Tuesday 31 March 2009

Quel maledetto treno blindato / The Inglorious Bastards / Deadly Mission / GI Bro / Counterfeit Commandos / The Dirty Bastards

The first thing to say about this 1978 war actioner from Enzo Castellari is that it’s difficult to talk too much about the story without spoiling it for the first-time viewer. Or, make that stories, since like From Dusk Till Dawn, it’s something of two different films in one.

After the nicely Rotoscoped titles, accompanied by Francesco De Masi’s suitably stirring martial music, we’re introduced to our protagonists, four GI’s and an air force lieutenant.

Berle is a coward who involuntarily pisses himself whenever in danger; Nick a compulsive thief; Tony an ex-gangster and all-round bad guy whose only loyalty is to himself, and Fred (Fred Williamson) an African-American sentenced to death for the accidental killing of a racist officer. Lieutenant Yaeger (Bo Sevenson) is an air-ace, court-martialled after repeatedly going AWOL and using his plane to visit his girlfriend in London. (Though the “make love not war” epithet otherwise applies better to Nick, as a long-haired proto hippy.)

By making the MPs escorting the prisoners as unsympathetic as possible, not caring whether their charges get to their destination dead or alive, the filmmakers do a good job of getting us on the side of characters that in some cases we might otherwise find it harder to care about. Indeed, as a Nazi plane strafes the party the MP’s are quite happy to gun down the prisoners as they too attempt to take cover.

In the confusion, Berle, Nick, Tony, Fred and Yaeger manage to escape and to turn the tables on the MPs. Here we also get further indicators of the rules by which the film is playing as the MPs are briefly humiliated and then sent marching back to camp rather than subjected to anything more extreme and with none of the other prisoners, those who were not introduced nor individuated, surviving the encounter.

Deciding to head for neutral Switzerland, whose border is only 100 or so miles away, the men set off in the hastily repaired truck.

Unfortunately it is soon destroyed by a Nazi mortar, in what proves to be the first of a series of episodic encounters whose temporal and geographical relationships and resolution, if not always as clear as they might be, nevertheless also help convey an appropriate sense of confusion, that no-one really knows what is going on and where the enemy is. (If the Rotoscoped titles recall A Fistful of Dollars, this aspect is more reminiscent of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, especially since identities and uniforms are rarely what they seem at first sight.)

This continues as, hiding out in a barn, the men discover a German deserter, Adolf Sachs (Raimund Harmstorf), and, with the rest of the countryside ahead of them swarming with the Wermacht, enter into an uneasy alliance.

An encounter with a group of skinny dipping female Nazi soldiers follows soon after, significantly ending before any real shooting to establish a contrast with an otherwise comparable scene in Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron to further emphasise that this is more fantasy adventure than realistic depiction of warfare.

The strengths and weaknesses of Inglorious Bastards are pretty much those common to all Castellari’s work.

Most obviously in terms of strengths, he really knows how to sell an action scene and how to make maximum use of the available resources.

Note how the opening scenes in the US base are comparatively large scale, with various extra trucks and tanks in the background. Thus taken in we may not notice the smaller scale of some of the intermediate battle scenes, where at times it looks as though the one exterior set has been shot from different angles or with the props moved around, nor the matte paintings and models representing ruined towns, squadrons of aircraft and things generally getting blown up.

In terms of weaknesses, meanwhile, it’s an awkwardly integrated love subplot with a female resistance fighter, made all the less credible by involving the least likely member of the group, Tony.

Allowing for the inclusion of a touch of glamour in the form of William Berger's daughter Debra, this is however hardly a fatal flaw.

The filmmakers also deal rather more ably with the complicating presence of an African-American in the group, going beyond a couple of scenes where he plays the Chewbacca role of captive to explore the contrast between Yaeger and Tony, the former commenting on the link between prejudice and the war itself and the latter a prime example of home-grown US bigotry.

Donal(d) O’Brien turns in a memorable cameo as a SS officer, venomously spitting out a line about the US being a nation of mongrels, of blacks, Jews, Germans, and Irish, with delicious irony, whilst the denouement presents a nice example of the pen(cil) being mightier than the sword.

Recommended, especially in the extras-laden three-disc set released by Severin last year.

Monday 30 March 2009

Un Fiocco nero per Deborah / A Black Ribbon for Deborah / The Torment / Deborah

This is one of those more aspirational examples of the supernatural thriller which, while welcome for generally eschewing the usual black-gloved elements in favour of character driven drama, never quite manages to amount to more than the sum of its parts.

We open in a circus, the ideal introductory location for its combination of the spectacular, the carnivalesque and the uncanny. Here it is established that Deborah Lagrange (Marina Malfatti) has some sort of supernatural powers as she predicts, or more ominously precipitates, a trapeze artist's fall.

The theme of science versus magic is neatly developed over the next few sequences, as we learn that Deborah is desperate to have a baby but cannot conceive - according to her gynaecologist, it would need "a miracle" - and are introduced to her husband Michel, a physicist who apparently refuses to believe that God would play dice, and their friend, a parapsychologist more attuned to such possibilities.

The theme soon becomes more than just a matter for friendly discussions between rivals as, following an car accident involving a pregnant woman and her husband, Deborah falls pregnant. While Michel is naturally overjoyed at - not least because what he has felt to be his wife's obsessive and impossible desire has threatened to drive a rift between them, as evidenced by his remarks to his conveniently young and attractive assistant - the gynaecologist insists that the pregnancy is not real and merely a phantom, a self-delusion brought about by Deborah's will to believe...

There's not getting away from the fact, as immediately established by Marina Malfatti's pixie style cut, that A Black Ribbon for Deborah owes a lot to Rosemary's Baby in its paranoid exploration of pregnancy.

If this palimpsestic phantom haunting the text in itself isn't anything unusual within the Italian cinema if we also think of the likes of Francesco Barilli's The Perfume of the Lady in Black and Sergio Martino's All the Colours of the Dark, the issue is that writer-director Marcello Andrei's work can't quite compete with Barilli's film as art nor with Martino's as an example of the filone.

Nevertheless, these are also two films which set the standard relatively high - Barilli's film possibly even managing to exert an influence on Polanski's The Tenant and certainly rising above the level of mere imitation - with Andrei also clearly trying his hardest to do something out of the ordinary.

Though it's hard to be sure how well the version under review reflected the original's framing, with the aspect ratio, at somewhere between 1.77:1 and 1.85:1 could have been correct but looked more likely to have been cropped from a wider screen source, the compositions still made good use of the screen space to convey the emotional closeness or distance between characters.

Andrei also makes nice symbolic use of the colour yellow and of more showy techniques - dissolves, canted angles, circling and hand-held camera etc. - to effectively convey Deborah's subjective states.

While readable as a more or less textbook application of Koven's notion of a vernacular poetry of the giallo, this is also an unusual example in not being connected to the giallo or horror "violence number" specifically and, in conveying a shared neurotic rather than psychotic state, is arguably closer to Pasolini's original model.

That Andrei should have striven to do something different and succeeded, albeit to a limited degree, is perhaps not surprising when we look at his somewhat mysterious filmography in a bit more detail: making his debut with the documentary Archipeligo di fuoco in 1957, he scripted and directed his first fiction film, Eye of the Needle, in 1963. Nothing further was forthcoming until 1974 when he wrote and directed what was to be the first of four films in as many years, Verginata. Then, after the 1977 western El macho, he disappeared from view until 1988, when his last film, another documentary, Aurora Express was released.

Nor is the film without other points of interest.

It's pleasing to see Marina Malfatti, normally cast as a supporting character - she plays a victim of the satanic cult in the Edwige Fenech vehicle All the Colours of the Dark, and villains in Emilio Miraglia's gothic giallo diptytch of The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and The Night Evelyn Came out of the Tomb - tackle the lead role for a change. It's still more pleasing that she makes the most of the opportunity and demonstrates that she was deserving of larger and more demanding parts than the eye-candy ones she was more routinely given.

Elsewhere, we also get a nice Cat People derived zoo visit sequence - useful as a reminder that Polanski's film was hardly the first to connect female sexuality to the demonic nor to use suggestion rather than showing wherever possible - and are treated to a unusually diverse score courtesy of Alberto Verrecchia (another somewhat enigmatic figure with only five film credits, all between 1973 and 1975, to his name) that makes the most of free-jazz styled sax squalls and honks as counterpoint to the animal noises in the selfsame zoo sequence.

Friday 27 March 2009

Paul Raymond's Erotica

This is one of those films that, whatever its failings in other regards, is of inherent interest from a sociological perspective, with the experience of watching it in this form – as a British film with a French star dubbed into German – only enhancing its trash entertainment value.

The Paul Raymond of the title, for anyone who doesn't know, was an English music-hall type entertainer who became an impresario, pornographer and property magnate and, through the latter two, one of the richest men in the UK.

Yes, we are on location!

All these disparate elements come together here through the film’s central location, his Revue Bar – i.e. glorified strip club – in the heart of London’s Soho district.

The star of the film is Brigitte Lahaie, the French erotica / horror / porn star whose career includes both routine work in the latter field and more interesting excursions into the former territories via the likes of Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Fascination and Jesus Franco's Faceless.

Her role, as the roving reporter who takes a very personal involvement in getting the story, is broadly akin to that of Laura Gemser in the Black Emanuelle films, especially the more explicitly mondo-esque entries of the series.

Yet unlike these films, which frequently went all over il mondo in search of the (purportedly) weird and wonderful, all the action here is confined to the Revue Bar and nearby locations, conveniently including the offices of Raymond’s porn magazine publishing empire for some extra cross-media exploitation.

The first major problem is that we don’t have any distinction between reality – Lahaie’s adventures – and fantasy – the Renue Bar sequences – insofar as both are shot in the same style and even at times intercut to make them more ‘exciting’ and erotically charged.

Bearded or unbearded clam?

The second, and the more fundamental as far as the majority of the film’s wider audience – i.e. not film theoretical types but the target public – is that the film necessarily cannot deliver on its promises.

For whereas the rest of Europe, or continental Europe, embraced hardcore for better or worse during the 1970, the UK remained resolutely softcore, with a multitude of strange rules on what it was permissible to show. (And, more cynically, that the likes of Raymond were perfectly happy to see continue, as it meant they didn’t really have to compete with the wider world market.)

On the plus side, Lahaie still provides for plenty of “visual pleasure” if not necessarily jouissance, while the music is endearingly sleazetastic...

Saturday 21 March 2009

Attentato ai tre grandi / Desert Commandos / Les Chiens verts du déser / Fünf gegen Casablanca

As I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, the tragedy of Umberto Lenzi’s career is that he’s probably doomed to be known for Cannibal Ferox rather than any of the dozens of far better non-cannibal films he made over the course of his long career.

Desert Commandos is yet another illustration of this point, being an effective entry into the Eurowar filone that works on every count to showcase Lenzi’s hyphenate abilities as writer and director.

While taking the standard commando mission scenario, the film is unusual in that it presents such a mission from the German / Nazi perspective; I use both terms because the central personal drama within the five man strong, hand-picked group is the clash of values between ‘evil’ Nazi Captain Fritz Scholler, played by Ken Clark, and ‘good’ German Lieutenant Roland Wolf, played somewhat against type by Horst Frank.

The mission, which Scholler is charged with keeping secret from his men until he can be sure of their loyalty, is one that, if successful, will surely change the course of the war: to infiltrate an Allied conference in Casablanca and assassinate three of those present there, namely Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt.

In other words, it’s like Lenzi’s version of Eagles over London – admittedly one produced before Castellari’s film – by way of extrapolating from the known history of the Second World War to present a possible story from the secret archives. The key difference, of course, is that we here see things from the perspective of the ‘bad’ guys.

Where Lenzi succeeds here is in making us identify with the men, by making them something more than stereotypes.

Thus, in addition to being a dedicated Nazi soldier, Scholler is a dedicated family man, giving an added dimension to his reasons for fighting – who wouldn’t want a better future for their children, whilst also reminding us that Nazism couldn’t have succeeded if its value system was utterly alien.

The half-American, (purportedly Jewish) Faulkner-reading Wolf’s more humanitarian approach is meanwhile sometimes exposed as a cause of greater suffering, as when he questions Scholler’s apparently unnecessary killing of all of a group of tribesmen bar one in order that they can take the men’s camels.

For, as Scholler explains, the tribesmen would surely otherwise have suffered a slow death from dehydration without their camels and supplies.

Another element worth noting here are the various Arab-type agents upon whose success the mission also depends, as figures who go beyond the conventional opportunism to also be thinking in terms of the enemy of my enemy being my friend, and thus reminding us that the British and French were hardly innocent when it came to dubious attitudes towards the other. (“What do you think of western civilisation?” “I think it would be a good idea!” to quote Ghandi.)

Lenzi makes good use of locations, emphasising the contrast between the desolate, uninhabited uniformity of the desert and the crowded, multi-layered city of Casablanca with its winding alleys and flat rooftop terraces; generates considerable tension, suspense and intrigue; and handles the action scenes comfortably.

While suffering from an awkward pan and scan treatment in the version under review, some compensation is provided by the familiar Eurocult faces present, including Howard Ross as another of the commando team and Tom Felleghy as an allied officer.

Everyone's favourite military looking type: Tom Felleghy

Students of acousmatic sound and the figure of the acousmetre, the one who is heard but not seen, may want to also note the finale to the men’s mission for the way in which Churchill is presented.

Thursday 19 March 2009

La Battaglia d'Inghilterra / Eagles Over London / Battle Squadron / Battle Command / Sur ordres du Führer / El Largo día del águila

Enzo G. Castellari is not a director who I mention terribly much on this blog. It’s probably because the two main filone I tend to focus on, the giallo and horror film, are ones which he is not important in.

It was Castellari, after all, who was first offered the directors’ chair for Zombie and who recommended Fulci for the job, feeling that it horror wasn’t his thing, and who only made one comparatively unusual foray into the giallo, Cold Eyes of Fear, more a thriller than a mystery whose most giallo moment was a self-contained nightclub act.

A self-reflexive moment

There is no question, however, that when it comes to action films, Castellari is pretty much the man.

And, with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds currently reminding us of Castellari’s near namesake – and others Eurocult subjects beside, if such character names as “General Ed Fenech” and “Sgt Hugo Stiglitz” are anything to go by – what better time to (re)visit one of Castellari’s other contributions to the Euro-war cycle?

Though a bit more serious and less of a caper movie that Inglorious Bastards, Eagles Over London – or Battle of England, to translate the Italian – is nevertheless unmistakably Castellari, with plenty of fist fights, derring-do and explosions.

The story opens in Dunkirk, with the allies in retreat. Sent to look for stragglers, part of the detachment commanded by Captain Paul Stevens, finds a group of men from another British regiment, not realising that they are in fact Nazi agents in disguise.

With the advantage of surprise the Nazis, led by the sinister Major Krueger, kill all the detachment whilst suffering one casualty of their own, take their dog tags and pay books, and then split up, mingling amongst the rest of the retreating allied soldiers.

Split screen

Wondering where his men have got to, Captain Stevens goes back to check, indicating to his loyal NCO, Sergeant Mulligan, that the bridge separating them from the advancing Nazi forces should be blown up regardless of whether he comes back in time or not.

Stevens finds the dead men and, hurrying back, saves one of the German agents, Martin, from being blown up along with the bridge.

Back in Blighty, Stevens offers Martin a place to stay, little realizing that Martin is in fact one of the saboteurs he is trying to root out before they can infiltrate the British radar defence system, vital to the country’s defence.

For his part Martin feels increasingly conflicted by his loyalties to the Fuhrer against those of the new friend who saved his life at risk to his own…

If the historical backdrop means that aspects of the eventual resolution have a sense of inevitability – it’s hopefully not giving too much away to say the British win both this cloak and dagger battle and the Battle of Britain – Castellari and his collaborators nevertheless succeed in keeping one guessing exactly what will happen between Stevens and Martin until the end, and in intertwining the smaller and larger scale narratives.

The saboteurs

Similarly, if some of the antics of Stevens and company seem a bit far-fetched, suggesting that the war could have been won by them almost single-handed, the integration of levels of narrative conflict also means that you can well imagine the film being an extrapolation, Castellari style, from a real incident hidden in the secret archives or lost less the truth be known.

In this regard, the use of Winston Churchill’s speeches is also clever. If, “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few,” in explicit reference to the RAF, that the RAF’s ability to repel the Nazi blitzkrieg is presented as depending on the radar stations being kept operative adds another implicit layer of meaning, that this few in turn owed much to the efforts of the even fewer.

Another nice touch here is the depiction of Nazi overconfidence and infighting, that the saboteur’s mission is one which one leader has mounted on his own whereas another believes, like the (unseen) Fuhrer, that the British radar does not exist.

Obligatory control room scene; I recently visited a decommissioned nuclear bunker and saw one just like this, but smaller

While sticklers for historical accuracy will likely find much to fault in the film’s costumes, armaments and other props, this can be excused by the sheer scale of some of the set pieces relative to the film’s likely budget.

For Euro-cult fans, meanwhile, the all-star cast – Frederick Stafford as Stevens, Francisco Rabal as Martin, Luigi Pistilli as Kruger, Renzo Palmer, Ida Galli, Teresa Gimpera and Van Johnson among the name roles; George Rigaud and Edouardo Fajardo visible as British and Nazi officers – should override this, along with the inherent humour of seeing Italians and Spaniards playing Germans impersonating Englishmen and speaking the language with quasi-received pronunciation (non-)accents. (Indeed, the odd man out here is Van Johnson, the British air commander with a American accent.)

Both groups can surely appreciate Castellari’s direction, with some delightful if very of its time deployment of split screen, and particularly good use of screen space and depth in unexpected ways to impart visual interest to even the more mundane material.

He also paces the film nicely. Just as we begin to wonder what the role of two Free French Pilots is, for instance, other than allowing for some more international appeal and air battle sequences, one of them is murdered by a Nazi seeking a new identity, thereby bringing the main plot neatly to the fore.

Not surprisingly he’s weaker on the obligatory romantic subplot stuff. It’s characteristic that a love scene between Stafford and Galli – who is torn between Stevens and the air commander – takes place amidst the backdrop of an air raid and sees Castellari discretely pull the camera away to then show a building opposite explode as it is hit by a bomb.

Went the Day Well meets The Eagle Has Landed, Euro-style?

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Little Shoppe of Horrors - Scream and Scream Again: The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions

Amicus, along with Tigon, has always been the also-ran of British horror, one of the companies that wasn’t Hammer. Such a label is however unfair to Amicus and thus their two key men, Milton Subotsky (1921-1992) and Max Rosenberg (1914-2004), on at least two counts.

First, it ignores their role in actually establishing the English Gothic, by virtue of planting the seed of what would eventually become The Curse of Frankenstein. Second, it fails to distinguish between their approach and those of their competitors, of recognising the relatively genteel nature of Amicus’s style against Tigon’s preference for shock horror.

This issue of the long-running magazine Little Shoppe of Horrors presents the Tigon story on a film-by-film and period-by-period basis, from the first collaborations between Subotsky and Rosenberg, through to the eventual – and sadly acrimonious – dissolution of their partnership and beyond, to perform a function comparable to the likes of Dennis Meikle or Wayne Kinsey or Marcus Hearn’s respective Hammer histories.

While Dark Side publishers Stray Cat had put out a book about Amicus in 2000, it was less than satisfactory for a number of reasons, as explicated by author Philip Nutman in his introduction – an introduction which also indicates the extremely long gestation of his own study, one dating back to the time when Amicus were still making films!

The first issue with the Stray Cat book was that its primary author, Jonathan Sothcott, took his name off the manuscript after it was drastically edited without his input.

The second, was that it was produced with the co-operation of Rosenberg, still alive at the time, but not the by then dead Subotsky.

When you are dealing with two very different men with two very different understandings of the company and its history where one – Subotsky – ended up taking the other – Rosenberg – to court that is understandably crucial.

Indeed, it also represents one of the reasons why Nutman’s manuscript itself has not been published, albeit with repeated updates and additions, until now. For, apparently thinking that it would present the Subotsky side of the story too much, Rosenberg had repeatedly threatened litigation during his lifetime.

The crucial thing here, as one reads through the 80,000 words of text in the densely packed, profusely illustrated 90-odd pages, is that Nutman plays fair to both men. Subotsky emerges as someone who was simply too naive and nice for the world of independent and exploitation film production and who thus needed a more worldly partner in Rosenberg. They were, as Nutman summarises, yin and yang figures, each complementing the other’s strengths and helping compensate for his weaknesses.

Moreover, if it was Rosenberg’s betrayal that eventually led to the breakup of the company against the harsh backdrop of the British film industry circa 1975, he also seems in turn been to have been manipulated somewhat by others’ shadow plays. (Of note here, but sadly unexplored due to Rosenberg’s reticence to say much about it later in his life, was his youthful involvement in progressive politics in the 1930s and 40s.)

Returning to happier times and the yin and yan motif, Nutman identifies karma as the Amicus equivalent to the Manicheanism of Hammer’s key auteur, Terence Fisher. In Fisher good and evil simply are, with the former invariably triumphing over the latter. By contrast in the universe of Subotsky – as the partner who took the more hands on role in filmmaking, Rosenberg handling the business side of things – is one where evil is more of a mundane and mendacious nature and where, most of the time, it ends up defeating itself. It’s not an absolute formula, insofar as some of the victims of Amicus’s horrors don’t do anything obviously wrong, but does work heuristically. (There are also, after all, non Fisher Hammer films that express a different moral universe.)

Away from such David Pirie or Peter Hutchings style thematic interpretations, Nutman also succeeds in producing a work which will prove extremely useful as a reference guide (which one of those anthology films featured that story with that actor being the perennial question here?); for fans of trivia (the impressive main set in The Skull first saw service, albeit briefly, in Darling); as a source of quotes from the two men and figures like Freddie Francis, and for anyone just wanting to know more about the history of British horror and independent film production in the period from the mid-1950s to mid-1970s.

The cover paintings are beautiful, clearly labours of love in keeping with the text itself and the rest of the magazine.

Io zombo, tu zombi, lei zomba

In some ways this little seen zom-com proves something of a missing link between various other better known films.

For if Fulci’s Zombie took what critic Kim Newman has described as a “straight-faced” approach to the post-Romero zombie, Io zombo, tu zombi, lei zomba – i.e. I’m a zombie, you’re a zombie, she's a zombie – draws instead on the “splatstick” aspects of Dawn of the Dead.

We begin with a animated credits sequence that sees a head modelled on a combination of Dawn of the Dead’s poster / airstrip and Hare Krisha zombies, open up to display the credits, accompanied by the strains of a jungle call theme clearly modelled on Goblin’s caccia cue.

The credits

Following this, we’re then introduced to the four main characters: two drivers, a cyclist and a gravedigger. The first three are involved in a road accident, which leaves them dead and in the care of the gravedigger.

He foolishly reads a passage from a book on voodoo out loud, thus reanimating the others. On seeing them, the shock causes him to have a fatal seizure. The others, finding his body and the book, then unwittingly recite the same passage, bringing the gravedigger back and leaving them all in the same predicament.

Reading the book for guidance on what to do, namely look for human flesh to devour, they then relocate from the cemetery to a nearby hotel, conveniently all but deserted – the aunt of one of the men is there but soon dies of natural causes, with the family connection enough to mean that she is not placed on the dinner table – where they masquerade as the staff in the hope of luring in some more appropriate victims.

Zombies on the march

Some guests soon arrive, including a family with a noxious child who knows all about zombies from having read Oltretomba and tries to convince his parents that they all in danger of being eaten, and a gangster type with his mistress and, unbeknownst to the zombies, her recently murdered husband in the car...

The horror kid

They make a point of asking for a matrimoniale rather than two single rooms

Eventually, after various comic living dead hijinks, the action relocates to a shopping centre / mall as the military go in pursuit of the zombies…

We are going to eat you!

But in a properly civilised manner...

The main innovation on the Romero zombie, prefiguring Nightmare City, Cannibal Apocalypse and the Return of the Living Dead series, is that these zombies are conscious of their situation, even if they also have grey-painted skin and, in sharp contrast to their speedy Nightmare City counterparts, still do a slow Romero shuffle.

Elsewhere there's also another foretaste of Cannibal Apocalypse in the way the zombie group, by now expanded to include the mistress/wife, finds itself pursued by the authorities.

The major strength of the film is that it is actually funny. While I wouldn't claim to have gotten much of the verbal humour, of which there seems to be a lot, the sight gags and the actors' zombie routines work regardless of your knowledge of Italian, with the actors making some priceless expressions and gestures.

If the writing seems a little weak, what with all the nightmarish coincidences and contrivances as things go on, there's also a very good reason (beyond it being inherent in this kind of comedy) for this, with it worth recalling here that co-writer Roberto Gianviti had also contributed to several of Fulci and others' gialli, including Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Seven Notes in Black.

Another Romero moment, at the supermercato / mall

While director Nello Rossati doesn't quite come across as one of the forgotten auteurs of the Italian B-cinema on the basis of his showing here or in the other film of his that I've seen, the Ursula Andress sexy comedy The Sensuous Nurse, both films do have a self-referential aspect - there a youth reads i libri gialli, from which he starts to get wind of the murder conspiracy within his own extended family - ex-military figures, and an agreeable general no-nonsense approach.

In the latter regard, Nadia Cassini is here on hand to provide some glamour as the gangster's moll, and while remaining scantily clad does perform what could, at a pinch, be seen as the cinema's first zombie stripper routine.

Cassini also helps explicate the formula of the film's title, having appeared the previous year in the comedy anthology Io tigro, tu tigri, egli tigra.

In sum, a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes and an intriguing intertext for the zombie film scholar.

[As can be seen, I watched the film through an AVI produced by one Doctor Divx, though there is now a Nocturno DVD out]

Sunday 15 March 2009

Letti selvaggi / Camas calientes / Lady Chatterley's Palace / Tigers in Lipstick / Wild Beds

Given its all-star cast – Sylvia Kristel, Laura Antonelli, Monica Vitti and Ursula Andress as the women, Michele Placido and Roberto Benigni amongst the men – this 1979 sex comedy promises a lot.

Sadly it fails to deliver, thus proving a less than illustrious end to veteran director Luigi Zampa’s career, one stretching all the way back to the 1930s and encompassing all manner of productions.

Each of the female stars features in two story segments, all devoted to the age-old battle of the sexes. Here there is also a contrast between the Italian and English titles, with the Italian Letti selvaggi or Wild Beds proving more apt by virtue of its implicit equal opportunities nature and the English Tigers (Tigresses, surely?) in Lipstick more indicative of masculine fears at the predatory female, a figure who is certainly present, even predominant, but also countered by her male equivalent in the Andress / Placido segment and the male chauvinist professor in Kristel’s second segment.

The first issue is that most of these sketches aren’t really all that funny, having something of a shaggy dog quality to them.

The best, funniest, vignette is tellingly the shortest, as the second of Andress’s characters suddenly whips open her coat in the middle of a crowded strada to reveal that she isn’t wearing all that much underneath, thus precipitating a pile up. The punchline is that she’s in league with the proprietor of the garage that ‘just happens’ to be right next to the scene of the accident...

The second is that there’s something of a split amongst the female leads, between those who are ‘actors’ and those who are ‘bodies’. There’s a tendency to gain on the former count and lose on the latter, and vice versa. What’s less apparent, conspicuous in its absence, is someone who embodies both these virtues, namely an Edwige Fenech.




There’s no doubting Vitti’s abilities as a comic actress, whether from her other work within the form or her two roles here, but she’s really isn’t one to get her breasts out. Kristel, meanwhile, is happy to display her charms, but really isn’t much of a comic actress.

The other thing here is that none of the female leads are really at their peak, with this a good five or ten years earlier in each case. Andress and Vitti are certainly well preserved, and game, but Zampa doesn’t quite let the former prove her Ayesha-style agelessness as much as I’d (we’d) like.

Spot the Argento connection

In sum, a harmless and moderately entertaining way to spend 90 minutes; it’s just that the cast seems to offer so much more...

Saturday 14 March 2009

Turkish film posters



Si può fare molto con sette donne / You can do a lot with Seven Women

You may be able to do a lot with seven women, but making a decent film out of them is not one of those things.

The groovy titles

It’s difficult to know where to apportion the blame, for while director Fabio Piccioni / F A King [sic] hardly come across as the most imaginative of filmmakers, the mark of writer-producer Frank / Farouk Agrama is all over the piece.

There’s the Egyptian setting, with lots of travelogue material and a models by the pyramids routine that seems to prefigure his later Dawn of the Mummy, and his lyrical contributions to the theme song, sung by one Melody:

What is this love
That burns me so
That has me in its spell
Is it the hope
Is it some dope
Or just a binding rose
Is it chinchilla
A seaside villa
Or a delicious ice cream
La, la...

The story begins in comparatively serious Blood and Black Lace territory as model Maggie discovers her employers to be involved in drugs smuggling and is consequently murdered.

The obligatory darkroom scene

This continues as her Interpol agent boyfriend Mike, played with typical seriousness by Richard Harrison, takes it upon himself to solve the case: “I’m going to get those bastards!”

But as Mike goes to see his woman-obsessed photographer friend Tiger for assistance in going undercover as a photographer, the tone quickly changes to more of a crime caper comedy where no-one really seems to be playing for keeps.

The problem is that it isn’t really all that funny in itself, with most of the smiles being raised through the general datedness of the early 70s styles on display; some rather stereotypical depictions of the Egyptians, albeit perhaps with a hint of detournement, of Agrama ironically playing upon Italian / western expectations to subvert them (“Once again, the Oriental motif has been our inspiration,” as one of the designers / smugglers remarks); Harrison’s macho bluster; or the extensive product placement for airlines and messrs Justerini and Brooks’ finest.

The fashion show by some pyramids

Elsewhere we get a spot of Blow-Up style play with photographs, though the detail is less hidden than obvious in line with the general style of the direction and narrative, an extended fistfight in a bakery and a perfunctory car chase.

Harrison enjoys the breakfast of champions

If nothing else, it’s all accompanied by some delightfully catchy caper cues that, if I didn’t have them already via the first Beat at Cinecitta compilation, I would have surely tracked down.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

You've seen the films, now wear the jacket?!

"The only jacket in our Vintage Gold collection this summer the Fulci jacket is a smart looking piece of 70's retro styling. "

The 'Fulci' jacket

Sunday 8 March 2009

Syndey Chaplin RIP

Charlie Chaplin's son, who appeared in A Doppia Faccia, The Sicilian Clan, If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death and some other Eurocult entries.


Cornetti alla crema / Cream Horn / Custard Croissants

What? Another Sergio Martino / Edwige Fenech sex comedy.

Well, when they’re as entertaining as Cornetti alla crema / Cream Horn, it would be churlish to complain.

Fenech plays Marianna, an aspiring singer with an estranged, over-possessive pro-football playing boyfriend; oddly the football in question is of the American variety.

She’s rescued from his unwanted attentions by Domenico Petruzzelli (Lino Banfi), a buffoonish businessman who makes vestments for the Vatican and has a shrewish wife (Milena Vukotic) and lazy, fat, idiot son back home in Rome.

Unable to tell Marianna the truth about his own domestic situation, Domenico gives her his best friend and upstairs neighbour Gabrieli Archangeli’s (Gianni Cavani’s) name and number.

In contrast to Domenico and his pure sounding name, Gabrieli’s very much the ladies man, with a raging libido that sees him make love to a different “physical therapist” every night for the good of his purported allergies.

Things quickly start spiralling out of control as Marianna then turns up unexpectedly and Domenico tries to keep her secret from his wife, while Gabrieli tries to explain to his own girlfriends – none of whom knows about the others – that he doesn’t know the new arrival.

Benefitting from a solid ensemble cast and a set-up that allows for all manner of amusing – if predictable – scenarios, most revolving around the family, church, hypocrisies and double standards around public virtue and private vice, and other staples of Italian life and comedy, Cornetti alla crema / Cream Horn is an perfectly constructed example of its form.

While Fenech again showcases her comic talents more than her physical assets, only exposing her breasts on a few occasions, real fans shouldn’t mind, especially when the compensation also includes her doing a drunken rendition of when the saints alongside some prostitutes dressed as nuns.

The supporting cast is also first rate, with Banfi also being a reliable sex comedy trouper – he also appeared in one episode of Don’t Play with Tigers, for instance – and Milena Vukotic having ample experience in the long suffering / long a cause of suffering wife via her similar role in the Fantozzi series. The most surprising performer in this right is Cavina, whom most giallo fans will probably better know for his on and off screen contributions to Pupi Avati’s The House with the Windows that Laughed.

Zorro contro Maciste / Samson and the Slave Queen

What we have here is a prime example of how the Italian filone cinema, no matter how successful it might have been in meeting the needs of its target vernacular audiences, was never going to be recognised by critics.

For in combining bringing together Zorro and Maciste within a pseudo-historical context that seems neither man’s but rather more something akin to a rather ahistorical Spanish version of the world of the Three Musketeers, and in then releasing the film ‘badly’ dubbed into English – with Maciste renamed as Samson – the filmmakers were undoubtedly setting themselves up for all manner of critical derision.

Nevermind that the same critics who likely attacked the film for this combination of anachronisms likely hadn’t seen the original silent-era Maciste in Hell, where the character, still incarnated by Bartolomeo Pagano, is likewise taken out of the ancient world where he originated and placed in the 19th or even early 20th century.

Though he’s here played by Alan Steele / Sergio Ciani and looks more like a Hercules type, with a full head of hair and a neatly trimmed beard, Maciste’s otherwise still the same old figure: a good-natured, easily duped righter of wrongs.

Zorro, here incarnated by Pierre Brice, wears the same all-black outfit and is likewise still a heroic defender of the weak, but his alter ego is not that of Don Diego but rather Ramon, a loyal servant and would-be suitor of the pure and kind Isabella de Alonzon.

Our two heroes are pitted against one another when Isabella’s uncle, the reigning monarch, dies of a fever on an island part of the kingdom; the exact location of this island in relation to the rest of the kingdom remains unclear throughout, as do geographical and temporal locations generally, to thereby establish an appropriately mythical chronotope for anyone who cares about such things.

Knowing that the king will surely have chosen Isabella to succeed him, her evil rival Malva and her lover, Garcia de Higuera, a captain in the guards, charge Maciste with intercepting General Saviera, who is bearing the ex-king’s missive. Unfortunately for both our heroes bandit Rabek, gets to the general first...

True, you can pretty much guess the outcome already, that the conflict between Zorro and Maciste is an evenly matched one where neither man is ever going to strike a fatal blow; that the two men will eventually realise they are on the same side, and that good will inevitably triumph over evil, with – in true Lacanian fashion – the purloined letter eventually reaching its destination.

But this is exactly the point, the way in which the filmmakers give us exactly what the formula dictates they should. And if it’s arguably a case of no more than the formula – here noting the distinct absence of Bava-esque irony and the comparatively straight hybridisation of costume adventure and peplum modes, compared to the peplum and gothic horror of Hercules in the Haunted World – it’s also clear that a lot has gone into the production, with impressive sets, costumes and large-scale set pieces.

Whether or not it’s better than director and co-writer Umberto Lenzi’s other excursions into the filone with the likes of the Steve Reeves starring Sandokan is debatable, but Zorro contro Maciste is certainly the kind of film that you can’t help but enjoy if you’re willing to put yourself into the appropriate mindset of straightforward heroes, villains and situations.

Fans Sergio Leone may be interested to hear the Mexican-styled score from Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, as a possible example of the kind of thing he would have contributed to A Fistful of Dollars had fate not decreed that Morricone would get the job rather than Lavagnino, who had scored Leone's own peplum entry, The Colossus of Rhodes