Wednesday, 30 April 2008

L'Occhio del testimone / Operazione Paura

I picked up these two books on Ebay, intrigued to see what they had to say about Fulci and Italian horror from an insider's perspective. What follows are some not necessarily coherent, but hopefully interesting remarks...

Published in 1992 when Fulci was still alive but his career effectively over, Michele Romagnoli's L'Occhio del testimone is presented as a series of short, impressionistic chapters on a variety of key Fulcean themes – Life and Death; Time; influences such as Artaud, Poe and Lovecraft; women, relationships and love; rivalry with Dario Argento etc – interspersing Fulci's own remarks and reminiscences with Romagnoli's commentary and contextualisation.

The main weakness of the book stems from the circumstances of its production, with Fulci's identification as a horror auteur by this time meaning that there isn't terribly much about his earlier work in other genres; indeed, the filmography at the end splits into two, only providing detailed credits and synopses beginning with One on Top of the Other and omitting anything that doesn't fall into the horror-giallo-fanatasy fantasy spectrum.

This is a omission insofar as one of the points Fulci makes about his career when comparing his work his his arch-rival Argento is his greater versatility: if those taking Argento's side – and taking a side was what it was often about for close on 25 years prior to Wax Mask – might argue that he had the greater depth within the giallo and horror filone, those taking Fulci's could counter that Argento never made a western like Four of the Apocalypse or a comedy like The Senator Likes Women nor managed Fulci's level of productivity.

It's also somewhat odd insofar as another point which emerges through the likes of Fulci's comments on bringing Artaud into a sequence in an earlier western, Massacre Time, is the importance in seeing his work in more holistic terms: I wanted to know which sequence Fulci was referring to and how his application of Artaud here might have differed from, say, The Beyond.

In other ways the book is more successful in contexualising Fulci, however: The very inclusion of references to Artaud, Visconti, Lang, Ford, Elio Petri, Rene Clair, Steno and so on alongside the likes of Argento, D'Amato and De Angelis indicate – if anyone still doubted it – that he was a culturally and cinematically literate figure, with some of these figures remarks also suggesting how he wanted his own work to be understood.

Tellingly in this regard the chapter on Fulci's “factory” period for De Angelis, which saw him work prolifically with a regular team of collaborators like Vincenzo Tomassi, Sergio Salvati and Massimo Lentini, is headed up by a quote from Fritz Lang: roughly translated “I made the Blue Gardenia for the same reason I made Metropolis and others: because I have to eat.”

To paraphrase Marx, men make cinema, but not in circumstances of their own choosing? Or, more critically, that Fulci certainly also had to eat and support his family but perhaps could have gone without, say, his yacht, and might have enjoyed a better reputation had he made fewer films and more of an effort to present himself as an artist in the approved manner?


Fulci on the set of Zombi 3

Even if one has the same limited understanding of the language as I do, there are still the behind the scenes and personal pictures to look at. One I found especially touching is that Fulci on the set of Zombi 3 (a film he describes as “a trap [...] into which I fell), finding it eerily reminiscent of those pictures of Artuad shortly before his death.

Published in 1997 and with a very brief preface by Pupi Avati, Antonios Bruschini and Tentori's Operazione Paura – i.e. the Italian title for Kill Baby Kill – presents profiles of ten key “Italian gothic” directors along with an overview of important contributions made by other filmmakers less associated with the form and a filmography of essential works.

The ten key men are Freda, Mario Bava, Margheriti, Argento, Fulci, Avati, Lamberto Bava, Massaccessi and Soavi – in other words, the usual suspects. Presented sequentially rather than alphabetically, each filmmaker gets the same basic treatment: a bit of background on who they are and why they are important, followed by an overview of their career focussing on their major contributions to the horror genre, with each key work getting a synopsis followed by a commentary.

Thus, for example, Freda matters for inaugurating the entire cycle with I Vampiri and for giving Bava the opportunity to direct, with the other key films in his filmography being identified as Caltiki – the Immortal Monster, Maciste in Hell, The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock, The Ghost and Murder Obsession, though I suspect the under-rated Tragic Ceremony would have been given more attention had it been more readily available to the authors.

While the choices thus tend to be fairly safe, this works to the book's advantage as a introductory overview, with films like Freda's disowned Iguana with a Tongue of Fire certainly having their moments and points of interest, but being better approached once the reader/viewer has an idea of where to situate them generically.

Anyone who has the Glittering Images Horror all'italiana volume or Louis Paul's Italian Horror Film Directors probably won't find terribly much new information here, however.

There is more of a sense of discovery in other cases, like Lamberto Bava and Avati, given the relative unavailability of the former's highly successful TV work for Italian television and the latter's films away from The House with the Windows that Laughed and Zeder.

Much the same can be said of the final chapter on other directors and titles, with a useful list of names and titles to check out should the opportunity ever present itself – Byleth, il demone dell'incesto, anyone? (Actually, I've recently downloaded that one, but just haven't had time to watch it yet.)

The thing that really makes one wish some material from the book were available in English translation is that the authors actually have an enthusiasm for the films they are writing about, without being blind to their shortcomings. This may seem a minor point, but when faced with something like of McCallum's Italian Horror Film of the 1960s, in which the author dismisses just about every title under discussion in a way that makes you wonder why he actually decided to write the book the first place, it's an important one.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

La Pretora / My Sister in Law

There are two reasons why this is the best of Edwige Fenech’s comedies. The first, and most obvious, is that there’s more of her on display than in any of the others. The second, is that by playing a dual role of two ill-matched identical sisters she also gets a chance to show more of her comedic talents than would otherwise be the case.

The story is simple: Viola is the young, ambitious and, above all, beyond reproach prosecutor in a provincial Italian town. Rosa is her identical sister.



Con-artist Esposito, the victim of one of Viola’s most recent judgement, meets and beds Rosa, and decides to extract his revenge; one of the film’s weak points in this regard is that Rosa’s character is not terribly well developed, in that we don’t really know why she has it in for her sister, beyond hints of resentment at their different upbringings and life chances. (Though she plays dumb, there’s the definite sense that Rosa is far smarter than she’s letting on; certainly she’s far smarter than the men around her, though as ever in the world of Italian sex comedy that doesn't necessarily say terribly much...)

Fulci's cameo

Rosa impersonates her sister and take bribes from some local businessmen. Viola guesses that something is up, causing her fiancé Alteri to go see Rosa in an attempt to get her to see the error of her ways, only to easily succumb to her seductive wiles.

Rosa as Biancaneve

Trivia fans may care to note that the evil queen is played by Marina Frajese

Next Rosa appears in a pornographic fumetti strip as Biancaneve, copies of which are distributed to the public during an obscenity case Viola is presiding over in her other capacity as film censor for the town. (An earlier scene featuring the unseen but heard film’s screening is another highlight, with what seems like the entirety of the town’s respectable male population sneaking into the projection booth to see all the good bits before they are cut out.)

The fumetti image

Then Rosa seduces Viola’s long besotted assistant, resulting in some compromising sex in the office photographs courtesy of Esposito and his lawyer Bortolon that soon find their way into the chief prosecutor’s hands.

Rosa or Viola?

Rosa or Viola – and yet another forbidden photo of a lady above suspicion...

Mercifully for Viola a small giallo-esque detail in one of the images provides the opportunity to extricate herself from the messy situation and turn the tables on Esposito and company…

Though Rosa and Viola are given different dubbing voices they aren’t really necessary to disambiguate the characters, with their facial expressions, movements and demeanours enough if the viewer is paying sufficient attention – which, given that the initial distinction between them might well be summed up as close to ‘one wears clothes, the other doesn’t,’ can probably be more or less assumed anyway when the target vernacular audience is concerned…

The other reason for the device, besides its inherent comedic contribution, becomes clearer later on, however, as the difference between the characters and their voices is then confused just at the point when we – and our on screen counterparts – start to think we have a handle on who is who.

At first glance Lucio Fulci’s contribution to the film is somewhat limited, with the direction functional, establishing and breaking up each scene in an anonymous, classical, degree zero style. Paradoxically, however, the lack of Fulci’s usual signatures – zooms, close-ups of eyes, rack focus between planes of action – arguably becomes a signifier of another characteristic of his work, namely his sheer professionalism. One suspects he understood that this was a Fenech vehicle (the end credits include her shoe and lingerie suppliers, to whom credit must go) and as a director for hire willingly subordinated his contributions to hers, whilst also enjoying the opportunity to again aim some well-placed jabs at the powers that be. (Fulci once remarked that censors should be shot in the head; the problem was that their brains were obviously such small targets…)

I suspect that there was also a fair bit of wordplay that I didn’t quite get, though references to sodomy and fellatio prove easy enough to decipher even with my rather limited knowledge of Italian…

Recommended for fans of Fenech and Fulci alike.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Some giallo posters

All these are currently on Ebay at the moment, if anyone is interested:

Fulci posters

I like these posters for The House by the Cemetery and The Beyond, even though the things with the knife menacing Maccoll has absolutely no relation whatsoever to what is actually in the films...

Lucio Fulci Remembered Volume 1

This disc presents interviews with nearly 90 of Lucio Fulci’s cast, crew and contemporaries. Each was asked one simple question: what was their favourite memory of Fulci and allowed to expound as much or as little as they wanted, without further prompting or interjections from the interviewer.

The aim, according to the project mastermind Mike Baronas, was to try to find out what Fulci was really like, presenting a complement to the films and to the kind of detailed analyses of them provided by Stephen Thrower in Beyond Terror.

Baronas makes it clear in his liner notes that he appreciates what Thrower did, but that Thrower’s textual focus – and, one suspects, more distanced and theoretical approach – didn’t tell him what, as a fan, he really wanted to know about Fulci himself. (It’s worth noting also here that Thrower’s more recent Nightmare USA is less reliant on theory and functions more as an oral history of the US horror independents of the 70s and early 80s.)

The responses, totalling over three hours of material, vary in length from around half a minute (Claudio Ailiotti) to over eight minutes (Beatrice Ring), depending on what someone has to say. Ailiotti, for instance, simply thanks Fulci for giving him a job whereas Ring, who worked under extremely trying circumstances on Zombi 3, finds it difficult to produce any fond memories of Fulci but graciously forgives and strives to understand what made him the way he was.

Some memories are sad, like the tales of Fulci’s long battle with illness, or the will-sapping delays that were to prevent him from realising his comeback with Wax Mask. Others are funny, such as the stories of bets on how often he would change his socks during a production; his nickname of Lucio Pulci (i.e. fleas). Others, like Dakar’s playing on his guitar and singing in lieu of offering his actual memories, are simply touching.

Crucially, there are also moments of insight, such as Catriona MacColl’s reading of that famous picture of Fulci sitting, arms folded, in the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway: a man between two worlds, isolated and defiant. (The image is on the back cover of the DVD.)

Overall, the picture that emerges is of someone who had a difficult life and was at times certainly a difficult person to get on with. Everyone also agrees that Fulci was an intelligent and cultured man, knowledgeable about the cinema and a solid professional.

Beyond this the picture gets more complicated.

Many actors indicate that Fulci could be a bully, with a tendency to pick out victims. Others, however, also indicate that he was surprisingly patient with them, apparently understanding of their lack of experience. Trying to square these conflicting accounts, the impression is that of a professional who expected the same professionalism from his actors and didn’t suffer fools gladly; Sasha Maria Darwin talks about a 'Jekyll and Hyde' aspect to Fulci – Jekyll being Fulci the man and Hyde Fulci the director.

Another area where opinions differ is whether Fulci’s talents deserved better than the B- movies that constitute his filmography, or if his willingness to take on just about any paying job that came his way rather than waiting for the right moment and taking the time to make the A- film that could have boosted his reputation as a serious filmmaker was itself partly to blame for his failure to attain mainstream recognition.

Of the interviewees, one I would really like to heard more from is Jean Sorel, who was unique in working with Fulci before and after his wife’s suicide, on the films Perversion Story (1969) and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), and is perhaps thus best placed to shed some light on the impact of this event on the director.

One thing that shines out from the disc is just how important a service Baronas and others like him are doing in putting the pieces in place for an oral history of the filone cinema and its personalities; of those interviewed, at least five – Bruno Mattei, Fernando Di Leo, Renato Polselli, Dakar and Jenny Tamburi – have died in the years between their interviews and the release of the disc.

The disc is labelled as volume one. Here’s hoping that interest is sufficient for not only volume two, hopefully featuring contributions from some of those who slipped through the net this time round – Edwige Fenech, Lando Buzzanca and Dario Argento would be three obvious candidates I can think of, the first two also perhaps helping shed some light on whether Fulci was different when working as a comedy director – but also for Baronas to resume his Fulci book project as well.

Mention must also be made of Dave Neabore's music, which captures the sound of Fabio Frizzi, Walter Rizzati and company so well you could almost believe you were hearing previously unreleased tracks from City of the Living Dead or The House by the Cemetery.

Paura Productions' website

Sunday, 20 April 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Dolce Vita

This was a book I had wanted to read since reading a review of it in Video Watchdog shortly after its 2004 publication.

Mickey Knox, for those unfamiliar with him, is the American actor who, finding himself greylisted by the McCarthyite witch hunts relocated to Europe to ultimately spend 35 years as an expat in Rome, where he came to present a key point of contact between the host and expatriate film communities.

He was the man whose dialogue coaching of Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo helped the Italian actress win an Oscar for her performance in a Hollywood film, and who was behind the English-language version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Covering over half a century from the 1940s in short, easy to read chapters centred around a particular year and occasion, what it comes down to is mass of fascinating name-dropping anecdotes about both international names and films like Orson Welles and Once Upon a Time in the West and local and cult heroes such as Duccio Tessari, Damiano Damiani and Fabio Testi – the last one character in a particularly scurrilous story involves Andrea Occhipinti and an apparent rash of herpes cases during the production of John Derek's vehicle for his wife Bo, Bolero.

While it's sometimes difficult to know how representative Knox's experiences of a particular individual were or whether someone might just have had an off-day or film – if Tessari was a party-hearty drunk, as he implies, this doesn't appear to have negatively impacted upon the director's other films too far from what I've seen, suggesting that Knox's negative evaluation of Turn the Other Cheek might also be attributable to his unhappy and expensive venture into production on the film with the otherwise unidentified 'Luigi' – his picture of Sergio Leone as a great filmmaker but something of a manipulative son of a bitch in business and personal matters has a longer-term basis and accords with that painted by almost all his other collaborators.

Those whose interests are more narrowly Eurocult may find that the balance of the book isn't quite what they would ideally want, with more on Hollywood and Broadway in the 1940s and nothing on the making of Stagefright, for instance, but it's easy going, entertaining and certainly leaves you wanting to know more.

If only Nick Alexander had written his memoirs as well...

Friday, 18 April 2008

Today's obscure question

Can anyone recommend any books or articles dealing with the ways in which Hollywood's back catologue from 1940-45, or thereabouts, was presented and received in Italy and/or France in the immediate post-war years?

I'm especially interested in anything about the extent to which films were subjected to the usual processes of dubbing, or were subtitled or even screened without subtitles, and of the extent to which, for example, the emergence of the whole kind of 1950s Cahiers du Cinema style emphasis on the visual over the verbal can be traced back to seeing films in a context which encouraged readings in terms of mise-en-scene (or the director) rather than the screenwriter.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs / Spie vengono dal semifreddo

This was one of those films that I’d been wanting to see for a long time, but approached with a measure of trepidation. On the one hand, it was one of the few films directed by Mario Bava that I hadn’t seen. On the other it had a reputation as something of a 'bomb' itself.

The plot is simplicity itself.

The evil Dr Goldfoot (Vincent Price) has managed to evade capture once again and is soon back to his old tricks with his attractive but explosive girl bombs – i.e. convincing looking fembots equipped with explosive charges.

Working with the Chinese, represented by Hard Job (Moa Tahi), Fong and a bunch of nameless goons, his plan is to precipitate a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR by dropping an H-bomb on Moscow.

Price in the Pit and the Pendulum?

The only ones standing in his way are Bill Dexter, an ex-agent of SIC (i.e. Security Intelligence Command) whose boss Colonel Benson (Francesco Mulé) refuses to believe him when he tells the that Goldfoot is alive and scheming until it is too late; Benson’s secretary and obvious love interest/damsel in distress Rosanna (Laura Antonelli), and two hapless individuals by the names of Franco and Ciccio (er, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia) accidentally recruited by SIC as the only men with the special talents needed to stop Goldfoot in his tracks…

Franco makes a gesture that means something different to an Italian than a US audience?

Goldfoot and the lookalike General Willis

The results aren’t quite as bad as I had feared, but would hardly qualify as prime Bava by any stretch of the imagination.

The chief culprits are Franco and Ciccio, the extraordinarily prolific and popular Italian comedians who averaged half a dozen films a year at the time by the expedient of doing their usual characters and routines in spoofs of whatever was in favour at the box-office at any given moment (e.g. spaghetti westerns like The Handsome, the Ugly, and the Stupid and Two R-R-Ringos from Texas).

The girlbomb Antonelli

Whilst Franco and Ciccio were clearly very good at what they did, their humour doesn’t appeal to me. Not that it could or should be expected to. There is, after all, a big difference between watching this film as a member of the terza visione in Italy, 1966, caring nothing about its director, and as an Anglophone Bava fan 40 years later.

We are the robots...

Following from this, the larger problem seems to be that the film is simply too much of a mish-mash of elements to particularly appeal to anyone: One could well imagine the same terza visione audience who wanted to see Franco and Ciccio do their thing tuning out when Vincent Price or Fabian were on the screen, and the bulk of the US matinee audience wondering who these crazy Italians were. (Tellingly even the English and Italian titles emphasise different things: Goldfoot and his girl bombs versus the two spies who came in from the semi-cold.)

Franco makes his escape, disguises as a girlbomb

Bava’s direction seems pretty flat and uninspired, though his hand feels evident in the numerous trick shots and the cheap yet sometimes effective designs for Goldfoot’s laboratory, most notably the mirrored room in which the ever-multiplying army of girl bombs exercise.

While Ciccio gets captured and stuck in the duplication machine

At a pinch there is also some characteristic play on the idea of deceptive appearances in a gag where Price is on one side of the mirror frame and Ciccio, as his reflection, on the other, and in the girl bombs more generally, most notably in the sequence where Fabian has to make out the difference between the real and replicant Antonelli’s – part of the difference being that the real one won’t yet make out with him while the mechanical doll double is decidedly more forward – with the result a broken doll/dummy figure on the floor.

Another moment, intriguing in light of the Bava-scripted Schoolgirl Killer with its private girls school setting and cross-dressing killer, is a scene where Dr Goldfoot dresses up as a nun while his girl bombs pose as schoolgirls in order to intercept the bomb from Franco and Ciccio.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Prostituzione / Red Light Girls / Love Angels / Sex Slayer

We open with the murder of a prostitute, Giselle. Nothing particularly unusual about that for a giallo, although the presentation makes it clear that things aren't as straightforward as they seem in that we see both the face of her last client and of the voyeur hidden in the ungrowth.

As such, barring a double-bluff on the part of the filmmakers – and given that the writer-director is Rino Di Silvestro of Naked Werewolf Woman infamy we aren't dealing with an obvious candidate for anything that clever – we can be fairly certain that the guilty party is to be found elsewhere.

The face of the killer?

The face of the killer?

Not that the police can engage in such meta-gaming strategies. All they have to go on is that Giselle is dead, with leads proving difficult to come by on account of her status as scab sex-worker labour whom the other working girls resented. Yet this also helps them determine that Giselle was different from the norm, being a student from a respectable background.

A visit to Giselle's apartment uncovers an expensive gift – complete with what ultimately proves to be the classic classic musical leitmotif to the crime – and a coincidental/convenient appearance by her fidanzato (Elio Zamuto), an obvious suspect but for his own respectable occupation working for Mrs North's (Magda Konopka's) boutique, apparent surprise/shock at news of her death and solid alibi.

Though those who have seen the later Rings of Fear or who are aware of the long history of fashionable glamour in the giallo from Blood and Black Lace onwards may have cause for pause here, however.

To say this isn't really to give anything away because De Silvestro continues to depart from giallo formula in preferring to first introduce the crime and its perpetrators and then have the investigators discover what we already know.

Moreover as the narrative advances to its inevitable conclusion the digressions and subplots, one involving a blackmailing photographer (Luciano Rossi), another a middle aged prostitute who slowly realises that her lover is more interested in her daughter, become increasingly prominent.

Classic signor Rossi

The result is an giallo/mondo/melodrama mix that veers uncomfortably between the comic – the obligatory transvestite – and the tragic – the gang rape of one of the prostitutes (Orchidea De Santis) after she insists that her client wear a condom because she always gets pregnant otherwise and has been advised by her doctor that she can't have any more abortions on account of her anaemia.

Forbidden photos of a Citizen Above Suspicion...

... and a Respectable Lady Above Suspicion

If Red Light Girls thereby fails as serious drama or documentary – though incredibly De Silvestro reportedly received letters from real-life prostitutes praising him for the authenticity of his film – it succeeds, intentionally or not, as trashy entertainment. Again, however, those seeking wall-to-wall sleaze might be better advised to look elsewhere, with the film's aspirational qualities also limiting the extent to which you can expect to see the likes of Konopka and Krista Nell really getting down and dirty.

I watched the film through the evidently cut BBFC X certificated version which runs only 70 minutes. There is also a 85 minute Swedish subtitled edit as Street Angels.

If anyone has any more information on the difference between these versions let me know – especially if there are missing scenes with Konopka, Nell and company...

Sunday, 13 April 2008

A Patrick question

Earlier this week I watched the Richard Franklin telekinetic killer in a coma film Patrick. I knew little about it other than that it had spawned an unofficial and considerably grubbier Italian sequel, Patrick Lives Again; that the latter film is so sleazy is hardly surprising when you remember that it's from the Crisanti/Bianchi team.

The biggest surprise for me about Franklin's film was its music, in that I was expecting to hear Goblin but instead got Australian soundtrack composer Brian May (i.e. not the Queen guitarist). I'd forgotten that Goblin's was an alternative score.

Which brings me on to the question/topic: In his book Nightmare Movies Kim Newman mentions Patrick and Patrick Lives Again as an example of the spin-off/rip-off mentality in Italian popular cinema of the time, suggesting that what they show was that a film didn't need to be particularly successful at the box-office to spawn an Italian imitation.

While I agree with Newman's point in the main, I'm wondering how successful Patrick was in Italy specifically (whether the Goblin score boosted its prospects/signalled its relative importance; perhaps a kind of inversion of the treatment the likes of Rustichelli's scores for Bava received in the US, where they were habitually replaced by the more marketable/audience appealing Les Baxter) and the importance of local conditions.

Was Patrick Lives Again really one of those nationally specific sequels, never particularly expected to receive distribution internationally or in English-speaking territories specifically?

I'm also thinking here of the likes of Faces of Death, purportedly a bigger success than Star Wars in Japan on their initial releases; or of the substrata of spaghetti westerns that never circulated in the US or UK; or of the relative box-office success of Dawn of the Dead in different markets and the relative delay in releasing it in the US against Italy, with the question of whether the international prospects for Zombi 2 were really known at the time it was put into production compared to the domestic ones.

Malabimba / Satan's Baby Doll

What we have here are two films made for the same producer, trash-king Gabriele Crisanti, with the same lead actress, Crisanti's then-wife Mariangela Giordano, playing naughty nuns, by two brothers, Andrea and Mario Bianchi.

Many of these names appear in both films' credits

Moreover 1979's Malabimba and 1982's Satan's Baby Doll also utilise the same atmospheric castle exteriors and interiors and tell more or less identical stories of an innocent young woman's possession by a malign, vengeance-seeking spirit; that this innocent is played by different actresses – Katell Laennec in Malabimba, JJacqueline Dupré in Satan's Baby Doll – is perhaps explicable on account of the three-year gap between the productions and the correspondingly limited range of 'barely legal' looking talent the filmmakers could draw upon and then discard.

This 'fresh flesh' aspect, in turn emphasises another aspect that only adds to the viewers' confusion, with both films also existing in softcore and hardcore versions.

Though I viewed the latter versions, released on DVD by Severin, the hardcore footage is hardly essential in either occasion, being very much comprised of obvious inserts where you never see any shots actually attach the sets of genitalia seen in the penetration shots to the name performer like Aldo Sambrell (Baby Doll's drug addicted, wife-murdering paterfamilias) they are supposed to belong and where the money shots that would be foregrounded in a conventional porn production of the period are conspicuously absent.

The bear

The teddy bear...

Attraction and repulsion, sex and violence...

Following from this it's probably fair to say that the softcore versions – which still include plenty of female nudity, masturbation and faux lesbian activity – better represent the filmmakers' intentions, were it not for the fact that their intention was plainly to make as commercial a film as possible.

Plot- and character-wise there's not a lot to be said: the basic rule is that all the male characters are unpleasant and the females sex-crazed, either in their own right or through possession, with the narratives in both cases progressing through a succession of sexual and/or supernatural encounters that frequently precipitate the deaths of those involved – including, in both films, by blow-job and plunge from a height.

There are however a few moments amid the zoom and close-up dominated mise en scène in both films that hint at a aspiration to do a touch more than get the film in the can.

The female voyeur; no doubt we could also talk about the barred signifier here...

In Malambima, for instance, one of the sex scenes with Webley takes place on a bearskin rug which the camera zooms in on. It seems odd at first, but then allows for a neat connection to be made with the following sequence in which the confused Bimba, who had been secretly observing her aunt, indulges in a spot of frottage with her teddy bear – before taking a knife to it.

It's the kind of thing which recalls Jess Franco at his best, where the bold improvisation and experimentation lead further into the kind of psychosexual territory than most filmmakers would be willing to venture.

The séance is also well presented, though the lowest common denominator aspect again inevitably comes through when one of the presence's first manifestations is to make Webley's breasts fall out of her dress – not that they needed much help, since her costumes admittedly tend to be of the threw something on and nearly missed varietal...

The agony and the ecstasy as Sister Sofia is assaulted by the presence...

Satan's Baby Doll is the more atmospheric and effective of the films on the whole, in large part because its score is both better suited to the material and more stylistically coherent and consistent, with gentle Beyond-style piano and vocal pieces that build to harder rocking crescendos as required. Malabimba by contrast uses a less well matched selection of cues plainly culled from the library, with several familiar from other (Andrea) Bianchi entries including Strip Nude for Your Killer and Zombie: Nights of Terror.

An image that incorporates lesbianism, necrophilia and satanism...

The most consistently impressive aspects of both Malabimba and Satan's Baby Doll are Giordano's performances. It's not just the evident commitment and lack of inhibition with which she strips off and gets down to business, but also the sense of distress and despair that pervades her delivery, gestures and expressions. She really makes you believe that she knows she shouldn't be doing these things but just cannot help herself – a state of mind perhaps curiously reminiscent of that of the Eurotrash fan himself, who knows that these films aren't great art by any means, but nevertheless can't help falling under their spell...