Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

12 Cool/Weird Italian Films streaming free on Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime just keeps getting better and weirder. Recently a whole plethora of great Japanese and Italian titles have come tumbling forth (just ask.... the Axis), in all shapes, sizes, aspect ratios, language/subtitle variations, and restoration quality levels. There are many it will take many posts to even detail a sliver. So let's start on the Italian side: there's giallos, Gothics, too many peplums (i.e. biceps and sandals) to count; western, and cop buddy comedies; about a hundred ramshackle adventures of a big slovenly Italian named Bud Spencer and his blonde two-fisted compatriot Terence Fisher; weird Raiders of the Lost Ark action-western-sci-fi imitations; Road Warrior 'tricked-out vehicles in the desert'  impressions; Eurocrime (polizetti) thrillers; unbearable spy spoofs; spaghetti western; juvenile comedies, and cheap-jack war surplus action --all in such vast array, so many unfamiliar titles, it might remind you of the first time you wandered into a mom and pop video rental horror section and thought you'd entered an alternate reality - having no idea so many strange films could even exist. So forget about Netflix and its 'originals' - Prime is in the midst of its Psychotronic-Internationale golden age!

But--as happens when spending too long in that video store, looking for your fix amidst all the fading-to-blue, tattered, thumbed clamshells as the afternoon, too, fades to sickly gray clouded evening--ennui waits for the unwary. The best of the Italian genre imports are usually well known, while the dregs are dregs for a reason. So be warned. Shot quick, cheap and crazy, they're wildly hit and miss. Many of the titles on Prime have, I'm fairly sure, never been on video in the states, and a good many are transferred incorrectly or from bad video dupes, so either look irregularly thin or else comes cropped, with colors turned to muddy streaks. Some titles are in Italian don't have subtitles (and not all DVD players are compatible with Amazon's CC option); some have subtitles burnt-in but are the English dub version. Some are so obscure they have to Amazon reviews at all, so dare to be the first.

But, even eliminating all the victim of these issues, there are still hundreds of titles the average American viewer has never heard of or seen that look lovely and beg a visit from the curious traveler. So, just for you, dear reader, I've assembled an even dozen -- three westerns, three giallos, three weird horror films, plus a Polizetti, one peplum and one sci-fi action. The juvenile comedies and Bud Spencer/Terence Hill joints I leave to God or whatever devil will have them.

NOTA: Each post details the story as much as can be revealed without undoing the precious WTF? element so key to Italian cinema. The musical scores are highlighted for they are always the key to unlocking the joy of Italian cinema, for they use ironic counterpoint, groovy jazz, and layered humor so deftly they put our 'telegraph' composers like John Williams and Howard Shore to deserved shame. I've assembled Spotify playlist with most of the film's scores embedded at end. Bon fortuna!

AKA Demons 6: De Profundus 
(1989) Dir. Luigi Cozzi
**1/2 (Amazon Image: B-)

A parallel program to the Argento-Bava-Soavi school, this unofficial sequel to Argento's SUSPIRIA (and sixth in the catch-all DEMONS series) is by the 'great' Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH, HERCULES) and factors in post-modern self-reflexivity to keep you guessing. It's the story of the making of a SUSPIRIA sequel. Screenwriter Marc (Urbano Barberini) writes a treatment for the story of a witch named Lavania, who he doesn't know is real, and rising from her grave a little farther every time her name is mentioned. Her face and hands are grotesque pustules (ala Lamberto Bava's first two DEMONS films) and she begins to take over the mind of Marc's wife, Anne (Florence Guérin). A hot local psychic busts out her big volume of Suspiria de Profundis which mentions the curse of Lavania. She encourages Marc to change the character's name to something else, lest the wrath descend. He won't of course, and we learn that the three mothers concept comes from an unfinished story by opium-fiend Thomas de Quincey. Argento is name-checked and there's even some familiar Goblin cues from SUSPIRIA. Meanwhile, without even knowing the story and busy with their newborn baby, Ann starts to demand to play the role, saying she "is" Lavania. But what about sexy Caroline Munro, luring Marc into the sack for the Lavania part? Michele Soavi plays the director. I didn't even mention the undead financial backer! Confused? Join the club. Still I'd rather go on a Cozzi ride, even if its rickety, campy, confusing and falling apart, than play it safe on some competent piece of junk like STIGMATA -hai capito?

The quality of the stream is as good as can be foe non-anamorphic full screen source. It was probably a direct to video entry, since in 1990, the drive-ins were all but dead and Blockbuster was hitting its stride. But the colors are nicely popping. When Anne falls into dream worlds the windows glow bright yellows, blues, green, and reds. The end goes all MANITOU! There's even an 'inner' child (literally, as in innards erupt) counseling Anne from inside the TV (see top). Surely the meta-refractive horror levels make this a forebear to THE RING along with FREDDY'S NEW NIGHTMARE. Oh, and DEMONS of course. Sorry. I forgot, DEMONS did it first!

As for the music, well, even if it's not Goblin, Vince Tempera's 'shoot for bodacious, settle for bemusing' score is certainly better than Keith Emerson's clueless melange in INFERNO. Still, it begs a question: why in the name of all that's unholy was this film's title changed from DEMONS 6 to THE BLACK CAT? There is a cat watching the action in some cutaways, but that's all. This same year also saw the release Argento's own adaptation of Poe's original story in TWO EVIL EYES, and then Fulci did a BLACK CAT in 1981! The Italians were Black Cat-crazy! I know Italians love to wall people up, but their mutual, insane obsession with the title maybe explains why it took me so long to catch up to this Cozzi's curio, as I mixed it up with the other two versions. Considering it has the great Caroline Munroe (who worked with Cozzi on STARCRASH) and doesn't have Marjoe Gortner (the worst part of STARCRASH), I'd say pounce. Like STARCRASH it may be a mess, but it's so bonkers--especially once things bounce up to the moon--that it approaches the sublime.

AKA I predatori di Atlantide
(1983) Dir. Ruggero Deodato
*** / Amazon Image - B-

The vastness of the early 80s indie drive-in / video clamshell box era endures today like an old gold mine with strange veins of forgotten ore uncovered in the deeper nooks and bowels every day. And no vein is still so rife for tapping than the cross-pollination cross shaft between Italy's 1980-82 rips/reshuffle/combinations of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE ROAD WARRIOR, BLADE RUNNER, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE WARRIORS and CONAN. There must be a hundred films from Italy that mix at least two of those films' together, using a post-future setting as an excuse to use every costume at the wardrobe department, to mix and match gladiator, western and WW2 props in creating endless armies of retro-punk futuristic gang bikers. The budgets might be low, but as there's no CGI yet, or--in Italy-- safety precautions--you can feel the heat of the fireballs reflecting up from the asphalt and singing the hair of the stuntmen. Let yourself be swept along in the madness and you might think you're catching this on late-night TV when you were 12-15 and late-night pay cable channel was still an exciting, strange, dangerous place (or at the very least, unintentionally hilarious).

Mike (Christopher Connolly) and Washington (Tony King) are a pair of close-knit mercs who open the film by abducting (rescuing?) some well-protected hombre in a sequestered beach mansion, the fee for which is $50,000, which they plan to spend wildly after they take their boat down to Trinidad. Meanwhile, Gioai Scola is an ancient symbology expert flown over from Machu Picchu to decode a strange rosetta stone-style relic uncovered by a scientific team (led by a nicely laid-back George Hilton), raising a downed Russian sub from atop a rickety mid-ocean platform. They raise it all right, but also cause Atlantis, in its protective bubble, to rise as well, creating a tidal displacement that smashes the platform, knocks Washington and Mike's ship off course, freaks everyone out with weird clouds, and activates some trigger in the minds of certain members of the populace, inspiring them to put down their knitting, put on their crystal skull masks, get on their tricked-out bikes and jeeps and kill everyone in sight who isn't similarly triggered.

At the end there's some INDIANA JONES-style boobytraps (laser eyed pharoah heads, fan blades) but mostly there are great gunfights on top of speeding busses, dangling from helicopters; endless molotov cocktails tossed out of windows (each given a holy blessing) and hapless stuntmen flying every which way. "Good" survivors are picked up along the way and die as fast. One great scene has one fighter realize Marc must be 'okay' when they both fight to reclaim his wad of cash after it falls out of his shirt during their brawl (the Atlantean biker/zombies don't care about money, nor do they talk or fear death). All sorts of great little moments just keep coming, and there's even alcohol and cigarettes.

As with all the best cross-genre Italian films of the 70s-80s, there's the sense they wanted to do more than the budget allowed so the big climax feels kind of undercooked but so what? Don't be difficult. You should have checked your brain at the door long ago, and at any rate how can you not love watching our two macho heroes flinging each other from side to side of the tunnel so they don't sucked through the fan during the climactic Atlantis inner sanctum breech? It all seems so familiar, like some scenario you dreamt up in your imagination one rainy day with your mismatched action figures and indulgent babysitter after you'd just seen RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK at the local theater for thee 10th time.

PS- If you love JC's GHOSTS OF MARS (2001) you should know this has a strangely similar plot, right down to the archaeologist chick, the big daddy Mars type Crystal skull-led planet-reclaiming marauders, and nonstop marauding stuntmen who wave their arms and go "Yaaarhg!" when blown up. One imdb user review (Celluloid Rehab) calls RAIDERS, Assault on Drug Store 13.  Brilliant.

Guido and Morizi de Angelis' 80s synth score is repetitive and video game-ish but bound to hit that nostalgic pang. The Amazon image is a little faded and blurry but is probably as good as it ever looked outside of whatever theater actually showed it before it went to video and TV. It's never been on DVD for some reason, but people clearly have seen it and embraced its lovely badness as someone posted copious quotes from the film on imdb - Atlantis bless them. I still won't see Deodato's cannibal movies, but at least here I can report that no animals appear harmed (or at all), but man you can bet some stuntmen got un po 'bruciacchiato. 

AKA I lunghi capelli della morte
(1964) Dir. Antonio Margheriti
*** / Image - B+

This black-and-white Gothic ghost tale is full of devious supernatural Poe-style traps, long hair, bare, lovely alabaster arms holding candelabras, and long skulking camera tracking movements following the various devious players as they weave in and out secret passages, crypts, and tapestry-bedecked boudoirs. Directed by the the marvelous Margheriti (put a little music in it), there's never a dull moment and Barbara Steele gets to really sink her teeth into a double (kind of) role. She was doing a lot of them in the wake of her florid turn in Bava's seminal Black Sunday (a clear Hair inspiration) but she really makes an impression here. I started watching halfway through (I recommend this approach), then watched the beginning a few weeks later ---this made Steele's character that much more enigmatic - like she just appeared out of a dream.

Curiously, Amazon's Prime streaming version has burnt-in English subtitles but is dubbed in English as well! Sometimes there's a really telling discrepancy between the dubbed words and the subtitles, as if one is being translated by a nervous diplomat. Curiouser, the cover thumbnail on the site shows a woman in a (faded) red dress pointing a torch accusingly.  The film is, thank heaven, in black and white. Helping immeasurably to the Gothic vibery, Carlo Rusticelli's score throbs with eerie theremin, slow ominous bass notes and slow-moving orchestral swells, situating this ancient tale of witchy vengeance with just a dab of razor blade modernism.

The story involves a spoiled baronet named Kurt (George Ardisson), who poisons all those standing in the way to the family fortune and lustful longings. He lugs corpses down masterfully-lit secret passages in order to be with ethereal (and long-haired) strange Barbara Steele; does she remember her mother was burnt at the stake by Kurt's father for a crime Kurt himself committed? Kurt's wife (Halina Zalewska)--who he personally entombed--disappears. There's also an outbreak of (offscreen) plague and a Wicker Man-esque final moment. Both Zalewska and Steele are gorgeous, with super long black, straight hair down to their waist and super pale skin, super long bare alabaster arms; I could watch them waft in and out of eerily-lit tombs and corridors forever. They're everything you'd want in a movie called LONG HAIR OF DEATH, twice over. And Ardisson is a great villain --part Richard III, part Bluebeard, part Rhoda Penmark, and--as any straight red-blooded male can identify with--so guided by his 'other brain' he genuinely thinks he's the good guy.

AKA La mala ordina
(1972) Fenando di Leo
*** / Amazon Image - A-

I try to avoid the movies that get too misogynist or cruel to animals (the suffocated kitten in SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER) so have to applaud the genial bear of a pimp played by German Fassbinder regular Mario Adorf (LOLA) being nice to the junkyard cat in Fernando de Leo's propulsive minor masterwork, THE ITALIAN CONNECTION. Fingered by the local mob boss as the fall guy for their ripping off the New York family's heroin delivery, he finds himself hunted on all sides as two slick American hit men are sent over to make an example of him and rattle the cages of the Milano chapter. Woody Strode and Henry Silva are pretty badass as the New York 'tourists' shepherded through all the seedy pimp haunts by Luciana Paluzzi. She was the hottie SPECTRE agent who got Bond in bed and then chased him through the Nassau parade in THUNDERBALL (that movie's main villain, Largo, Adolfo Celli is also here as the Milan don). Considering he's just one lowly pimp, silencing Luca shouldn't pose such a problem but they don't bet on just what a hard-headed toughass he turns out be, or maybe the local mafia is only good at tormenting women. It's pretty thrilling watching Adorf, this bulky monster of ugly-sexiness, bash his way up the chain, all while being fairly nice and good-natured with animals and women. He also gets favors from girls he's helped out of bad situations, like the sexy Maoist who lets him crash over when he needs to, and whose walls are covered with Maoist slogans painted on posters vis-a-vis Situationist detournement.

Eurocrime movies like this one, modeled after THE FRENCH CONNECTION were required to have super long furious intense chase sequences, and this one has a lulu, from on-foot to truck to pool to street again, climaxing with Luca using his head as a windshield battering ram to get at the culprit. There is some unsettling misogynist violence as when the mob roughs up Luca's live-in prostitute girlfriend (Femi Benussi), pinching her and smacking her around, etc. but at least Luca's wife and child are run over cleanly and not tortured. I love that there's no 'learning curve' to be endured, waiting for everyman Luca becomes more of a badass. He is one already, he'd just rather hang out with his broads, and what's wrong with that if he treats them right? And he does. A great pumping badass 70s cop show funk score from Armando Trovajoli helps it all along, and of course, the requisite auto wrecking yard climax, replete with death by claw machine.

this is a real man - nice-a to animals
Also Recommended: two more good transfers of Fernando de Leo films, SHOOT FIRST DIE LATER (though kittens get less kindness), and THE BOSS and for an informative and fun (albeit burdened by a lurid section on misogyny) documentary, EUROCRIME: The Italian Cop and Gangster Films the Ruled the 70s.  All on Prime.

AKA ¡Mátalo!
(1970) Dir. Cesare Canavare
**1/2/ Amazon Image: B

One look at the image above of sexy Claudia Gravy, winding up a game of swing-set pit-and-the- pendulum with a tied-up preacher's son (Lou Castel) and you know that this movie came out in 1970, i.e. shortly after the Manson murders made the world realize cute hippie chicks could be more sadistic and violent than even Russ Meyer dared hope. The spaghetti western was beginning to vanish in the acid sunset; anachronistic cool, free-love, women's lib and psychedelic influences were giving it one last blaze of setting sun electric guitar sting glory. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was coloring all the last westerns in Italy with anachronistic pop songs, free love, and cultish druggie youth.

Looking/acting like a rabid Michele Carey (Joey in EL DORADO) fused with Tiffany Bolling, Claudia Gravy as outlaw moll Mary is the best part of MATALO; brimming with lysergic guile and a feral sadistic sunniness, using her wanton wiles to keep the men in her gang trapped in an understandably steamy orbit, she's sort of like a homicidal version of Grace Slick with the boys in The Jefferson Airplane. Fans of Seijun Suzuki abstractions like BRANDED TO KILL, or the existential 'between life and death is better than either life or death' macho meditations of Boorman (POINT BLANK) and Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) will find much to love, as will anyone who always wanted to see what a spaghetti tripper western would be like if fused to the 'home invasion' framework (of say KITTEN WITH A WHIP) with the peyote western vibe of EL TOPO (which came out the same year) skimming the side bets.

The story involves a dried-up ghost town, some outlaws using it as hiding place, a big gold shipment, and--well, ambience. Weird close-ups, freeze frames, a swing set in bad need of some WD-40, and a harp too close to a billowing curtain rod, wryly tweak the Sergio Leone-style and Antonioni ambiguity while Mario Milgardi's Hendrix-style electric guitar score throws caution to the wind. We've exited Ennio Morricone wah-wah land and entered the post-Manson / Altamont LSD youth scene, where hippie chicks aren't all honey and smiles, but will carve the baby right out of your womb while singing "Look at Your Game Girl." If in the end it doesn't really add up to much, at least the druggy use of slow-mo puts us ably in the distorted minds of his crook trio or the dying-of-thirst boomerang guy they torture.

The male actors are an odd bunch: Corrado Pani is Bart, who begins the film smirking broadly as he's led off to be hung in a small town about to be overrun by Mexican bandits. With his flashing blue eyes and self-adoring grin he cocks his head like he thinks he's Steve McQueen-meets-Adam Roarke, and he almost is, especially in the nice juxtaposition of his relaxed poking around town while all around him his rescuers slaughter everyone (except a confused, oblivious preacher caught in the crossfire); Antonio Salines is the sullen, lovesick wingman who looks like a mix of Will Forte and John Cazale, wearing--as seems to be the trademark of the gang--a terrible blonde wig. Sulking and scowling, and beating on hapless Lou Castel, due to his lovelorn longing for Claudia Gravy (who's currently in bed with the eldest in the gang, Phil [Luis Davila]). You'll want to beat up Castel too, because Gravy is so fine and so homicidally sexy, and Castel--with his giant forehead and lack of firearms--is just begging for abuse. Needless to say there's a gun vs. boomerang  finale, luckily the bad guys don't mind waiting for each individual boomerang to weave its way around before returning fire, and Castel has a very supportive and resourceful horse.

AKA Cosa avete fatto a Solange?
(1972) Dir. Massimo Dallamano
**1/2 / Image: A
Director Dallamano got his own directorship after garnering notice as cinematographer of the first two films in Leone's big-breaking "Man with No Name" trilogy. He knows his way around a gorgeously composed shot, that's for sure, and What might be a weird-ass misogynist sex murder giallo (with a ripping Ennio Morricone score) turns out to be something quite different in this bizarro murder mystery, as a series of cute girls at a local girl's prep school are murdered with a blade to the uterus, as nasty a misogynist MO as giallo has to offer.

Sexy Fabio Testi as Enrico, the unhappily-married teacher, and prime culprit (he can't admit he saw the first killing as he was with a sexy student on a 'romantic' boat ride). Was he set up by his pissed-off 'androgynous-sexy' teutonic wife (Karin Baal)?  Testi is way too laid for sex crime --he's the fox in charge of the henhouse who coughs out feathers at every lecture. Why do all-girls' schools even hire hot male teachers, especially in 70s Italy? Seems like they're asking for trouble. Then again, it sure is fun when it happens, unless you're accused of murder or on the receiving end of the actual killer's gynophobic knife. If it adds up to little more than a surprising twist denouement, at least you won't likely guess who the killer is on the way. The melancholic Morricone score sounds in parts like a cat fell asleep on a mellotron, and maybe that's what happened --Ennio did over 20 other scores that year alone. Whatever drug he was on at the time, I want some, as his every note is so recognizably iconic, so perfect, even when whole passages are little more than atonal screeches. Oy, would we even appreciate any of these old pictures without him to lead the way?  The image appears sourced from the recent Arrow Blu-ray (which I have, and is recommended).

(1973) Dir. Luciano Ercoli
*** / Amazon Print - A

Typically complex entry in the Edgar Wallace-Italian style tradition, with the daughter of a jewel thief mixed up in a complicated web of intrigue, jealousy, mistresses, a beach house, fisherman, ice slabs employed to confuse time of death, and the witness to a shooting being a blind man who heard the clickety clack of high heels right before the shots. Kind of on the macho side, we alternate between the giallo regular George Hilton (slapping around peeping-tom sailors as he seeks his ex-girlfriend's killer) and a homicide detective in a white raincoat trailing after with his suspiciously effeminate young sidekick. There's cross dressing afoot and we know an ice vendor is gay because he never stops sniffing a giant flower. Sigh.

The print Amazon streams off is clearly the recent Arrow remastering or something and it looks divine, darling - which is 60% of what makes a great Italian film - the other being the score, and this one by Stelvo Cipriano is plenty swanky, with high female vocals cooing wordlessly along amidst the jazzy drums, pipes, and electric harpsichord; the dresses are all in that peel-away Diana von Furstenberg-esque zone of Euro-rotic comfort and color, though there are only a few women to wear them, still... there's nowhere near the dearth we find in our next entry

AKA I giorni dell'ira 
(1967) Dir. Tonino Valerii 
**1/2 / Image: A

Lee Van Cleef is a tough gunfighter out to collect some past debt or share of an old gold robbery, to this end he kills nearly everyone in a small western town. Scott (Giuliano Gemma) is the town's handsome young orphan garbage collector/stable boy (the stables must have a great dental plan --his teeth would blind Erik Estrada). He winds up Van Cleef's star pupil and eventual rival, killing all the corrupt heads of state and any amount of henchmen and hit men the heads care to throw at them. But the old gunfighter stable operator plays all holier-than-thou and tries to reign them in. It's a common enough plot in both western and Eurocrime drama, but what counts is the that there's probably over 30 or 40 gunmen dead by the end of movie, and Van Cleef is unusually awake. In fact, he seems to be having a rather good time, much more so than usual. The picture has been well restored (I took these screenshots to indicate woodwork and colors, stained glass and door frames that caught my eye) and Riz Ortolani adroitly fuses the flavors of classic Morricone ala THE BIG GUNDOWN and Nelson Riddle's slinky work on EL DORADO (both of which came out the same year).   

Sexy Christa Linder shows up out of some Suspira-esque brothel doors, as one of the only women characters (though she gets only one or two lines in a single scene, it's still nice to see her)

Also Recommended on Prime: COMPANEROS: Great Ennio score --good looking transfer, though it seems very letterboxed / non-anamorphic. I haven't seen Fulci's FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE but the Amazon streaming print looks good, as does THE GRAND DUEL, which I've seen and liked but don't remember. I already don't remember DAY OF ANGER either, too similar to too many other of the 'older gunfighter + rash young mentee' spaghetti westerns floating around, but I do remember I found nothing in it to dislike, and at my cranky age, that's everything. 

AKA Ercole al centro della Terra
(1961) Dir. Mario Bava
*** (Amazon Image - D)

Their quality is generally far below the rest of the Italian films on this list but I couldn't let you go without mentioning at least one 'peplum' film, and naturally it's Mario Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961), available in its old blurred cropped form on Prime, and in a fairly decent anamorphic DVD from Fantoma. Hopefully it will one day have a Tim Lucas commentary Arrow Blu-ray remaster like the great recent BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.

But in the meantime, you can at least follow the story here, and since Bava does make a nice picture, it looks good even in the shitty cropped dupe. See it this way and wonder, if you dare, how we ever used to enjoy watching films that looked this bad.

The story finds a (tragically dubbed by someone else) Christopher Lee putting a spell on Hercules' (Reg Park) girlfriend, Princess Deianira  (Leonara Ruffo) while his demi-godliness out doing his mighty labors. Herc needs a certain golden apple to save her but it's hanging on a lonesome tree in the depths of the Underworld and all sorts of crazy trials, monsters, and hottie temptations await. His travel buddy, Theseus (George Ardisson --LONG HAIR OF DEATH) meets and falls in love with lovely under-underworld denizen Aretusa (Marisa Belli) and smuggles her out in their boat home with the apple. Her father, Hades (unseen), is pissed. Plagues (unseen) descend upon the land, and Herc realizes he has to return Aretusa to the land down under.  Theseus, I don't want to fight you! You can guess the rest, right down to the tired comic relief (a dork sporting one of the worst haircuts in film history who invites himself along), but along the way there's a big terrible rock monster (who declares Theseus is too short and proceeds to try and stretch him out like rolling dough), a gaggle of imprisoned sirens, Christopher Lee and his skeleton hand dagger trying to sacrifice Deinaira in a groovy graveyard (echoes of Bava's BLACK SUNDAY from the previous year) and Bava's great painterly gels. The robust classical score is by ever-reliable Armando Travajoli (who you'll remember from ITALIAN CONNECTION). See this crappy version long enough to realize you must get the DVD and get to praying for Hades to release the negative unto golden Arrow.

(1966) Dir. Sergio Corbucci
*** / Amazon Print - B

I can't tell if this is slightly cropped, but either  way, Amazon's picture is clear and seems lifted from the Blue Underground DVD, which I watched religiously.... long ago. BUT they only have the English dub option and its very weird hearing this square VO artist's half-assed Clint Eastwood imitation coming out of Franco Nero. He matches the lips rather than the mood, so makes Django sound slightly robotic. As we all know Franco Nero can do his own English dubbing in a very sexy accent, so it's most annoying. Luckily we can ease our frisson through Corbucci's fetish for lurid sadism: Whippings, mud wrestling, hand-smashing, and a guy being forced to eat his own ear,  Hey, them sadists all get their comeuppance, so no worries. And when they die they all jump in the air and fall backwards in bloodless pirouettes and our hero can wipe out six men at a time in a single quick draw of his revolver. And once he gets his Browning machine gun out of its coffin holster he can decimate whole armies.

There were about 300 'sequels', almost none with an actual character named Django and certainly not starring Franco Nero, who was pretty busy in an array of other genres and roles (such as the half-breed KEOMA--also on Amazon in a good looking print). Still, DJANGO is the role that made him an international star. And if you don't have an affection for all the hammy unrealistic mass death Django causes while hand-holding a Browning machine gun then you must have had parents who wouldn't let you play war with realistic cap guns in the back yard. And that's a shame, sez I, for in pretending to get shot and die on a regular basis a child loses some of his fear of death while also understanding its inevitability and social importance. Being able to do a flamboyant death when shot by a cap gun or just a plastic tommy gun or even just a kid making machine gun noise is much more important than playing it safe and living past the credits, as if there ever really is such a thing.

It's relevant to note DJANGO came out three years before THE WILD BUNCH so one wonders if Peckinpah got the idea for his big balletic Browning decimation climax from this film (he made sure to pay attention to the need for a tripod, and the hassles of belt-loading). The outdoor stuff is muddy and cloudy but there's lots of nice lighting in the cathouse and the girls are all allowed to have unique characters, interesting dialogue, and chutzpah to spare. The memorable theme song is by Luis Bacalov, sung by 'Rocky Roberts', re-used by Quentin Tarantino, of course.

(1987) Dir. Dario Argento
*** / Image - B

Argento still had some good films in him by 1987, though many people consider OPERA his last good one (I still like TRAUMA). Even so, it's got issues: opera diva Betty (Christina Marsillach) seems much too thin and wan to be a believable opera star (she'd be a believable music student though, like Eleonora Giorgi in INFERNO) but she's great in the horror clinches. Some deranged opera fan is stalking her, killing her friends and forcing her to watch the murders by taping needles to her eyes in a kind of bloody lash 'Ludivico on the Fly' guerrilla performance art. He's hoping to inspire her Lady Mabeth performance, or something. Classy!

As with many other Italian films from the Argento-Bava horror complex, there's a very dated  use of heavy metal on the soundtrack during the murders, but there's also cool Hitchcockian references, and an unkindness of ravens whooshing around the giant opera house during a live performance of MACBETH in a kind of KENNEL MURDER CASE-ish gambit, though then even that is kind of undone by the tacky whooshing eye-view camera; in other words, Dario's every genius step into the broken mirror has a backwards stagger.

The Amazon stream image isn't the best, kind of blurry, and the photography has the grungy color-drain look that was big in the late 80s-early 90s, but the cold gray is contra-stepped by the film's warmly familiar (to Italian horror fans) cast: Urbano Barnerini is the blonde inspector; Asia Argento's mom, Daria Nocolodi is Betty's buddy; Barbara Cupisti is the wardrobe mistress, and Ian Charleson is the Argento-ish opera director. Francesca Cassola is the rescuing Newt / Alice type neighbor girl who spies on all the apartments through a passageway in the vents and helps Betty escape the slowly stalking killer with timely whispers, leading to the scariest and most fairy tale dream-like (and therefore best) segment of the film; When the score's not Verdi there's some interesting synth stuff from Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Claudio Simonetti and Bill Wyman! Can't really go wrong, unless you're also using some hair metal Nordic shrieking from a forgotten Swedish metal outfit called Norden Light for the 'kills'. Oh Dario... your inner dirtbag is showing!

AKA La morte ha fatto l'uovo
(1968) Dir. Guilo Questi
*** / Amazon Image - C+

Questi's seemingly benign tale is rife with weird flashbacks, twists, and ragged editing of an almost Bill Gunn-style sideways termite-Eisenstein off-the-cuff brilliance. Bruno Madera's patchwork soundtrack plunges down in the atonal piano mash abyss one scene and sashays up in bossa nova and Anton Karras zither the next, with shoutings in German over Brazilian violins during the lovemaking, adding to the off-kilter vibe. Story has Alain Delon as Bruno, a bitter pretty boy gigolo married to futuristic chicken coop CEO Gabrielle. He does a lot of skulking around the all white henhouse plotting to take over with hottie personal assistant Ewa Aulin and maybe killing prostitutes with Zodiac scarves. There are egg-related objets d'art-decorated offices and plenty of real eggs in rows. Gabrielle and Anna start dressing up like whores and frequenting Bruno's secret haunts to try to get to the bottom of his mysterious tomcatting. Or do they? (more)

AND HERE, THE SCORES ON SPOTIFY, to accompany your deep elbow bending:

SEE ALSO ON PRIME (Vedi anche su Primo):
10/16: 13 Best or Weirdest Occult/Witch movies on the Amazon Prime
10/16: Taste the Blood of Dracula's Prime: 12 Psychotronic Vampire Films on Amazon Prime
12/16: I never said it wasn't terrible: 10 Sci-Fi Curious worth streaming on Amazon Prime

1 comment:

  1. Keith Emerson scored Inferno, but really what an amazing beatiful and enjoyable selection, long live Bava Margheritti Ercoli Valerii Questi Corbucci those were the days!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...