Friday, 22 May 2009

Blood And Black Lace (1964) - Giallithon #2

Blood And Black Lace (1964) - Mario BavaThere are no two ways about it... Mario Bava's Blood And Black Lace (1964) is a genre defining classic. Not only did it lay much of the groundwork for many giallo films to come, it upped the ante and included the kind of savagery that came to characterise these films over and above thrillers that were being made in the USA. It also laid the groundwork for a new genre of films, that wouldn't actually really take off until the late 70s and early 80s... stalk'n'slash, or slashers as they are affectionately known by fans. This was the first film to feature a seemingly unstoppable killer who lurked in all the shadows that stalked and murdered victims in a brutal and vicious way. Bava then further cemented the genre with the excellent Bay Of Blood (1971) taking things a step even further. It was also the first film where the director started to employ point of view (POV) shots from the eyes of the killer, to further bring the audience into the film and help them identify with the killer. Lastly, another of the big giallo genre staples was the killer being dressed all in black, with a black fedora, and black leather gloves. The giallo killer's favourite weapon was also introduced... the cut throat straight razor.

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

The story follows a seemingly pretty simply premise. Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) run the exclusive Christian haute coutre fashion house populated with beautiful models and fashion designers. One stormy night the model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is murdered on her way into work at the fashion house and is discovered dead in a cupboard. Soon Isabella's diary is found, which highlights some seedy corrupt goings on at the fashion house. Soon each model that comes into contact with the diary, or seemingly knowns more about what's going on... are murdered in various gruesome ways. Only Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) can discover the truth...Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

What ensues is an exhilirating mix of brutal violence, highly stylised visuals, beautiful women, numerous red herrings, and the required unexpected twist (or two). Bava directs with so much gusto and beligerance against the usual standards of the thrillers coming out of the USA, or even the Wallace inspired Krimi films. He deliberately focus on everything that is visceral in the World that his characters inhabit, and fills it with sleaze, violence, drugs, and sex.

When pivotal plot devices are introduced, such as the discovery of Isabella's diary, he deliberately uses the camera to make everyone look like a suspect. Each character gives uneasy looks, as if they are all hiding some terrible secret. Bava wants his audience to question every little detail he throws in front of them, and to keep them guessing right up to the big reveal (which is only about 3/4 of the way through this film!).

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

Bava was advised to shoot the film in black and white, as he did with his previous The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). Being Mario Bava, he filmed this film in glorious Technicolor and deliberately filled the screen with as many bright styles and fashions as he could cram on. From the highly stylised opening sequence where we are introduced to each character as the cool jazzy soundtrack from Carlo Rustichelli indignantly blasts forth, to the extremely visceral killings.

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

All the lead performances are very strong, particularly from Mitchell and Bartok. Reinher's Inspector Sylvester never appears to be ahead of the killer, and always on his heels... and as such he is a much more minor character than you would probably expect. We don't even really have a main character who is pivotal in the investigation... Bava is quite content to just let things play out in their own inexplicably macabre manner.

There's not really much that can be said about this film that has not already been said. It is a true classic in every sense of the word, and possibly one of the most influential films of all time. It's a shame that it's not heralded a true classic in the Citizen Kane (1941) sense of the word, as it's every bit as important as that film or even Hitchock's Psycho (1960).

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

The version under review here is the truly excellent Hande Weg German DVD (as Blutige Seida). This is by far the best transfer of the film available in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 presented here anamorphically. Every visceral detail is presented with stunning colour, and great clarity. It's certainly an improvement from the VCI releases of the film. There are also some great extras including a comparison of the murders from the censored version of the film and the complete uncut version. It also has 11 great trailers of other classic Mario Bava films. Highly recommended if you can find it, but unfortunately out of print and commanding high prices on such sites as eBay.

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

Essential viewing for every giallo fan.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) - Giallithon #1

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)So starts the Giallithon with the film that arguably started it all, Mario Bava's 1963 classic The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo). Obviously inspired by the pulp fiction yellow (giallo) covered books, even as far as the heroine reads them and is inspired in her investigations by them and other famous crime novels, this is the first film to take a story that could have been lifted from the pages of those books and transpose them onto the screen with lashings of Hitchcock style. In fact it seems that Bava was reluctant to direct this, but it doesn't show. They weren't sure what they wanted to achieve with the film. In fact the American release is a totally different beast to this Italian subtitled version under review. The American release was touted as a romantic black comedy called The Evil Eye, a parady of previously released Hitchcock films, and it featured more scenes of humour. These didn't really fit in with the overall tone of the film (a mystery with horror elements i.e. a proto-giallo), so the Italian release is much more streamlined and all the better for it. This was due to Bava being determined to make this into a serious film, and as a consequence he played down the comedy and boosted the horror. It was a stroke of genius. In this and his next proto-giallo, Blood And Black Lace (1964), he laid down the foundations for the entire Giallo genre.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Starring Leticia Roman and (a young) John Saxon, this was to be Bava's final film to be shot in black and white, and also was filmed mostly on location in and around Rome. Bava shoots everything using purely natural lighting, and with each and every shot he uses obtuse angles, and an ever encroaching darkness to bring a sense of dread and foreboding to the proceedings.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Roman stars as the lovely Nora Davis, a young naive American who flies into Rome to visit her Aunt Adele. At her Aunt's place, she encounters the suave and handsome Doctor Marcello Bassi (Saxon) who informs Nora that her Aunt is in failing health, and that he has been keeping an eye on her. That very night Nora sees her Aunt suffer a fatal heart attack. Freaked out by her deceased Aunt's body twitching (it's actually her cat trying to get up onto the bed), Nora flees from the house and out onto the big plaza outside. As she tries to make her way to the nearby hospital to fetch Dr. Bassi, she is mugged and knocked unconcious in the street. Nora comes around in a dizzy haze, and as she does, she witnesses a woman being stabbed in the back and dragged away... Did she really see a murder take place?

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

The rest that follows is a great mix of your giallo staples of red herrings, scenes of peril for our heroine, and bloody murders. Of course these were fresh then, and the elements that Bava brought to proceedings are evident in all the major players in the first wave of giallo and beyond. The black humour and creepy camera angles were no doubt a huge influence on Dario Argento and Umberto Lenzi in their films that followed this.

Saxon and Roman make great leads, and it's unfortunate that it was reported that Saxon and Bava really did not get on well at all (detailed by Tim Lucas in the included sleeve notes). A strong leading man was unfortunately not a giallo staple, as many of the films feature very dull lead actors indeed. It's a shame this wasn't something that continued on through the genre.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

This DVD version was released by Image Entertainment in 2000, and has a good transfer in it's original 1.66:1 ratio presented anamorphically. It has parts where there is some evident print damage, and the contrast looks to be slightly too high in parts, but apart from a few ropey scenes... it all looks very good. It's in the original Italian language with optional English subtitles. You can also get the film as part of the Bava boxset released by Anchor Bay, or a good transfer from French label Film Sans Frontiers.

A great film and a very worthy start to the Giallithon. Essential Giallo.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Friday, 15 May 2009

Glasgiallo - June 27th - 28th Glasgow Film Theatre

To coincide with Arrow Video's release of the first three entries in their Masters Of Giallo series (the first time Dario Argento's Sleepless (2000), Lamberto Bava's Macabre (1980), and Lucio Fulci's House By The Cemetery (1981) have been released uncut in the UK), Arrow has set up a special “Weekend of Italian Terror” screening event at Scotland’s Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday-Sunday, June 27-28.

House By The Cemetery will be shown on the 27th at 9 p.m. Then on the 28th, Deodato’s gruesome gore-soaked jungle action film Cut And Run (1985) will start the evening at 5:30 p.m., with Deodato making his first-ever Scottish appearance to introduce the film and take part in a Q&A with Fangoria writer Calum Waddell. Finally Macabre follows at 8 p.m., with Lamberto Bava also making his first appearance in Scotland for an introduction and Q&A with Calum Waddell. Tickets will be on sale soon at the GFT site linked above.

Here's the excellent artwork for the three releases:

Macabre and House By The Cemetery Arrow DVDsSleepless Arrow DVD

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Giallithon - 162 Gialli In A Row!

Giallithon? What's that you ask? Well it's pretty self-explanatory, starting from The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and ending with Eyewitness (1990) I will be watching 162 giallo films chronologically and reviewing them here. Of course I could go past 1990 as there are more giallo films released after that point in time, like the impressive Sleepless (2000). However that would also mean sitting through some terrible dreck, and I am not that much of a masochist...

So expect the first review from the Giallithon soon!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Argento's Giallo (2009) to be shown at Edinburgh Filmfest

Giallo (2009) - Dario ArgentoDario Argento's highly anticipated film Giallo (2009), staring Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Seigner, is going to get its World premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 25th.

The two star as an Italian Detective and an American Stewardess who team up in a race against time to find her sister who has been abducted by a maniacal serial killer known only as "Yellow."

Tickets are on sale as from today (8th May), More details at the Edinburgh Film Festival website:

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

5 Films yet to have a proper DVD release

With the advent of cult films being released in high definition, and also with the long (long) awaited release (official or not?) of Argento's Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971), it might come as some surprise to some that many cult classics have yet to see an official DVD release. Some of the great cult films of all time sit languishing in vaults, with only VHS versions of varying quality (usually bad!) existing for people to enjoy them.

So I decided to create a list of five cult classic films that are in desperate need of a proper definitive release either on DVD or (even better) on Blu-ray. So hopefully some upstanding owner of a fine cult film company will see this and give the films the restoration and loving release they so thoroughly deserve! So on with the list:

  1. Spider Labyrinth (1988) aka Il Nido del Ragno - A truly disturbing supernatural giallo from the late 80s, this forgotten gem clearly needs a restored uncut version released.Spider Labyrinth (1988) - cover Clearly some money was spent on this film as it has superior cinematography and some great special effects for the time. It also triumphantly succeeds in creating a very creepy, eerie atmosphere. It has some vhillingly effective murder scenes, and the final scene is pure Grand Guignol exuberance. The story sees Roland Wybenga playing Professor Alan Whitmore who is sent to investigate strange goings on in a small town. What he finds there is a horror beyond what he could have imagined and where nothing is what it seems.

    Unfortunately I've only ever seen a VHS rip with hardcoded Japanese subtitles on it, and it was fullscreen. It really takes away from what you can tell is some fantastic camera work. It might have that familiar 80s tinge to the picture, but it still should be incredible if a restored widescreen version could be sourced.

    Spider Labyrinth

    Spider Labyrinth

  2. Amuck! (1972) - A giallo masterpiece that mysteriously has never received a DVD release. Amuck! (1972)Directed by Silvio Amadio, this is a beautiful shot and fantastically scripted piece of film. Not only does it feature some ultra stylish setpieces so familiar with classic giallo, but it also features a truly electrifying sex scene between Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri... two of the genre's finest. The way Amadio shoots the scene is brilliantly done, and it literally sizzles off the screen.

    Couple all that with one of the best soundtracks to ever grace a giallo, and you've got yourself a truly fantastic cult film.

    So why no DVD release?

    That is a complete mystery as there are only bootleg DVDs around. These appear to be VHS rips and are unfortunately fullframe versions rather than the original 2.35:1 Cromoscope composition it was originally filmed in. It's a shame as this is bound to look glorious.

    So please... someone bring out a great looking version of one of the first films that made giallo sexy!

  3. Thrilling In Venice (1979) aka Giallo a Venezia - Described by even hardened giallo fans as vile, repulsive, disgusting, and utter trash... this film represents the pinnicle in how depraved and sleazy you could make a giallo.Thrilling In Venice (1979) Not even New York Ripper or Torso could match this film for sheer depravity.

    There's plenty of gore, softcore sex, nudity, and funny late 70s hair cuts on show. It has something for everyone... except those with no stomach for the depraved!

    I don't think there's much chance of this being released in the UK anytime soon, but it is strange that this infamous giallo has never received much attention from any of the major DVD labels. Anything that is so infamously trashy is bound to be a big seller. It ticks all the boxes for gorehounds, sleazeters, and grindhouse fans. I would have thought this was a perfect release for Grindhouse Releasing.

    Let's hope a decent copy surfaces soon, as the only half decent uncut rip that seems to be out there is a brazillian VHS! Surely there has to be a better source than that?

  4. Night Of The Demon (1980) Night Of The Demon (1980)- Talking of grindhouse classics... this has to rank as one of the stars of that genre. The infamous Bigfoot video nasty from 1980. This film takes the well established Bigfoot genre, and turns it on its head by introducing ghaslty deaths, horrific scenes of penis removal by Bigfoot claw, and one of the craziest final 10 minutes of any film... ever! It's just pure fantastic joyous trash in cult film form. The acting is dire, and dare I say this film is never going to get a pin sharp high definition makeover... but it still deserves far more than it's got so far from distributors.

    In fact the only uncut version that seems to be doing the rounds is a copy of when Zone Horror showed it on that channel. It looks very rough though, so this film really needs some much needed attention.

  5. Libido (1965) - Libido (1965)Perhaps most perplexing of all is how this Ernesto Gastaldi written and directed giallo has not had a proper DVD release! This is one of the very first giallo, and it's also one of the most accomplished. Shot in black and white, it has a fantastic plot (as you'd expect from the master writer of the genre), and some great acting. It's very well made and really makes you wish Gastaldi had directed a few more films.

    Again the only version of this in wide circulation are VHS sourced. There is clearly a great looking film here, shot originally on 35mm, just waiting to burst out onto our home screens. Why hasn't anyone done this yet? This is a classic by every definition of the word!

    Get to it please!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Goblin to play UK date

Legendary band and supplier of some of the best music in cult films, Goblin, are starting to play several live dates again after a 32 year absence from the stage. Most excitingly (well for me) they are playing just down the road from me in Birmingham at the Supersonic Festival which runs from the 24th to the 26th of July:
Supersonic Festival 2009It goes without saying that I have already got my ticket, especially as the almighty Corrupted and The Accused are also playing.

The full Goblin lineup is Fabio Pignatelli, Maurizio Guarini, Massimo Morante, Agostino Marangolo and Aidan Zammit. They have already played Austria this month, and here's a random review I found on the internet about that gig:

"Holy mother, what a fantastic concert!

Goblin are back and they have so much musical energy, it's incredible. They were really enjoying themselves on stage, set appropriately in an eerie medieval church - a great atmospheric backdrop. Fabio and Agostino created a furious rhythmical foundation. You just gotta love it when Fabio's significant style of playing switches between delicate and funky and then dives off into plain heavy intensity. My greatest respects also to Agostino - he really pumped it up ("E Suono Rock" was one aggressive beast! God, I loved it!) and brought a lot of versatility to the tracks we have known for so long. Massimo seemed to have a lot of fun and seamlessly blended suspenseful, mellow and fiery riffs. He also did the introductory words for the band's comeback in German (with a little help Wink) Maurizio and Aidan created the dense and intricate synth soundscapes ranging from dark to upbeat, from downright chilling to quiet and gentle (as in "Aquaman"). Joyous Aidan is a great addition to the lineup, he did several soli and most of the vocal parts. Imagine a "Paura" vocoder duel with Maurizio on "Tenebre"!

We were treated to a great flow of tracks from "Profondo Rosso", "Roller", "Suspiria", "Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark", "Dawn of the Dead", "Tenebre", "Phenomena" and "BTTG". They opened with "Magic Thriller" and closed with an encore from, well, I am not going to spoil the excitement for you by posting a track list. I was so thrilled I probably wouldn't get it right anyway. I hardly dared to go back home afterwards in the dark, I was scared Laughing Thank you so much for choosing Austria for your stage return, it was an unforgettable evening!

If anyone from Goblin is reading this: Pleeeaase consider a live release or treat us with some video clips of your performance! Austrian television was filming and there was a stage camera (well, at least a sporadic one) so I can only hope this footage will surface eventually."

I am seriously excited!