Posts Tagged Italy

Top Sensation

TOP SENSATION
To call a film “explosive” which stars Edwige Fenech is one thing. To call a film “explosive” which stars Rosalba Neri is another, albeit similar, thing. To call a film “explosive” which opens with Neri flinging dynamite around with all the glee and gesticulating of a silent film actor is a bad pun. To call a film “explosive” which stars both Fenech and Neri and features the aforementioned opening is the come-on of the century.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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The Devilish Sister of the Jazzy Queen has Been Robbed

Or something to that effect. I will eventually et to the Peter Cushing roundtable of now nearly two months ago, but until then…

THE SISTER OF URSULA
The Sister of Ursula is like watching a Jess Franco film without that director’s flare. Contemplate that one on the Tree of Woe. Sex scenes, the Italian coast, outlandish murders — everything about The Sister of Ursula seems to operate under the directive of “Well, this should be good, but we’re going to mess it up.”
JAZZ ON FILM: FILM NOIR
Jazz on Film: Film Noir is a five-disc box set collecting together some of the seminal jazz soundtracks from noir cinema from the 1950s, exploring the evolution of the musical style from its presence as a scene in a movie to its integration into the scores themselves.
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIME
As with his previous film, Miraglia takes the modern setting integral to the spirit of gialli and dresses it up in a bit of old-fashioned Gothic spookiness by, once again, setting a portion of it in a moody Gothic estate full of dark secret passages and dungeon chambers.
JEWEL ROBBERY
Now that’s the life — where, during a mild bit of cat burglary, you sneak into a lavish hotel room via the window and find Kay Francis in a low-cut evening dress, relaxing languidly across the foot of the bed, waiting for you with a glass of champagne in her hand.
DEVIL IN THE BRAIN
Sergio Sollima didn’t direct very many films. His career is split fairly evenly between theatrical and televised fare. Devil in the Brain is not what anyone would consider a technically outstanding movie, but it is solid in its craftsmanship.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Gangsters, Dinosaurs, and Naked Girls

A trio of updates.

NAKED GIRL KILLED IN THE PARK
Guest writer Miguel Rodriguez says, “After some scenes of seduction and intrigue, Chris manages to get invited to a quiet weekend at the family villa in the country. It becomes clear that the set pieces of the amusement park and now the Spanish villa are the reasons for making this film. The locations are beautiful and ripe for filming and populating with gorgeous people. Add to the cast two servants and a voyeuristic mute stable boy and you start to have the eccentric group needed for an honest-to-god Giallo. Unfortunately, Brescia’s film neglects the base titillation and stylishly surreal nihilism of proper Gialli in favor of absurd family soap opera dramatics.”
KING KONG
A little late for “No, Not THAT One,” but still…Little time is wasted before the thrills commence, and with the entrance of an agitated group of soldiers we learn of a fearsome creature that is terrorizing the countryside. Hingoo dispatches King Kong, his personal strongman, to deal with the beast, and with that we cut to what will probably be the biggest surprise for any seasoned Bollywood viewer having his or her first introduction to the stunt film genre. It’s an honest-to-goodness man-in-a-suit giant monster, in this case looking like a cross between a dinosaur, a giant cow and a wild boar and which breathes steam out of its giant, flaring nostrils for good measure.
CRUEL GUN STORY
Cruel Gun Story tells the story of Togawa, a con who is sprung from prison early via the machinations of a mysterious underworld kingpin who communicates with him through an emissary, a former mob lawyer named Ito. Ito and his boss want Togawa to carry out a robbery that they’ve planned, involving an armored car shipment of racetrack receipts worth 120 million yen, and have hand selected a crew of four men to assist him in the task.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Bollywood Giallo Dance-Off

The latest action.

GUMNAAM
The Bollywood thriller Gumnaam isn’t shy about the sort of films that have influenced it. Adopting the sort of jet set internationality of the 1960s, it becomes an amalgamation of old-fashioned “old dark house” murder mysteries and pop-art modernism filtered through the lens of films like Arabesque, the James Bond franchise, and Charade starring Cary Grant, the title theme of which (by Bobby Darin) is adapted into “Gumnaam Hai Koi” (sung by Lata Mangeshkar), which in turn becomes the primary musical motif running through film.
UNDERWORLD BEAUTY
Ever since his rediscovery, it seems like Seijun Suzuki has had the term “Maverick Director” permanently affixed to his name like some kind of mandatory honorific. However, given the rigidity of the Japanese studio system within which he spent his peak years, Suzuki never would have had the opportunity to achieve that maverick status had he not at some point been able to tow the line and deliver the straightforward genre pictures that he had been hired to create. That he was capable of doing that and then some is more than amply demonstrated by Underworld Beauty, an outstanding little noir programmer that he directed during his early years at Nikkatsu.
EYE IN THE LABYRINTH
Rosemary Dexter is perhaps best known, though never talked about, for her role as Colonel Mortimer’s sister in 1965’s For a Few Dollars More. While uncredited, and with nary a line of dialogue, she provides the film and the Lee van Cleef character with a personal, forceful motivation other than bounty killing. Dexter had a natural charm and talent for acting, and it doesn’t hurt any that she was a breathtaking beauty who was willing to doff her clothes onscreen. The slyly wounded quality she brings to Mario Caiano’s Eye in the Labyrinth elevates the film beyond the more arch portrayals that are given by (and expected from) her co-stars, which include Adolfo Celi and Alida Valli. In fact, the film is more measured and understated on the whole than a great many of the films that can be classified as gialli.
DO ANKHEN BARAH HAATH
At the time of making 1957’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath (Two Eyes, Twelve Hands), Shantaram, while by no means in artistic decline, was a good few years beyond his most acclaimed works — those being a trilogy of social realist dramas Kunku, Manoos, and Shevari — that the director made while a partner in the Prabhat Film Company between 1937 and 1941. His previous film, 1955’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, had been an uncharacteristic bid for commercial success, as would be the film that followed Do Ankhen Barah Haath, 1959’s NavrangDo Ankhen Barah Haath, on the other hand, was a clear return to form for him: a serious drama, shot in sober black and white, that dealt with a serious social issue.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Fish ‘n’ Boots

Giallo month has been fun enough that we’re keepin’ the sleaze going.

DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS

Ercoli made the scene in 1970 with his slick debut film, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and followed it up in 1971 with Death Walks On High Heels. These two films, along with Ercoli’s Death Walks at Midnight (1972), form a trilogy that, while unconnected narratively, share an overarching sense of style, set of obsessions, and an infatuation with Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott, one of the greats of the giallo) that binds them together in a way that is more important than a shared narrative. It’s likely that no matter how much you search, you’ll not find a film in the genre more adept than the aptly named Death Walks on High Heels at lingering lovingly over sexy go-go boots, nor will you find one that so sensuously films two people cramming oily hunks of fish into their mouths accompanied by sexy lounge music. Rarely has a giallo film taken “red herring” quite so literally.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Killers and Thrillers

A couple things going on over at Mezzanotte. First, our giallo theme continues with a film that is the gold standard for stupid, hateful, callous characters. In addition, we hit 100 likes on Facebook, so we’re celebrating with a second series looking at the early days of silent serial cinema, focusing (as much as I ever “focus”) on 1910’s Frankenstein and Louis Feuillade’s Fantomas and Les Vampires. Parts 1 and 2 of that are up now.

THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS

The joke is often made (or it has been here, at any rate) that giallo are populated by people who are, to put it mildly, not of the best quality. The kind of people who will make love and then roll over and engage pillow talk like, “I can’t believe my sister was raped and murdered by a sex maniac on this bed just yesterday.” The kind of people who will say to someone who just suffered through a terrible trauma, “Well really, I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Your daughter was murdered, so what?” When it comes to truly loathsome characters in giallo, few can match Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris, a film in which pretty much everyone is hateful or stupid; or more often, hateful and stupid.

IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 1: AN EXERCISE IN PUERILE BARBARITY

Night falls, bringing with it a hush as the good people of Paris scurry home to the warmth of family and dinner and an evening spent with a snifter of Cognac and the evening paper. A lone figure – thin, lank, almost a wraith – skulks across a rooftop, a black shadow in a black hood creeping through a black night. A woman undresses, – safe, she assumes, in the sanctum of her bedroom, with the warmth of incandescent light to chase away the night. She does not see the black-gloved hand emerging slowly from behind the curtain, holding a slim dagger poised to be plunged into her exposed back. Strange things were happening on the streets of Paris in 1913.

IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 2: MARY AND THE MONSTER

At first, the 1910 Frankenstein plays coy with the doctor’s abomination. After the phantasmagorical creation scene, which stops short of showing the fully-formed creature, we see the monster first only as a horrifying, dead-looking, clawed arm slowly reaching out toward Frankenstein from behind a heavy metal door. Once again, any Edison company claims that this isn’t a horror film become ridiculous. This is horror, pure and simple, and one can only imagine how audiences reacted to that hideous, withered arm groping out from its alchemist’s furnace. Dr. Frankenstein himself certainly reacts poorly to it, throwing up his arms in unholy terror and fleeing to his bedroom, where he promptly faints for the first of what will prove to be a surprising number of times for a film so short.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Bloodstained Butterfly

Continuing our journey through the stylish, sleazy world of giallo.

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY

Like many early-cycle giallo, the film’s title is a riff on the trend started by Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage of including animals that usually end up playing a minor role, at best, in the plot itself. The Bloodstained Butterfly also follows Argento’s lead in making the limits of human perception central to the plot. Eye witnesses and circumstantial evidence that seems to result in a slam dunk case for the prosecution are revealed via a non-linear narrative to be more deceptive than they might initially appear. In the case of the two main eye witnesses, it is literally their ability to see that is called into question. For the forensic scientists, it’s not the results of their tests that are questionable, but rather the way those results are interpreted and the way the preconceptions of investigators lead them to certain conclusions that, while seeming reasonable and perhaps even likely, are not explicitly confirmed.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Forbidden Photos of Evelyn Rising from a Suspicious Grave

It’s a one-two punch of eye-searing giallo fashion and decor, so prepare yourself for shag carpet, silk cravats, long titles, and MURDER.

THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE

Giallo trade in awful characters doing awful things to one another, and rarely do they serve up much in the way of sympathetic protagonists. But usually, no matter how big a creep, the nominal hero of the story has on his or her side, at the least, the fact that they aren’t slitting anyone’s throat, which makes them a little more acceptable than whatever black-gloved and raincoated killer us running amok. Not so in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, where the hero of the story murders about the same number of people as the murderer. In fact, the film’s only decent and sympathetic character is the hooker Alan assaults in the beginning of the film, so he might even be marginally worse than the mysterious murderous ghost.

THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION

Forbidden Photos concerns itself with only one murder, rather than a series of them, which might, for some, put it at a distance from the giallo genre as a whole. If you are someone who comes to giallo cinema primarily for its stylized violence that will likely be the case. However, if you are someone who, like me, is content just to bask in the film’s pervading atmosphere of slinky European licentiousness, it should be considered a pleasure not forbidden but prescribed.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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All the Colors of the Dark

Continuing our tour through the weird world of giallo…

ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK

Martino’s 1972 giallo All the Colors of the Dark works within the confines of the genre (which was still relatively new in 1972 but, given the fecundity of the Italian film market, already contained quite a few films, established tropes, and expectations), but it takes the genre further afield than had previously been explored, resulting in a dizzying psychedelic combination of straight-forward stalker/murder mystery (the giallo’s stock in trade), hallucinogenic psycho-sexual experiment, and occult horror.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Strip Nude for Your Killer

Nothing says romance quite like the sleaziest giallo of the 1970s:

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER

Signature murders include the stabbing of a woman who, upon realizing a prowler may be in the house and all her co-workers are getting murdered, investigates while completely nude except for a pair of clunky platform clogs; and then there’s the one where, after charmingly attempting to rape a co-worker before going impotent, we get ample shots of an enormously fat man in his sagging tighty whities and black dress socks, clutching a deflated blow-up doll in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other while he cries uncontrollably. Tasteful!


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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