Saturday, 23 February 2008

Eva Nera and Porno Esotic Love or The D’Amato Effect

One of the most famous concepts in film studies is the so-called Kuleshov Effect, discovered in the ‘experiment’ carried out by the soviet film theorist and maker Lev Kuleshov. In this experiment Kuleshov took the same image of the actor Mozhukin and juxtaposing it with images of a bowl of soup, a child and a body in a coffin, got his subjects to read in meanings that were not there. The combination of shots A and B produced a third meaning, C, which was greater than their sum.

I mention this no doubt over-simplistic summary not to be gratuitous – look everyone, I’ve done film studies 101 – but rather because it seems to offer a route into these Joe D’Amato films. For what they present is approximately 60 per cent of the same footage, rescored and recut to produce two different erotic potboilers that would stand up for themselves when not watched back-to-back as I did this afternoon.

Eva Nera was made first and itself incorporates some footage from Emanuelle Nera Orient Reportage if memory serves correct. Shot and set in Hong Kong, it sees D’Amato’s regular fetish star Laura Gemser play a exotic dancer whose speciality is performing with snakes. Gemser’s real-life husband and perennial co-star Gabriel Tinti plays the man who first hires her to try to lure his snake-obsessed brother out of depression and then out of jealousy kills her girlfriend with a poisonous snake; his brother is played by Jack Palance in one of those take the cheque and run type performances. Eventually Eva figures out what happened and extracts her revenge…

Porno Esotic Love was made later and features footage that later wound up in Les Déchaînements pervers de Manuela. Shot in the Dominican Republic around the same time as Porno Holocaust and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, it also sees Gemser play a snake dancer with lesbian proclivities. This time round it’s her girlfriend Annj Goren who falls in with some drug dealers and smugglers and in due course becomes hooked on heroin herself, with predictable consequences for all concerned…

The lesbian spectator as convenient surrogate for the male heterosexual?

The colonial gaze, embodied in the female?

Their subject

With almost exactly the same travelogue, exotic and softcore erotic footage, the real difference between the two films lies in the composition of the other 40 or so per cent of their footage. In Eva Nera it’s more plot and character focused, albeit of a decidedly rudimentary nature. Porno Esotic Love has actual hardcore footage with Goren pairing up with Mark Shanon and others; as ever Gemser’s participation remains limited to the softcore and pseudo-lesbian scenes.

D’Amato manages to make this grunt and grind material just about interesting, nicely moving his camera from the image to its reflection in a mirror or vice-versa. He also frequently captures a curious mixture of disgust and desperation in Goren’s face that seems to speak volumes in suggesting that her own motivation in these scenes may not have been that far from that of her character.

Though D’Amato sex-horror films might have self-consciously gone further in search of that attraction-repulsion dynamic, the image of Goren fellating Shanon, eyes closed in a cannot bear to look manner, are ultimately far more effective in making you question exactly why you are watching this and your own engagement with it. Put another way, it’s a fragment of the real, the thing itself rather than the allusions and illusions of montage.

Elsewhere, D’Amato’s juxtapositions and recontextualisations seem to almost humorously point to what more theoretically inclined types might well posit as the socially constructed and performative nature of sexual identity. Whereas in both films we get the same image of Gemser touching herself the fantasies intercut with it differ: in Eva Nera they are strictly of a lesbian girl-girl nature, while in Porno Esotic Love there are also somewhat incongruous images of Goren servicing and being serviced by two (black) men. Can we say return of the repressed?

Above all, however, the thing that binds the two films and the other D’Amato’s I’ve been watching recently together is the way that they use music. It doesn’t matter if it was composed by Nico Fidenco, Piero Umiliani, Alessandro Alessandroni or someone else, nor if it came from the library or was composed for the film, D’Amato always takes the same approach: layer it atop the scene, almost without regard for the audio-visual combinations which result.

It suggests an under-explored point of connection with Jess Franco’s more self-conscious jazz style improvisations, and makes me even more eager to see Les Déchaînements pervers de Manuela as a kind of Monk meets Coltrane meeting of these two giants of Eurotic horror…

It also perhaps highlights further connections between horror, porn and musical numbers awaiting exploration as far as less marginal critical practice goes...

Lucio Fulci

“The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying-glass” – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life

“A cry against a certain sort of fascism” – Lucio Fulci, explaining a notorious gore scene in City of the Living Dead

Lucio Fulci was born in 1927 and studied medicine – a revealing first career in the light of his famously gore-drenched horror films – before enrolling in film school. Working as a screenwriter and critic on graduation, Fulci made his directorial debut in 1959 with the youth oriented musical Ragazzi del juke box. The film was not a success at the box office and led to a temporary change in career as Fulci became the lyric writer for a number of Italian pop singers of the time.

Encouraged to return to cinema by his mentor Steno, Fulci established himself something of a comedy specialist with a succession of vehicles for Franco and Ciccio such as I due evasi di sing sing (1964) and 002 Operazione luna (1965). This was not ideal for the cineaste seeking to establish himself, however. The stars of the show were the comics themselves and it was almost a given that critics would find nothing good to say about their or the directors' work in any case.

What the filone cinema gave with one hand it thus took away with the other. While work could be found it was hard to imbue it with personal qualities of the sort encouraged auteurism and, more importantly, to have this recognised by the critical tastemakers. If the constant flow of the filone cinema with its short lived cycles of spaghetti westerns one year and Bondian spy thrillers the next afforded the director the opportunity to try their hand at a wide range of genres and styles, it also tended to discourage longer term commitment to any particular genre, as with the likes of Mario Bava and Sergio Martino, or else constrained the filmmaker to work in it long after he had lost interest, as with Leone's later spaghetti westerns and epic struggle to realise Once Upon a Time in America.

At this time, however, this filone gave Fulci the opportunity to try his hand at something different and thereby demonstrate his versatility. 1966's Massacre Time cannot be considered prime Fulci, however, though has its moments and hints at an affinity with and facility for the violent and grotesque.

The first blossoming of Fulci's talents really emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s through the anti-clerical historical drama Beatrice Cenci, which the director often identified as his best film, and a series of hard-hitting thrillers all'taliana. Having written Double Face (1969) for Riccardo Freda, Fulci reworked the same Hitchcockian material for his own debut in the filone, Perversion Story, a hippie-era reworking of Vertigo that saw him make the first of an intermittent series of US excursions. Unfortunately if Perversion Story (1969) shows that Fulci's grasp of filmmaking technique was up to the minute, it also hinted at a certain uncertainty regarding the younger audience and its counter-culture.

This generation gap also helps explain how it was Dario Argento who would really establish this filone with his “animal trilogy” of 1970-72. Being of a younger generation, Argento better understood the new audience, their attitudes and forms of life.

Yet if the sound-alike titles of Fulci's subsequent gialli A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) and Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) position them as imitation Argento and their writer-director as an also-ran, the actual style and content of the films again indicates a filmmaker keen to further establish his own identity and reputation. Thus Lizard inverts the structure of Argento's debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and presents ambiguous dream images in lieu of its thesis-cum-model's concrete flashbacks, while Duckling features a rural southern Italian setting instead of a Roman or northern urban one and a strong anti-clerical streak.

Fulci's talent for provocation and distinctive style were again to the fore in another 1972 film, The Eroticist. A comedy about a sexually repressed senator whose political ambitions threaten to be undone by his compulsion to pinch women's bottoms, that the film found many enemies and few friends indicates just how successful its shotgun blasting of church, state, military, left and right alike was and Fulci's talent for provocation in word and deed alike. (“Argento is an artisan who thinks he's an artist”)

If anything the one-two of Duckling and The Eroticist would seem to have worked too well, insofar as Fulci became somewhat persona non grata for the next few years, which saw him work on a children's adaptation of White Fang (1972) and a sequel Challenge to White Fang (1974), along with comedies such as the largely self-explanatory Dracula in the Provinces and an unusual western, Four of the Apocalypse (both 1975).

The importance of Argento to Fulci's career was confirmed by his next films. The Psychic (1977) presented his response to Argento's Deep Red (1975) by way of introducing a supernatural element into the hitherto naturalistic world of his thrillers while simultaneously pursuing a more restrained, less visceral approach curiously at odds with his rival's trajectory at this time through Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). Perhaps on account of this The Psychic failed to find an audience, resulting in yet another return to the now all but moribund western filone with Silver Saddle (1978).

Then in 1979 came Dawn of the Dead and Zombie. Released in Italy by Argento, Romero's gory horror comic satire had proven a great success with Italian audiences and, as such, producers saw the prospect of a new and profitable filone to exploit. Fulci was not the first choice to direct Zombie, however, only getting the job after Enzo Castellari passed on it and suggested his name; for perhaps the first and only time in Fulci's career his luck was in.

Astutely described by genre critic Kim Newman as less an imitation Romero than a bloodier return to the B-movies of the thirties and forties, Zombie outdid its part-model in gore and at the international box office whilst providing the defining moment and image of Fulci's career: the once seen, never-forgotten skewering of a woman's eye on a foot-long wooden splinter; hence one side of the Adorno quote with which we introduced this profile.

Directing the underappreciated violent gangster entry The Smuggler (1980) around the same time to further demonstrate his generic breadth and now-established predilection for the visceral, Fulci was rewarded by Zombie producer Fabrizio De Angelis with the opportunity to quickly make three further zombie horror films over the next three years. Often grouped as a loose trilogy on account of their US settings and the constant presence of actress Catriona MacColl, City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981)and The House by the Cemetery (1982) continued Fulci's moment in the spotlight.

While certainly drawing inspiration from Argento in their structure and gore set-pieces, with a rain of maggots in City and the evisceration of its owner by a seeing eye dog in The Beyond obvious lifts from Suspiria (1977), these hallucinatory fever-dreams again foreground Fulci's own style above that of his younger rival. Where Argento favours two or three jump cuts closing in, Fulci will use a zoom; where Argento cuts to a detail, Fulci will rack focus onto it; where Argento make the sweeping operatic camera movement central to his set-pieces, Fulci will fix his camera in place, all the better to see that-which-should-not-be-seen.

The tragedy for Fulci, however, was that in thus continuing to consciously differentiate his approach to horror from Argento's he also laid himself wide open for critics to mistake his stylistic choices for incompetence and a dubious fixation with the abject and unconscionable. Few, except that rare horror enthusiast who could see beyond the gore, cared that he had conceived of The Beyond as an exercise in absolute cinema inspired by Artaud's theories of the Theatre of Cruelty or that the killing of a retarded man with a drill through his head might be justified as “a cry against a certain sort of fascism”.

Rather than being different but equal from Argento, Fulci was merely inferior – just as at the wider level the Italian filone cinema tended to be read as inferior to rather than merely different from its Hollywood genre counterparts.

Nor did Fulci's return to the more naturalistic world of the thriller help matters. Released in the same year as Argento's relentlessly self-reflexive – and thus more safely distanced – Tenebrae, 1982's nihilistically bleak The New York Ripper was fundamentally the wrong film at the wrong time, representing male psychosis and female victimhood in ways that seemed all too real in the context of feminist arguments against the slasher film, moral panics about video nasties and a renascent conservatism across most of the western world.

Famously escorted out of the UK by the police after the BBFC had refused to even consider the film for certification, the film lost money for De Angelis.

This perhaps contributed to a compromised budget and vision for Manhattan Baby (1982), a surprisingly restrained horror that nevertheless forms a recognisable companion piece to the absurdist trilogy preceeding it and, corresponding with the ever more precipitous decline of the Italian popular cinema, the effective end of Fulci's brief but brilliant flowering.

Never one to give up without a fight, Fulci nevertheless continued to attempt to adapt to the flow of the filone and second guess audiences and his erstwhile rival throughout the 1980s with such films as the post-apocalyptic Mad Max styled Conquest (1983); the slash-and-dance Flashdance inspired Murderock (1984); the Nine and a Half weeks-esque erotic drama/thriller The Devil's Honey (1986); and an out-and-out rip off of one of Argento's messiest and least appealing films, Phenomena, entitled Aenigma for extra obviousness (1987).

Though having their moments, films like these remain strictly for the already converted, the kind of texts where much of the pleasure comes from that often dubious game of spotting the auteur's signature touch.

An official sequel to Zombie in 1988 offered Fulci the chance to kick-start his flagging career but was scuppered by the illness that was to dog him for the remainder of his life and career. Remaining keen to keep working till the last, the late 1980s and early 1990s saw few willing to take the chance on Fulci, with the result a series of ultra-low budget horror movies like A Cat in the Brain and Voices from Beyond (both 1990) which could only really be sold to undemanding video gore fans and/or the small but growing cult around the director.

Having spend over 20 years sniping at one another Argento and Fulci then remarkably became reconciled with one another in the mid-1990s with the younger director agreeing to produce and bankroll his former rival's comeback picture, an adaptation of Leroux's oft-filmed tale The Wax Museum.

Unfortunately as the film was in pre-production Fulci died. The circumstances were characteristically ambiguous: a diabetic, he either forgot to or declined to take his medication. We were thus left to wonder what might have been and a distinctive cinematic legacy whose generic diversity and stylistic and thematic consistency have too often gone under-acknowledged through an at times regrettable, if understandable, fixation on one particular gore subset of this whole.

As much as a damaged life – to again return to the Adorno quote with which we introduced this profile – Fulci’s was thus a damaged career, doomed to be misunderstood at the time it mattered, when he was alive.

Yet, like one of his famous zombies, Fulci's cinematic legacy has an undeath through the enthusiasm of high-profile fans like Quentin Tarantino, whose Rollling Thunder imprint re-released The Beyond theatrically in 1998, and lovingly restored by-the-fans-for-the-fans DVD releases exploring the breadth and depth of his filmography, which I would urge everyone reading this to rediscover.

[As part of a writing on film class I'm doing we had to do a profile of a film personality who interests us, so I chose Fulci; I'm not sure if Ragazzi del juke box is really a musical...]

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Coartada en disco rojo / I Due volti della paura / The Two Faces of Fear

Suppose it's 1972 and you're making a giallo. Sure, you've managed to secure the services of George Hilton, Fernando Rey, Luciana Paluzzi, Edouardo Fajardo and Fernando Rey; a formidable cast that should appeal to audiences in your target co-production markets of Spain and Italy. But is it enough – how many times have your audience seen Hilton do that same shifty suspect schtick or Strindberg play the ice-maiden already? What can you do to try to stand out in a crowded marketplace?

Well, if you're Tulio Demicheli the answer seemed to be to bring in some open heart surgery footage...

Would make for a good double bill with Night of the Bloody Apes?

It's a mondo-style attraction-repulsion device that makes or breaks what is otherwise be a pretty average giallo where all the right ingredients are present, but not quite mixed in the proper proportions.

It's like this officer: I was just cleaning it and it went off...

We open with a classic subjective-cameras scene. The crime is theft rather than murder, however – that comes later, with the weapon of choice unusually a pistol.

We're already getting ahead of ourselves, however, inasmuch as there is a considerable chunk of exposition to get through beforehand. Pay attention now:

The thing stolen was Dr Michele Azzini's letter accepting a job at a clinic in Milan. This clinic is the rival to the one where he and his fiancee Paola Lombardi (Strindberg) work. Paola was – and perhaps still is – in a relationship with another colleague, Dr Roberto Carli (Hilton). His wife Elena (Paluzzi) owns the clinic, which she inherited from her father and has built up with the assistance of her loyal manager – and, as we later learn, former lover – Luisi (Fajardo).

Reading too much into a tense exchange of gazes?

Elena also has a serious heart condition which needs operated on. While Roberto could perform the operation, it offers a way of exerting emotional pressure on Michele to stay at the clinic for the time being lest the offer of a 25 per cent share in the clinic not sway him...

The relative weight of these factors proves somewhat moot when Michele is murdered.

Inspector Nardi (Rey) is called in to investigate and while soon identifying the weapon – a Remington 9mm pistol, exactly like the one Elena owns, but which has now suspiciously gone missing – has considerably more trouble with motive and opportunity, with a surfeit of the former and a paucity of the latter. Everyone, it seems, has an alibi...

“I even massaged his prostate”
“Massages his prostate. Don't you know that's against the rules!” – Nardi's assistant tries to coax information out of a parrot which witnessed the crime.

Unfortunately his confusions are shared by the audience alike until late in the day, with the general sense of a narrative and character relationships that are too convoluted for their own good and of a failure to satisfactorily establish whether or not we have another point of identification with the narrative until decidedly late in the proceedings.

It is Elena who emerges as the woman in peril through an extended stalking sequence. The thing is that Elena's stalker turns out to have been one of Nardi's own men...

All the Colours of the Dark...

If, that is, it was a way of determining whether her condition was for real – it seems to be, since she's the one who then goes under the surgeon's rather than the slasher's blade, though the outcome may be the same – and/or of forcing the others to show their true colours, it was a decidedly risky one that doesn't quite convince, especially as things then play out...

While The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh used a similar device, it worked because we were with Edwige Fenech's character and had also been let in on enough of the conspiracy against her to know broadly where our loyalties lay; Strange Vice achieved a better balance between suspense and surprise where The Two Faces of Fear too often piles on one surprise after another.

Demichelli just over-eggs it: almost every little gesture and detail, every exchange of dialogue or looks amongst the central quartet is equally replete with potential meaning and thus equally meaningless, leading to too many things which go nowhere – a letter that may incriminate one suspect, an insurance policy that suggests a further motive for another – and a failure to satisfactorily engage the viewer in the process of playing detective for him or herself.

There are some gialli where you can watch them a second or third time and really appreciate the director's craft, the way he subtly directs or misdirects your attentions and presumptions – Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is perhaps the most obvious example, though Amadeo's Smile Before Death also comes to mind – but this is not one of them. Just as the those who take a psychoanalytic approach to each and every case need to be reminded a cigar is sometimes only a cigar, here Demicheli needs to be reminded that sometimes a closeup of a detail is only a close up of a detail.

Yet more stairwells to die for, even with the compositions somewhat off in the non-OAR presentation

It's more of a shame because when Dimicheli goes for the self-consciously stylish image – a defamiliarising shots of a stairwell here; some expressive use of colour there; a recurring theme of the need to read the signs – he gets it. Likewise, his failure is that of trying too hard rather than not hard enough.

It's all about reading the signs

On the plus side Rey's good-humoured, world-weary detective, who quit smoking six months previously and finds his and others' nicotine cravings to be a constant distraction, is an endearing creation. The other performances are effective, but never quite rise about the level of doing the same thing as we've seen elsewhere. Indeed, in the case of Hilton in particular this is to Two Faces of Fear's detriment because one tends to thereby recall other more consistently trashy yet engaging gialli like The Case of the Bloody Iris.

Franco Micalizzi's score is another asset and, being more in the giallo than the poliziotto vein, serves as a useful reminder of his versatility.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Il Porno shop della settima strada / The Pleasure Shop on 7th Avenue

Two desperate thieves, Bob (Ernest Arnold according to the credits and IMDB, though one strongly suspects he is in fact Ernesto Colli) and Ricky, rob a chemist, despite the owners indications that he is protected by the mob, specifically one Archie Moran, and that they are thus making a big mistake.

Sure enough, two of Moran's goons soon arrive seeking their weekly protection, forcing the thieves to flee out the back door. Trying to evade their purusers the two men find themselves in the titular “pleasure shop” and on learning that its manager Lorna (Annamaria Clementi) is the girlfriend of the selfsame Moran decide to kidnap her. They figure she could prove a useful bargaining chip as they hastily improvise an escape plan, entailing getting the hell out of New York and making for the Canadian border with the weekend traffic.

D'Amato borrows the old hall of mirrors shot...

After collecting the mutual acquaintance who suggested the job in the first place, Sammy (Peter Outlaw –the kind of pseudonym that makes you wonder what other credits he may have that aren’t listed on the IMDB, with this being his only one), they break into what should be an empty suburban house suitable for hiding out in, only to find it unexpectedly occupied by three students, the couple Frank (Christian Borromeo) and Sue and the repressed Faye (Brigitte Petronio), who have themselves broken in.

A sex and violence variant on the classic Desperate Hours scenario thus ensues, with Moran and his men closing in all the while thanks to a message surreptitiously dropped by Lorna...

You won't find a greater hive of scum and villainy...

One of the distinguishing features of Joe D'Amato's cinema in the 1970s was his enthusiasm for blending sex and other material, most often horror. It's an approach I'd previously tended to dismiss as simple opportunism, a calculation seemingly based on the premise that if X percent of his audience wanted the former and Y percent the latter then by including both he could appeal to the larger constituency Z, comprising X plus Y. While I still think there is an element of truth to this, along with the possibility that this combination more often than not likely alienated as many from each camp as it brought in, that Z equals the lesser intersection of X and Y, it also failed to place a film like The Porno Shop on Seventh Avenue in context, as the product of the period in which porn cinema had moved from loop with no pretence of presenting anything other than sex to features which strove to integrate their sexual numbers into a narrative framework.

A female voyeur

Likewise, though I still believe that the likes of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead or Porno Holocaust are unsuccessful hybrids in conventional terms, as much “turn off” as “turn on” for even D’Amato’s audience, this film actually works pretty well as a sleazy sex-and violence one-two. The key difference, I think, is that it is lower key, operating in the naturalistic terror arena than the supernatural horror one. Moreover, it also manages to avoid the kind of mythic contrivances that weaken many other Last House on the Left style entries, barring the convenient coincidence of having the two groups happen to choose the same des-res; the obvious point of comparison here, given the presence of Christian Borromeo and Brigitte Petronio, some card playing and casual racism in both films, is Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park.
The film’s discourses around race are, as so often the case in D’Amato’s films (Tough to Kill, the Black Emanuelle series etc.) themselves intriguing. Sammy is black and the butt of much casual racism from his white colleagues, who are identified as Italian or Puerto Rican by the Jewish-coded shopkeeper Cohen; clearly there is a lot going on here, even if much of it is confused and contradictory.

Much the same applies to the film’s treatment of gender. There are numerous awkward shifts in tone where any given situation may shift from no-means-no rape to no-means-yes 70s porno rape or similar dubious male fantasy scenario. Yet given the set-up we might also sometimes be able to contextualise these as somewhat rational attempts by the three women to make the best of a bad situation, as when Sue offers herself to Bob when he appears about to rape Faye.

Unfortunately as far as mounting any kind of critique of masculinity and making quasi-feminist justifications for the film goes, it's also precisely at such moments that D'Amato's inevitably reminds us of his real motives and audience: the music segues from suspense to porn cues as, rather than taking the opportunity to escape or actively turn the tables, the woman also gets down.

Yet one also, as ever, gets a sense of an admittedly paradoxical disarming naïvete behind D'Amato's calculating crassness throughout the film, that he really doesn't take any of this terribly seriously and probably wonders how anyone could ever do so.

It's all entertainment, however dubious, and as such needs to be taken in terms of whether it’s a worthwhile way to spend 90 minutes. Obviously if you're seeking life-changing cinema, D'Amato is not your man. But if what you want is a bit of sex, a bit of violence and a bit of I-can't-believe-I-just-saw-that – one moment of note being when, having just been saved Bob’s attentions Faye then lies back to enjoy the show as they have sex and masturbates herself; though sleazehounds should also be aware be there is nothing here to compare with the likes of Emanuelle in America – he can be always relied upon to deliver the goods. In keeping with this general attitude, there's even a happy ending of sorts for almost all concerned.

Besides being technically tolerably well-made – D’Amato serves as his own cinematographer under his real name Aristide Massaccessi once more, even if more as an economic than an aesthetic decision – and making the most of its limited range of locations, cast and musical selections, the film proves of considerable interest as a document of a demi-monde and type of cinema long past. While few will mourn their passing, for those of us who welcome an alternative to bland Hollywood product and a diversity of cinema, the re-emergence of films like The Porno Shop on Seventh Avenue is to be very much welcomed.

[The film was released with English subtitles by Luminous Film and Video Wurks and can be downloaded in AVI format from Cinemageddon]

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

L' Assassino... è al telefono / The Killer Is on the Phone / Scenes from a Murder

Arriving back in Ostend after spending a few days working in London, acclaimed actress Eleanor (Anne Heywood) suffers a shock when she crosses paths with hitman Drasovic (Telly Savalas).

We open with the arrival of a ferry rather than a jet, though elsewhere Drasovic repeatedly reschedules a flight to London

The effect is to make her forget all that has happened in the last five years - neither that her home in Zune Street has long been demolished; nor that her fiance, Peter, was killed by Drasovic; nor her subsequent marriage to George.

The moment of recognition; a OAR presentation would undoubtedly help us appreciate the scene better here

But whereas Eleanor can't yet place where she has seen Drasovic before, he realises that she is an unforeseen loose that needs tying up before he returns to the job at hand, that of assassinating the man responsible for brokering a deal between oil producers and petrochemical companies.

A later moment of misrecognition as the assassin strikes at who he believes to be Eleanor; note the use of the screen between the two as an echo of the earlier images

The mystery, meanwhile, is whether someone amongst Eleanor's personal and professional circle might have hired Drasovic all those years ago; certainly there is no shortage of suspects:

Dr Chandler: I'd like to try a shot of Pentathol

Thomas, Eleanor's stage partner: Isn't that dangerous

Dorothy, Eleanor's sister and potentially jealous understudy: Only if you're afraid of the truth

Dr Chandler: Is anybody here afraid of it?

George: Of course not.

Cue potentially telling exchange of glances between those present.

The film has a literate, self-reflexive script, even referencing Pirandello at one point (“one shot of pentathol and his philosophy [of truth] goes down the drain,” according to Thomas) but is ultimately too conventional to succeed as a Tenebre-style mise-en-abyme deconstruction of giallo conventions.

A fetishistic arrangement of watches conceals the real tools of the assassin's trade

There's no real prospect that Eleanor will emerge as the one who conspired to have Peter killed and that this explains her repressed memories, for instance.

While it can fairly be argued that this isn't its goal, as further demonstrated by the identity and motive of Drasovic's employer five years earlier, the film is also less successful than Puzzle as an amnesia themed giallo.

One thus gets the same impression as with Alberto De Martino’s other gialli, such as Man with the Icy Eyes and Blood Link: he certainly has an affinity for the genre and the capacity to come up with intriguing situations, but never quite manages to bring them to realization on screen to their full potential.

The characterisations of Eleanor and Drasovic are too straightforward (though the latter’s penchant for collecting model soldiers is a nice touch) while the mise-en-scene lacks the kind of enigmatic details to draw one in and reward careful or repeat viewings; there is nothing comparable to the musical clock in Tessari's film.

Yet if the one-note nature of Heywood and Savalas's characters largely restricts their performances to neurotic woman-in-peril and killer automaton cliche, it cannot be denied that both are effective, playing their roles as if to the manner born.

Moreover, this also creates that bit more space and purpose for the supporting cast, insofar as in addition to fulfilling the usual functions of suspects, red herrings and additional victims, somewhere amongst their number we know there must be the point of connection between the leads, grating each line or gesture that potential additional bit of gravitas.

The film was lensed by Aristide Massaccessi and, as such, looks good. Stelvio Cipriani’s mournful themes are another asset, as are his effective suspense cues and shock stingers.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

L' Ultima chance / Last Chance / Last Chance for a Born Loser / Motel of Fear / Stateline Motel

Having just been released from a Canadian prison after serving a six-month sentence for stealing a car, career criminal Floyd (Fabio Testi) takes advantage of the fact that he has to return to his native USA within 48 hours by teaming up with his old colleague Joe (Eli Wallach) to pull a jewelery store heist. The plan is that Floyd will smuggle the loot across the border and meet up with Joe back stateside the following day, where they will divide it up. As we all know, however, plans have a habit of going awry – especially in the heist movie.

The two men manage to pull off the robbery, albeit with Joe being forced to shoot a man who tries to raise the alarm, Floyd having failed to take control of the situation. The younger man does, however, prove his mettle in the car chase that ensues, as they successfully evade the police and make it out of the city.

Driving along a snow-covered backroad, Floyd unwisely starts veering from side to side and winds up going off the road. Though he is unhurt, the car needs repairs. And these repairs as mechanic Jack (Howard Ross) explains require a part – a part which will have to be brought in from out of town, meaning that Floyd isn't going to get across the border as planned.

Floyd goes to the motel next to the garage, and phones Joe to try to explain, but fails to his colleage's suspicious that he is trying to pull a fast one.

His frantic need to get out of town, railing at the gas station attendant who cannot – he believes will not – rent him a car, soon arouses suspicion, all the more so when the news broadcasts footage taken by a hidden camera inside the jewelers and notes that it is likely the American robbers may well be heading for the border.

While Floyd and Joe men were wearing masks, the descriptions of them are accurate, noting in particular that the younger man unusually wore his watch on the right rather than left wrist.
Floyd manages to remove the offending item before it can incriminate him, but by now the motel owner's wife, Michelle Norton (Ursula Andress) is convinced that something about the stranger is not as it seems. She's unstable and, keen to get out of her stultifying relationship with her older husband (Massimo Girotti), has already been carrying on with Jack, who also quickly puts two and two together...

Worse, the other inhabitant of the Last Chance Motel, the chambermaid Emily (Barbara Bach) just happens to be the girlfriend of one of the town policemen (Carlo De Mejo)...

Based on a novel of the same name by Franco Enna (whose work also provided the source for Omicidio per appuntamento a few years earlier), Maurizio Lucidi's L'Ultima chance is unusual among Italian crime thrillers of the early 1970s for its setting, which is also made a relatively important part of the whole.

While I didn't really get whether the story was supposed to be taking place in Francophone or Anglophone Canada – the advertisement hoardings are all in English, but the Montreal Star seems to be the newspaper of choice – the story probably wouldn't work in most European border locales with, say, two robbers trying to cross from Austria into Italy or from Belgium into France. It needs the scale and anonymity which the US-Canada border can provide, along with a harsher winter.

Though first in the credits, Wallach's role is largely limited to the opening and closing moments – albeit with his work there having that intensity which just about warrants his prominence in terms other than box-office recognition.

The rest of the film is pretty much the Testi and Andress show. Both do what they need to, with Andress taking the honours as far as the more complex performance goes, leaving us unsure as to her true feelings until the last – although it is also harder to fairly judge Testi's performance insofar as unlike Andress he does not do his own English dubbing – and are capably supported by Ross, Bach and Girotti.

The plotting and direction don't immediately come across as equally successful, however.
Part of this could be down to the English version apparently being cut compared to the Italian, but the rhythm and tone do seem a bit off at times. In particular, the opening robbery and chase set you up for a different kind of film than what the rest delivers, while the challenge of conveying a state of stasis without also boring the viewer is not quite met.

There are also some possible inconsistencies of character, such as Joe's trusting Floyd with the loot and Floyd's behind the wheel antics (as the sort of thing likely to attract the attention of the police or lead to some sort of (un)foreseen mishap) though more charitably it could be said that these reflects the basic inadequacies of the two men as (un)professional criminals.

Much the same might be said of place the loot ends up being hidden. Anyone who has seen Night of the Hunter or Wait Until Dark will probably be ahead of Floyd here, but perhaps thereby also forget to pay as much attention as might otherwise be the case to certain other curious details that emerge along the way to the final resolution...

While it may be a consequence of poor video mastering or similar, the visuals are a bit murky at times, with some scenes being so dark that it is difficult to anything out or else featuring the kind of contrast where there is black, white and little else.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

All'onorevole piacciono le donne (Nonostante le apparenze... e purché la nazione non lo sappia) / The Senator Likes Women / The Eroticist

This 1972 comedy from Lucio Fulci is both a pleasant surprise and proves to have some surprising affinities with his better known horror and thriller work.

Not a giallo beginning with a plane arriving, but not as divorced from them as the film's status as a sex comedy would suggest

The story is simple: a presidential candidate (Lando Buzzanca) finds his careful political manoeuvring to become president may be undone by his compulsion to pinch women's bottoms when a blackmailing priest winds up with some incriminating photos...

Loss of control

Or, in other words, we have something close to a giallo – forbidden images of a citizen above suspicion plus anti-clericalism – but reworked as a sex comedy / political satire:

“As chief of politics, I'm confused.”

“Right, left, we're in a complete mess here. Look, all we know is that Senator Puppis is the major exponent of the left-wing fringe of a right-wing movement in the centre party. It's a fringe that finds itself on the left after the break-up of a moderate right-wing movement.”

The dreamscape void and the alluring yet dangerous woman, but it's not Lizard in a Woman's Skin...

The connection is further cemented by the fact that the politician undergoes analysis in a bid to determine what lies at the root of his condition, leading to a primal scene of his priest mentor (the great Lionel Stander) laying down the law of the father and a number of other dream sequences which wouldn't be completely out of place in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Anita Strindberg has a role in both films) or The Beyond.

Interpellation by the father?

The dreamscape void, again

You see the roots of the blind girl Emily's silent, slow-motion, repeated run out of her empty ghost house there in the repeated like slow-motion leaps the senator makes towards a row of nun backsides and, in its recalling of Rene Clair's Entr’acte an indication that Fulci's referencing of Antonin Artaud was decidedly more than an attempt to claim intellectual legitimacy for anyone who might have been listening.

Note the leaping / landing figure; this image repeats three times, no doubt conveying the barring of the signified or somesuch psychobabble...

The Clair connection is further enhanced by the way Fulci plays with sound and image early on: we cut from the TV station reporting on the latest round of elections in parliament, where we watch the pundits watching the screen behind them (all in black and white), to a shop window full of TV sets (black and white squares in a colour world) and the sound of cheering. But as the camera pans, however, we discover that the crowd is gathered around another window and is watching – and engaging with – a football match instead...

Fulci's direction has the subtletly of a bull in a china shop most of the time, however, with some serious overuse of the zoom lens. But equally you could visualise the same kind of material being regarded a whole lot better by many if it had borne the name Fellini...

Saturday, 9 February 2008

A link and a book

Essay by Bengt Wallman on the giallo, well worth a read:

I found it while searching for more information on the latest volume from Glittering Images, which is looking at the fumetti and film and should be out in April / May; I saw it in an issue of the comics listings magazine Previews but unfortunately couldn't find an image online. It's got what looks to be the poster art for one of the Kriminal films on it and covers 1960-73.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Contextualising Cannibal Holocaust

One of the points that Ruggero Deodato often makes about Cannibal Holocaust when criticised for the mondo style animal slaughter footage in it is that it's no big deal if one grows up in a rural community.

There's a little human interest 'from our own correspondent' story on the BBC about the 'day of the pig' in Umbria that makes for interesting reading in this regard:

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Nekrofile: Cinema of the eXtreme

This 1997 publication from Midnight Media, written by British genre writer Alan Jones, presents a selection of 20 reviews organised around the notion of cinema of the extreme: disreputable, marginal and envelope-pushing independent productions like Anthropophagous the Beast, Expose, Friday the 13th and Mark of the Devil.

Jones characteristically breathless reviews are entertaining and pleasurable to read, even if inevitably you don't always agree with his evaluations.

The things that are to be savoured most, however, are the obscure little nuggets of information and the personal angle that he brings: the reminiscences of seeing Blood and Black Lace at the age of 13 or a double bill of Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Toolbox Murders on its first release; memories of having dinner with Mariangela Giordano, the dining room decorated with a nude portrait of her; or just the 'I'm not telling' Cinecitta Babylon type scurillous rumours as to various unnamed individuals sexual orientations and off-set activities.

It's also fascinating to see how the scene around these films has changed over time. The digital revolution, in the form of DVD and file sharing, has made it comparatively easy for us to see these films, putting them almost literally at our fingertips.

Ten years ago I had only read about most of the titles in the book, today I have all of them bar a couple, Mother's Day and The Fiend, and could doubtless add these to my collection and watched list with minimal effort.

Yet, our culture around extreme cinema has also changed as a result. Viewing that uncut, beautifully presented DVD of Cannibal Holocaust in the comfort of your own home cinema is a fundamentally different experience from watching a beaten-up print in that sleazy fleapit, grindhouse or drive-in with an audience of like minded types or via that nth generation video obtained from some dubious source. Whether this is all for the better, the worse or a mixture of both is, of course, a matter for debate.

Another factor here is the emergence of the arthouse/grindhouse crossover, already perhaps implicit in a film like Abel Ferrara's MS .45, but apparently growing in importance with the likes of Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day and Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. The challenge here is that of bringing the two non-or anti- Hollywood mainstream cultures, and the larger part of their audiences, together to cross-pollinate/contaminate...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Femmine insaziabili / The Insatiables / Beverly Hills / Mord im schwarzen Cadillac / Excess

Italian journalist Paolo Vittori (Robert Hoffmann) arrives in Los Angeles at the behest of his old friend. Now known to millions as the public face of International Chemicals (clearly not Incorporated) after winning a competition which took him far away from his old life, Giulio Lamberti, who now goes by the anglicised name Julius Lambert, is in big trouble.

Paolo does what he can, beginning with taking a beating and having his face shoved in his own vomit by a couple of thugs by way of demonstrating that he doesn’t know where his friend is, but proves unable to prevent Giulio from being murdered shortly afterwards.

Paolo resolves to find out who was responsible and bring them to justice. The list of suspects is long, including an ex-wife, ex-mistresses and about half the board of International Chemical.

But as the investigation proceeds, with each new contact revealing further unpleasant aspects of Giulio’s personality and how it had changed with wealth and fame, we may begin to wonder if his murder wasn’t entirely justified…

Given the succession of flashbacks deployed here, it is tempting to read The Insatiables /Femmine insaziabili as a somewhat Wellesian film, Citizen Kane meets The Lady from Shanghai (with a key exchange in both films occurring in an aquarium) all’ italiana.

The subtle shift in meaning between the English and Italian titles is significant: the Italian suggests insatiable women threatening the male with their desires, the English probably more accurate in making it clear that near everyone, man and woman alike, wants more and according with the cynical resolution to the whole affair. (According to the IMDB, Le Insaziabili was also the working title for the film in Italian.)

One of the film’s flaws is the unconvincing way in which the Italian characters are inserted into the Los Angeles environment. It’s understandable in light of the film’s primary audiences, as a means of providing extra exoticism, glamour and distance, but never quite convinces, insofar as the same basic country mouse / town mouse type theme might have worked more naturally with two provincial Italians in Rome or two Americans from some Midwest Hicksville.

Another is perhaps the way the film doesn’t deal with all the suspects in Giulio’s murder. Though we’re informed that the probabilities of each of International Chemicals’ major shareholders being involved in the affair are directly proportional to their stakes in the company some of them, including John Karlsen’s 25 per cent man, hardly feature at all.

Then again, if the choice is between scenes foregrounding Karlsen’s grey eminence and Romina Power’s hippie chick looking for kicks wherever she can find them, the filmmakers’ choice again makes sense. (Having watched Power play almost the exact same role in Perversion Story, it's doubtful how far she could act, but she certainly had look and attitude down pat.)

Like Bruno Nicolai’s brash big band score, Alberto De Martino’s direction is rarely subtle but all the better for it in terms of conveying the alternately glamorous and sleazy world of the film’s characters.

De Martino handles the violence well, not least when Paolo avenges himself on the two men who beat him up and their paymaster, but is less convincing when it comes to the sex, with one of those lobster-like ‘one on top of the other’ orgy scenes where the women remove their clothes and the men keep theirs on where it matters throughout. Nevertheless, the very inclusion of some full frontal female nudity suggests that the director was keen to push the envelope here as well.

The performances are variable. Robert Hoffman is somewhat impassive as per usual, good for conveying a determination to get to the bottom of the whole affair but less adequate when required to suggest how this demi monde is actually getting to him.

The female leads – Luciana Paluzzi, Dorothy Malone and Nicoletta Machiavelli – are better, bringing glamour and complexity to their roles.

Best of all, however, is the always impressive Frank Wolff as Frank Donovan, here playing an effete gay sophisticate far removed from the likes of his bluff sheriff in Corbucci’s The Great Silence and Irish settler in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.

In sum, an enjoyable thriller that, if not doing anything particularly new or envelope stretching – 1967’s Omicidio per appuntamento has a somewhat similar set-up, albeit with the action occurring in Italy – is nevertheless a pleasing way to spend 100 or so minutes and another useful reminder of the diversity of the post-Bava, pre-Argento giallo.

[ An AVI of the film is available from Cinemageddon; there's a link to the OST here should you want to try before you buy ]

Saturday, 2 February 2008

George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead

[Not a regular review / post, more something I did for a writing on film class which I'm doing for fun and figured I'd post here as well; the brief was to write 700-1000 words or so on a film of your choice and, if an older film, contextualise it]

It is impossible to approach Dawn of the Dead (1978) without consideration of its auteur, George A. Romero. Born in 1940 in New York, Romero worked as an industrial film-maker in Pittsburgh before making his independently made feature debut, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Today recognised as one of the most influential horror films ever made, the failure of the film's original distributors to properly copyright their release caused it to pass into the public domain. While situations like this are alas none too rare in the world of low-budget independent filmmaking, Romero was unusual in that he did not seek to use Night as a route into Hollywood, preferring to remain as a regional, independent filmmaker.

Wary of being typed as a horror man, he also sought to resist making other genre films. However, the critical and commercial failures of There's Always Vanilla (1971) and Season of the Witch (1972) coupled with comparatively successful returns to horror with The Crazies (1973) and Martin (1976) led him back to the idea of a sequel to Night.

Although nearly ten years had passed since its predecessor's production, Dawn picks up events as if only a few weeks have elapsed. The living dead are everywhere, mindlessly and remorselessly searching for human flesh to eat. The situation is getting worse by the hour. Fran and her boyfriend Stephen, who work for the local television station, which is about to go off the air and be replaced by the emergency network, and two SWAT team members, Roger and Peter, who participate on a disastrous raid on a housing project whose inhabitants have refused to deliver up their dead for disposal, decide to flee the city. Escaping in one of the TV station's helicopters, they have a narrow escape whilst refuelling before landing on the roof of a massive out of town mall to rest. Entranced by the treasures therein, they formulate a new plan: seal off all the entrances to the place, kill all the living dead already within it and take over.

With backing for the project forthcoming and an uneventful shoot, Romero's trials began when he took Dawn before the MPAA for certification. They refused to grant it an 'R' rating and instead threatened an 'X'. This, through its association with hardcore pornography, would make it difficult for the film to get advertising and bookings. Reaching an impasse with the MPAA, Romero thus decided to release the film unrated – a situation, it is worth noting, which is not possible here, where every theatrical released film is required to have a BBFC certificate.

Thankfully for Romero, his refusal to compromise paid off, with the film doing good business. It might also be asked, however, whether it would have done even better with a major studio behind it and if compromise could have benefitted Romero's career in the longer term. Certainly his intended conclusion to the series, Day of the Dead (1985), was constrained by an inadequate budget. Likewise a long period in the wilderness followed before the commercial success of Zack Snider's remake-cum-interpretation, Dawn of the Dead (2004) paved the way for the long-proposed fourth Dead film, Land of the Dead (2005). Significantly, however, it was both a major studio production and an R-rated one.

So much for the history lesson. The question the contemporary viewer is likely to have is how well Dawn of the Dead holds up after 30 years. The answer is remarkably well. Although Tom Savini's state-of-the-art splatter effects have long been surpassed by those of today's CGI-intensive releases, they still pack a wallop. It also helps here that the aesthetic of these effects, like that of the film as a whole, is essentially a comic book one, in line with both Jean-Luc Godard's famous “This is not blood, it's red,” formulation and Romero and Savini's notion of“splatstick” While it might seem odd to juxtapose arthouse and grindhouse cinemas in this way, the truth is that they are closer than we might think on many occasions, including this one.

No doubt as a serious commentary on contemporary consumer society and what it does to us, Romero's film lacks the subtlety and complexity of Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) – indeed, Romero's approach to satire can be summed up by the pies in the face which a number of the zombies receive in one action sequence, which may seem incongruous, but is in fact in perfect harmony with the grotesque comedy of the film as a whole and the tradition of Jonathan Swift's 'Modest Proposal' beyond it – but his allegorical vision is as apocalyptic as Weekend's (1968), has its own often-unacknowledged subtleties. Most important of all, it also managed to reach those mainstream audiences that the Frenchman singularly failed to.

How many of us, having seen the film, can never look at the crowds in a brightly-lit shopping mall with musak tinkling in quite the same way again, without thinking of the other shoppers as zombies and of what we would do if placed in Fran or Peter's position? “They're us, this was an important place to them,” as Fran observes. It's the continuing revelance of this statement which ensures the significance of the film today. It also gets it by those areas of potential weakness, such as the somewhat broad performances and at times overly-meaningful dialogue.

Romero's genius is all the more apparent when his film is contrasted with Snider's. It is not that Snider's undead run rather than amble as the effects this has on the core dynamics of the work. In Romero's Dawn we understand that the main threat the zombies pose is in the characters' underestimation of them as figures of fun and that the mall just might be a place of safety if it can be emptied of flesh-eaters, while the more deliberate pacing affords him to convey a real sense of the growing stasis of his characters lives, their own becoming zombie. In Snider's music-video styled remake, by contrast, everything is just that bit too fast, too intense, with little scope for meaningful digressions, be it a glacial pan across the mallscape or a leisurely montage of otherwise conventional middle-class life as a state of living death.

Or, 'independent horror 1, Hollywood 0'.

Las Trompetas del apocalipsis / I Caldi amori di una minorenne / Perversion Story

There's a cartoon by the American artist Raymond Pettitbon which shows a naked, Manson-esque tripping hippie leaping off a building, a thought bubble indicating that the drum solo he's hearing is so good he wants to take it with him.

It's an image which came to mind when watching this 1969 giallo that opens with not one but two such leaps, those of music professor John Stone and student Catherine Milford.

News of Professor Stone's death significantly prompts a desperate attempt to save Catherine from her fate

The police unimaginatively conclude that they are dealing with two separate suicides. Stone had a history of mental illness, whilst Catherine was distraught at the break-up of her relationship with her erstwhile boyfriend, Boris the Romanian. Though a throughly unpleasant and unsympathetic character – traits that seem linked to his foreign status, which everyone incessantly remarks upon – he had a solid alibi.

Moreover, Catherine's room was locked from the inside, making it been impossible for anyone else to have thrown her out the window – unless, of course, you've read any S S Van Dine or seen, say, The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh. Yet why then did she leap out a closed window, rather than an open one like Stone?

It's questions like this which impel Catherine's flatmate Helen and brother Richard, recently returned from overseas to an unfamiliar London and news he did not anticipate, to conduct their own investigation. Their quest for the truth takes them into the city's hippie underworld, centring on the trendy nightclub the Mouse Hole and its denizens, further murders and / or suicides and ultimately the kind of shock ending which stretches credulity, even by the standards of the form.

Moody lighting

The film is also one of three, all released in the same year, to have somewhat confusingly borne the Perversion Story AKA in English release, along with Lucio Fulci's giallo Una sull altra and historical drama Beatrice Cenci.

The Fulci connection can be taken further, insofar as Spanish writer-director Julio Buchs' take on Swinging London is rather similar to the one Fulci scripted for Riccardo Freda's giallo A Doppia Faccia and later presented in his own Lizard in a Woman's Skin. It's that same mixture of fascination, distaste and non-comprehension, half South Park's Mr Mackie's “drugs are bad” and half Eric Cartman's nightmares of “filthy hippies,” and one which was no doubt useful in both selling the film to young Spanish audiences and justifying it to the Francoist old guard in the censors office.

Drugs are bad, mkay?

The film also exhibits that amusingly skewed outsider's view of its location also seen in so many krimis and a number of gialli, with the dubbing voices talent a mixture of mockney accents and the urban geography creative to say the least, where the taxi taking Richard to Catherine's goes from the Houses of Parliament to Piccadilly Circus to A N Other street and the chimes of Big Ben can apparently be heard anywhere within the city.

Gianni Ferrio's soundtrack is also all over the place, mixing experimental horror movie music, jerk beat, wild jazz, easy listening, syrupy strings and psychedelic cues. At least this is clearly the intention, however, as a means of further foregrounding the clash between conservative / conservatory and contemporary cultures and idioms:

Richard: “We know each other, don't we – you work at the Mouse Hole?”

Harry: “Yes, I work as a disc jockey at that horrible place. Surprised to see a low-brow job like that given to Stone's star pupil? He hated the music played there as much as I do. But it's a way of earning my living [...] I'm like everyone else – I must eat after all. So at night I put beatnik clothes on, put a beatnik wig on with all the trimmings. And for hours I play that sickening so-called music at the Mouse Hole.”)

Is that a thinner Harry Knowles on the right?


Brett Halsey makes for a uncomplicated, no-nonsense lead, quick to resort to his fists or revolver, while Marilu' Tolo is adequate as Helen but lacks the spark which an Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet would have brought to the role.

And the hurdy gurdy man

Tellingly in the light of the film's conservatism, a romance develops between the two but doesn't go particularly far beyond this, with there likewise remaining a clear division between the suspects in the crime and the non-suspects. This is emphatically not the kind of film where we are going to learn that Helen was in fact Catherine's lover and killer, motivated by Catherine's leaving her for another woman and that she subsequently moved to seduce Richard to throw him off the scent.

Buchs' contribution is bland and predictable, the kind of direction where you can predict when there will be a shock zoom, when handheld camera is going to be used or when there will be some expressionistic distortions to convey a drug state or suchlike. The cinematography does look good, however, with effectively moody lighting and/or vibrant colours.

Ultimately your response to the film is likely to come down to its McGuffin. Personally I can't decide if it's smart, dumb or something of both. I can't help thinking, however, that a more imaginative director could have made something special out of the film and its McGuffin, the titular Trumpets of the Apocalypse, while avoiding its too easy demonisation of the hippie.

The film was issued on video by Retel in the UK, with a AVI file of it being available from Cinemageddon; Ferrio's soundtrack can be found here.