Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977, Flavio Mogherini)

Coming in towards the end of the initial Giallo craze of the late 60's to mid 70's, is Flavio Mogherini's La ragazza dal pigiama giallo (aka The Pyjama Girl Case). Featuring many of the tropes of the classic Giallo films, the only real visible difference with this film is the setting. The Pyjama Girl Case was an Italian-Spanish co-production taking place in Australia, something not common with these films. Many of the classic Gialli were set in their native Italy or tried to masquerade themselves as American films, frequently casting previously popular American actors in main roles. This one mashes all of that together, with Australian, Italian and American actors to make a truly original film.

The Pyjama Girl Case stars Ray Milland as retired police detective Thompson, who is helping two younger inspectors solve the murder of a woman found dead on a beach. Her body was badly burned and she was found wearing yellow pyjamas. All clues point to a man named Quint living nearby and even though he is charged for the crimes, Thompson believes he is innocent. The film also follows Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a young woman stuck in a love triangle with an older man (Mel Ferrer), a young Italian (Michele Placido) and an American (Howard Ross). Soon the stories will intersect and come to a thrilling conclusion.

The Pyjama Girl Case benefits from having many interesting characters and a story that leaves you guessing until the end. Milland steals the film as the lovably crass Thompson (who makes some interesting hand gestures). I also enjoyed the character of Glenda, who Di Lazzaro plays well. Her piercing green eyes and capriciousness keep the the viewer entranced with her story. There are also some particularly gory scenes, especially those featuring the victim's burnt corpse. Riz Ortolani modernizes the film with a mix of his classic orchestrations combined with hypnotic beats and synthesizers. Also included are two songs by French disco queen and Salvador Dali muse, Amanda Lear. Overall, Mogherini crafted a well put together thriller sure to be a welcome addition to giallo and Italian horror fans

Fun Facts:

- Flavio Mogherini started out as a Production Designer and Art Director before becoming a screenwriter and finally a director, with his first film Anche se volessi lavorare, che faccio? in 1972.

-Dalila Di Lazzaro turned down the role of Domino in the unofficial 007 film Never Say Never Again (1983).

-Milland was no stranger to horror, starring in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), Roger Corman's Poe adaption Premature Burial (1962) and the 1972 cult classic Frogs.

Just released from Arrow Video is a beautiful new remastered Blu Ray/DVD of The Pyjama Girl Case. Below are the special features:

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • New video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie on the internationalism of the giallo
  • New video interview with actor Howard Ross
  • New video interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia
  • Archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani
  • Image gallery
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Purchase the Blu Ray directly from Arrow HERE , from the US distributors MVD HERE or from DiabolikDVD HERE

Eye in the Labyrinth (1972, Mario Caiano)

Eye in the Labyrinth is Italian director Mario Caiano's only foray into the wild world of Gialli. I was familiar with Caiano from the film Napoli spara! (Weapons of Death) and had seen his name listed as director for numerous other Italian Cult films. What really attracted me to this film though was famed Italian character actor Adolfo Celi, best known as the Bond villain in 1965's Thunderball (and in the 1967 Bond ripoff Ok Connery). Though frequently cast as a villain (including in Bava's brilliant Diabolik), one of my favorite roles he did was as the adulterer friend of Vittorio Gassman in Luciano Salce's 1965 spy spoof Slalom.

Eye in the Labyrinth stars Rosemary Dexter as Julia, a woman trying to find her boyfriend Luca (Horst Frank), who has disappeared. After being led into an abandoned building and almost killed by a mysterious man, she is rescued by Frank (Celi). Julia is soon led to a commune owned by Gerda (Alida Valli), where she believes Luca may have been staying. Among the other residents are a peeping tom servant (whose artwork plays an important part in the fim), a transexual, Gerda's younger lover and more. Julia soon learns that the commune is a cover for a drug smuggling operation and that Luca was somehow involved.

With a varied cast of beautiful weirdos, a story that has more twists than the Amalfi Coast and some skillfully crafted cinematography, Eye in the Labyrinth is a classic, yet original take on the giallo genre. Dexter does a suitable job as the heroine stuck in a walking nightmare that she can't seem to escape from. Celi is great as the enigmatic, gangster-like Frank and the equally mysterious Gerda - played by Alida Valli (best known from Carol Reed's 1949 classic The Third Man) keeps you guessing her secrets until the end. Though the momentum seems to slow down towards the end, the unexpected climax more than makes up for the film's minor flaws. Not as by the book as many of the better known Martino or Argento gialli, Eye in the Labyrinth is well worth getting lost in. Check out the beautiful transfer on the Code Red release, as it brings the film to life like never before.

Fun Facts -

-In 1972, Adolfo Celi also starred in the giallo Who Saw Her Die? with fellow 007 actor George Lazenby

-Other than Giallo, Mario Caiano directed films from many different genres of Italian cinema - Spaghetti Western, Poliziotteschi, Nazispolitation, Gothic Horror and Gladiator films

-Eye in the Labyrinth was released on Spanish and Swedish VHS

Eye in the Labyrinth was released on DVD and Blu Ray by Code Red DVD.  You can purchase directly from Code Red HERE , from Screen Archives HERE or from DiabolikDVD HERE.

Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973, Aristide Massaccesi)

Death Smiles on a Murderer is notable for being one of the first films directed by Aristide Massaccesi, better known as Joe D'Amato. D'Amato started out as a cameraman for such great directors as Duccio Tessari, Franco Zeffirelli, and Fernando Di Leo before becoming a cinematographer for the likes of Alberto De Martino and Massimo Dallamano. In 1972, D'Amato finally ventured into directing his own features, though many of these were uncredited. That is until a year later when he directed this film, one of the few credited to his given name. After seeing several of his later films, Death Smiles on a Murder is quite a telling harbinger of things to come.

La morte ha sorriso all'assassino takes place at the turn of the 20th century and focuses on a woman named Greta (played by the mysteriously beautiful Ewa Aulin). As we see in the beginning of the film, Greta is dead and being mourned by her brother/lover Franz (the creepy Luciano Rossi). The story then continues a few years later with the now living, yet amnesiac Greta at the castle of Walter and Eva von Ravensbruck (Sergio Doria and Angela Bo). She arrives when her horse carriage is overturned and the driver is killed. The von Ravensbrucks insist Greta stays until her memory returns, though over time they both fall in love with her. Walter's father (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) later arrives, who himself once knew Greta and it is revealed that she may be some sort of undead being. Soon the inhabitants of the castle begin dying horrible deaths.

Death Smiles on a Murderer is a difficult film to categorize. I initially assumed from the title that it was a giallo, and though it has elements of that genre, I would not call it that. It is more of a supernatural, gothic horror film with scenes of extreme gore (a staple of D'Amato's) to complement the director's flare for elegant cinematography. Sort of like a Jess Franco film with less close ups and tasteless nudity (something D'Amato would delve into later). The violence is unexpected and staggering at times, with a shotgun to the face, a repeated knife slashing and a cat who rips out someone's eyeballs (see the original poster art) among the film's goriest scenes. I would be lying if I said the film wasn't confusing and some of the scenes overlong, but as a whole it is a fascinating mix of elements from D'Amato's later oeuvre. Oh and if you are wondering why I haven't mentioned Klaus Kinski at all, its because he is barely in the film. His part is somewhat important, but very small. Still, it's always nice to see him show up in anything.

Fun Facts -

-D'Amato directed or co-directed several films in 1973, including the Macaroni Combat film Heroes in Hell and the Horror film The Devil's Wedding Night,

-Klaus Kinski and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart appeared together the same year in Mario Caiano's Kung Fu Spaghetti Western "The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe" (Il mio nome è Shanghai Joe)

-Also in 1973, Klaus Kinski appeared with Luciano Rossi in Mario Gariazzo's Polizia film "The Bloody Hands of the Law" (La mano spietata della legge).

Arrow Video recently released Death Smiles on a Murderer on Blu Ray and it is a must have. Features include:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Italian and English soundtrack
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas
  • D’Amato Smiles on Death, an archival interview in which the director discusses the film
  • All About Ewa, a newly-filmed, career-spanning interview with the Swedish star
  • Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
  • Original trailer
  • Stills and collections gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
​FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti
Purchase the Arrow Video Blu Ray directly from Arrow HERE or from the US distributors MVD Entertainment HERE or from DiabolikDvd HERE

Killer Cop (1975, Luciano Ercoli)

Luciano Ercoli started out as a producer in the 60's before directing his first feature, the masterful 1970 giallo (and one of my favorite films) La foto proibite di una signora per bene (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion). Continuing on with two more more gialli, Ercoli directed 1971's La morte cammina con i tacchi alti (Death Walks in High Heels) and 1972's La morte accarezz a a mezzanotte (Death Walks at Midnight), all three of which star his wife Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro) and Simon Andreu and were co-written by Ernesto Gastaldi. Ercoli then directed two period films (under the pseudonym Andre Colbert) before ending his career with a trio of crime films, the action drama The Magnificent Dare Devil, this film and the comedic The Ripoff. La polizia ha le mani legate (translated as The Police Have Their Hands Tied and released in the U.S. as Killer Cop) is a film I spent a long time looking for. Very hard to find in the U.S. for years, I first read about the film after hearing the song "Papaya" on the Stelvio Cipriani CD compilation included with NoShame's out of print Luciano Ercoli Death DVD box set. I loved the song so much, I had to check out the film it was from. By the point I finally saw the film, I was already knee deep in poliziotteschi and this film was worth the wait.

Killer Cop stars Claudio Cassinelli as Rolandi, a detective for the drug squad. While trying to get information on a drug deal, Rolandi witnesses a fatal hotel bombing. After his friend and co-worker Luigi is killed, Rolandi seeks out the truth about the massacre, which he believes is tied to Luigi's death. The clues lead him to a drug addict who lost his glasses during the bombing, who may be the key to solving the murder. The District Attorney (Arthur Kennedy) on the case soon discovers Rolandi has been conducting his own investigation and forbids him to continue, however he won't give up until justice is served.

La polizia ha le mani legate followed the trend of other Italian crime films of its time by building its story around headlines plucked right out of the newspapers. The "Years of Lead", as they were known from the late '60s to the early '80s, was a time in Italy's history rife with bombings, assassinations and kidnappings due to social unrest and political bedlam. The influence of the times are apparent in this film and make it all that much more interesting and realistic. Though Ercoli made a film filled with violence, high speed chases and dramatic situations, Killer Cop isn't completely without any humor. Cassinelli's Rolandi, though completely dedicated to his job and not afraid to get into sticky situations, is also kind of bumbling but luckily never goes over the edge into parody. The rest of the cast are great, including Sara Sperati as the mysterious Papaya, Franco Fabrizi as the ill fated Luigi and Bruno Zanin as the confused lemming turned bomber. Stelvio Cipriani, who may be the quintessential Poliziotteschi composer, crafts his score to make it almost another character in the film. You will find yourself humming some of the themes long after the film is over. His song "Papaya" in this film is probably my favorite piece of film music of all time. Overall, Killer Cop is a prime example of the Polizio genre and would be a treat to most '70's gritty action film fans.

Fun Facts -

-The English language version of the film features narration by Jack Lemmon

-The bombing in this film is based on the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan where 17 people were killed and 88 were injured.

-Killer Cop was released in various VHS editions.

Killer Cop was released on Blu Ray and DVD by Raro Video in 2015.
Order now from Raro Video HERE or from DiabolikDvd.com HERE

Eyeball (1975, Umberto Lenzi)

Eyeball has been quite an elusive film for me. I would call Umberto Lenzi one of my favorite directors and anytime I stumble upon a film of his that I have never seen, it is almost always a pleasure. Based on the poster art of the skeleton holding the eyeball, I wasn't really sure what kind of film it would be. It instantly brought to mind Faces of Death but Eyeball is a Giallo through and through. It has all the tropes - the blank faced killer covered head to toe to conceal their identity, copious amounts of nudity, bloody killings, a strange twist at the end to reveal the killer's motives, several red herrings and lastly, a great score - this time by Morricone's right hand man, Bruno Nicolai.

​Eyeball centers around a tour group of Americans visiting Barcelona. This group of oddballs includes a priest, an older couple, a man and his daughter (or maybe it's his granddaughter, I forget), a lesbian couple and a woman who meets up with her lover. The lover, played by John Richardson - the only actor I recognized from the film, is cheating on his wife, who just checked herself into a psych ward in Burlington, Vermont. I must stop here and mention how bonkers it was that the characters kept referring to Burlington, Vermont. What a fucking weird place to constantly mention. Maybe it was Lenzi's American vacation spot? Or maybe the good town of Burlington, Vermont somehow paid the producers to use the name? But anyway, after a rain storm, all of the vacationers are given red raincoats by the tour guide. Sorry, but I must stop again. What is up with this tour guide? He is OBSESSED with playing practical jokes. And he thinks they are fucking HILARIOUS! They aren't good practical jokes either, just like crappy wind-up mice. Dude, get a friend. Anyway, someone starts stalking the tour group, disguising themselves in one of the red raincoats (that somehow covers their face too? Couldn't figure that one out). But the stalker not only kills its victims, but prefaces the murders with cutting out their victim's eyeball. An experienced police detective, days away from retiring, is on the hunt to end the killing spree.

​Eyeball, also known as The Eye in the Dark, Red Cats in a Glass Maze and the terribly titled The Secret Killer, is one wacky film. It delivers the goods that any Giallo fan would hope for but also features one of the strangest group of characters that I've seen. These people are so quirky, that it makes for a fascinating watch with some truly terrible dialogue. But I wasn't bored watching this film for even a second. Its a fun film that flies by quickly. Oddly, I didn't see many familiar faces, but the cast were all perfect for their roles. I would definitely recommend Eyeball for all Giallo, Slasher and 70s Horror fans.

​Fun Facts -

-This film was released the same year as Lenzi's gritty Polizio classic Manhunt in the City,
starring Henry Silva, with a score also by Bruno Nicolai

-Lenzi directed several Gialli, including Orgasmo (aka Paranoia), Spasmo, So Sweet...
So Perverse, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Knife of Ice and A Quiet Place to Kill

-Eyeball was released in a large clamshell VHS by Prism Entertainment in 1985.

Eyeball was finally released on Blu Ray (region free) by UK genre experts 88 Films.  The release is stacked with tons of bonus features, so grab that one now from 88 Films HERE or from DiabolikDvd.com HERE

A Complicated Girl (1968, Damiano Damiani)

I still remember sitting in my car with a friend about 10 years ago. In the back seat was a copy of an Amityville Horror DVD box set of the first three films. I told him how I had just watched part 2 and how crazy it was. I also mentioned that it was directed by someone named Damiano Damiani which resulted in stupefying laughter. Little did I know that I would become a huge fan of his films...most of which are not incestual tales of possession, though many could be considered as subversive. Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (aka A Complicated Girl) is no exception.

A Complicated Girl stars Jean Sorel as Alberto, a man grieving over his dying mother. He accidentally listens in on Claudia (Catherine Spaak) on a sex call with another woman and ends up following her around. Their quick relationship becomes very volatile, as each of them play head games with each other. Alberto learns that Claudia has been made to be a plaything of sorts by her step mother (Florinda Bolkan, the other woman on the phone) and after spending a day with the two of them, decides to try to save Claudia. But things might not be what they seem and tragedy ensues.

It's hard to categorize A Complicated Girl. It is definitely a drama, but so much more. At times it feels almost Giallo-lite and also like a kinky sex comedy, but overall it is a well made character study on three very flawed characters, played by three brilliant actors. Catherine Spaak is mesmerizing to watch and Sorel plays the deviously immature Alberto perfectly. Damiani's use of locations and uncommon camera angles elevate the film's aesthetic quality above your average Italian Dramedy, giving the viewer something fresh, sexy and artistic.

Fun Facts -

-Damiano Damiani has worked in Horror (Amityville II: The Possession), Spaghetti Western (A Bullet for the General, A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe), Crime (The Case is Closed, Forget It, Confessions of a Police Captain), Historical Drama (The Assassin of Rome), and even directed a film called The Pizza Connection!

-Catherine Spaak also had a varied career, appearing in films such as the Antonio Margheriti Spaghetti Western Take a Hard Ride with Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly and Lee Van Cleef as well as the Dario Argento Giallo classic The Cat O' Nine Tails with Karl Malden and James Franciscus.

-This film is based on the story La marcia indietro (1959) by Alberto Moravia

-Una ragazza piuttosto complicata was released on Italian VHS in 1996

Currently this film is not available on Blu Ray and is only available on DVD in Italian. You can stream the film in full on Youtube or search the web for other methods of viewing.

Execution Squad (1971, Stefano Vanzina)

Poliziotteschi (a combination of the word "Poliziotto", meaning "Policeman" and the plural form of "esco" meaning "related to" or "esque") films trace back to the mid to late 60's with Carlo Lizzani's Svegliati e uccide (Wake Up and Die, 1966) and Banditi a Milano (Bandits in Milan aka The Violent Four, 1968). These films have more of a faux-documentary feel than a straight up narrative, with the characters being followed around in almost newsreel type footage. Other early Polizio films include Romolo Guerreri's Detective Belli starring Franco Nero (more of a police procedural) and Sergio Sollima's Violent City with Charles Bronson (more of a revenge film - with one of the greatest car chases I've ever seen). Damiano Damiani also had an early crime film, though more of a drama, with 1971's Confessions of a Police Captain, also starring Franco Nero. But widely considered to lay the template for the many films to come in the genre was La polizia ringrazia (aka Execution Squad) directed by Stefano "Steno" Vanzina.

​Execution Squad stars Enrico Maria Salerno as Police Commissioner Bertone. He is at odds with the way his city is being overrun by violent crimes and how the criminals have more rights than the innocent. He frequently seeks out the advice of retired police chief (Cyril Cusack) and also receives help from his reporter girlfriend (Mariangela Melato). After a robbery ends in murder, the robber takes a young woman hostage and goes on the run. But he has more to fear than the police when a group of mysterious vigilantes begin executing criminals. It's then up to Bertone, against public opinion. to ensure that these vigilantes are stopped.

​Featuring many of the staples of the Poliziotteschi films, including high speed chases, violent shoot outs, vigilantes, police corruption and a downbeat ending, Execution Squad is an expertly crafted, action film which sets the genre off on the right foot. Salerno, though seeming a little old for the part, does a great job of trying to ensure the law is followed, no matter what the outcome. The film has a few shocking moments and a great supporting cast (also including Italian cult regulars Laura Belli and Mario Adorf). Overall, a fine film to start with if you're unfamiliar with the Italian cop films of the 70's.

​Fun Facts -

-This film was released the same year as Fernando Di Leo's Polizio classics Milano calibro 9 and La mala ordina (both of which also feature Mario Adorf).

-This was one of Steno's only Italian crime films and the first time he was credited with his full name. He was better known for Italian comedies, many of which star Italian "Prince of Laughter" Toto.

-La polizia ringrazia was released on Italian PAL VHS under the Calibro 9 label with an accompanying booklet.

Execution Squad was recently released on a German Region B Blu Ray from Alive, featuring English, Italian and German audio, under the title Das Syndikat

​Purchase directly from DiabolikDvd.com HERE

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971, Sergio Martino)

Sergio Martino, to me, is the king of Giallo. I know Mario Bava is credited with starting the genre with The Girl Who Knew Too Much in 1963 and Dario Argento popularized it with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1970, but pound for pound, I will take Martino. From 1971 to 1975, he directed six of the greatest Gialli ever made and like many of his contemporaries, dabbled in other genres as well (Spaghetti Western, Poliziotteschi, Sci-Fi, Horror, Action/Adventure). I first discovered Martino many years ago when I stumbled across one of his Giallo masterpieces, Torso (1973). From there, I watched Mountain of the Cannibal God, Island of the Fishmen and anything else I could get my hands on. At the time, Case of the Scorpion's Tail was hard to find so I had to track down an overpriced copy of the out of print NoShame DVD. It was well worth it.

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail starts out with Evelyn Stewart (aka Ida Galli) as Lisa, who learns that she is receiving a million dollar insurance pay out after the death of her much older husband. George Hilton plays Peter Lynch, an insurance investigator sent to make sure that the death was not suspicious. Peter realizes something is askew when a murder attempt is made on Lisa's life by her husband's lover (Janine Reynaud) and he must do whatever he can to protect her. A police inspector (Luigi Pistilli) and an interpol agent (Alberto de Mendoza) also get involved to ensure Lisa is kept safe and to determine if Peter is telling the truth about his interest in the case. After bodies start piling up, a reporter (Anita Strindberg) also tries to uncover the case and becomes Peter's lover.

La coda dello scorpione (translated to English as The Tail of the Scorpion) is simply one of the greatest Giallo ever made. To think Martino made this film and the equally classic The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh in the same year is mind blowing. It has all of the identifying characteristics of the genre and a plot so twisty, that you never know what is about to happen. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi, who has written many of the best Giallo films, uses the plot of murder for inheritance (made popular, as I learned in the bonus features, by Clouzot's Les Diaboliques) to create a hypnotic tale of intrigue. George Hilton does a great job as the hero and Anita Strindberg as well as his love interest. All of the supporting characters are well developed and quirky, which adds to the mystery within the film. Not only does the film have strong characterization and an engrossing story, but Martino's use of visuals, whether they be the breathtaking Greek scenery or a smashed bottle to the eyeball, are startlingly artistic and well crafted. Beyond the film itself, Arrow's new Blu Ray contains several bonus features that make this a must have purchase. There are interviews with George Hilton and Sergio Martino as well as two critical features on the film.

Special Features include:

  • Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo (in Italian with English subtitles)
  • New interview with star George Hilton
  • New interview with director Sergio Martino
  • New analysis Sergio Martino s films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
  • New video essay by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Rachael Nisbet and Howard Hughes, and a biography of star Anita Strindberg by Peter Jilmstad

Purchase Case of the Scorpion's Tail from Arrow HERE or the US distributor MVD HERE or from DiabolikDVD HERE