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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Eye in the Labyrinth

Italy 1971
D: Mario Caiano.
P: Lionello Santi for Transeuropa Film//St & Sc: Mario Caiano, Antonio Saguera, and Horst Hachler//DP: Giovanni Ciarlo//E: Jolanda Benvenuti//M: Roberto Nicolosi//Art D: Franco Calabrese & Otto Pischinger//Makeup: Massimo Giustini.

Cast: Rosemary Dexter, Adolfo Celi, Sybil Danning, Alida Valli, Horst Frank, Franco Ressel, Michael Mayen, Benjamin Lev, Gigi Rizzi, Peter Kranz, Gaetano Donati, Mario Cantatore, Elisa Mainardi, Rosa Toros.

Julie (Rosemary Dexter) has a dream about killing her psychiatrist/lover Luca (Horst Frank) that takes place in a labyrinth. She attempts to locate him and ends up meeting Frank (Adolfo Celi), who claims he'll try and help her, yet what he really wants to do is to get inside her pants. She meets his mistress Greta (Alida Valli) and stays at her beach house (which is also populated by a bunch of worthless young people who know Valli's son). It is revealed that most of these people knew Luca and because he was such a scumbag, all had a reason to kill him (as we learn in flashback). Meanwhile, several attempts are made on Julie's life causing everyone at the house to distrust everyone else. When Julie accidentally kills one of their own they decide it's time to put her out of their misery. She's rescued by Frank who intends to make her his sex slave but unfortunately for him, things are not going to work out quite that way.

The plot to this film matches the labyrinth found in its title. There are many twists and turns in the film, but if you hang around till the end, you'll be well rewarded. The film's opening sequences, involving discordant jazz and images of a bloodied man racing through a maze, helps set the tone for the film's narrative which mixes light, shadows and geometric shapes. This is Rosemary Dexter's film all the way. Dexter is a Pakistani born actress whose first role was in the Italian SF film OMICRON. Her portrayal of a woman in dire straits, with no where to turn to, is very effective in maintaining audience sympathy throughout the film. 

Adolfo Celi, as the opportunistic Frank, appears to want to help her, but all he really wants is to add her to his list of conquests (Jeez, this is Adolfo Celi afterall, when did he become a sex machine?). It's a role that fits him like a glove. Had this film been made in the fifties, it would have been considered a "woman's" picture because of its narrow focus. It thus makes the conclusion all the more shocking, because Caiano and his script writers give the viewers plenty of options on who the killer might be (there's even significant doubt raised on whether the victim is even dead!). The rest of the cast is strong with Alida Valli elevating the talky drug subplot involving her and Celi to a high level based on her character's innate toughness. Sybil Danning has a nice cameo (which means she has a nude scene) and even gets to emote a little. The film reveals the riches to be found in the Gialli Genre as it adapts several stray plot elements making for a captiving viewing experience.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

In The Folds Of The Flesh

Nelle Piegle Della Carne
Folds of the Flesh
Italian-Spanish 1970
D: Sergio Bergonzelli
P: Sergio Bergonzelli for M.B.G (Rome) & Talia Films (Spain//St & Sc: Fabio De Agostini, Sergio Bergonzelli & Mario Caiano//DP: Mario Pacheco//E: Donatella Baslivo//M: Jesus Villa Rojo//Makeup: Fernando de Rossi//Color
Cast: Ana Maria Pier Angeli, Eleonora Rossi-Drago, Fernando Sancho, Alfredo Mayo, Maria Rosa Schlauza.

The film opens with the quote " And then a sudden violent shock that left a deep impression on the mind and damagen (sic) it permanently," followed by a severed head bouncing onto the floor. Lucille has killed her second husband Andre, an underworld figure. Their daughter Falesse, witnessed the crime and has been mentally unbalanced ever since. A criminal on the run appears and takes over the household in a most violent manner. Before the film ends, we discover that none of the characters (including the returning Andre) are who they say they are and many more murders occur (or do they?). For a film like this, no plot synopsis could do it justice!!

I have a certain fondness for Grade Z films and Folds of the Flesh certainly covers all the exploitable items the thriller genre has to offer. There are large dollops of nudity and gore, along with the usual howlers heard during the dubbing process. Actress Pier Angeli unfortunately went from appearing in mainstream Hollywood films to low budget affairs such as this (and Octaman) which no doubt precipatated her tragic suicide. The plot to this film could almost be referred to as The Big Sleep of Gialli as the damn thing refuses to make sense the first time through. Character actor Fernando Sancho snarls his way through one of his all-time great roles. He gets to rape a few women, beat up Lucille's wimpy son Colin (who, before the film's end we discover was involved in an incestuous relationship with his sister) and reveal his great flabby butt in a bathtub scene (perhaps this is where the film's title originated from?). Based on this film, it's no surprise to learn that Bergonzelli made his name in the sexploitation market place. The man has no shame as he even includes a Nazi flashback death camp scene just as an excuse to fill the screen with more naked women! The musical score by Villa Rojo is strident in the extreme, using piercing horns and strings to signal each and every plot twist, but no real themes emerge (which in this film's case, is not a negative). Makeup effects by Di Rossi are fake looking, especially in the recreation of decapitated heads and severed body parts. Flesh-eating vultures and Etruscan burial grounds are all smokescreen subplots that have no validity in an already overcrowded scenario. Folds won't replace the films of Dario Argento on anyone's list of greats, but compared to most of the crap appearing nowadays, you could do a lot worse.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Death Occurred Last Night

Italy 1970
D: Duccio Tessari.
P: Giuseppe Tortorella for CCC Filmkunst, Lombard Films and Slogan Films//St & Sc: Duccio Tessari, Biagio Proietta, Arthur Brauner//DP: Lamberto Caimi//E: Mario Morra//M: Gianni Ferrio//Art D: Enrico Tovaglieri//Makeup: Franco Palombi.
Cast: Raf Vallone, Frank Wolff, Gabriele Tinti, Beryl Cunningham, Eva Renzi,Gill Bray, Gigi Rizzi, Vilma Casagrande, Marco Moriani, Nicky Zuccola, Helga Machaty, Riccardo De Stefanis.

A father keeps his teenage daughter locked up in their apartment because she is mentally challenged. Unfortunately she has a curiosity about sex and is kidnapped by a local pimp. She was killed when her mental condition was discovered. The cop assigned to the case (Frank Wolff, who never gave a poor performance in any of his films) is also trying to locate the murderers before the father. The dad tracks them down and brutally kills them. By the film's conclusion there are no winners here, only losers.

Director Duccio Tessari is one of the better Italo-genre directors. He usually specialized in Westerns (the RINGO films with Giuliano Gemma) though his two thrillers (see also UNA FARFALLA CON LE ALI INSANGUINATE) show he could have just as easily specialized in this genre. Gianni Ferrio's score is one of the best. Black actress Beryl Cunningham made numerous appearances throughout the sixties and seventies, most notably starring in two films by Piero (SATANIK) Vivarelli, BLACK DECAMERON & IL DIO SERPENTE. And of course Frank Wolff's character has to be suffering from some type of misery (here it's sinus problems) in an effort to humanize him. Unhappiness, obsession and loneliness are the themes that stand out in this thoughtful variation. Without a doubt, Raf Vallone as the victim's father gives the kind of performance that transcends the genre, and yet the poor guy received no acting accolades for it. Rarely allowed to show a sensitive side in his many performances, Vallone proves that great actors never take any part for granted. He certainly didn't here. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Death Laid an Egg

Italy 1967
D: Giulio Questi
P: Sergio Merolle for Summa Cinematografica & Cine Azimut//St & Sc: Giulio Questi, Franco Arcalli//DP: Dario Di Palma//E: Franco Arcalli//M: Bruno Maderna//Art D: Sergio Canevari//Costumes: MarilĂș Carteny//Makeup: Lamberto Marini
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Gina Lollobrigida, Ewa Aulin, Jean Sobieski,Vittorio Andre, Cleofe Del Cile, Giulio Donnini, Monica Millesi.

Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a chicken breeder who is married to the strong-willed Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). When her niece Gabriela (Ewa Aulin) comes to stay, Marco instantly falls for her. They plot Anna's death but unbeknownst to Marco, Gabriela is secretly in love with Mondaini, who along with Gabriela, plans to murder both Marco and Anna. They succeed in knocking off Anna, but before they can set up Marco for the crime, he discovers the body and disposes of it. Unfortunately for Marco, he accidentally falls into the pulverizing machine. The police arrive, convinced that Gabriela and Mondaini (Jean Sobieski) have killed Marco and so set about to look for the body.

My favorite Euro-trash film ever. I have watched it dozens of times and have yet to ever tire of the many twists and turns served up by the film's labyrinthine plot. The opening montage of characters and incidents in and around a high rise hotel displays the talent editor Franco Arcalli brought to the package.  The cast has never been better, especially Trintignant who gives a performance that keeps you in the dark as to his true intentions. Lollobrigida's subtle lesbian attraction for Aulin helps to explain why her character has liitle or no use for her husband and spends most of the time belittling. Brilliantly directed and edited, the film's score will drive you nuts (yet it's appropriate). I'll always remember that when I went to MIFED (a film buyers Expo in Milan), Claudio Fuiano gave me the soundtrack album by Bruno Maderna. That's the kind of person Fuiano (the king of Italian soundtracks) is. No way any plot synopsis could ever do this film justice. This film was discussed in the book CLUCK, the only reference work on chickens in the cinema.