Review: Black Sunday/Mask of the Demon (Blu-Ray)

(Thanks, FulciLives!)

Layout 1Say, did I ever tell you all the story of the time a few decades ago back in the 80’s when I learned how to brine a chicken thanks to a pair of very helpful Satanists looking for Kosher salt at a grocery store? No? Well, that’s not why we’re here, so I won’t go into it other than to say I didn’t know they were into that stuff, and hell, I’m an atheist anyway. The chicken? It was excellent by the way. Still is, whenever it’s made.

Uh, speaking of “anyway”, Let’s move on.

Still scary and somewhat phenomenally timeless, Mario Bava’s classic “first” film La Maschera Del Demonio/The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday in the US) starts off unsettling and keeps the frights coming until the end. Bava’s direction and art direction here are generally superb, although yes, there are a few plot holes you can drive a rattly (or rat-filled) old Fiat through if you follow the story too closely. But taken as a whole, it’s still a work of brilliance that many films have paid homage to over the decades since its release.

Black Sunday 02

“Where the hell is my coffee? I just woke up after 200 years!”

Very loosely based on The Viy, Nikolai Gogol’s horror tale from 1835, the film revels in its high Gothic style, early use of gore effects and the stunning Barbara Steele who plays both the evil Asa Vajda and 200 years after her demise, her relative, Katia Vajda. It’s a revenge story of sorts, as that witch and her soulless-mate Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are separated and then executed in a most bloody fashion for their crimes and yes, there’s a bit of a promise of defiant revenge from the witch. 200 years later, it’s young Katya who’s target of a newly revived Asa’s demonic ways and in tandem with the revived Javutich, things get ugly for a few people after that curse literally comes to life. Wait, or is it figuratively? I forget.

Black Sunday 04

Vincent Price wants his stage wig back when you’re done, pal.

Interestingly, the film links Satanism and witchcraft to devil worship as the same thing, which is about the sole flaw that sticks out (well, I’d guess it was seen as the same in the 1630’s, but I’m a terrible time traveler, getting too sick from the trips to pay attention and all that).

Continue reading

Advertisements

Review: Torso (Blu-Ray)

torso_02

“Hello, I’m your masked and gloved fashionable scarf-wearing killer. Today, I shall be your GUIDE. Then I’ll have to kill you, of course.”

Torso Arrow(Lectures): Sergio Martino tells an interesting story about the film’s originally planned title in an excellent interview on this lushly produced Arrow Video disc. The film’s  producers wanted something more salacious to sell tickets, so they chose to pump up the sexual violence aspect with what they saw as a fitting title, I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence). where as Martino wanted to use I corpi non mostrano tracce di violenza carnale (The Bodies Bear No Traces of Carnal Violence) here after his working titles like Rosso come l’amore, nero come il terrore (Red Like Love, Black Like Terror) were rejected early on. The Torso moniker (Carnal Violence was a title created for the export release) was a choice from the film’s US distributors, by the way,  In the States, Joseph Brenner Associates worked up a new title opening, chopped out 4 minutes of footage seemingly for some gory content and likely to make the film a run a compact 90 minutes (more butts in the seats at the end of the day), changed some music cues (the great Guido & Maurizio De Angelis score was fine, thank you), and there you have it.

*Ahem* I’m starting this review much like the film does (with an intentionally dull lecture after a sexy-ish opening) as a little joke because I’ve heard some kooky grumblings over the years at how the film gets off to a slow start for about 20 minutes or so. Nonsense, I say. Torso works as an effective and disturbing popcorn flick you’ll want to gather a few like-minded giallo-loving friends up to see. Yes, those friends will have to like some copious female nudity, icky flashes of gore in two of the early murders and nearly every male in the film portrayed as a leering goon of some sort (there are some regular guys here, but as background noise or padding out the lovely Perugian scenery). But this is a film where you’re getting almost exactly what you expect from with a title like this.

Torso_06

Ooh, pardon me while I do some gift-giving. “Hey, nice lady, I got you a scarf!” Oops, I kind of got carried away in my excitement. That’s Patrizia Adiutori doing a great job playing dead, by the way.

After the murder of some friends by the above mentioned killer (Hello!), four college students decide to hoof it over to a secluded villa, only to have the killer and a few other suspects trail them. While that’s pretty much the plot here, Martino makes things quite tense as well as very 70’s sexy (well, as far as the ladies are concerned). The film tosses a few potential suspects your way as it goes on, so you’re always on the fence as to who the killer might be. The killer not only has a penchant for he ladies, he turns out to be an equal opportunist, as the bodies pile up and more are claimed by a few means.

Continue reading

Review: The Pyjama Girl Case (Blu-Ray)

The Pyjama Girl_03

La calma prima della tempesta: Ray Milland as Inspector Thompson does a bit of gardening (sans FROGS to interrupt him).

The Pyjama Girl Case coverLoosely based on a true story (that’s still a tad unresolved), Flavio Mogherini’s 1977 film La Ragazza Dal Pigiama Giallo (aka 1978’s The Pyjama Girl Case) is a pretty depressing flick to sit through when all is said and done. It’s skillfully edited to spool out two tales: one of a retired police detective (Ray Milland) coming back to work on the trail of the person who murdered and mutilated a woman, and the second is the story of Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a Dutch immigrant who comes to Australia, gets a job as a waitress and later ends up a victim of a particularly horrifying crime.

Even more horrifying are the police coming up with the idea to preserve and display the unidentified remains to the public (yes, this actually happened in real life for a whopping ten years) and painfully getting information though beating up a few suspects (not sure if it’s 1977 addition, but man, is it so not an OK thing to do even if a guilty party is eventually found). Nevertheless, Milland is clearly having a blast in his role, and Di Lazzaro is a lovely, tragic victim you want to see not a bad thing happen to. The film even makes you feel sorry for a suspect in her murder, but you’ll have to watch this to see how the director plays that out.

(Thanks, Blazing Trailers!)

In fact, save for Milland’s Detective Thompson who’s eager to take on the case, most of the detectives and investigators here seem to be all too happy (and incompetent) with finding the quickest means to end the case, even if it means one seemingly obvious suspect is discovered early on who’s a pure creep and not a killer. This adds an air of hopelessness to the narrative as the film plays out and you witness the results of haphazard work (save for the one man who should be home with his flowers). Granted, poor Glenda would still be deceased even through the shoddy police work, as Detective Thompson is only called after she’s been disposed of.

Continue reading

Arrow Brings a Few Juicy Pumpkins for an October Surprise

Arrow_ArrowAcademy_logos

Yum! Here are next months Arrow and Arrow Academy releases to ogle. Expect some really nice surprises to add to your libraries. as usual:

KILLER NUN[Blu-ray] (10/15)
THE DEAD CENTER [Blu-ray and DVD] (10/22)
RINGU [Blu-ray] (10/29)
RINGU COLLECTION [Blu-ray] (10/29)
MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES [Blu-ray] (10/29)
Oh, yes indeed, it’s guaranteed to be a scare-packed Halloween with this lineup.
-GW

Review: The Fifth Cord (Blu-Ray)

The 5th Cord_02

Looks like a fine day for a murder, no? Pamela Tiffin as the “lucky that the killer isn’t targeting her here” sometimes girlfriend in The Fifth Cord.

THE_FIFTH_CORD_BDMurder most stylish, one would have to say about Luigi Bazonni’s (The Possessed) beautiful-looking giallo (brilliantly shot by Vittorio Storaro), The Fifth Cord from 1971. While the plot may be pedestrian, this is certainly one of the most fanciful-looking and visually well-conceived murder mysteries of the era if you’re into the artsy stuff and don’t mind a few plot clichés. The film has the basics you’d expect: a black-gloved killer with issues, a man who’s a suspect even though he’s got an alibi that’s more than solid, and a few suspenseful murders that have very nice scares (the ending is particularly frightening without being gory). There’s even a bit of tasteful nudity for the heck of it (also artistically shot and lit). I found myself captivated by the film’s visual style and way in which space is utilized throughout. This one’s a grabber from start to finish and yes, worth a watch for the art direction alone.

When boozy journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) gets the call from his boss to investigate a man’s assault, he gets caught up in a series of serial murders after the killer promises to dispatch five victims before he’s done. All of the victims happen to be close to Bild in one way or another, so he’s a suspect (despite being drunk most of the time and out of place of the murders as the crimes continue). Speaking of out of place, the film does an outstanding job of presenting Bild as a man who seems to be lost in his surroundings but also angry at the powers that be who force him off the story at one point.

The Fifth Cord_03

Grabbing Walter White is kind of a bad idea, heh.

This one tosses a few suspects at you from the get-go, but the true killer is a slight surprise if you’re not paying attention. Fortunately, this is one flick you can’t look away from thanks to how awesome it looks (you still might not figure out who the killer is until the end, though). The film has enough twisty mystery, some odd sexual content as a plot point (hey, it’s important to the story!) and a bit of violence that’s nicely handled throughout (you can watch this without hiding behind that trusty blanket you tend to whip out in some cases. What, you don’t have a Horror Blanket yet? Shame on you!).

Continue reading

Review: The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (Blu-Ray)

The Forbidden Photos_02

No it’s not Martin Landau. Stop it.

The Forbidden Photos coverIt has the stylish looks and has a title reminiscent of a giallo, but it’s more of “a sexy drama with a shamelessly low body count”, according to a friend watching Luciano Ercoli’s 1970 film The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/(aka LE FOTO PROIBITE DI UNA SIGNORA PER BENE) with me. Amusingly enough, this is someone who dislikes these types of films, but stuck around because of hearing it wasn’t a total gore festival. Shame he didn’t stick around for Torso, but we’ll get to that terrifying classic a few reviews later.

Dagmar Lassender is Minou, a pretty housewife with a pill addiction she can’t quite kick. She runs into trouble after a blackmailer (Simón Andreu) assaults her and alerts her that her husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) has murdered a man and Nicola can help keep things quiet if she meets the blackmailer for, let’s just say some sexytime antics. She does, but things get weird and she calls in a free-spirited friend for some assistance. Uh, wait. That sounds a bit too much like a film with an X rating, huh? What actually happens is her loyal and sexually free as a bird friend Dominique (Nieves Navarro) has some rather shameless photos in her collection and Nicola notices the cad behind the blackmailing is the same in one of the photos… The plot thickens, right?

Well, not so much, folks. This certainly is a super-stylish looking film and yes, indeed, its ladies are stupendously as lovely as can be (the men, eh, not so much). However the suspense is limited to guessing how far the blackmailer will go when a few things are revealed and whether or not Dominque is part of the plans (because it sure seems something is up with her). With a few tweaks. “this could be a Lifetime drama of the week” (I don’t watch that network, I’m loosely quoting that friend from earlier, so I guess he or his wife are fans).

Continue reading

Review: The Possessed (Blu-Ray)

The Possessed_00

“On a clear day, you can see forever…”

The PossessedGiven the subject matter, The Lady of the Lake is a better title than The Possessed, lets get that out of the way first and foremost. Granted, it’s also the name you’d use if talking about the legend of King Arthur and with a slight tweak, it’s the name of a 1947 film noir classic that’s a neat experiment. Still, this 1965 Italian murder mystery from co-directors Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini is a compelling, arty proto-giallo well worth a look.

The film blends both director’s styles in an impressive and intentionally at times hard to follow plot, but its intents are made to keep you guessing what’s true and untrue until the mystery is resolved. While based loosely on a series of actual murders, the at times dreamlike presentation keeps things a lot less grounded as our less than heroic “hero” figures out why the gal he was so madly in love with was possibly murdered.

The Possessed_VL

Virna Lisi as the ill-fated Tilde. She’s not a good girl, it seems.

Bernard (Peter Baldwin), a morose young man with a bit of fame is in the process of writing a new book, visits the same slightly dull Italian village he grew up in only to discover that a pretty maid named Tilde (a stunning Virna Lisi) working at the local inn has died. A little poking around reveals she may have been murdered, but why is that important information held from him (“You didn’t ask.” comes one rather surprising answer early on) and why are there a few potential suspects that happen to be from the same family that owns the inn?

Hmmm… why, indeed? Tilde only appears to him from a few mysterious dreams and flashbacks that may or may not be related to Bernard’s mental state, so he’s maybe as unreliable a narrator as it gets. Hey, at least his hazy, surreal nightmares are pretty darn interesting to say the least.

Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: Waterworld

WW water

Uh, hey pal… you’re not gonna DRINK that, are you?

WATERWORLD ArrowMovie memory #1764 (or so): sitting in a packed theater back in 1995 watching the opening sequence to Waterworld as Kevin Costner’s Mariner character urinates into a plastic container, then pours that pee into a dicey-looking filtration system and drinks the results. You’d best believe the bulk of the audience let out a collective “EWWWWWW!” and yes, there was one guy sitting somewhere in the back of the darkened theater who yelled out something about how ice cubes would have made that recycled beverage go down better.

“EWWWWWW!”

Flash forward to me watching the three (!!!) versions of the film in Arrow Video’s packed to the gills (heh) with bonus features triple-disc set and I kind of want one of those funky filter devices just so I don’t need to take breaks when I’m going through my film backlog. For all its expensive sets, Costner’s dedicated performance, some amazing stunt work and a completely and perfectly bonkers performance by Dennis Hopper as its main villain, the film is still flawed in that, “Where’s the beef?” manner when it comes to a few key plot elements. Granted, its ecology past peril theme is a bit more relevant it today’s climate (and yes, that’s a double pun, kids). But there’s no real “science” here if you’re looking for it. Hell,  if the Earth does lose its major land masses underwater as shown here, an overblown big-budget sci-fi action flick isn’t exactly where we’re headed in that watery future, glub, glub.

Continue reading

The Unseen, Soon to Be Seen and Spoken Of

greatest

Today’s bad joke, courtesy me: “Look, Buster – that’s NOT how you take the train!”

Or, Debbie over at Moon in Gemini is hosting another fine blogathon and as I have a rather massive backlog (hey, I’m building a movie fort!), I’ll be doing two Roger Donaldson films I’ve not seen but just so happen to have here thanks to the fine folks over at Arrow Video: Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981). I hear both are quite excellent.

Blu-Ray Review: Deep Red

Deep Red ArrowI clearly wasn’t ready for Dario Argento’s Deep Red way back when I saw it on a somewhat beat-up rented VHS tape back around 1990 or ’91. While the 1975 film had some primo scares (such as that freaky clockwork dummy scene and the genuinely gory brilliance in its stylized murders), the story seemed to be a bit chopped up to the point of distracting me a wee bit too much. Hey, I often tend to pay attention to the plot more than the violence in most horror films, so sue me. Flash forward to Arrow’s 2016 UK restoration (finally getting a North American release) which adds back in scenes that were cut and makes one of Argento’s best early films even better. Granted, it’s not going to be for everyone (yes, it’s quite violent), but as with many gialli, you more or less know what you’re getting and you’re going to get it but good (and in both eyes, at that).

David Hemmings plays Marcus Daly, a British jazz pianist who ends up being the target of a killer after he sees said killer killing the hell out of some hapless victim. During the initial police investigation, Daly’s photo is snapped by snippy, snoopy reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), who inadvertently puts Marcus in grave danger after posting his handsome mug in the newspaper. As in his earlier The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails, you get leading men who get in well over their heads once they try to do a bit of extracurricular detective work and yes indeed, Daly gets put through the wringer but good. This is also another Argento film where a woman saves the lead from certain death, with Nicolodi’s Brezzi making a strong impression as a gal who’s no screaming wallflower at all.

Continue reading