), the Italian version features all of the actors’ real voices (including Merli’s), so in that respect there really isn’t anything to gripe about. Incidentally, some of Stelvio Cipriani’s music has been slightly rearranged in the German version, so you might wanna give it a cursory listen to hear some of the differences. 

The most extensive—and highly-appreciated—extra is Faster Than a Bullet (19m43s), a wonderful interview with Roberto Curti, author of the indispensable Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 (McFarland, 2013) wherein he talks about the filmmakers’ attempts to make a film as a (quote) “detachment from the news stories”; the film’s original aborted ending when one of Julienne’s stunts didn’t quite work out; Brigadiere Armando Spatafora, the real poliziotto sprint on which Merli’s character was based; Massi’s (quote) “exciting use of the camera”; as well as a number of the film’s many cast members, including Sbargia’s (quote) “fatherly role” and Lilli Carati’s rather nondescript part as Merli’s girlfriend, Francesca. Other extras include a brief-but-excellent selection of stills and poster artwork and a nicely-illustrated booklet with writing from Christian Keßler.

If riotously fast-paced car-nage yanks yer crankshaft, then you certainly won’t be disappointed with Camera Obscura’s newest Blu-ray of one of Stelvio Massi’s fastest actioners of them all. Order it from DiabolikDVD.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

TRAILER TRAUMA V: 70s ACTION ATTACK

Yet another contribution to Garagehouse Pictures’ exciting Trailer Trauma series, their latest colossal undertaking is a magnificent, lovingly-put-together tribute to ’Seventies action pictures, which veers from badass blaxploitation to messily-dubbed, gimmicky martial arts films and everything in-between, even including big-budget Hollywood classics in amongst all the expected “B” and “Z”-grade trash. Given the sheer quantity of trailers compiled on this three-hour disc, it would once again be nigh-on-impossible to comment on each one individually, so instead let’s just take a look at the many highlights—which, to be honest, includes the lion’s share of the contents! So brace yourselves for another (quote) “unparalleled assortment” of coming attractions as only the Garagehouse gang can deliver! 

Beginning with plenty of ballyhoo (e.g., “A macho movie that ricochets off the screen with a double-barrel action-blast!”) and shown under its rather nondescript title of BORN TO KILL (1974), Warren Oates stars in Monte Hellman’s distinctive—and still controversial—COCKFIGHTER, which is quickly followed by Sam Peckinpah’s equally-idiosyncratic BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974), which likewise features another mesmerizing performance from the late, great Mr. Oates. Moving over to the other side of the pond, Rolf Olsen’s no-holds-barred German / Italo crimeslimer BLOODY FRIDAY (1972) also gets its due c/o a rare English-language trailer (“Violence breeds violence!”), as distributed by the film’s U.S. distribution outfit Sunset International; and it’s always great to see a trailer for one of Don Siegel’s best, most-individualistic films, the gripping bank heist-gone-awry drama CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), starring the droll Walter Matthau as the title character, which amounts to one of the actor’s most surprising and atypical roles. 

Sure enough, this being the ’Seventies and all, blaxploitation is also well-represented herein via the likes of Duccio Tessari’s THREE TOUGH GUYS (1974)—a film which, incidentally, still remains unavailable on domestic home video—and Gordon Parks, Jr.’s THREE THE HARD WAY (1974), plus a trailer for Sidney J. Furie’s vastly-underappreciated HIT! (1973) which wasn’t featured on Olive Films’ otherwise excellent Blu-ray of the film, as well as Ossie Davis’ GORDON’S WAR (1973), which promises (quote) “War, baby!” In Daryl Duke’s PAYDAY (1973), Rip Torn stars as self-centered country music star Maury Dann (“He’s just a fun-lovin’, free-wheelin’ country boy!”) in a trailer that only hints at the film’s many darker aspects; speaking of which, Daniel Petrie’s somber and criminally-neglected BUSTER AND BILLIE (1974) also shows up in what is yet another film still not available on disc.

Richard Compton’s biker flick ANGELS DIE HARD (1970) keeps things revved-up and roaring right along, followed by a preview for  Gordon Douglas’ VIVA  KNIEVEL (1977), a “biopic” that is as unsound as some of the great man’s many stunts; further biker bedlam continues with Seymour Robbie’s C.C. AND COMPANY (1970), co-starring Joe Namath, Ann-Margret and William Smith, plus Sutton Roley’s THE LONERS (1972), which was boldly touted as (quote) “This year’s EASY RIDER!” Veering-off into the wild west, Kent Osborne’s CAIN’S WAY (a.k.a. CAIN’S CUT-THROATS, 1970) makes one wish this nasty low-budget oater would get an official home video release, whereas Clint Eastwood’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)—which remains one of his very best, and certainly most-violent—westerns has been readily available in each new format since the dawn of home video. “Bloody” Sam Peckinpah is once again represented with THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970), along with one of his most-overlooked gems, JUNIOR BONNER (1972). Big William Smith turns up once again in an excellent Cinemation Industries trailer for Sean MacGregor’s CAMPER JOHN (a.k.a. GENTLE SAVAGE, 1973), while Steve Sandor is THE NO MERCY MAN (1973) in Daniel Vance’s revenge film.

More blaxploitation follows with Greydon Clark’s BLACK SHAMPOO (1976) in an always-welcome spot from Dimension Pictures (“This stud is no dud! He’s baaad! He’s mean! He’s a lovin’ machine!”), while Robert Hooks is the TROUBLE MAN (1972) in Ivan Dixon’s first-rate film, then Tamara Dobson, the (quote) “Soul sister’s answer to James Bond!” stars in both Jack Starrett’s CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) and Chuck Bail’s follow-up CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD (1975). Next up is a preview for Starrett’s elusive THE GRAVY TRAIN (a.k.a. THE DION BROTHERS, 1974), which not only features one of Terrence Malick’s (credited as “David Whitney”) earliest scripts, but also boasts perfectly-timed comedic performances from Stacy Keach and Frederic Forrest, so it’s great to see this fantastic trailer. Hopefully the film itself will also show up on disc sooner-than-later. In what turns out to be still another title that is sorely missing on home video, Peter Collinson’s unflinching Spanish production OPEN SEASON (1974) also turns up herein, while a quirky, nudity-filled preview for Harry E. Kerwin’s TOMCATS (1977) attempts to sell what is essentially a tough revenge actioner.

Of course, no ’Seventies trailer compilation would be complete without showcasing a number of urban cop films as well, but rather than the usual suspects, Garagehouse instead focuses on some largely-forgotten ones, beginning with Gordon Douglas’ superb true-to-life story of NYC cops David Greenberg and Robert Hantz (as played by Ron Leibman and David Selby, respectively) in THE SUPER COPS (1974); Aram Avakian’s hilarious COPS AND ROBBERS (1973), whose trailer is equally hysterical; Ivan Passer’s first American film, LAW AND DISORDER (1974), which double-barrels Ernest Borgnine and Carroll O’Connor as a couple of wannabe cops; and lastly Peter Hyams’ BUSTING (1973), featuring Elliott Gould and Robert Blake as a pair of vice cops out to bust the kingpin of iniquity, Carl Rizzo (played with slimy aplomb by Allen Garfield). 

Switching gears and heading back out onto the open road again, we get trailers for Jonathan Kaplan’s WHITE LINE FEVER (1975), Peter Carter’s Canadian-lensed HIGH-BALLIN’ (1977) and Sam Peckinpah’s troubled CONVOY (1978)—which exploited the ’70s trucker / CB radio craze and whose title was also that of a smash-hit C&W tune—then it’s off to the races with David Cronenberg’s FAST COMPANY (1979, [“Alright teens, queens, guys and blue-jeans! This is it! The world of a drag racer! Fast cars and FAST COMPANY!”]) starring perennial ’Seventies favourites William Smith and Claudia Jennings; more vehicular mayhem is steered your way with William Friedkin’s nail-biting SORCERER (1977), whose haunting, Tangerine Dream-scored and slickly-edited preview is a mini-masterpiece in and of itself; H.B. Halicki’s GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974) promises (quote) “thrill-a-minute” action, while Fox’s trailer for Walter Hill’s THE DRIVER (1978) is the epitome of cool. Following this, Tangerine Dream’s SORCERER score is once again put to good use in Paramount’s trailer for Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS (1978). Mixing it up further, there are also hard-to-see U.S. theatrical trailers for Sergio Corbucci’s Terence Hill and Bud Spencer headliner CRIMEBUSTERS (1977), which promises a (quote), “Heck of a non-stop, nonsense joyride!” and then Alain Delon is (quote) “The greatest hero of them all!” in Duccio Tessari’s ZORRO (1975).

Moving on to the incredibly popular martial arts / kung fu films of the era, David Chiang demonstrates his immense talents in Chang Cheh’s TRIPLE IRONS (a.k.a. THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, 1971) and FIVE MASTERS OF DEATH (a.k.a. FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS, 1974), both of which were produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers studio, then Angela Mao appears as the DEADLY CHINA DOLL (1973) in an M-G-M trailer. As expected, a number of stimulating sexploitation trailers are also featured for the likes of Stephen’s Gibson’s WILDCAT WOMEN (a.k.a. BLACK LOLITA, 1975)—which promises (quote) “Hot action in color!Don Schain’s THE ABDUCTORS (1972), Cesar Gallardo’s HUSTLER SQUAD (1975), Joe Viola’s THE HOT BOX (1972, [“Soiled, spoiled and violated! They wouldn’t take it lying down!”]) and Arthur Marks’ BONNIE’S KIDS (1972). Further miscellaneous trailers include Byron Ross Chudnow’s THE DOBERMAN GANG (1972) and its sequel THE DARING DOBERMANS (1973, [“Nothing can stop these determined and disciplined disciples of crime!”]), Al Adamson’s THE MURDER GANG (a.k.a. BLACK HEAT, 1976), Eddy Matalon’s BLACKOUT (1977), Daryl Duke’s riveting Christmas-themed heist film THE SILENT PARTNER (1978), A.I.P.’s amazing rapid-fire trailer for Fernando Di  Leo’s THE ITALIAN CONNECTION (a.k.a. MANHUNT, 1972), and then one for Sergio Sollima’s superb Italocrimer THE FAMILY (a.k.a. VIOLENT CITY, 1972) with Charles Bronson; which, by the way, leads into ones for Michael Winner’s THE MECHANIC (1972) and Walter Hill’s HARD TIMES (1975), two of Bronson’s finest films. 

Aside from the disc’s plentiful highlights, Mondo Digital’s Nathanial Thompson and Destructible Man’s Howard S. Berger also provide a wonderful, comprehensive audio commentary, and who, really going the distance during the three-hour runtime, never fail in waxing enthusiastic for each and every film as they discuss many of their release histories, critical receptions, personnel and relate some of their own personal memories of when they first stumbled onto many of these now-classic films; it’s a must-listen, to be sure! All of these 35mm trailers have been (quote) “scanned in 4K and digitally mastered in HD” and are preserved in their original (quote) “worn glory”, so expect to see plenty of speckles, debris, vertical scratches and some faded colour here and there. Despite these inherent flaws, however, the image quality is generally great. The disc also includes numerous trailers for much of Garagehouse Pictures’ other releases. As with their earlier trailer compilations TRAILER TRAUMATRAILER TRAUMA 2: DRIVE-IN MONSTERAMATRAILER TRAUMA 3: ’80s HORRORTHON and TRAILER TRAUMA PART 4: TELEVISION TRAUMA, it should come as no surprise that their latest Blu-ray is most definitely another must-have! Order it today via DiabolikDVD! 

Monday, April 6, 2020

MALABIMBA - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Not content with making yet another nominal quickie cash-in on William Friedkin’s international smash-hit THE EXORCIST (1973), Andrea Bianchi’s wonderfully tacky Italo Gothic MALABIMBA  (1979) is a film like no other. Whilst it does pinch the main plot-points of Friedkin’s landmark spiritual possession film, MALABIMBA’s heavy doses of sex, lurid melodrama and its almost gleeful proclivity to strain the boundaries of good taste definitely do keep you watching, no matter how ultimately derivative it all really is. In what turns out to be a rare, magnanimous bit of sacrilegious determination, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray / DVD combo not only features the rarely-seen, uncut version of the film, but a number of sinfully pleasing extras to boot. 

In the hopes of contacting his recently-deceased wife Daniela, Andrea Caroli (Enzo Fisichella) and his extended family gather together for a séance, but with the help of a medium (Elisa Mainardi), they inadvertently summon the malevolent—and sexually-charged—spirit of Lucrezia, the late (quote) “black sheep of the Caroli family”. When this horned-up (quote) “evil presence” attempts to overcome Sister Sofia (Maria Angela Giordano), the resident caregiver of Andrea’s invalid brother Adolfo (Giuseppe Marrocu), the quick-witted nun successfully fends it off when she forms a makeshift crucifix as a shadow on a wall… albeit not until after it has forced her to masturbate furiously, however (this is purely gratuitous Italo sexploitation sinema, after all!). Having been temporarily repelled, Lucrezia’s spiteful spirit then shortly returns to possess Andrea’s innocent—and thus ideally sexually corruptible—adolescent daughter Bimba (Katell Laennec), whose sudden uncontrollable lascivious urges cause all sorts of turmoil among the surviving members of the Caroli line, complicated still further by their various long-standing interfamilial rivalries and petty squabbles…

Written by the ever-prolific Piero Regnoli, who had directed one of the earliest fetishistic sexy vampire films, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1960),  MALABIMBA retains much of its Gothic atmosphere thanks to the familiar Balsorano location, but much of the ‘horror’ is played against the internal strife of the ever-bickering Caroli family; and of course, the lengthy sex scenes with most of the principal cast, which even feature that most taboo of subjects: incest. This is an element which Regnoli habitually explored in many of his self-penned efforts, including Tiziano Longo’s LO STALLONE (1975), and then later—most infamously—in Andrea Bianchi’s zombie splatter film BURIAL GROUND (1980). Katell Laennec (whose French name is incidentally derived from the word ‘pure’) delivers a suitably ill-mannered performance as the possessed teen, who not only utters the expected expletives, but is seen either spying-on or trying to sleep with anyone and everyone, up to and including both her own father and her, uh, ‘still-more-than-capable’ handicapped Uncle Adolfo (“They say you’re like a statue, but I’ll get you moving!”). Adding to this (quote) “melodramatic crisis”, Patrizia Webley is also well-cast as Nais, the straight-talking (quote) “immoral whore” whose marriage to Adolfo causes great concern (“Adolfo was always searching for third-rate harlots!”) for the family’s patrimony, even as she sleeps-around with both Andrea and the family’s lawyer, Giorgio (Giancarlo Del Duca). The always-fantastic Maria Angela Giordano gives the film’s most measured, coolly-restrained performance as Sister Sofia, who is at constant odds with her own repressed sexual longings, and who—in another obvious crib from THE EXORCIST—ultimately sacrifices herself in order to save Ms. Laennec’s possessed character from eternal damnation.

Unlike Bianchi’s and producer Gabriele Crisanti’s follow-up film BURIAL GROUND (1980), which was made available in just about every market in the entire world, so it seemed, MALABIMBA was barely released outside of Italy, where it not only also garnered numerous VHS videocassette releases (incidentally, a graphic photocomic was included as an extra ‘pull-out’ with the once-popular Roman sex magazine Gin Fizz, which meant the film must have had some success in its native Italy), but the most complete version available at the time turned up on Star Video, a Swiss-based video label, which tailored its releases to the Italian-speaking region of Ticino; and it was these rough-hewn VHS tapes that served as the basis for many of the VHS (and later DVD) bootlegs, which circulated throughout the tape-trading circuit of the ’Nineties. In 2009, this sleazy favourite made its official DVD debut thanks to Severin Films, which of course included a far more, um… revealing and pleasing transfer. Although that disc did also include the standard X-rated version, Severin went the extra mile by also including the film’s deleted scenes (sourced from Star Video’s tape), with the handy added option of automatically incorporating them back into the movie, if the viewer so desired. Other extras included Malabimba Uncovered (16m55s), which featured interviews with Giordano and DP Franco Villa, who thoroughly discussed the film’s well-worn but effective locations and their decision to shoot it during this (quote) “transitional phase” of Italian cinema. Both of them also talked warmly about director Bianchi and their surprise about the inclusion of hardcore sequences in the film. However, Giordano also talks about her decision to do on-screen nudity, which led to a number of other Crisanti-produced films, such as the aforementioned BURIAL GROUND, Mario Landi’s skeevy two-fer GIALLO IN VENICE (1979) and PATRICK STILL LIVES (1980), as well as the present film’s unofficial remake of sorts, SATAN’S BABY DOLL (1983), which was directed by that ‘other’ Bianchi guy, Mario.  

Taken from the film’s (quote) “original 16mm camera negative”, VS’s newly-restored 2K transfer is quite attractive, despite the opening disclaimer that (quote) “the negative had suffered extensive handling damage and poor storage.” While the transfer does feature some scratches, occasional speckling and minor instances of debris, it’s far better than anything preceding it, even if it doesn’t meet VS’s impeccably high standards. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 features the film’s original Italian audio track, which for the most part also sounds clean and well-balanced, with Berto Pisano’s pinched score sounding quite robust; apparently, some of the film’s audio had to be taken from a lower-quality videotape, which has been integrated into the film with a minimum of interference.  

The major new extra herein is a brand new audio commentary with film and music writer Heather Drain, writer and film critic Samm Deighan and author, editor and critic Kat Ellinger who provide an easy-going, but fact-filled track wherein they discuss everything about both the film itself and the year in which it was made, which Ellinger says was the (quote) “year of bat-shit Italian cinema.” Although primarily regarded as a sex film, they discuss the film’s (quote) “lush Gothic tropes” and other similarly-themed possession films; the politically incorrect tone and the reluctance of some modern audiences to accept it. They also talk about many of Bianchi’s and Crisanti’s other films, as well as Piero Regnoli’s long career; the sloppily-interjected ‘inserts’, and of course the less-than-credible—and wholly unnecessary—remake. As with their earlier audio commentary on VS’s release of Andy Milligan’s FLESHPOT ON 42nd STREET (1971), it’s another highly-recommended listen, which won’t disappoint either long-time fans of the film or keen newcomers. Both the Malabimba Uncovered featurette and the film’s lengthy theatrical trailer (4m08s) have been ported-over from Severin’s earlier DVD while a newly-produced photo gallery (1m23s) of revealing German lobby cards finish off the extras. As usual the disc comes with reversible artwork, but if you order directly from Vinegar Syndrome, the first 2000 copies also include a Limited Edition slipcover designed Earl Kessler Jr. 

Unlike its thematically similar prototype and heavily-influenced Gothic environment, MALABIMBA quickly—and very entertainingly—establishes its scabrous sex film intentions, which Vinegar Syndrome proudly and unashamedly delivers with their stellar new Blu-ray / DVD combo, bless ’em! 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

“What I’d like to know is, what this is all about, this contagious cannibalism or whatever you call it?!” asks one of the many confused characters in “Anthony M. Dawson” / Antonio Margheriti’s CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), an entertaining—albeit harebrained!—hybridization of Vietnam-themed war pictures and Italian cannibal gut-crunchers. Notwithstanding the film’s heavily-marketed horror tropes and extravagant bits of über-violence, Margheriti’s film is, first-and-foremost, a briskly-paced action flick, one that doesn’t even attempt to inject any real pertinent ‘social commentary’ on the lingering aftereffects of the war. In what might possibly have been lost in the transition from script to screen, the film even brushes-off the epidemic of cannibalism as the fault of some virulent strain of rabies, in-part caused by a (quote) “biological mutation due to a psychic alteration” (!?!?), which is about as vague and unconvincing an explanation as you can get. Nevertheless, Margheriti understands his target audience and provides them (i.e., us!) with plenty of no-frills action and memorably over-the-top violenza. So, in that respect, at least, it succeeds admirably.

Noteworthy for its oft-censored splatter scenes—executed with panache and pizzazz by Italo gore guru Gianetto De Rossi—CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE first became available in the U.S. and Canada via Vestron Video’s bowdlerized 1984 Beta / VHS videocassettes as INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS (“There are some things worse than death…”), which is just one of the film’s many alternate titles. Prior to Image Entertainment’s uncut, extras-laden 2002 DVD edition (as part of their pioneering Euroshock Collection), the best—and possibly only—way to appreciate the film during those days of analog antiquity was through Pack-In Video’s uncut Japanese VHS tape. But thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ substantial licensing deal with Studio Canal, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE finally gets a truly superb HD upgrade, and comes with a whole gutful of worthy extras to boot.    

Capt. Norman Hopper (John Saxon) is a decorated ’Nam vet who—no thanks to being left severely shell-shocked from combat duty (a condition that would nowadays be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD)—is suffering from a number of all-too-real nightmares, all of which involve Charlie Bukowski (“John Morghen” / Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Tommy Thompson (Tony King), a pair of soldiers from his former unit who, after being cruelly starved whilst kept in captivity as POWs of the ’Cong, were forced to resort to cannibalism for sustenance. Presently about to get his first leave out of the (quote) “booby hatch”, Bukowski attempts to reconnect with his former captain, but Hopper is reluctant to meet him, as he too is beginning to feel the same inexplicable cannibalistic urges his former comrades-at-arms had experienced during the war; a fact which becomes readily apparent during one of the film’s more uncomfortable scenes, when his pubescent next door neighbours’ daughter Mary (“Cindy Hamilton” / Cinzia De Carolis) comes to visit him. Of course, Bukowski’s compulsion for human flesh inevitably gets the better of him when he takes a bite out of a girl at a movie theatre. This inappropriate ‘snack-attack’ not only causes the expected panic, but leads into a lengthy stand-off with the fuzz when he holes-up at a local flea market. At the behest of cantankerous Captain McCoy (Wallace Wilkinson), who is full of memorably tacky one-liners (e.g., “He’s gonna be singin’ through his asshole when I get through with him!”), Hopper tries to negotiate with Charlie. As he too succumbs to the ‘virus’, however, he eventually finds himself ‘reunited’ more than ever with his former unit, who cause further havoc for the local populace before escaping into the city sewers for a final bloody showdown… 

As with most Italian horror movies of the period, Margheriti and screenwriter “Jimmy Gould” / Dardano Sacchetti pinch ideas from a wide variety of filmic sources, including David Cronenberg’s far-more-apocalyptic RABID (1977) and George A. Romero’s hugely-influential DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). The grim fatalism of Richard Compton’s WELCOME HOME SOLDIER BOYS (1971) is also recalled, and, for the film’s typically-plagiaristic Italian marketing campaign, it was cheekily titled APOCALYPSE DOMANI (“Apocalypse Tomorrow”) in reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). Heavily reliant on its cast to inject any real substance into its half-baked scenario, the film’s headlining name, the ever-dependable John Saxon adds a great deal to the proceedings as the tormented Vietnam veteran trying to come to grips with his affliction. At the same time, the seasoned ‘tough guy’ actor delivers all the necessary machismo required by the part as well. In what also amounts to one of his stronger roles, fan favourite “John Morghen” goes way off the deep-end herein, allowing viewers to savour his always-entertaining oddball charisma, whereas Tony King (who went on to appear in Margheriti’s more faithful APOCALYPSE NOW rip-off THE LAST HUNTER [1980] alongside David Warbeck) provides plenty of abrasive shouting and grinning as the psychotic, shotgun-blasting Tommy. Also along for the ride is a newly-contaminated nurse (May Heatherly), a female cast inclusion which nicely completes the film’s obvious homage to DAWN OF THE DEAD

Shot in Atlanta, Georgia during the winter of 1980, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE tries its absolute darnedest to hide its Euro origins. Atypically for an Italian/Spanish co-production, much of it was shot using direct sound for all the film’s English-speaking actors, whereas a number of European bit players are either hiding behind anglicized pseudonyms or go completely uncredited. Far outweighing its apocalyptic ambitions, Margheriti nonetheless energizes things with a number of economic-but-enthusiastic action sequences, including the opening Vietnam-set skirmish and a rather intense, impressively-staged climax down in the sewers of Atlanta which also includes a bravura gory set-piece, which was extensively highlighted in much of the film’s promotional materials.

Here making its worldwide HD debut, CA comes to Blu-ray in a (quote) “brand new 4K restoration”, which is pin-sharp and quite stunning (barring some of the conspicuously mismatching stock footage used during the opening credits). While much of the film does have a somewhat nondescript ‘TV’-style look to it, Spanish DP Fernando Arribas nevertheless manages to convey some notable atmosphere, that is especially evident in the finale’s catacomb-like sewer system, which almost makes it seem like one of Margheriti’s earlier Gothic horror entries. The DTS-HD 2.0 master audio track on the whole also sounds excellent, but keen listeners will notice an uptick in audio fidelity during many of the film’s direct sound recordings, whereas Alessandro Blonksteiner’s wholly unique score, which blends plenty of enthusiastic saxophone and ’Seventies-style pseudo-funk into a heady mix, plays well in juxtaposition with the schizophrenic storyline. 


For Kino’s new Blu-ray, author and film historian Tim Lucas provides a brand-new audio commentary, which is full of his usual detail and insight into many of the film’s personnel, production, locations (including rural Manziana, Italy, which doubled for Vietnam [!!!]), and many of its very loose connections to its filmic sources, including a missed opportunity to make a closer, more coherent variation of Coppola’s legendary ’Nam film. He also discusses how script-scribe Sacchetti became involved in the film and his excitement to (quote) “conflagrate” genres, and in the case of said film, brought everything together in a (quote) “timely collision of impressive influences”, including the surprise ending, which resembles a certain Mario Bava classic. Of course, he also discusses Margheriti’s career at length and how well-liked he was by everyone involved.  It’s yet another excellent, well-researched commentary that not only comes highly-recommended, but is actually the highlight of Kino’s new Blu-ray. In Cannibal King (10m01s), the disc’s other newly-produced extra, actor Tony King discusses his career with an equal amount of nostalgia and delight at the opportunities that were presented to him from the very beginning via a small walk-on role in Jerry Schatzberg’s THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971), and his eventual migration to Rome later in the decade.  

For those of you of who own Image’s long-out-of-print Image DVD, there’s no need to fret, as Kino have thoughtfully included all of that disc’s extra features as well. For the record, these include the retrospective documentary Cannibal Apocalypse Redux (54m11s), featuring interviews with Margheriti, Saxon and Radice; a brief tour of the film’s Atlanta locations (6m40s), the alternate opening title sequence (taken from Vestron’s old VHS tape); the lively theatrical trailer (sourced from Venezuelan VHS, which includes burnt-in Spanish subtitles as SOBREVIVIENTES DEL APOCALYPSIS / “Survivors of the Apocalypse”), and a very cool Japanese teaser trailer. The disc also includes trailers for some of Kino’s other available horror films as well as reversible artwork, which also features some of CA’s rather deceptive, zombie-like artwork. Order it from DiabolikDVD or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

DANGEROUS CARGO - BLU-RAY REVIEW

A real obscurity even for the likes of a specialist label such as Mondo Macabro, Kostas Karagiannis’ sleazy little potboiler, DANGEROUS CARGO (1977)—for those who might have seen it prior to MM’s Blu-ray— is best-remembered for the creative casting of former Miss America (and at that time, aspiring actress) Deborah “Debbie” Shelton. Long before she became more widely-known for her role opposite Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing’s girlfriend Mandy Winger on the long-running TV series DALLAS (1978 – 1991), Shelton appeared in a trio of largely-forgotten Greek films from the mid-’Seventies, of which the nautical-themed DANGEROUS CARGO is, fittingly enough, the high watermark. Hitting all the right notes, director Karagiannis maintains great economy for this fast-paced—and exceedingly skeevy!—sexploitation opus, but it’s Shelton’s daring, no-holds-barred performance that really sets it apart from other like-minded films. 

Milto (Nikos Verkalis) is the new skipper of a cargo ship about to set sail for the Far East, but when his bosun is found murdered during a routine stopover in the U.S., Milto is assigned a new officer (Kostas Karagiorgis) who is pulling double-duty for a shady—and apparently very powerful—businessman (played by the film’s U.S./Greek producer James Paris, who surreptitiously ‘directs’ many of the film’s unexpected twists and turns). Unbeknownst to the captain, the ship’s cargo is illegally transporting a vast amount of weapons and nitroglycerin (hilariously emblazoned with a hand-drawn skull-and-crossbones logo!) bound for some sort of terrorist organization plotting to snuff-out some middle eastern oil wells. Amidst all this subterfuge, the captain has foolhardily brought along his wife (Shelton)—who is the sole woman aboard the ship, natch—and as it turns out, she also ‘just happens’ to be the former girlfriend of the vessel’s first mate, Avgeri (Giorgos Hristodoulou), who is likewise complicit in all the crew’s peddling of black market goods and knows full well that (quote) “death is hanging over their heads!”

Tensions run high throughout the picture (“Nitroglycerin is no joke!”) with its pulpy, film-noir inspired storyline, and in spite of the exceedingly low-budget (the single firearm smuggled onto the ship’s deck is obviously only a kids’ toy!), it zips briskly along even as it takes frequent pause to deliver a number of lengthy sex scenes around every ten minutes or so. Outside of a few establishing shots and some brief flashback sequences, the entire films takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the cargo ship, close quarters that further aggravates the mounting hostility of everyone onboard, resulting in the expected in-fighting. Miss Shelton is not only highly attractive, but she acquits herself supremely well while holding her own against a whole tubful of sex-starved males eager to get their grimy hands on her. Karagiorgis oozes all the necessary sleaze and venom as the film’s two-faced primary villain, who forces Debbie to become his plaything because he likes (quote) “Cats that scratch!” But she proves to be far more cunning when she sneakily manipulates the situation to her advantage, proving she may very well be the ‘dangerous cargo’ of the film’s title.

Never theatrically released outside of Greece, DANGEROUS CARGO comes to Blu-ray in a fine-looking transfer taken directly from the original negative, which retains the film’s original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and despite a preceding disclaimer about how the picture quality falls below MM’s usual standards, it all looks quite impressive given the film’s obvious obscurity; there is really nothing to complain about here at all. The Greek Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio also sounds sufficient enough, boasting clearly-audible dialogue and with Giorgos Theodosiadis’ easy-listening, lounge score sounding just fine. Optional English subtitles are also provided, of course. Extras are limited to MM’s always-fun promotional reel (11m10s), but the Limited Edition ‘Red Case’ (sadly, now out-of-print) also includes ‘Debbie’s Greek Adventure’, a 12-page booklet with writing from Pete Tombs, who not only details the film’s rather confusing history, but discusses many of the personnel involved, including Miss Shelton’s brief, but entirely memorable, sojourn into Greek exploitation cinema. Order the standard retail edition directly from Mondo Macabro or from DiabolikDVD.