Monday, April 02, 2018

PURGATORY ROAD (Mark Savage, 2017)

The less you know upfront about PURGATORY ROAD, the better. I knew absolutely nothing about it and it hit me like a ton of bricks. A psycho-thriller/road movie/religious allegory/character study and more, this is a disturbing slice of here-and-now Americana in which serial killers are only part of the story.

Father Vincent (Gary Cairns) travels through the contemporary Deep South in his deadly consecrated-by-Jesus RV, a spacious white van which comes equipped with space for living, praying, loving, hearing confessions, killing, dying and body storage. He's an Everyman type you might pass by in the street,  give a friendly nod out of respect for his clerical garb, and move on. No problem. And he's doing God's work. Isn't he?  Well, there is a problem, a long-standing one which comes to the surface now and then. Especially when Father Vincent hears confessions. You see, the good Father absolves the sinner's guilt with an ingenious Full Service solution, forgiving their sins, then slaying the sinners in Full Metal Lucio Fulci style, and disposing of the evidence. They have been confessed, forgiven, relieved of life in this Vale of Woe. And the world doesn't have to worry. At least that's the way the bloody Father sees it. Enabled by his milder mannered brother (Luke Albright), he finally meets his match in an equally deranged female, Mary Frances (Trista Robinson), whose looks and mannerisms encourage one to take her lightly. Bad move. We learn that there's a reason for the madness of these lost souls, but there's little hope for them. They were damaged souls early on and see justification in doing away with sinners who evoke the crimes of those who hurt them, and anyone else in their way.  They don't expect salvation and gotta do what they gotta do, kill.

Father Vincent and co. kill and kill again, in the manner of a Southern Gothic Spaghetti Western, while that spattering, splattering Fulci gore paints the walls, ceilings, floors, a bright crimson. The roads, backwaters, homes and darkened churches of America are a dangerous place, Always have been. And to mention maestro Lucio Fulci again, three times is the charm, there is still  more horror in the nothingness beyond The Beyond. This film also has a strong, necessary dose of Flannery O'Connor (cf WISE BLOOD) circulating through its system. At times it plays like a very low key dark comedy.

Independent filmmaker Mark Savage (STRESSED TO KILL) knows the territory and knows his characters, as does his flawless cast. They not only fit in, they own the scenery. I was immediately convinced that the director knew what he doing from the very first images of a child wandering through a darkened house illuminated by a not-so-comforting pool of light streaming in through a window. Atmospherically shot in rural Mississippi (big cities seem to be as far away as Heaven) one gets the sense that time has stopped here and the damned characters are playing out predestined roles cast by the invisible demons which probably ruled their childhoods. But there's no mercy shown or given, and the film admirably maintains that harrowing tone for its runtime. There's no waste motion here and the camera is always in the right place, even in very effective, and startling, overhead shots which remind us that someone up there is watching these heinous events and maybe not caring to get involved. Featuring a memorable soundscape to go along with its purgatory-on-earth imagery, this micro-budgeted crime-horror journey lingers in the mind long after our scripture and verse painted RV drives away one last time toward a place which maybe just around the corner from where you live,  or not of this Earth

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

Friday, March 30, 2018

ROLLS ROYCE BABY (1975-Erwin C. Dietrich)-- MAD FOXES (Paul Grau, 1981) review by Robert Monell

When Swiss sexploitation magnate Erwin C. Dietrich died in March 2018 he left a virtual empire of scandalous sinema behind. With over 100 producing and over 40 directing credits he represented an Independent film factory which focused on exploitation of all kinds, from Women in Prison films (BARBED WIRE DOLLS) to dozens of Swiss exploitation titles to horror, action and just about every genre imaginable. He produced/co-produced/co-directed 17 films in association with the late legendary Jess Franco.

ROLLS ROYCE BABY features Jess Franco muse and future wife Lina Romay, who was already an erotic film legend by the time her and Jess Franco met Erwin C. Dietrich. Dietrich also provided funding for Franco's 1975 sex comedy (MIDNIGHT PARTY) and (BARBED WIRE DOLLS), the latter a highly successful Women In Prison epic which the producer balked at when Franco showed him the result. Both of those films starred Franco muse Lina Romay, as did Dietrich's own hardcore sex epic ROLLS ROYCE BABY (1975), in which Romay plays "Lisa Romay" a model-porn actress who hits on everyone around her until deciding on having her  chauffeur (Dietrich regular Eric Falk) drive her around the countryside in search of horny hitchhikers and wanderers to seduce. If the candidates are reluctant the chauffeur simply throws them on top of his beautiful employer and drives off. The drives become a ritual and her reason for living. This is a sex positive film, meaning sex is seen as a healthy, fun exercise, without hangups in a pre AIDS age. Sex is Eros here, rather than Thanatos, as it often is in Jess Franco erotica. Elegantly composed by Andreas Demmer and featuring a delightfully upbeat score by Walter Baumgartner, ROLLS ROYCE BABY may be Dietrich's masterpiece as a director, or at least a pleasant diversion. There's only one real hardcore scene in it, but Romay lounges around totally naked, legs spread, leaving nothing to the imagination throughout. There are worse ways to spend 85 or so minutes.

Dietrich's wildest piece of exploitation was the jet fueled, blood-soaked Nazi biker sleaze fest MAD FOXES (Paul Grau, 1981),featuring Jose Gras (the macho swat team leader in Bruno Mattei's zombie epic HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) as a young, well to do driver of a Corvette Stingray who goes on a rampage of ultra violent revenge against the swastika wearing biker gang who raped his girlfriend (Andrea Albani) and murdered his family. It is a film that needs to be seen to be believed and defines the term European Trash Cinema, a Eurotrash verion of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Eric Falk is an absolute hoot as the towering, ultra-sadistic gang member who commits some of the more heinous crimes, such as driving a pair of gardening shears into a victims face. 

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Wednesday, November 01, 2017


American journalist Alan Foster (Anthony Franciosa) surprises his famous countryman Edgar Allan Poe (Klaus Kinski) in the midst of an alcohol fueled recounting of his macabre tale BERENICE at a London pub sometime in the mid 1840s. The unstable author is world renowned but definitely on the downward slope, especially as played in foaming-at-the-mouth fashion by the legendary Klaus Kinski, who had already played the equally notorious Marquis de Sade in Jess Franco's JUSTINE (1969). As the night proceeds Foster questions Poe about his stories and writing methods, engaging in an intellectual debate about the mystery of Death, which Poe claims is only a transition to another state of consciousness and being. Foster disagrees, insisting that there is no life after the one dies. Poe's and his drinking friend Lord Blackwood challenge Foster to a bet that the journalist cannot emerge from a night in his remote castle, where previous guests have simply been swallowed up by the haunted structure on the first midnight in November. Foster takes the bet, at a reduced rate since he is a struggling hack journalist, and the rest is film history if you've seen Antonio Margheriti's original film version of this story DANZA MACABRA a.ka CASTLE OF BLOOD, the mood drenched, monochrome Italian Gothic masterwork the director made during a prolific burst of productivity in 1964.
Margheriti caught lighting in a jar with DANZA MACABRA, an oneiric poem of love, death and fantasy filtered through the legacy of Poe. There was no Poe story, outside of BERENICE, upon which the Sergio Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi script was based. But it managed to capture his tone and illustrated his most melancholy theme revolving around the death of a beautiful woman. It's a tale told by Margheriti within the matrix of shifting time frames and unreliable narrators. Some sources credit Sergio Corbucci (DJANGO), who was initially engaged to direct,  as co-director but Margheriti seems to have directed most of the scenes in the completed film in a two week shoot. The fact that Margheriti and his DoP Riccardo Pallotini shot it in high contrast black and white, staging the action in pools of light amidst bottomless blacks, give it the impression of a timeless nocturnal state where the only illumination comes from candles and torches. Visually immersing and steeped in early 19th Century detail, it's the BARRY LYNDON of black and white horror films. It's also my favorite Italian Gothic of the 1960s, just ahead of Riccardo Freda's THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (1962), also featuring Barbara Steele. Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY, which established Steele as the central icon of Italian horror, and OPERAZIONE PAURA (KILL, BABY, KILL!) also have to factor into this equation. Marghetiti directed up to 10 features films between late 1963 and early 1965, including the colorful Gamma I Quadrilogy [WILD, WILD PLANET; PLANET ON THE PROWL; WAR OF THE PLANETS and SNOW DEVILS], in what must have been an exhausting undertaking.  DANZA MACABRA remains memorable as a ghost story, a love story, and a definitive Italian Gothic horror film. 

The fact that DANZA MACABRA was not a financial success inspired producer Giovanni Addessi and director Margheriti to attempt a Technicolor remake 6 years later. Margheriti had plans to use a special Techicolor dissolve process which would depict the sudden disappearances and appearances of the castle ghosts. This did not work out as intended, though, due to technical limitations at the time. He intended to give the visuals a psychedelic* sheen. An inspired strategy, considering that style was very much in fashion in the later 1960s and early 1970s, in music, fashion design,  films and other visual arts. The film was a German-French-Italian co-production with a noticeably healthier budget than DANZA MACABRA and featuring well known international stars such as Klaus Kinski, Anthony Franciosa and Michele Mercier (Mario Bava's BLACK SABBATH) in lead roles. 

WEB... tells the same story, featuring the same characters, utilizing much of the same dialogue as DANZA MACABRA, the main difference is in the lighting, color format and the tonal variation brought about by the different cast. American film and television actor Franciosa is almost as over-the-top as Kinski in his playing of the the haunted journalist, in stark contrast to the reserved acting of Georges Riviere in the original. French actress Michele Mercier, seems a bit old to be playing a 20-something Elizabeth Blackwood and her blond wig turns her into a kind of negative image of Barbara Steele's gaunt, haunting brunette incarnation of the character. Kinski pretty much dominates the show this time in his startling opening and closing appearances as Poe. 

The 2.35:1 Techniscope format also changes the way the tale unfolds, into a lateral rather than an in-depth space. WEB... opens out the story and gives the characters breathing space, albeit illusory, since their fates are equally sealed.  Riz Ortalani pumped up his original score this time which is in sync with the overall operatic aesthetic. The run-time of the Italian cut of the film, retitled NELLA STRETTA MORSA DEL RAGNO (In The Grip of the Spider), is 110 minutes. It doesn't add nearly 30 extra minutes of material to what is in the much shorter original, but draws out the pacing of pre existent scenes, such as the balletic demises of Elizabeth and Foster in the final scene, which is quite effective in contrast to the dispatch of the twist which ends DANZA MACABRA. One might miss those bottomless blacks of DANZA..., the black holes which seem to indicate dimensions beyond death, but Margheriti was an artist who deployed his cameras with confidence. There are sudden, delirious tilts and lapses into slow motion which indicate another realm parallel to the one in which the players are inhabiting. 

Most effective is the opening sequence, in which Poe's BERENICE is acted out by Kinski in a heavily cobwebbed crypt set which he wordlessly, desperately prowls in search of evidence of his dead beloved. The amped up music, Kinki's jagged, unpredictable movements, his unsettling stare and theater-of-cruelty mannerisms make any dialogue superfluous. He seems more Antonin Artaud than Poe. He is, indeed, in the grip of the spider. This opening, scripted in a revised screenplay by Margheriti himself and Addessi,  was one addition to the original script which works out well because it establishes a Gothic delirium without dialogue and references an actual Poe story visually rather than as something recited by the author, as in DANZA... . Actually, considering the time of its release and the cultural circumstances in Western Europe, Italy and North America, WEB... can be seen as an attempt to make a contemporary allegory of Poe's ideas floating in a new world re-imagined by the counter culture of that era. Kinski's Poe might be closer to such light and dark gurus as LSD advocate Timothy Leary or Helter Skelter programmer Charles Manson. Franciosa's skeptical journalist is the "straight" world's representative in this context, who doesn't believe in ghosts, hallucinations, drinking/drug binges. The Blackwood castle could represent the global change of consciousness which was going on in every developed country. The "straight" Foster cannot survive this All Hallows Eve, he can only join the ghosts in an endlessly repetitive past. 

The new Garagehouse presentation offers both cuts of the film, WEB OF THE SPIDER and the 110 minute Italian version, NELLA STRETTA MORSA DEL RAGNO, for comparison and contrast. Both versions look better than ever finally seen uncut, in their original Technochrome, Techniscope format. The HD restoration of WEB OF THE SPIDER, from an uncut, domestic US theatrical negative, edited for US release by foreign film post-production specialist Fima Noveck (who also supervised the US re-edit of Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, among other imports) illustrates that he went beyond just mere pruning of scenes.  Franciosa is voiced by veteran English language dubber Ted Rusoff, a good choice. It looks clean, clear, crisp and as colorful as intended, revealing that the detailed work of set designer Ottavio Scotti is superior to the cinematography. The absence of longtime Margheriti cinematographer Riccardo Pallotini is really illustrated in HD. It's like finally seeing the film for the first time and gives one a chance to discard the numerous sub standard tape and DVD releases which have accumulated over the decades. 

The English language WEB OF THE SPIDER is sharper, more richly detailed, with resonant pastels apparent throughout, blowing away all those previous sub-par DVDS of the past in 1080p HD while the English subtitled SD presentation of NELLA STRETTA MORSA DEL RAGNO is a very welcome bonus feature. The commentary tracks include DVD-Drive-In's George Reis and filmmaker Keith Crocker conducting a lively, entertaining and informative discussion on the film's distribution history, how it differs from DANZA MACABRA, the film itself, the performances, photography and much more. A separate solo track by Stephen Romano is also included. My favorite special feature is the inclusion of a rare, vintage Super 8mm digest of the German version, DRACULA IN THE CASTLE OF TERROR, presented in two approximately 16 minute parts. The fact that this digest is in black and white and cut down into a mini-featurette only makes it a more fascinating collector's item. A deleted scene, involving a seduction by Julia (Karin Field) of the Elizabeth's lover (Raf Baldassare), which only appeared in the German version, is also included. Since this scene was neither in the US or Italian release versions it's an especially welcome addition. An art gallery of various posters, lobby cards and video boxes, along with an Antonio Margheriti trailer reel, containing vintage trailers for CASTLE OF BLOOD, LIGHTNING BOLT, THE GAMMA ONE QUARTET, CODE-NAME: WILD GEESE and other films by the director, are also included making this a fully loaded HD presentation of two versions of a film which has its own special place in cult movie and Italian Gothic cinema history. HIghly recommended.

*Margherti discusses the way his strategy to incorporate psychedelic visual effects went awry in a detailed interview by Peter Blumenstock in VIDEO WATCHDOG # 28, 1995, p.45. 
(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Friday, September 08, 2017

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (Flint Holloway/Edward D. Wood, Jr. & Saul Resnick, 1970)

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (Flint Holloway/Edward D, Wood Jr., 1970)

Image result for the only house in town 1970
Finally on DVD!

This 53m 40s wonderment is the only surviving record of Ed Wood's 1970 foray into the soft-core feature film realm. I first became aware of this title via Rudolph Grey's essential Wood biography, NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY. *   Grey lists it in his chronological filmography as 1971 production which followed NECROMANIA (also 1971), quoting cinematographer Ted Gorley as describing it as "inferior" to NECROMANIA, lacking the supernatural elements found in that film and that it was filmed in three days "probably on a budget lower than NECROMANIA". Well, after seeing the film on the fatwvideo DVD, sporting a 2009 Films Around The World, All Rights Reserved onscreen logo and DVD stamp, I can report that much of Grey's notes are incorrect.

Grey lists it as a Cinema Classics Production, Released by Stacey Films, as was NECROMANIA. This much seems correct. But THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (onscreen title) was not an aka for THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, which as we now know is a completely separate, later production, and has now had its own DVD release. Copyright 1971 The Professionals appears on the main title card "THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN", but that company is nowhere mentioned in Grey's book.

In fact, THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN is superior, in my view at least, to THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, while not being as entertaining, well shot, atmospheric or humorously scripted as NECROMANIA. It also lacks NECROMANIA's engaging couple of Renee Bond and Rick Lutze as the leads. They give good performances as quick witted, likable characters, an endlessly bickering married couple, a Nick and Nora Charles in an all nudie haunted world. That film had something approaching a well-written script. THE ONLY HOUSE... appears to have not had a full script at all, or perhaps only a brief treatment containing several key scenes. 

According to informed sources** THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN was made after Wood's 1970 soft-core detective noir TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, which featured Ed himself in gloriously unapologetic drag. Both TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE and THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN marked Wood's return to feature film making since writing and directing THE SINISTER URGE in 1960. What can be said, after sampling the SWV outtakes from TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, is that THE ONLY HOUSE... does not have that film's colorful stylistic flair. TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE is a candy colored neo-noir with a horny PI getting it on with an endless stream of female informants in lurid settings. The international settings are telegraphed with an almost Godard-like minimalism, primary colored travel posters stand in for locations, the editing is in-your-face and sometimes avant-garde. 

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN does have Uschi Digard, either nude or wearing a floppy hate and high black leather boots, as our hostess at the only brothel in a 19th Century town which now seems to be haunted by the spirits of the horny dead. Or does it emit a weird electromagnetic field which makes everyone who enters uncontrollably lustful to the point of... ?  Rape is always an ugly word and deed but this film opens with a gang rape of a scantily clad brunette, who seems the only inhabitant. A group of six, three men and three women, led by a bearded man with a cigarette in his mouth, quietly mount a staircase in an old, disheveled house. The bearded man snaps his fingers, motioning the group, some of whom are also smoking cigarettes, toward a thick oak door on the second floor. They force open the door to reveal the brunette, clad only in a short lemon colored bathrobe, gasping and looking terrified. She flees the group who pursue her as turbulent piano music is heard on the soundtrack. Finally they all pin her down, lift her up and carry her down the stairs to the lower level. The looks of lust on the male and female attackers are obvious and priceless. The entire idea of gang rape conducted by both sexes was somewhat unique and it's never explained why they are there or how they knew a victim would be waiting. One wonders if the way this opens, in media res, was a deliberate decision or the result of the film being either unfinished or this being an incomplete print. 

The feeling of watching fragments of a film continues even though the film does have its own beginning, middle and ending. After a long groping of the rape victim, who is now moaning "Fuck me', making it all the more disturbing, the second part opens with Uschi, now fully dressed, introducing herself and welcoming the viewer. Facing the camera, standing in front of a large bed, Uschi will be our narrator in this interactive piece of soft core cinema. She introduces several short stories which are acted out by the previously seen six cast members, all of which feature Uschi totally nude and very involved in the hot and heavy action. Also breaking the fourth wall are the constant comments and instructions to the cast shouted out by an off-screen voice, "Move back a little, that's good", "Back off from her, let's see more of her" (referring to Uschi), "Lay down, just move around, don't be so tight". Is this Ed Woods' voice, or an assistant's, or the cameraman's? Was it planned as part of the final film or just left in because of an incomplete final sound mix. The latter is most likely, but it does fit in with the film's interactive structure, making it Wood's most self reflexive work. What would seem merely technically deficient/sloppy in normal production values, becomes a fascinating element in this context. 

The first story features a man Uschi calls "Peter Lewin", played by actor who was the bearded leader of the group in the opening. Rape once again rears its ugly head as Peter forces his way into the room occupied by Wendy (Uschi) accompanied by dire instrumental music, and then forces himself onto her. Later, flighty instrumental music is heard over the scene as the victim becomes compliant. In another story in the omnibus a stripper named "Bouncing Beulah" has a lesbian interlude with Uschi, which ends with them both discussing how much they like each other's breasts. A gritty Blues song sung by a female singer is heard over this segment. Further off-screen directorial comments heard (helpful English subtitles make them understandable amid the muddled sound mix) "Do that again. I really dig it", "All right, get in a group, like that", and "Rub her naked". At one point a naked group sex participant suddenly stands up, shouting "It was me who tipped the cops off". Since no cops arrive at any point in the film, this line is particularly baffling while adding to the general amusement level. There's even a classic Ed Wood cat fight, symphonic music and a Hawaiian guitar interlude. 

The most interesting stylistic element is the way the camera repeatedly floats upward, away from the group sex play, to examine a painting or outside foliage seen through an open window. The painting gets the most attention, one of those large format, cheap looking imitations of 19th Century neo classic style, depicting a nude woman holding up her arms in the foreground as soldiers in what looks like Ancient Roman military armor and helmets are seen in the background near a horse drawn chariot, In the far background ancient wooden ships at sea are seen. Why are we suddenly looking at this dollar store canvas? It seems to be yet another example of Wood's recurrent personal directorial matrix  what the French term "mise-en abyme/mise-en abime", the image within the image, the scene within the scene which the auteur (Wood) encapsulates/contrasts with the action on the main canvas. One thinks of the numerous cheap paintings, posters, photos which decorate the dingy, impoverished mise-en-scene of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, THE SINISTER URGE and other Wood-directed items. The man had an eye for something beyond the obvious, which is why his films still are collected, viewed and examined decades after his sordid passing. And this goes along with the authorial cast directions heard off-screen making this a totally personal work in a totally impossible creative/technical set-up.

It all concludes with Uschi bidding the viewer farewell before she is engulfed  by several nude cast members, only to struggle out of the impending orgy to add, "You still here, people? Get out and let us have some fun!" The End. 

NOTE: It has also been reported that the film was started by Wood by completed by cameraman Saul Resnick. Given reports of a one day shoot, this seems unlikely, although Resnick may have performed later re-shoots or additions to the footage Woods shot. Uschi Digard later has gone on record as saying she has no memory of appearing in this film. Filmed in 16mm, the fatwvideo DVD is not exactly a HD quality presentation of THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN but it's reasonably priced (on, does include those necessary English subtitles, and will do until someone does an HD restoration. Don't hold your breath, but you never know... 

*NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY, The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., by Rudolph Grey, Feral House, 1992, pp. 210-212.

** Thanks to Kieth Crocker for additional information

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MARI-COOKIE AND THE KILLER TARANTULAMari-cookie & The Killer Tarantula/incubus (Jess Francoversio[ A VINTAGE REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED ON MHVF in 2000; Thanks to John Charles]Produced by One Shot Productions/Draculina Cine Directed and Written by Jess Franco
Photography: Raquel Cabra
Music: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay (Mari-Cookie), Analia Ivars, Linnea Quigley,
Michelle Bauer (Sheriff), Robert King, Peter Temboury, Amber Newman.

During the Spanish conquest of Europe a pregnant woman is raped by a conquistador. Shortly afterwards, a tarantula enters the woman and 
deposits its eggs. The spawn is a mutant female who transforms into a lethal spider when sexually aroused. Centuries later, in present day 
Spain an erotic dancer performs in a bizarre persona,The Killer Tarantula. After her shows she picks up willing victims who will end up
entangled in an awesome, tortuous web back at her lair. A local Sheriff (Michelle Bauer) becomes attracted to the performer while investigating
the disappearances of several club patrons. Meanwhile, the distraught mother (Linnea Quigley) of a wayward stripper (Amber Newman) seeks out 
her daughter. All will eventually bear witness to the seductive powers of the mysterious creature.

A squiggly, green title announces "An Outrageous Film by Jess Franco," as his long time fans needed to be primed for this softcore horror 
fantasia. The focus is on kinky sex and elements of deliberate self-parody are constantly popping up. The spider-woman motif goes all 
the way back to the director's 1961 pastel-colored musical VAMPIRESAS 1930 and Estella Blain in the classic MISS MUERTE (1965). The naked, 
tormented half alive bodies of victims hanging in the awesome web festooned across the tarantula's living room, the sado-erotic arachnid 
rubber-gear, the obsessed audience at the club, are all images which continue Franco's career long obsession with Performance.

The eye popping visual design of glittering colors and outre costumes hold sway during the extended sexual encounters between Romay and everyone else in
the cast. Even such risible effects as the inflatable tarantula with a human face seems a reasonable synapse and bears comparison with the 
mutations in the 1950's version of THE FLY. But this is late 1990s Jess Franco at his most unhinged. No other filmmaker could have imagined, much less filmed, this demented scenario. It's a high spirited Adult cartoon which ensnares its viewers by sheer oddity value. 

Lina Romay performs with enthusiasm and humor in a role few other actresses could handle. She easily manages to upstage 
American scream queens Bauer and Quigley, although Bauer's Sheriff-outfit of black leather jacket, fedora, g-string and boots is 
something to behold. It all ends with the classic Fu Manchu threat, the world will hear from her again. In the spirit of the old Warner's 
cartoons there's a final imprint of "That's All Folks!"

Friday, August 11, 2017

BEYOND THE DARKNESS (Joe D'Amato, 1979--Severin Films Blu-ray Reviewed)

Beyond The Darkness [Blu-ray + CD Soundtrack]
A disturbed young man (Kieran Canter) drives up a country road somewhere in Italy as a lively, sinister GOBLIN theme pulls us into the scenario. He is on his way to make a pickup of a dead simian which, as a taxidermist, he will embalm and add to his macabre collection. But things get complicated for anti-hero Frank Wyler. It will turn out that Frank is a necrophiliac, cannibal and a murderer. Any one of those is problematic in the "normal" world, but to be all three, and a momma's boy to boot...! Well, you've got a problem there in Northern Italy, Brixen, to be exact, where this monster cult item is set. Frank is the monster, but a human monster, and the cult movie is Joe D'Amato's 1979 BEYOND THE DARKNESS.

You know something is wrong with Frank right from the very first shots. He seems to wear a look of startled lust, which becomes his default visage. Frank prepares his baboon for treatment while housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi) is busy presiding over a voodoo ceremony where a local sorceress sticks pins in a doll representing Frank's beloved Anna (Cinzia Monreale), who is dying in a nearby hospital, the result of an ongoing curse. Frank arrives at her side just in time for a last kiss. As she flat-lines he vows that death will not separate them.... 

Probably the best way to approach the experience of BEYOND THE DARKNESS is to first watch Mino Guerrini's 1966 horror thriller THE THIRD EYE (IL TERZIO OCCHIO). This somewhat obscure, but well crafted black and white film, whose story is credited to Gilles De Reys (sic), is a tale which another historical transgressor, The Marquis de Sade, might have penned. A young Count (a pre-DJANGO Franco Nero), who also practices taxidermy, is engaged to a young woman (Erika Blanc) who dies in a car accident engineered by his jealous housekeeper (Gioia Pascal). The emotionally dominated protagonist finally runs amok when the housekeeper also arranges the death of his domineering mother. Murder, mayhem and a final reckoning follow after an ironic undercurrent subtly displaces the lurid scenario into the realm of classical tragedy. On the other hand D'Amato's 1979 remake screams Tabloid! Guerrini's film (he also is credited as a writer on BEYOND THE DARKNESS) is hauntingly scored by the great Francesco De Masi with a Viennese type waltz theme which he also used in his score for Riccardo Freda's 1963 Barbara Steele Gothic, LO SPETTRO (THE GHOST). Both films are very much worth seeing for comparison and contrast, with a nod to Franco Nero delivering possibly his career best performance in the 1966 version. Hopefully, a future HD release with English subtitles with give THE THIRD EYE a much deserved resurrection from obscurity. 

The genius of D'Amato, who also directed the 16mm cinematography, was to stage all the macabre events in a completely different key than was used by Mino Guerrini in THE THIRD EYE. The same story, the same characters, the same setting, but the somber melody this time around is played by a madman pounding on the piano keys in between disembowelments, mutilations, feasts of flesh and internal organs. A frenzied tale of mad love which also has elements which might have been imagined by Edgar Allan Poe, BEYOND THE DARKNESS might not be D'Amato's very best film but it's certainly his most emotionally intense, with a delirious, urgent GOBLIN (credited as The Goblins) score, which puts us right into the skin of the demented protagonist. Much of the film's power comes from the performances of Canter and Ms. Stoppi. He's well cast as an underground man who is painfully shy in public but capable of the grossest atrocities when left alone with his corpses. Ms. Stoppi is an actress who, as she demonstrates in the interview THE OMEGA WOMAN, is sensitive to the internal forces which propel her manipulative character.

The shock scenes here, the detailed embalming, the hacking apart of the hitchhiker, the cannibal attack on the jogger, are strong stuff and the actors are wise enough to indicate their character's complete immersion in the mayhem without going over the top. The sensitive English language voicing provided by the skilled team of Ted Rusoff and Carolyn De Fonseca, really adds layers of emotion and ambiguity to both characters and the English option is the recommended track for playback. The Italian track is also available, but the subtitles are actually dub titles of the English language dialogue. Both tracks and the music are crystal clear and resonant in the 2.0 mix. BEYOND THE DARKNESS is one of the most enduring and popular of all Italian horror films and this Blu-ray presents it in 1080p full HD resolution and 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio. The shot -on-16mm images reveal a distinct graininess at first but the improved color and detail are impressive, especially in the night scenes of Frank in the graveyard, in which the crimson flora on the memorial wreaths seem to glow in the dark and the names on the stones are actually readable as our sick necrophile digs up his Anna for future sex games. 

BEYOND THE DARKNESS has had several previous releases. Including the 2001 Shriek Show DVD, to which I contributed a text bio of Joe D'Amato as part of the retail booklet. That disc only had English audio available and included some good bonus materials including a commentary by Assistant Director Donatella Donati and an interview with actress Cinzia Monreale, both conducted by Kit J. Gavin. The Severin Blu-ray edition has a new interview with Ms. Monreale in which she discusses the location, her impressions of Canter and Franca Stoppi and how she managed to be very convincing as a beautiful corpse. The interview with the late Ms. Stoppi also reveals an exceedingly talented, nice and generous person who seems the polar opposite of the vicious characters she plays in BEYOND THE DARKNESS and THE OTHER HELL.

 A 20 minute featurette revisits the locations today. Also included is a 3 minutes theatrical trailer, narrated in English by Ted Rusoff, which manages to cram each and every lurid moment into its short run-time. GOBLIN perform the opening theme live in Buio Omega LIVE 2016. A 60 plus minute documentary, Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience, from the feature Joe D'Amato; Uncut, is an in-depth sit down with the late, good natured director, who reveals his own favorite of his films was the non-linear Gothic DEATH SMILES A MURDER (1973). He also discusses working with the notorious Klaus Kinski, experimenting with hardcore sex and gore in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and expresses satisfaction at having produced the first feature film of Michele Soavi (STAGE FRIGHT) and the last film of Lucio Fulci (DOOR INTO SILENCE). On camera comments by frequent D'Amato actors "George Eastman" and Donald O'Brien are also included. The director makes a salient point toward the end, noting that director's like Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci and himself were an dying breed, an endangered species at that time, the mid 1990s. How sadly true that comment turned out to be. Only a few years later all three genre titans would be dead.

A 24 track CD of the GOBLIN score is also included when ordering the BD + CD edition. Over the years this has evolved into my own favorite GOBLIN film score and alone makes this a worthwhile purchase. 

I really can't report on the previous Blu-ray releases but Severin's HD presentation is probably going to be your go-to option for experiencing this defining example of European Trash Cinema. 
Reviewed by (C) Robert Monell, 2017