Tag Archives: Italian cinema

The Legend of Kaspar Hauser

Davide Manuli’s The Legend of Kaspar Hauser (La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser, 2012) is a re-imagining of the story of the 19th-century man who appeared from nowhere claiming to have had no previous contact with society as a techno Western starring Vincent Gallo and featuring music by Vitalic. It screened on 6 July 2012 at Hackney Picturehouse as part of the East End Film Festival.

For more information on Claude Trollope-Curson, go to the Gronk Comics website.

True Love

True Love

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 4 May 2012

Venue: BFI Southbank


1-7 May 2012

Director: Enrico Clarico Nasino

Writers: Fabio Resinaro, Fabio Guaglione

Alternative title: Y/N: You Lie, You Die

Cast: Jay Harrington, Ellen Hollman, Clare Carey

USA/Italy 2012

100 mins

For low-budget filmmakers, having a tiny cast and only one or two locations is a huge bonus in keeping costs down. This has led to a number of films based on ‘locked room’ scenarios over the last decade and a half. Cube (1997) was an excellent, genre-defining example of this and in subsequent years, Maléfique (2002), Ryûhei Kitamura’s Alive (2002), Saw (2004), Fermat’s Room (2007) and Exam (2009) have explored horror and science fiction variations on the theme. Many of these have screened at SCI-FI-LONDON or FrightFest in the past so this is starting to become a well-worn theme for fans of the genre and regular genre festival attendees.

Enrico Clerico Nasino’s True Love, which screens at SCI-FI-LONDON this month, is another example, but unfortunately, it adds little that hasn’t been seen before. The central premise of a young married couple, kept in separate, futuristic cells and made to answer difficult questions about how much they trust each other under the threat of water, sleep or mobility being removed is strong enough. As a film made by Italians with an American cast and setting, this could have resulted in an interesting exploration of Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo Bay-style interrogation techniques on middle-class suburbanites who experienced the ‘war on terror’ as a mild diversion through their televisions, but disappointingly, this aspect is barely hinted at.

Instead, the writers and directors have reality dating shows and the Milgram experiment in their sights as the subjects they’re giving an SF twist to. Even then, the science-fictional aspect of the film is minimal, apart from a final scene that adds an eye-catching set piece of gravity working differently in opposite ends of the prison-like environment. [SPOILER WARNING] But this is undermined by a ‘was it all a dream?’ ending, and the nature of the lies they have told each other - adultery, financial trouble - is more suited to romantic melodrama than a death trap thriller. [END OF SPOILERS]

Neither the two main actors or the parts they’re playing are particularly engaging, meaning that the film’s main attraction lies in the more technical aspects of the production. True Love‘s direction, editing, cinematography and sound design are all solid, and for these qualities alone, those involved behind the scenes deserve to work on bigger and better things, but the film overall suffers of a lack of ambition and originality. While True Love isn’t by any means a particularly bad film, for audiences to get the most out of its narrative and visual twists and turns, they’ll need to be unfamiliar with similar narratives that have dealt with these tropes better and with more imagination.

SCI-FI-LONDON opens on May 1 and runs until May 7 at various venues across London.

Alex Fitch

The Gospel according to Matthew

The Gospel according to Matthew

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 26 March 2012

Distributor: Eureka (Masters of Cinema)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Writer: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Original title: Il vangelo secondo Matteo

Cast: Enrique Irazoqui, Marcello Morante, Settimio di Porto, Otello Sestili

Italy 1964

137 mins

I would recommend watching Pasolini’s The Gospel according to Matthew only if you really fancy seeing the story of Christ played out in Italian (I did): the rewards otherwise are thin, even for Pasolini fans. The material looks good on paper: Matthew’s gospel is one of the great poetic and dramatic texts of human literature, and a wellspring of Western thought and expression. But its drama is more of action than words: most of the speech is monologue. There are flashes of genuine dialogue in the film, as when Christ debates with the Pharisees, or when Peter denies his master. The scenes with Judas and John the Baptist are good value: we see people vying with each other, rather than just being witnesses. But the great Pilate scene is thrown away, played as a ceremonial in long shot. And most of the rest of the talk is Jesus (or John, or occasionally an angel) holding forth, while others look on in awe or consternation. The visions of the holy land (Apulia) and its inhabitants are memorable, but the cinematography is more effective in portrait mode than landscape, which tends to the murky.

Enrique Irazoqui was a Spanish economics student, discovered by Pasolini at a political meeting and cast as Jesus for his first acting role at the age of 20. No pressure! He is strong on luminous intensity: he stands out convincingly from the typically rough-hewn (and unmistakably Italian-looking) cast assembled by Pasolini. His vocal power is impressive too (unless you read the small print and see that he was overdubbed by another actor). But this Jesus does have the air of a brilliant student who knows it and patronizes his classmates and teachers, with a trace of a smug smile on his lips. There’s something dispiriting in hearing the beautiful words of the Sermon on the Mount on the lips of a prig. Some viewers have managed to see the film as a Marxist document, and certainly there is something of the humourless zeal of the ideologue about this Jesus, but there’s no particular political insight or edge here, none at least that isn’t already in the Gospel.

Despite the fact that Pasolini was an atheist, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that his art is here reined in by reverence. Or perhaps respect: after all, his mother was watching - he roped her in to play the mother of God! Anyway, the enfant terrible is on his Sunday best behaviour. One might perhaps take as a warning the lengthy lists of Catholic awards with which the film comes fore-garlanded. I dread to think what other cinematic fare the berobed papal prize committee sat through: I doubt that it was a close finish with Goldfinger. Pasolini’s adherence to the Gospel text is unwavering. No sex: Mary Magdalene is anonymous (25 years to wait for Barbara Hershey). Salome’s dance consists in wafting around what looks like something you might grow on a trellis. The expression on Herod’s face at the end suggests ‘Is that it?’ The only character likely to stir any loins in this drama is the angel, who looks like someone Caravaggio would have taken an interest in.

Peter Momtchiloff



Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 5 December 2011

Distributor: BFI

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Writer: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Cast: Maria Callas, Giuseppe Gentile, Massimo Girotti, Laurent Terzieff

Italy/France/Germany 1970

111 mins

This fantasy vision of Greek myth seems to be some kind of hymn to the primitive, paean to the pagan: but better not to try to theorise it, just feel its poetic power. The vision is certainly alien and arcane enough to grip the imagination.

The early sections of Medea are trademark Pasolini: flesh, pain, cruelty, and death, in exotic garb, with much wordless standing around. But once he’s got that out of his system the rest is surprisingly tasteful, by his standards.

Maria Callas lends grandeur and gravitas as Medea the sorceress, equally expressive in stillness and in passionate animation. Giuseppe Gentile (an Olympic triple-jumper!) is an attractive and natural Jason. But what really makes a success of Medea, as with Pasolini’s subsequent films on mythic themes, is the beautiful cinematography (and production design). First, in Medea’s Caucasian homeland, the palette is blue and pale brown, foreground and background. The distinctly Italian faces of the supporting cast peer out from furs, skins, dyed cloaks and patchwork blankets, against sand, rock and scrub, and the wide blue sky. Then the shift to Corinth (played by Pisa) is signalled by saffron, turquoise and gold against the stones of the palace.

Certainly Pasolini’s Greece faces east, not west, as we are reminded by a suitably archaic soundtrack: quavering pucked strings, keening mourners and a women’s choir evoking the remote musical roots of the Orthodox Church.

Well-edited in comparison to some of this director’s work, the film is swift when it needs to be and doesn’t drag when the pace needs to slow. The weakest points are a couple of plonking explanations of the story by a centaur who sounds as though he has spent too long at the University of Bologna. I don’t think words were really Pasolini’s medium, but he gives us a few effective bursts of Euripides towards the end, as Medea simmers amid her chorus of attendants, as she is banished by King Creon, and then in her final confrontations with Jason.

Pasolini may not have created a work with the dramatic subtlety of Greek tragedy, and reports of its depth have been much exaggerated, but he realised some powerful and memorable scenes, and gestured at something fierce and elemental in Greek myth. In this symbolic representation of the clash of Mediterranean civilisation with the ‘barbarism’ from which it emerged, his sympathies seem to be with the latter. ‘Nothing is possible now’ is Medea’s closing line, and perhaps also Pasolini’s own cry of disenchantment.

Peter Momtchiloff

Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 26 September 2011

Distributor: Shameless Entertainment

Director: Ruggero Deodato

Writer: Gianfranco Clerici

Cast: Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes

Italy 1980

95 mins

The year is 1978 and a respected group of American documentary-makers led by Alan Yates (Gabriel Yorke) have disappeared in the Columbian jungle while attempting to film the cannibal tribesmen reputed to live there. Professor Monroe (Robert Kerman) is dispatched to find out what’s happened to them. He makes arduous progress through the land and its peoples, finally making contact with the feared Yamamomo, or ‘Tree People’, who reveal to him the grisly remains of Yates’s crew, and several cans of undeveloped film, which he manages to take back to New York. The TV executives who financed the documentary are desperate to broadcast it as ‘the green inferno’ but the more Monroe hears about Yates and his methods the less he likes it, and when we finally see the footage our worst suspicions are confirmed. It’s a horrifying catalogue of rape, mutilation and murder in which the film crew burn down a village, kill livestock, and essentially stop at nothing to achieve ever more sensational footage, goading the ‘Tree People’ into brutal vengeance that they remain determined to capture on film even as their friends and lovers are slaughtered in front of them. It can’t be screened. ‘Who are the real cannibals?’ Monroe ponders as he walks out onto the NY streets…

Context is everything. I first saw Ruggero Deodato’s film by chance rather than design one morning around 20 years ago, hung over and feeling none too clever in Alex B’s Lewisham flat. Alex is a musician, writer and inveterate gore-hound. It was a hand-labelled VHS tape of recent acquisition, a bootleg Japanese forbidden artefact, banned by the Video Recordings Act of 1982, which bizarrely left all of the violence and unsimulated animal cruelty (1) intact, but used an optical blurring effect over any shots revealing genitalia. I’d seen a Lucio Fulci film or two and thought I knew what I was in for. I was wrong. The film was, in my fragile state, utterly psychologically toxic; the nihilistic tone, brutal imagery and ugly portrayal of human nature didn’t leave me after the tape had played out and I’d found my way home, and would bother me for a long time after. It was probably my most extreme reaction to a film since the joy I had watching Star Wars at the age of seven.

2011: I encounter Cannibal again, but this time at the Cine-Excess V (‘the politics and aesthetics of excess’) conference. Deodato is one of the guests and will receive an honorary doctorate from Brunel University at the Italian Cultural Institute as part of the event. I’m waiting for a screening of his 1976 film Live Like A Cop, Die Like a Man (2) when one of the directors of the Institute refers to Deodato as ‘Il Maestro’, with evident respect. Over the weekend dozens of academics will present papers on ‘Cine-torrent: Remediating Cult Images in Online Communities’ and ‘Bad Sisters in Prison: Excesses and Gender Politics in 1970s Exploitation’ and the like (3). Cannibal Holocaust itself is shown in a brand new print at the Odeon Covent Garden. I’m sitting next to a nice bloke from Cardiff who has driven here for the film, he thinks of Cannibal as a classic. A much loved trip he is delighted to revisit on the big screen in the presence of its maker. I ask if it’s his Toy Story 2 and he happily agrees. That bootleg VHS nasty has become a revered totem of the golden age of exploitation, no longer forbidden contraband, now name-dropped as the first ‘found footage’ film, made long before The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Watching it again is a strange and numbing affair. I’m not overwhelmed this time. I’m taking notes.

It’s a film of bone-deep misanthropic anger whose targets are the sensationalist media and the careless exploitation of the Third World. But it undermines and contradicts itself in various ways. I’m sure these contradictions serve to confirm its status as morally repugnant hackwork to many, but I think they also give the film an irksome power it wouldn’t otherwise possess. If it made more sense it would doubtless lose its nightmarish edge.

For instance the moralising tussles between Monroe and the TV execs (4) seem absurd in the context of Cannibal Holocaust‘s excesses, its relish in putting everything on screen. Real animal mutilation and stock footage of actual executions are mixed in with the faked rape, forced tribal abortion, rape, dismemberment, rape, cannibalism, ritual murder and rape. You’re attacking the news media for its excesses and you’re showing us this? And while Deodato’s sympathies are mainly with the tribespeople, they still function as the film’s bogeymen, go uncredited and appear largely as an undifferentiated mass in various shades of mud, their status as victims made questionable as they commit savage ritual after savage ritual, invariably against defenceless women. Monroe is given to us as the moral centre of the film, in that he tries to treat the natives with respect for their customs, and fights with the TV company over funding and screening these atrocities, yet even he doesn’t seem to care much that it took the killing of a few Shamataris to ingratiate his group with the ‘Tree People’.

The film’s biggest dichotomy, though, is one between style and story. ‘Realism’ is emphasised throughout, there is no studio work, it’s all shot on real locations. It begins with a news report about the missing crew; documentary footage and footage from ‘the green inferno’ is wound in and out of the narrative. The found footage that dominates the second half of the film uses fogged, scratched and wrongly exposed film (even a sly shot where a camera is adjusted for the wrong diaphragm), all to achieve a remarkable verisimilitude. But this documentary ‘realism’ has to battle with an increasing sense of unreality about the behaviour of the Americans; they are so uncaring, stupid, disrespectful, and in the end, flat-out evil that they become absurd. The hard-won ‘realism’ scrapes against this over-the-top suicidal obnoxiousness, creating a trippy doublethink that underlies the final slaughter.

The new edit leaves the genitalia unsmudged, but optically fudges over scenes of real animal death, which are now totally unacceptable. As to whether the rest of the film is acceptable, or of worth, well, it’s still extraordinary, made an age before irony conquered all when exploitation films meant it. Its edges have been a little blunted by time; Riz Ortolani’s fine, strange soundtrack of inappropriate syn-drums, doomy chords and syrupy strings, and the style of the ‘TV’ sequences have dated. And the occasional flat performance and line of clunky dialogue now stick out more than I remember in a film straining for ‘realism’. But the smart structure, the skill of the filmmakers, the disturbing idea behind that last reel, where the urge to film takes precedence over self-preservation or humanity, all give the film a power that lifts it above most depravity shows of that era. There are resonances here that reach back to Peeping Tom, forward to Man Bites Dog and Four Lions. Its furious contradictions and lack of control mean that it remains troubling, a magnetic north indicating how far a film can go. It’s a misanthropic, misogynistic, gratuitously offensive piece of crap. It’s a seminal transgressive masterpiece. It is what it is.

Mark Stafford

1 Deodato probably regrets the scenes of animal abuse he incorporated in Cannibal Holocaust and Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1976), mainly, one feels, because he’s sick of answering questions about it… ‘Everyone asks about animals… If you grow up on a farm, none of this is unusual… If I only showed the Americans killing other humans it would have no impact, they had to kill animals to be killers… We’ve been inured to real death… In the US they give a child a rabbit, ‘aw sweet bunny’, then the kid goes to school, kills 15 other kids, goes back to the bunny, sings ‘aw, sweet bunny’ Etc, etc… It wasn’t a trope he invented, it was there in the Mondo movies of the 60s and Umberto Lenzi’s Deep River Savages (1972), but outside of cult circles, those films have vanished from public sight. Cannibal Holocaust‘s profile means that Deodato’s still dodging flack.

2 If you were looking for a more nuanced insight into the human condition from Deodato outside of his misanthropic masterwork, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man wasn’t it. The film opens with an astonishing, perilous bike chase through Rome that raises hopes for something special, but it is, for the most part, crass, witless, sexist and fatally lacking in any kind of tension or credibility. It details the efforts of two ‘Special Force’ cops (Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock as Fred and Tony) to take down crime boss Pasquini using frankly random methods (burning the cars outside one of his clubs, sleeping with his nympho niece) while fending off his thugs’ assassination attempts. A case was made at Cine Excess that Live Like a Cop was Deodato’s reaction to Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’, a period of violent political and social unrest. If so, it’s unfortunate that it most reminded me of The Bullshitters, TV’s ‘The Comic Strip presents’ parody of The Professionals, right down to the nylon underwear and homoeroticism. Fred and Tony are arseholes, from beginning to end (best encapsulated in the moment when they laugh at the idea that getting their maid’s daughter pregnant might be considered their problem), but they aren’t significantly better or worse than anybody else on screen. The result is a bit of a shrug.

3 It really is an odd event, fans of the word ‘contiguity’ should make a date. Iain Robert Smith’s presentation on International Guerillas (1990), a long-lost ‘masala’ movie from Turkey, wherein three squabbling brothers unite to go and kill Salman Rushdie, was an eye-opener…

4 A female TV executive on audiences: ‘The more you rape their senses the happier they are!’ Well, that’s Bargain Hunt for you…

Cine-Excess V took place from 26 to 28 May 2011 at the Odeon Covent Garden, London. For more information please go to the Cine-Excess website.

The Beyond

The Beyond

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 14 March 2011

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci

Original title: E tu vivrai nel terrore – L’aldilí 

Cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale

Italy 1981

87 mins

Among fans of graphic, visceral horror, there are few names as highly regarded as that of Lucio Fulci. Thirteen years after his death, Fulci is still considered one of Europe’s most important purveyors of cinematic terror and his greatest films are regular fixtures in fans’ and critics’ best-of lists. In a career that spanned nearly half a century, Fulci directed more than 50 feature films as well as a number of documentaries and had countless credits as screenwriter, producer, assistant director and special effects technician. His extensive filmography includes a variety of different genres, from comedies, musicals and Westerns to historical dramas and soft-core erotica. Although his efforts in these fields were occasionally excellent, Fulci’s best (and best-known) work was in the horror genre. It is there that he made his lasting contributions to international cult cinema.

The pinnacle of Fulci’s career came in 1981 with the release of The Beyond. The second part of a conceptually linked trilogy that includes City of the Living Dead (1980) and The House by the Cemetery (1982), The Beyond is the tale of an abandoned Louisiana hotel situated over one of the seven gates of hell. As the hotel’s new owner, Eliza Merrill (Catriona MacColl) must deal with the supernatural visions and manifestations that begin when she starts to renovate the old building. One of the workmen is severely injured after he sees something in one of the upstairs windows, while the plumber has his eyes gouged out by a thing in the cellar. Eventually the dead begin to rise, as the hotel expands its malign influence. With the assistance of the sceptical Dr McCabe - played by Italian cinema stalwart David Warbeck - Eliza must find a way out of the growing nightmare.

As this synopsis suggests, The Beyond features plenty of Fulci’s trademark graphic gore, including the notorious crucifixion scene and a Scanners-style head explosion, perpetrated on a young child, no less. Suffice to say, it is not a film for the squeamish. Not all of these episodes work as well as they might, most noticeably the ‘spider attack’ scene, in which the special effects are laughably poor, despite being generally excellent throughout the rest of the film. Like Dario Argento in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), Fulci uses The Beyond‘s basic storyline as a means of connecting his increasingly grotesque and terrifying set-pieces, paying little attention to the overall structure of the film. This has led to a certain amount of hostility from first-time viewers, frustrated by Fulci’s refusal to maintain a linear progression or a solid internal logic. However, he does succeed in his primary goal of presenting the horror film as a nightmare, where little makes sense but everything is inherently frightening. He is ably assisted in this by Sergio Salvati’s excellent cinematography and Fabio Frizzi’s score, both of which help to establish the atmosphere of unease that filters through the entire film.

The chances are that fans of Euro-horror and cult movies - or just ambitious horror films in general - will already have sampled the alien delights of The Beyond, but anyone who hasn’t could do worse than pick up Arrow’s forthcoming Region 2 special edition. Wisely, Arrow have managed to include the extras from the earlier Grindhouse-Anchor Bay edition, including the MacColl and Warbeck’s commentary track, recorded shortly before the latter’s death. On top of this, we have a new and near-flawless print of the film itself, a commentary from Fulci’s daughter Antonella, new featurettes on MacColl, co-star Cinzia Monreale (a.k.a. Sarah Keller), SFX technician Giannetto De Rossi and Fulci himself. One final question remains, however: why is the opening sequence in black and white, as opposed to the sepia tones seen in the Sergio Salvati-approved Grindhouse edition?

Jim Harper

A Bay of Blood

A Bay of Blood

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 20 December 2010

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Mario Bava

Writers: Franco Barberi, Mario Bava, Filippo Ottoni, Dardano Sacchetti, Giuseppe Zaccariello

Original title: Reazione a catena

Cast: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Anna Maria Rosati

Italy 1971

84 mins

‘Diabolical. Fiendish. Savage.’ So promises the radio spot for Mario Bava’s seminal slasher. The perverse endorsement goes on to warn, ‘You may not walk away from this one’. Although you are in fact very likely to survive the film’s duration, A Bay of Blood prides itself on being an onslaught of escalating mayhem. It reveals murderer after murderer - and, as an experience, is something of a hysterical, even baffling ordeal.

Conceived as a commentary on the 1968 worldwide student protests - which pitched younger generation against older - it opens thrillingly as the elderly Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) manoeuvres her wheelchair around her plush property, accompanied by rising orchestral strains. Suddenly, an unseen assassin appears, tipping Federica from her chair and stringing her up with mechanical malice. The murderer is revealed as her husband Count Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti). However, in a further delicious twist, consistent with the film’s cut-throat, irreverent approach, Filippo himself is instantly dispatched by a mystery assailant, stabbed repeatedly before falling under the swinging, lifeless hands of his own victim.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing else in the ensuing film that quite matches this operatic, visually striking opener, with the rest of the picture a more conspicuously low-budget affair. However, A Bay of Blood compensates for its ragged appearance with bravura camerawork and a number of witty death sequences: a couple are killed with a spear as they make love, a skinny-dipper is molested by a corpse, and a drowned man is dramatically revealed with an octopus slithering across his face. Special mention here must go to Carlo Rambaldi for his gruesome and ingenious effects work.

A Bay of Blood is renowned for its multiple titles, high body count and considerable, if inauspicious, legacy. Known variously as Carnage, Blood Bath and - in a bizarre rebranding - Last House on the Left - Part II, it is also still remembered by the most evocative of these alternative monikers, Twitch of the Death Nerve. A Bay of Blood might not be its most imaginative title but it is at least the most apposite, as its convoluted narrative concerns a violent wrangle over the inheritance of a bay, with various parties, including Renata (Claudine Auger) and her stepbrother Simon (Claudio Volonté) fighting over ownership. It features a whopping 13 murders in total - an impressive and appropriately unlucky number.

Its most obvious imitator is the Friday the 13th series but, interestingly, A Bay of Blood‘s hapless young quartet survive only 10 minutes of reckless revelry before they are picked off by the killer. What Bava barely even regards as a sub-plot would form the basis for an entire franchise and its own numerous imitators.

A Bay of Blood lacks the consistent compositional brilliance of Bava’s best work (for example Mask of Satan) and time has not been tremendously kind; however, it has its charm. As the victims pile high and killers greedily compete, it gleefully erodes your faith in humanity, before smashing it with a sledgehammer in a cruel yet wonderfully daring punchline.

Emma Simmonds

Deep Red

Deep Red

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 3 January 2011

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento and Bernardino Zapponi

Original title: Profondo rosso

Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi and Gabriele Lavia

Italy 1975

126 mins (director’s cut)

‘It should be more trashy,’ says the protagonist at the beginning of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo, nailing the film’s gaudy colours firmly to the mast. A post Blow Up David Hemmings plays Marc Daly, the innocent, metro-sexual jazz pianist who witnesses a murder and so finds himself in a cat and mouse game with the deadly assassin. His attempts to unravel the mystery, aided by reporter Gianna Brezzi (an excellent Nicolodi), are hampered as each potential witness is hunted and slain and he himself becomes a target for the psycho-killer. The staple elements of the giallo genre are here: the lurid and elaborate murders; the killer’s black leather gloves; the POV camera that stalks the victims; and the cod psychology -’the killer could appear quite normal’ - further complicated by a dash of the paranormal (the first victim is a psychic who sees into the mind of the killer). The film’s trashiness, however, is willed. Marc will argue with Carlo, a friend and comrade in jazz, who accuses him of playing ‘bourgeois’ jazz, of basically slumming it in contrast to Carlo’s bitter, self-destructive and ‘proletarian’ jazz. The elaborateness of the killings are a case in point, as each one is meticulously set up, scored (both by the killer with a creepy children’s song and by the prog-rock group Goblin) and delivered while, at the same time, retaining a primal savagery and bloodiness. To emphasise the film’s stylistic schizophrenia, one character is killed by a combination of a dustbin lorry and a sports car.

This duality is also evident in the film’s portrait of a deeply confused Italy: a country torn between its heritage past, its statuary and haunted villas, and a hankering after a tacky modernism, of which Marc himself, with his imported jazz, his sterile apartment and his local Edward Hopper-inspired bar, is a representative. It is a country where oafish policemen discuss strike action, munch on sandwiches at the crime scene, ogle prostitutes at the police station and appear blandly uninterested in the crimes taking place. In Argento’s Italy, the children are menacing, casually torturing animals, and the psychiatrist, Prof. Giordani, is as crazy as the case he seeks to analyse.

This double disc DVD release offers a belated opportunity to see the original full-length film. This is not so much a director’s cut as a restoration of the 1975 Italian theatrical release. There is a bit more gore: the eponymous red has that wonderful sloshing paint quality that can only be found in 70s cinema. We also get more comedy as Argento tries for a Thin Man dynamic between Hemmings and Nicolodi. Any conventional sense of romance is eschewed, however, as Hemmings’s neurotic vulnerability renders him incapable of taking on the masterful Nicolodi, who, as a strong and independently-minded career girl, also serves Argento as a foil to possible charges of misogyny.

Take a look at our Dario Argento’s theme page.

John Bleasdale



Format: DVD

Release date: 31 August 2009

Distributor: Shameless Entertainment

Director: Luigi Bazzoni, Mario Fanelli (uncredited)

Writers: Luigi Bazzoni, Mario Fanelli

Original title: Le orme

Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Klaus Kinski, Peter McEnery, Nicoletta Elmi, Lila Kedovra

Italy 1975

92 mins

Like Alice, the young translator whose strange journey we follow in Footprints (Le orme), you may find yourself hit by waves of tingling déj&#224 vu, recurrent nightmare and flickering, almost remembered memory when watching this long-lost Italian thriller. Have I seen that peacock stained-glass window before? I’m sure I’ve stood on that mysterious hill overlooking that same sea?

If it wasn’t for the fact that this psychedelically haunting giallo from 1975 has never before been released in the UK, and has been unavailable worldwide on DVD until now, it would be easy to cite its influence on later moonlit dips into the interior, like some of the more cerebral moments of Argento, Aronofsky’s The Fountain, US experimental filmmaker Nina Menke’s work and of course many of Lynch’s delights.

Through an impressive performance by Florinda Bolkan (who also starred in ‘nunsploitation’ flick Flavia the Heretic), we are drawn into Alice’s world and her degenerating psychological state. A yellow dress has appeared overnight in her wardrobe, lurid against her row of beige suits. There’s also a ripped up postcard with an image of an opulent hotel on her kitchen floor. Alice’s colleagues have just informed her she’s been missing from work for three days, and the dream of an astronaut abandoned on the moon continues playing out in her mind’s eye. Alice’s seemingly straightforward existence has been torn apart and she must travel to the exotic island of Garma to piece things back together. We are drawn all the more powerfully into her world as she seems credible and intelligent, not prone to hysterical flights of fancy like the flailing token females that plague many gialli. And to this is added the impressive, disturbing cameo by Klaus Kinski as the sinister scientist Dr Blackmann.

Director Luigi Bazzoni’s treatment of Footprints is visionary, being equal parts style and substance, enhanced much by the cinematography of Vittorio Storraro, who of course also contributed his extraordinary talent to the films of Bertolucci and Coppola. It’s certainly a visual treat and while it is true to its era, it retains an elegance even in the final surrealist sequence on the stunning Balkan beach. The dream/memory flashbacks are executed with restraint and subtlety, and as a result have a particularly memorable impact on the subconscious mind. Perhaps a little like Storraro himself, this is a film with a sassy sense of its own style: it’s not just dressed to impress.

Footprints comes with the added appeal of obscurity: you’ll probably be the only one you know who’s seen it. The price to pay for this obscurity is the crude restoration of previously lost scenes, and the sudden (unintentionally) hilarious switches from English to Italian. These can be forgiven but do detract slightly from the overall credibility of the film. All in all, however, for those longing for an existentialist, sci-fi adventure that combines the narrative mystery and sense of isolation of Solaris with the vivid Italian visions of Argento: this is the film you’ve been dreaming of.

Siouxzi Mernagh

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga

Format: DVD

Date: 27 April 2009

Distributor: Shameless Entertainment

Director: Corrado Farina

Writer: Corrado Farina

Based on the Valentina comic books by: Guido Crepax

Cast: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle de Funes

Italy, France 1973

91 mins

If it didn’t date from 1973, this fumetti-based curio could be neatly filed under ’60s films that swing too hard’. Isabelle de Funes plays, or rather, looks good as Valentina (huge eyes, great Louise Brooks hair), a liberated photographer who comes under the malign influence of witchy Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker, with a fine piled mussy blonde do). Baba Yaga wants Valentina in a blatantly Sapphic way, but her seduction technique seems to involve cursing her camera, and killing one of her models with a creepy fetish doll that periodically transforms into a scantily clad dominatrix. This, unsurprisingly, doesn’t seem to push Valentina’s buttons, but does make her prone to some fantasies involving Nazis, boxing rings and firing squads, which periodically invade the narrative until it all gets a bit baffling in typical Italian Euro-sleaze style.

Frankly, Baba Yaga isn’t all that concerned with plot or internal logic, but serves more as a tick list of groovy stuff. It begins with an anti-American happening in a Milanese graveyard and continues to throw comics, radical politics, light bondage, fruggable music and half-naked models in cute cowboy/Indian costumes at the viewer throughout. This is fine by me, and most of the film’s minor pleasures come from odd period detail, like a startling racist detergent advert directed by Valentina’s half-arsed radical lover Arno (George Eastman, horrible hair and beard, like a Swedish porn star). But Baba Yaga suffers from an uncertainty of tone; it trundles on by in a swirl of funky, busily edited scenes, leaving the audience unsure as to how moving, amusing, creepy or meaningful all this is supposed to be.

Valentina was the late Guido Crepax’s regular heroine in 30 years of comic strips, and much of the reason to watch the film lies with curiosity over how well Crepax’s world transfers to celluloid. To be fair, director Corrado Farina, not a prolific filmmaker, has a decent stab at bringing Crepax’s scratchy eroticism to the screen, especially in the heavily stylised sex scenes, which use montages of black and white photographs to approximate the comic’s layered close-up panels. There is also an effective emphasis on the sensual, on the look, the texture, the touching of things, with Baba Yaga’s house full of strange Victorian clutter contrasted with Valentina’s chic minimal décor (I want that transparent phone). But this is half the film’s problem; it’s too preoccupied with surface detail and too little concerned with ideas. And anyone expecting this Baba Yaga to play with the rich details of the Slavic legends will be sorely disappointed. For what its worth, this is a lovingly packaged disc from Shameless, with a newly restored version, two cool short docs on fumetti and a commentary by Farina. Knock yourself out, if that’s your bag, man…

Mark Stafford