Archive for the 'Giallo' Category

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye

1973, Italy, Directed by Antonio Margheriti

Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Blue Underground, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Mono

Following a mysterious opening sequence where a body is seen dumped in a cellar and horrifically disfigured by hungry rats we jump forward to meet convent girl Corringa, who is paying a visit to her old family home, a gothic castle in rural Scotland. She’s confronted with all manner of unhinged activity: people are - regardless of traditional gender matching in some cases - having illicit affairs with one another (which she inevitably becomes drawn into herself), there are arguments about the family wealth, and quickly the lady of the house is brutally murdered. This is followed by more killings as the police are brought in to find out who’s behind the bloody mess, Corringa probably wondering what sort of domestic madness she has stumbled upon.

Which one of these toffee-nosed bastards do you think's gonna get it first?

The title, production period, country of origin, and the initial impression of La Morte Negli Occhi Del Gatto may indicate we’re in store for a classic giallo but that’s only partly accurate: the film has a lot in common with the gothic Italian horror stories that proliferated throughout the sixties, a couple of which director Margheriti himself was responsible for (notably Castle of Blood/Danza Macabra and Virgin of Nuremberg). To throw a spanner into the works as far as our preconceptions about genre are concerned, once the killings are under way one of the characters hints at the possibility of vampiric activity (an undead vision at one point supporting this theory), while another blames everything on the poor cat that consistently hangs around doing no harm to anyone - the title seems to be tenuously designed to allude to the possibility that the cat itself witnesses the killings. There’s even a gorilla repeatedly spotted spying on several of the castle’s inhabitants and may be responsible for the deaths in some sort of anti-human vendetta. Hence there is a schizophrenic, slightly chaotic edge to the story outline that is not altogether outside the realms of commonality when it comes to seventies Italian genre output, and it certainly takes the ideas of any viewers who think they may be able to fathom out what’s going on and buries those ideas in the castle crypt, right alongside the coffin that’s discovered smashed open from the inside. Having said that, this imaginative approach to crafting an insane plot goes frustratingly astray by the film’s conclusion, which is rather conventional in comparison to what’s preceded it. The journey up until this conclusion is fun nonetheless. Margheriti (here credited with his usual anglicised pseudonym Anthony Dawson) generally seemed like a capable director who pumped out fairly large volumes of work without apparent detriment to quality, though his films aren’t A-class to be honest. Without going overboard on the sex and bloodshed he managed to construct fittingly atmospheric movies that were both raunchy and periodically violent, particularly for their respective eras - see for example the horrific rat face-eating sequence in Virgin of Nuremberg, a film made in 1963! Incidentally the prologue to Seven Deaths… reminds me of that earlier film, featuring as it does a horde of rats devouring some poor sod’s face. Riz Ortolani, one of my favourite Italian composers (e.g. Zeder), provides the score though it’s not especially emphasised and not as notable as some of his other works. The cast function reasonably well, English girl Jane Birkin taking centre stage as the sensual Corringa as she’s surrounded by an assortment of oddballs whose relational issues keep the pace trekking along nicely. The stereotype police inspector who materialises on the scene the moment a corpse appears, complete with Scottish (dubbed) accent, is an amusing touch. Regarding the soap-opera shenanigans, it’s sometimes hard to follow just what’s going on with who on occasions, but I found this can easily take a back seat to the homicidal nature of the proceedings if one so wishes to mentally disengage. The production design stands out along the way, lending an apparent finesse to the project. Successfully consolidating elements of the giallo and gothic sub-genres Margheriti again proves himself to be a director who delivers pretty much exactly what’s needed with this one.

Do you think my nipples show up too much in this dress?

The best version to seek out is undoubtedly Blue Underground’s DVD, placed on shelves several years ago. The image is soft, most likely a symptom of its source, while colours are strong, possibly a touch too saturated - overall a satisfying widescreen transfer. Audio is provided in English dub only which is marginally disappointing as I would have liked an Italian track at least for comparison. A couple of scenes seem to have missed English dubbing as they’re present in this cut but with Italian dialogue only (subtitled), however it’s not too jarring and commendation is due thanks to the cut being complete. Given the British setting the English dialogue is not out of place, so I can happily live with what’s here despite griping a little. An interview with Giovanni Simonelli rounds out an acceptable DVD release that could admittedly have been improved but is nevertheless welcome due to the film’s preceding obscurity.

Posted on 6th December 2008
Under: Horror, Giallo | No Comments »

Stagefright

1987, Italy, Directed by Michele Soavi

Colour, Running Time: 90 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, Blue Underground; Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DD EX

Originating from a background where he was surrounded by creativity it’s perhaps no accident that Soavi wound up in constructing images himself of some kind - early on as a painter but after developing an interest in cinema he moved on to acting and, later still, assistant directing. It was for many of cinema’s veterans that he learnt most of his behind-the-camera skills, people like Dario Argento, Aristide Massaccesi, Lamberto Bava, and even Terry Gilliam. His own directorial debut came together, therefore, quite late in his career. Owning it on Avatar’s video cassette for a few years I once thought Stagefright (sometimes known as Aquarius or Deliria) was a fairly average slasher, but at the time I was a lot less informed and less educated in the darker genres than I am nowadays. Viewing it now is a different matter. It outlines a simple scenario but one that’s nonetheless powerful in many respects: a theatre director who’s obsessed with extracting the best performances from his actors is selfish in the extreme, displaying little or no concern for the welfare of the people if the production is suffering. Alicia, one of his leading ladies, damages her leg in rehearsal and she heads out the back door to seek some medical advice at the first place she and her friend come across - a psychiatric hospital. While obtaining a personal touch from one of the doctors there the two girls don’t realise that one of the inmates has overcome a guard in his escape, only to hitch an unexpected lift back to the theatre with them. Going back to the car in the storm Alicia’s friend is butchered by the lunatic before he apparently disappears. The body is found (pickaxe nicely implanted through her gaping mouth) and the police show up to investigate and subsequently keep watch. Spotting an opportunity for some media attention the director decides to rename the killer in his play after the lunatic who’s responsible for the real-life murder, and persuading his actors that it will be beneficial to their career he gets one of the girls to lock the door and hide the key. Of course the killer hasn’t disappeared but rather hidden himself inside the place and the only person who knows where the key is quickly becomes the second victim: now they’re all trapped in there and the killer has free pickings of the bunch while a rain storm rages on outside.

Barbara Cupisti

The premise itself is exciting - a group of people locked in an inescapable building with a stealthy and insane murderer, and it’s largely on that that the success of the film rests. The opening of the film made up my main memory from the video days and it’s surely one of the corniest openings in cinema history and not a good advertisement for what’s to come or what Soavi is really capable of. Having been cut in the UK (by the original distributor I believe) the film in its uncensored form is also much more violent than I was previously aware of, some of the attacks almost inducing a wince in more mature viewers. The movie doesn’t follow all of the conventions of giallo but there’s enough there to consider classifying the film as such, although we don’t delve too much into the history of the killer or why his mind is so irreversibly twisted, the explanation of which usually comprises a giallo’s final act. It might be more accurate to describe the result as a slasher movie, though the two sub-genres have always been close cousins in reality anyway - one a more psychodynamic, stylistic precursor to the other. Soavi does go unnecessarily overboard during the film’s final ten minutes or so, including a pretty silly final shot, otherwise aside from that and the embarrassing opening there’s a lot of material here that would highlight Soavi as the new talent to watch in Italian splatter at the time. He later compounded this auspicious promise with The Church, The Sect, and Dellamorte Dellamore, but would subsequently all but recede from the eyes of the fans. Utilising his acting abilities briefly, he also makes an appearance as one of the police officers in Stagefright; Soavi was a recognisable face in Italian genre movies. The score itself really picks up the pace of some of the chase sequences, however Demons fans might notice a remarkable similarity to the second instalment of Lamberto’s franchise - that’s because composer Simon Boswell was the primary driving force behind both soundtracks. The Stagefright score is not a direct rip-off from Demons 2 but the style is unmistakably the work of the same man. Boswell has since proved himself to be a highly prolific and talented artist, later enhancing many films through his music compositions, for example Shallow Grave and Dust Devil. John Morghen fans will be pleased to know he appears in Stagefright as an amusing stereotype gay - plus he’s brutally murdered yet again, as in just about any of his genre appearances - City of the Living Dead’s drill through the brain anyone? For a thrill trip through homicidal violence and cat/mouse chase sequences this film should provide a good evening’s worth of mayhem.

 

In the UK the first home video release came from Avatar and was superseded ten years or so afterwards by an uncut tape from Redemption. I believe Vipco may have got their dirty hands on distribution rights some time later too. Released on DVD by Anchor Bay in the US several years ago this Blue Underground is basically a direct port of the disc, offering a very average picture that lacks real depth and detail. Colours are a little wayward and overall the presentation could and should have been improved for this (admittedly cheap) re-release, so I’m a little disappointed by BU’s laziness. The Dolby EX track has some bite but keeps most of the activity down the front - there’s less to complain about here than with the image although I‘d really like to hear an Italian language track at some point, if possible. There was an EC disc (presented open-matte with a theatrical matte viewing option available) released just prior to the first AB outing - it’s probably very difficult to get a hold of nowadays anyway so the BU is currently the easiest disc to get hold of.

Posted on 7th September 2008
Under: Horror, Giallo | No Comments »

The Case of the Bloody Iris

1972, Italy, Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Vipco; Video: Letterbox 2.35:1 (compressed to 2.00:1), Audio: DD Mono

An attractive young female waits as the crowded lift she’s in makes its way to the upper floors. As people gradually depart the lift for their respective floors she’s left alone and almost from nowhere a masked person materialises to brutally murder her. The first woman to see the girl dead is actually an off-duty nightclub dancer/stripper/wrestler (whatever - she puts on a great show either way!) and soon she’s discovered tied up and drowned in her own bathtub. Two carefree models move into the same apartment block and are soon caught up in the investigation, plus one of them in particular - Jennifer - brings her own set of problems to the mix. For a start she’s being stalked by her estranged ex-marital partner who himself could easily be the killer given his psychotic behaviour. Plus she’s a little neurotic herself, or at least appears to be when a couple of unsubstantiated attempts are made on her life. Then she starts dating Barto, one of the primary suspects in the case and himself seeming to be slightly unhinged with his unexplained phobia of blood and occasionally odd behaviour. Barto is actually the architect of the apartment block and some of his talk is a little contradictory, suggesting either a tendency to lie or something worse. To further complicate matters Jennifer’s neighbours are hardly a model of normality and as the bodies start piling up it’s questionable whether she herself will survive.

I'm not usually this forward, you understand...

It’s quite apparent you’re into conventional giallo territory within minutes here: a nubile woman murdered by a gloved, masked killer, the ensuing police investigation, an accused man - Hitchcock style, more stylistically shot murders and a groovy soundtrack. There seems to be a light-hearted appeal to this film, consisting of the funky music score by Bruno Nicolai (not always appropriately used however) and an undercurrent of humour conveyed by the characters, most notably the detective’s bungling assistant. This simultaneously maintains a sense of optimism throughout while (possibly inadvertently?) outlining the brutality of the murders through contextual contrast. George Hilton was something of a regular to this kind of material, here playing Barto the architect whose luck is both extremely bad and on the other hand unbelievably good: he’s implicated for the murders due to being in the worst place at the wrong time, the highlight being when a stabbed victim ends up grabbing on to him in the street just as everyone turns around to see him propping up the dead girl with blood all over his coat. But he also lands himself in the sack with Edwige Fenech, possibly the most stunning woman ever to walk on to a cinema screen. Not only does she have a pleasant, inoffensive personality combined with simultaneous naivety and sexual maturity, but she also has the most perfect body, face and long dark hair ever to be witnessed by mortals. Carnimeo knows this too well: she spends a significant amount of screen time in crazy but hot psychedelic clothes, skimpy clothes, or no clothes at all. While the film could hardly be described as the best the genre has to offer Carnimeo injects his own sense of style periodically; there are a handful of artistically realised shots interjecting the competently executed murder and action sequences. The suspects are quite a fun bunch to pick and choose from: apart from Barto himself and Jennifer’s sect-dwelling ex-lover, there’s the crazy old lady next door (who‘s immediately implicated when seen purchasing horror magazines!), her virtually mute husband, their scarred son, the lesbian neighbour, etc. What a bunch! Ultimately this is a pretty colourful, psychedelic, intermittently amusing ride through giallo territory, with Edwige Fenech as a major bonus.

 

Anchor Bay once released this stateside inside their much loved Giallo Collection box, while over here we were lucky enough to have Vipco handling the duties… Vipco are one company who truly failed to understand the DVD format with mundane release after mundane release of near VHS quality re-issues of the films that gave them their fame in the first place. Despite that their disc of Case… is actually one of their better ones, featuring an uncut widescreen transfer of a pretty good condition print. They couldn’t quite get the widescreen part right though: in 4:3 mode everybody is slightly thinner than they should be, in 16:9 everyone is slightly fatter, so somehow the proportions are not right, though it’s not quite bad enough to ruin the experience (note, I‘ve digitally corrected the JPEG still above). Sound (English mono) is clean enough while extras are limited to a few trailers for other Vipco discs. Vipco have since put this out in a cheapo iterant with very nasty packaging, plus they’ve coupled it with another film (Snowbeast) in one instance. The aforementioned AB disc was better (being correctly proportioned at anamorphic 2.35:1) but was only available as part the boxed set which is now difficult to get hold of. Blue Underground have since released a lower priced independent version of the same disc, hence that’s currently the best version to go for. Case… itself should moderately please giallo fans, though it’s not the best the genre has to offer, and it will definitely please Edwige Fenech fans. If you happen to be both then you can’t complain. (P.S. Case… has the rather brilliant alternate title of Why These Strange Drops of Blood on the Body of Jennifer?, a closer translation of its original Italian title.)

Posted on 30th March 2008
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A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

1971, Italy, Directed by Lucio Fulci

Colour, Running Time: 104 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Shriek Show, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Perturbed by incomprehensible, kaleidoscopic nightmares of decadent sex, gory violence and, worse, hippies, Carol becomes implicated in the brutal murder of a neighbour because one of her dreams appears to match the nature of the killing exactly. Initially insistent that she hasn’t killed anyone she even begins to doubt herself as more of the revealed details comply with what went on in her head during slumber. But the revelation that her psychotherapist has been asking her to record the nightmares on paper as and when she remembers them suddenly opens up the potential suspects; even her own husband’s innocence comes into question. Plus there’s the mad hippy who turns up at police headquarters adamant that he’s the killer. Is it really so obvious that Carol is the murderer or has someone else scoured her notes and adopted the technique outlined in order to divert attention to her?

This is knackering!

Having become vocationally incarcerated within ‘genre’ film-making of various kinds Fulci resigned himself to being artistically confined, but only to an extent - he continued to apply personal vision, technical skill, and boundary-pushing to his work throughout the 70s (and, arguably, the first half of the 80s). Perhaps self-referentially the script for Lizard was entitled ‘The Cage’, the alteration arising due to the producers’ desires to jump on the animal-themed giallo bandwagon that Argento essentially popularised. The film revolves around Freudian themes with dream-induced imagery that supposedly represents what’s happening at lower levels of consciousness, the alleged control of one aspect of a person’s mind over the other (an ongoing struggle between the id and superego, supervised with varying degrees of success by the ego), the collision between sex, violence, and morality, and the practical implementation of psychotherapy in order to make sense of all of this. While Freud and his theories are often criticised they no doubt pushed psychological study into previously uncharted territory, helping eliminate the explanation of mental disorders as demonic possession (how problems of the mind were usually viewed up to that point) to take a more realistic scientific approach. There are pros and cons concerning Freud’s studies and conclusions, but it’s a testament to his innovation that his work is still taught in psychology today, and it also provides a rich source for films, something which the giallo more than most genres has embraced in many ways. Lizard makes engaging use of this, helping enhance a standard homicide story with an intricate examination of someone’s mind, offering the viewer plenty to cogitate. Whilst I think I marginally prefer Don’t Torture A Duckling, there’s much going on here to revel in - the prolonged chase of a woman through a deserted cathedral being especially well staged, the incorporated bat attack surely paying homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds, so similar is it to the assault that Tippi Hedren suffers in the attic. The perverse, macabre dreams themselves are also inventive, references to the work of Francis Bacon apparent (Fulci was reportedly a fan of his); the movie is a satisfying experience.

 

Media Blasters (on the Shriek Show label) released Lizard as a two disc SE a couple of years back, coming under fire because, due to the source material, the longer Italian version was of inadequate quality (it contained the US cut as a properly mastered principle feature on disc 1). Seeking new source material of the Italian cut to rectify this, eventually they put together another disc release (labelled ‘Remastered’) containing just that (though no US cut). People then complained because the new disc didn’t port over all of the extras from the previous SE but these days hardcore DVD collectors can be a bunch that’s difficult to please at the best of times. There’s some damage occasionally prominent here and the saturation is excessive but I’m reasonably pleased with the presentation, though it should be noted that varying sources appear to have been used to constitute this cut. Audio is provided in Italian mono, English mono, and an English 5.1 mix that is surprisingly enveloping with Ennio Morricone’s score, general ambience and sound effects work (dialogue almost always remaining centred). While it’s mostly the work of Italians, Lizard works well in English due to it being set (and partly shot) in London. The 40 minutes of interview focus firstly on why Professor Paolo Albiero is so enamoured with Fulci followed by more specific details and analysis of Lizard itself, including its censorship history. The previous SE is still available for the US cut and the alternative extras but the version here is currently the best way to see Lizard. An essential giallo purchase.

Posted on 28th May 2007
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Don’t Torture A Duckling

1972, Italy, Directed by Lucio Fulci

Colour, Running Time: 102 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, Blue Underground; Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Mono

Deep in rural Italy the corpse of a murdered child has been discovered, prompting the authorities to rapidly pounce on and arrest their prime suspect, the town idiot, who had an argument with the dead boy and his friends earlier. Despite the fact that he buried the body himself and prior to its discovery had anonymously requested ransom via telephone from the boy’s parents, he insists the boy had already been murdered when he found him. During this time the villagers are becoming increasingly agitated, condemning the man before any kind of trial but, while he is still in captivity, another boy is found dead effectively proving his innocence. Meanwhile a rich and bored coquette (the profoundly horny Barbara Bouchet) is seen teasing one of the boys, elsewhere a self-proclaimed witch is sticking pins in dolls that represent each of the children, a punishment for their contempt towards a burial ground sacred to her. The suspects are increasing in number, the villagers become angrier, and the police struggle to find the town’s child killer as bodies continue to appear.

I'm sure I lost my lipstick around here somewhere.

Before Fulci hit comparative big time with the likes of The Beyond and Zombi 2 he meandered between genres, directing several gialli along the way. These have since gone on to achieve cult status and are among his best films, Duckling being no exception. The construction of the film as a whole appears to have been completed in less erratic circumstances than some of his later work, as much of it gives the impression of being technically meticulous with a weaving narrative and images that are regularly carefully and artistically composed. The villagers are morally questionable from the outset, eager to assault anyone that is even accused of the crime and at one point, one of the most sadistic, brutal and simultaneously touching moments of Fulci‘s career, actually beating a suspected woman to death with chains. It’s a shame about the model work at the film’s climax too as, without spoiling anything, the last death we see is ahead of its time for pure OTT nastiness but tarnished by the FX (though they were more than adequate for the early 70s). The film is aided by gorgeous locations that evoke European flavour abundantly and a sympathetic score by Riz Ortolani, a talented composer later providing distinctive and memorable tunes for Zeder, Cannibal Holocaust, et al.

 

Released several years ago by Anchor Bay in the US, Blue Underground recently acquired a selection of their back catalogue and have presented us with essentially the same disc again. Despite being old now the digital mastering has produced a generally pleasing image, though there is probably room for small improvement. If, like me, you had seen this for years on VHS (n’th gen.) then it’s revelatory. It’s a pity that an Italian audio track couldn’t be found but the English dub is practical enough and not distracting. The only extra is several text pages briefly encapsulating Fulci’s career. Duckling is among Fulci’s finer moments and this DVD is currently the best way to see it.

Posted on 25th May 2007
Under: Giallo | No Comments »

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