Search This Blog

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Phantom of Death

Un Delitto Poco Commune
Sales Title: Off Balance
US Video Title: Phantom of Death
1988 Italy
D: Ruggero Deodato
P: Pietro Innocenzi for Globe Films (P Manager: Giuliano Piermarioli) in association with Reteitalia, Tandem Cinematografica, DMV Distribuzione//St & Sc: Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino, Gigiola Battaglini//DP: Giorgio Di Battista//E: Daniele Alabiso//M: Pino Donaggio//Art D: Paolo Innocenzi// Costumes: Giovanna Deodato//Makeup: Fabrizio Sforza//Color
Cast: Michael York, Edwige Fenech, Donald Pleasence, Mapi Galon, Fabio Sartor, Renato Cortesi, Antonella Ponziani, Carola Stagnaro, Daniel Brado, Caterina Boratto.

Elena Martell is hosting a party where piano maestro Robert Dominici performs his newest composition. Later that evening, his girlfriend Susanna tries to pressure him into marriage, something Dominici wants nothing to do with. In anger, Susanna has sex with a friend but regrets her actions and decides to reconcile with Robert. While waiting for a train, she is brutally attacked and pushed through a pane-glass window. Elena comes to comfort Robert and they end up having sex. Robert, while still grieving for Susanna begins to notice that he's prematurely aging as his hair is falling out and his teeth are starting to rot. He discovers he has a rare disease called progeria and goes into hiding. When he hears that Elena is pregnant, he makes plans to kill her so the baby won't suffer the way he has. He attacks her, but is scared off before he can inflict a fatal wound. The police inspector suspects she was attacked by Robert, but her description of the attacker as being 50-60 years old, has him confused. Robert continues to kill people associated with his past (including a hooker who was his first sexual experience) and also plans to end Elena's life and pregnancy.

Ruggero Deodato's efforts in the eighties reveal a very slick, action propelled director who, under different circumstances, could have made the move to Hollywood-style filmmaking quite effortlessly. His films feature razor-sharp cinematography, actors such as Fenech and York who represent rich beautiful people who suffer the most horrible fates, and lush, symphonic musical scores that all add up to glossy entertainment. It's good to see Edwige Fenech play a sympathetic heroine for a change and the fact that she dubs her own voice makes her performance all the better. York is a sympathetic monster who can't help the changes that are taking over his body and mind. The problem is that since he is aging quite rapidly, he quickly becomes a non-threatening killer. Three cameos to watch and listen for are: Deodato, who plays a guy waiting for a motorcycle ride right before Susanna is killed, John Morghen as a priest visited by York, and the voice of William Berger used for one of the police scientist working with Donald Pleasance. The makeup on York by Fabrizio Sforza is very good for an Italian production.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So Sweet So Perverse

Cosi Dolce, Cosi Perversa
So Sweet, So Perverse
Italy  1971
D: Umberto Lenzi
P: Sergio Martino, Mino Loy & Luciano Martino//St & Sc: Massimo D'Avack, Luciano Martino & Ernesto Gastaldi//DP: Memmo Mancori//E: Eugenio Alabiso (Asst: Amedeo Moriani)//M: Riz Ortolani//Art D: Franco Bottari//Costumes: Giovanni Noitana//Makeup: Oretta Melaranci//Color
Cast: Carroll Baker, Jean Louis Trintignant, Erika Blanc, Horst Frank, Helga Liné, Armelinda De Felice, Gianni Benedetto, Irio Fantini, Dario Michaelis, Renato Pinciroli, Gianni Pulane, Lucio Rama, Paola Scalizi, Luigi Sportelli, Beryl Cunningham.

Jean and Danielle Renault are involved in a loveless marriage. They are a couple who truly can't stand one another. One night Jean hears a scuffle in the apartment above him and he rushes to discover Nicole being beaten up by Klaus, a rather psychotic looking German. After running Klaus off, he discovers Nicole has been under his complete physical and emotional control. Jean feels sorry for her and vows to protect her. After spending time together (including a week long holiday), Nicole reveals that she and Klaus were hired to kill Jean for $20,000. Now that she's in love with Jean, she can't go through with it and the two plot Klaus' death. Their plan backfires when during a scuffle, Klaus manages to kill Jean with a knife. It is then revealed that they were hired by Danielle to kill Jean and that Nicole is really Danielle's lover. Danielle is very fragile and based on the strange occurences around her, she's convinced Jean isn't really dead. Is she going crazy or is Jean really alive?

This thriller falls into the DIABOLIQUE-type film plot where you have dissatisfied lovers plotting to kill off the spouse. It usually means a definite lack of gore but a much more richly plotted viewing experience. This film, typical of the Lenzi-Baker collaborations, really highlights its cast with Erika Blanc scoring high as the distraught wife. She plays a woman who was obviously sexually repressed until she became involved with a woman. Carroll Baker's performance is excellent as she first gains the audience's sympathy with her portrayal of a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship, only to crush it as she reveals her true colors once Trintignant's character is killed. And let’s not forget Horst Frank, who has saved many a film with his villainous character parts. This excellent German character actor (who dubs his own voice here) is actually the most sympathetic of the three. Black actress Beryl Cunningham gets to perform an impromptu strip act at a house party which livens things up considerably at one point. For Lenzi, this film switches around his usual cinematic obsessions involving the corruption of an innocent woman, here it's the female of the species who are already beyond redemption. Both art direction (which takes advantage of Paris' architecture) and Riz Ortolani's kitschy score help round out a rather classy package.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Double

La Controfigura
The Double
Italy 1971
D: Romolo Guerrieri (Girolami)
P: Gino Mordini for Claudia Cinematografica//St & Sc: Sauro Scavolini, Alessandro Continenza//DP: Carlo Carlini//E: Carlo Reali//M: Armando Trovaioli//Art D: Antonio Visone//Costume: Rosalba Menichelli//Makeup: Lamberto Marini//Color
Cast: Jean Sorel, Ev(w)a Aulin, Lucia Bosé, Silvano Tranquili, Marilú Tolo, Sergio Doria, Antonio Pierfederici, Bruno Boschetti, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Pupo De Luca

Frank, a failed architect, pulls into an underground parking lot and is promptly shot by a little old man. As he lays dying, he flashes back to the events that lead up to this moment. On a beach in Morocco, Frank and his wife Lucia make love. Frank becomes unnerved by the presence of a beach bum named Eddie. They retire to their motel room when they discover Lucia's mom, Nora, is coming to visit. It is obvious that Frank married Lucia because he's obsessed with her mother. Not long after she arrives, he attacks and rapes her. Meanwhile, Eddie and Nora appear to be getting along quite well which induces Frank to fantasize about killing him off in a variety of ways. When Nora leaves abruptly for Rome, Frank and Lucia follow her. Frank's excuse is to check on the family's failing business, but it's really to keep tabs on Nora. On his way to her apartment, he catches his first glimpse of the little old man who would eventually shoot him. He discovers the dead body of Eddie and thinking Nora must have killed him in a jealous rage, decides to help her out by disposing of the body. It turns out Nora was out of the country and completely unaware of Eddie's death. As Frank lies dying, the irony of his situation finally hits home, too late.

This film really plays cinematically with the concept of time. There are flashbacks within flashbacks (the film opens in just such a fashion), slow-motion shots and blurring of the action to represent the characters' fantasies, and repeating sequences several times, as in a loop. All are used to show Frank's inner turmoil as a character. It is a tour-de-force performance for Sorel who too often in this genre is only required to look pretty. Not this time, as he plays a fatally flawed, spoiled rich boy who can't ever seem to be happy, even when he gets what he wants. He's quite an unlikable character, yet you can't help but feel for his fate by film's end. Ewa Aulin is spectacular to look at (she has several rare nude scenes) and also successfully portrays a character who seems to crave for something she cannot have or even figure out what it is. The menage a trois is completed by Lucia Bosé's (LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE)  Nora. A mother who only wants her daughter to be happy, yet realizes that she will ultimately prove to be the biggest roadblock for that to happen. As a thriller this film fails rather spectacularly as there's only one murder, but the irony involved in that killing is so delicious that one can forgive the low body count. Director Romolo Guerrieri (Girolami) is the brother of Enzo Castellari (Girolami) and son of Mario Girolami, a very talented family of filmmakers. His other films in this genre, Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah and Un Detective, make one wish he were as prolific as Lenzi or Martino. His talents are undeniable, especially his work with the actors. He has elicited some of the best performances from talents as diverse as Carroll Baker, Franco Nero and Jean Sorel. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail

La Coda Dello Scorpione
D: Sergio Martino
P: Luciano Martino for Devon Film (Rome) & Copercines (Spain) (P Manager: Lamberto Palmieri//St & Sc: Eduardo M. Brochero, Ernesto Gastaldi & Sauro Scavolini//DP: Emilio Foriscot (Asst : Gianni Maddaleni)//E: Eugenio Alabiso (Asst: Giancarlo Venarucci)//M: Bruno Nicolai//Art D: Cubero & Galicia//Costumes: Luciana Marinucci//Makeup: Mario Van Riel//Color
Cast: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto De Mendoza, Janine Reynaud, Luis Barboo, Tom Felleghy, Annalisa Nardi, Thomas Picot, Evelyn Stewart (Ida Galli), Luigi Pistilli.

Lisa Baumer is in bed with her lover when the phone rings, informing her that her husband was killed in an airplane crash. Lisa learns that she was the beneficiary of a million dollar life insurance policy, but must go to Athens to collect it. The Insurance company hires Peter Lynch to follow her and try and discover if Baumer was involved in any foul play. Before too long, the murder of Lisa's boyfriend, husband's mistress and Lisa herself causes Interpol to bring in agent John Stanley. Both he and Lynch begin the search for Lisa's killer and the now missing insurance money. Cleo Dupont is a crime reporter who has been following the case and strikes up an affair with Lynch. More murders occur before a trap is laid for the killer, revealing his identity and motive.

If this thriller gets any criticism from fans, it's usually in the direction of the film's script. The fact that the murderer is not an insane, sexual deviant, but just a greedy SOB, is definitely a bit disappointing when compared to the motives of other killers who appear in these films. Because of the stylish direction by Sergio Martino, excellent score by Bruno Nicolai, and breathtaking exteriors shot in Athens, I'm willing to overlook the killer's lack of flamboyance (though he does dress up in a neat, jet black body suit at one point that makes him look like a supervillain out of a comic book). The film's cast can be considered a who's who with interesting performances by Luigi Pistilli and especially the duo of Janine Reynaud and Luis Barboo. Those two appeared in many Jesus Franco films and their graphic demises in this film are indeed grisly highlights. Martino keeps the pace at a breakneck speed and my only question is why did he frame an interrogation sequence involving George Hilton on its side? It's disconcerting to say the least!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

5 Women For the Killer

Cinque Donne Per L'Assasino Italy-France 1975 D: Stelvio Massi P: Carlo Maietto, Vincinzo De Leo, Silvio Siano for Thousand Cinematografica (Rome) & Les Films La Boetie (Paris)//St & Sc: Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici, & Vincenzo Mannino//DP: Sergio Rubino//E: Mauro Bonanni//M: Giorgio Gaslini//Costumes: Sergio Palmieri Cast: Francis Matthews, Pascal Rivault, Giorgio Albertazzi, Howard Ross (Renato Rossini), Katia Christine, Catherine Diamant, Gabriella Lepori, Maria Cumani Quasimodo, Tom Felleghi, Carla Mancini.

Giorgio Pisani arrives home to find his pregnant wife dead and his premature child in intensive care. A woman doctor friend shows him a report proving him sterile, thus he realizes that his wife must have fooled around on him to get pregnant (she was desperate to have a child). Soon, associates and friends of Giorgio start turning up with their throats and bellies slashed open with a straight razor.SPOILER ALERT!! All the clues lead to Giorgio (stiffly played by Francis Matthews), so of course, he's innocent. It was his doctor friend Lydia (Pascal Rivault), who was actually the sterile one and killing those who could have children.

Katia Christine as Giorgio's child's nanny is simply beautiful to look at, too bad she has the charm of cardboard. Massi,like Castellari, shows that horror films are not his cup-of-tea. He would prove that Cops-n-Robbers (with no horrific elements) is where his interest lie. The film also uses the two-killers motive, so endemic to these films as a philandering physician employs the modus operandi of the killer to get rid of a troublesome paramour. There are plentiful nude scenes and gore is abundant (however, the crudely used torsos, the killer's blade cuts up looks like H.G.Lewis was an on-the-set advisor), yet Massi's flaccid setups and execution really drags this mess down.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

5 Dolls For An August Moon

Cinque Bambole Per La Luna Di Agosto
Five Dolls For An August Moon
Italy 1970
D: Mario Bava
P: Luigi Alessi for P.A.C.//St & Sc: Mario Di Nardo//DP: Antonio Rinaldi//E: Marisa Agostini//M: Piero Umiliani//Art D: Giuseppe Aldobrani//Costumes: Liani Maffai//
Cast: William Berger, Ira Furstenberg, Edwige Fenech, Howard Ross (Renato Rossini), Helene Ronée, Teodoro Corrá, Justine Gall,  Edith Meloni, Mauro Bosco, Maurice Poli.

A group of rich industrialists, their wives and lovers are at the island retreat of Gerry Farrell, a chemist who has developed a synthetic resin. Each one attempts to buy the rights to the formula, but Farrell refuses to sell. Soon after, the men and their companions are found dead in a variety of imaginative set pieces. The bodies are kept on ice in the walk-in deep freeze and just when you think there'll be no more room, the murderer is caught. His young admirer however has absconded with the cash to Switzerland.

A film that gets no respect from most critics, viewers will find it's a very entertaining variation of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians." Because Mario Bava usually worked with a larger budget, longer shooting schedule and better known cast, this film is dismissed as hack work. I thoroughly disagree. While not a work of art like THE WHIP AND THE BODY, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON is never boring and moves like a jackrabbit. Edwige Fenech has never looked better, dancing with wild abandon one minute, feigning violent death the next. William Berger shows no sign of the abusive lifestyle he was living at the time (though it no doubt influenced his decision about making this piece of fluff) that would soon send him to prison. Here he has the pensive look of an intellectual down pat. It is a shame that Bava abuses the zoom lens here (due no doubt to the low budget and need for speed between camera setups), but Piero Umiliani almost makes up for it with his kitschy score. You'll be humming the damn thing for weeks after hearing it. No masterpiece, but if you check your critical faculties at the door, you will have a good time.