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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

City of the Living Dead (1980)

Paura nella città dei morti viventi.

To say that Lucio Fulci is the most revered Italian Cult icon of the decade is an understatement. His films have grown in popularity from year to year, back before the millennium there was only really one way of seeing his films here in the UK – via Dutch/Swedish company EC Entertainment. They released his most popular films, along with his not so popular later outings, on to the digital format in their widescreen and uncut glory that, at that point, was forbidden on British shores.

If you didn’t have the internet and a credit card then you were destined to endure the heinous Vipco releases that removed all of the glory and featured rather un-flattering Pan&Scan presentations! Now, those of us who grew up with Fulci in the 90’s were no stranger to these horrific bastardisations, as the VHS releases were almost identical, apart from these new versions boasting a unflattering box placed on the front that proclaimed the new DVD releases as the ‘Strong Version’ which meant that the BBFC had let some added gore into ‘em. This didn’t mean dick really.
As luscious as the EC versions were in comparison to the UK releases, better was just around the corner. Anchor Bay (US and UK), THE company for Cult movies in the early 2000’s, was about to unleash their Lucio Fulci collection which featured all the gore and once again gave us those lovely widescreen presentations. Grindhouse Releasing then went and dropped the ‘must have’ release for Fulci fans when they partnered with Anchor Bay to release The Beyond in a lovely tin set that still fetches high prices with collectors. His reputation has gone from strength to strength thanks to these companies' hard work, but there’s still more to be done.

Flash-forward to 2010 and we now have our first taste of Fulci on UK Blu-ray! Uncut with original aspect ratio intact and bursting with supplementary material! Gone is the BBFC tampering! Gone is the Pan&Scan! Gone are those pesky Vipco covers! In comes the hi-definition! What a difference a decade makes.

Now, City of the Living Dead has faired surprisingly well with the BBFC in comparison to other Fulci titles. Upon it’s initial release it was only cut for one scene of head-drilling ultra violence; but more were to come when it came to the video release; luckily, the DPP never targeted the film and it was the first Fulci title to be released uncut here in the UK back in 2001. That doesn’t mean it’s Fulci’s ‘lightest’ film though, for this holds its own in Fulci’s gross-out oeuvre.

The suicide of Father Thomas, in the small town of Dunwich, unlocks one of hell's gates, and supernatural deadites come back to feed on the living. During a séance, a Medium named Mary (Catriona MacColl) appears to drop dead from fright; journalist Peter (Christopher George) is intrigued by the case and visits her gravesite on the day of her burial, only to discover that Mary is still very much alive and already in a whole lot of trouble but is thankfully saved by Peter. According to the Book of Enoch, if the gateway isn’t closed by All Saints Day then it will remain open for eternity and the dead will continue to rise and feed on the living. So Mary and Peter head off in search of Dunwich and attempt to save the world, but Father Thomas and his minions aren’t going to make it easy…

The first of his celebrated trilogy of fright flicks to feature the lovely Catriona MacColl, City of the Living Dead is a true testament to the maestro’s ability to generate cold, claustrophobic atmosphere from simple set-ups. His love for the work of H.P. Lovecraft truly shows here, not with the small town terror (Dunwich!), but with the fog shrouded streets and the decrepit vaults in which humanity fends off the otherworld; the only thing that would make this film more Lovecraftian would be to have the Freudstein residence, from House by the Cemetery, smack in the town’s centre!

The story is threadbare, a valid criticism that can be launched at the majority of Fulci’s output, but we aren’t interested in the film for it’s groundbreaking story arc, what we want is for the dead to rise-up and feed on the living in various graphic displays of grand-guignol bloodshed – and that’s where the film delivers. From the infamous head-drilling scene to the regurgitation of real sheep entrails, there’s something here to upset, or mildly unbalance, the stomach of the most hardened of gorehounds. However, that’s not to say the film is a full throttle splatter-fest, nay, it’s a slow paced little piece that acts very much like the supernatural forces attempting to end humanity: sporadic, grimy, unsettling and at times frightening but ultimately endearing!

After the success of Zombi 2 (Zombie Flesh Easters), Fulci found himself pigeonholed as a director who could churn out a half decent horror flick on time and within a limited budget, the fact that he was able to do it time-after-time during this golden age really does demonstrate the mans genius, he has given Cult cinema numerous films that will remain genre favourites amongst the ever-growing number of fans. It’s only fitting that his catalogue be given such deluxe treatment on the home media format – once branded a hack, the man is slowly starting to be seen for the original talent he was, maverick in his exploits, legendary, or infamous, to all who met him and inspiring to all who appreciates his style of cinema.

The new release from Arrow Video is a thing of beauty; the 1080p presentation is a revelation when compared to previous releases from Vipco, Anchor Bay and Blue Underground. The film has always had a grainy aura about it, which adds to the atmosphere, so it’s great that the presentation still contains an amount for the nostalgic out there, but they have cleaned the print up beautifully and trumps the best DVD release the film received from Another World Entertainment. Then there are the extras…

The set is a strong tribute to Fulci, more so than the film in question, but also to the people who worked with him. The disc is brimmed with interviews with likeable colleagues of Fulci and even a family member. There are interviews with Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Luigi Cozzi, Giovanni Lombardo Radici and finally Antonella Fulci; the centre piece being a fifty minute career-spanning interview with Radici that covers the many deaths he’s undergone during his exploitation career! Most enjoyable however was Carlo De Mejo who remains a very passionate and charismatic chap whose love for the film and Fulci really shows.

The interviews are all greatly entertaining and each has a glossy approach, the animated introductions are classic and the little snippets from films that occur through-out add additional humour that will crack a smile in the hardest of fans faces. There’s also a trailer for the film, a booklet written by Calum Waddell, 6 postcards sporting various poster art and a fold-out reversible poster featuring Arrow’s newly commissioned art and a vintage poster on the opposite side. We are also given some ported over extras, first being Catriona MacColl’s commentary from an earlier Vipco release, and a featurette about Fulci from Arrow’s House by the Cemetery DVD entitled ‘Fulci in the House’. That’s not all folks! They’ve gone and commissioned a new audio commentary from Giovanni Lombardo Radici; which amazingly manages to re-frame from covering grounds mentioned in his interview!

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a special Fulci double-bill in Glasgow, City of the Living Dead was the main attraction, after The Beyond got the evening started in great style. What made it all the more special was Catriona MacColl and Giovanni Lombardo Radici being in attendance to offer a Q&A after the film! I managed to get some questions to them, some of which appear on Arrow’s new release, and some which will surface on their upcoming release of The Beyond. The real treat though, and a thousand thanks to Calum Waddell, was to spend some time after the showing with them. Getting drunk, and shooting the shit with the likes of Catriona and David Hess (who was also in town) was quite the experience! They were great people and truly touched by the number of people who came out to see them that evening. The next event is due in October and I can’t stress how much fun they are and urge you all to make an effort to attend!

City of the Living Dead remains a classic in 80’s horror cinema, and has finally been given the release it deserves thanks to Arrow Video’s hard work and the even harder work from the folks at High Rising Productions whom provided all of the extra material. Fan’s of Fulci should treat this as a no brainer and pick this release up ASAP, fans of Cult cinema will equally find the release essential due to the supplementary material brimming with a vast amount of insight from Cult cinema icons regarding genre favourites. In a word: essential.

Purchase the Blu-ray here.
Purchase the DVD here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So Sweet, So Dead (1972)

Roberto Bianchi Montero, father to the infamous Mario Bianchi, has gone somewhat unsung in the digital age. Whereas his spawn has gone on to achieve some notoriety, Bianchi senior has still yet to find his place in Euro-cult history. Born in Rome on the 7th December 1907, Montero made his directorial debut; as Roberto Bianchi, in 1943 with comedy Gli assi della risata. A jack of all trades, Montero bounced from genre to genre during his time as director, finding work constantly from his debut up to his death in 1986; which by that time had seen him move into the hardcore industry working with Mario on smutty projects for Porn icon Marina Hedman (a.k.a Marina Lotar) such as L'amore e la bestia. From Noir to Peplums and Gialli to Pornography, Montero was willing to try his hand at anything if there was money to be made. One of his more memorable films has just been given a deluxe release from Camera Obscura, who’ve just released So Sweet, So Dead his sleazy 1972 Giallo starring Hitchcock regular Farley Granger.

A maniac is murdering affluent women in a small Italian town, at the scene of each crime the killer has left incriminating photographs of the victim in the throws of passion with men whose faces have been obscured; however one thing is certain, the men in the photographs are not the murdered women’s husbands! It appears there’s a moral avenger on the prowl for unfaithful wives and Inspector Capuana (Granger) is the man handed the case due to his big city experience. As high-society fears for its women, politics comes into play as the men upstairs demand that Capuana keep his nose outta rich peoples business, as the fact that their wives had been unfaithful is enough to ruin their reputations, and focus on finding this low-rent scumbag. Red herrings pile up, twists abound but the killer remains as elusive as ever, until Capuana goes to the press with details of the supposed killer … making himself a possible target.

So Sweet, So Dead is a very accomplished Giallo. It’ll appeal more to Sergio Martino fans than Dario Argento’s as it aims to please fans through gratuitous nudity and violence as well as a sterling storyline. Many may see it as misogynistic, which isn’t hard to see why, but the film is almost forty years old and from a stern Catholic country that holds marital vows in high-regard; so it’s more of a ‘warning’ than an out and out attack on women; much like the Slasher movie, which was influenced by the Giallo, was a ‘warning’ to teenagers about the dangers of pre-martial sex! It may seem a dated view point today, as does the Slasher, but back them I’m sure it cause a stir amongst high-society, much like other Gialli in this vein, like Forbidden Photo’s of a Lady Above Suspicion, would have.

Montero handles the death scenes with great style, well some great style as one instance of slow-motion starts off rather effective but then over-does it and becomes unintentionally hilarious as it begins to outstay its welcome. That small stylistic hiccup aside the film proves quite an impressive little shocker, with an intriguing premise and plenty of obviously creepy red herrings thrown into the mix as the story progresses; my favorite being genre legend Luciano Rossi as Gastone, the macabre mortician whose love of death is only matched by his love for the naked, preferably dead, female from! He’s obviously not the killer but his presence is eerie and adds discomfort, and at times, sympathy from the viewer.

What stops the film from achieving more respect though, and no doubt the cause of its obscurity, is the slow second act. After establishing a strong story following Capuana trying his damnedest to get a lead the focus shifts over to the daughter of a high-flier who witnesses a murder, seemingly shifting from a Martino inspired effort to an Argento inspired one that fails to remain as gripping as the opening act. Luckily the focus shifts once again back on Capuana for one of Giallo cinemas finest, misanthropic finales that manages to pack quite a punch still. One scene that also stands out as a fine achievement for Montero is the opening scene of police gathered around the corpse of a slain woman discussing the details of the crime. It’s a gripping introduction that launches the viewer into the mystery from minute one.

For Giallo fans, this title is a must. The one big flaw will be forgivable to hardened fans of the genre; it’s one that you’ll have experienced in more than your fair share of titles. Camera Obscura has created a lovely package for us, as with their previous addition to the Italian Genre Cinema Collection, the equally sleazy Terror Express, this disc is the definitive edition of the film. Housed in a gorgeous slipcase with a fold out cardboard inbox that houses the disc and inlay notes from German Cult film specialist Christian Kessler, who writes a small essay on the feature (which contains both English and German text). Kessler is also on hand for a audio commentary with fellow Cult expert Marcus Stiglegger, it’s in German but the kind folks have seen to it that English subtitles have been added!

The presentation itself is a thing of beauty bar two scenes that have been sorced from what must be VHS, this takes away nothing from the film actually and probably wouldn’t have been missed, but like any good completist they’ve included them here for the full effect: plus some of the added material is additional Susan Scott nudity so I guess we should be thankful for that! Supplement-wise we’re given an extensive interview with composer Giorgio Gaslini, who created a memorable and effective score for the film, which spans his whole career in the Italian film biz. A very nice, geeky extra is the inclusion of the French photo novel! Once again they have provided us with English friendly subtitles for those, like moi, who don’t speak French! It’s also scored for added effect.

Alas there is no trailer for the film, which is a let down but who can be disappointed by that when the package is this great? There was talk that they would include the XXX version of the film which was released stateside as Penetration but due to lack of source elements that has not come to fruition, which is shame as Farley Granger staring in a Harry Reems and Tina Russell shag-a-thon is one hell of a proposition! The material was not shot for the film of course, so has no relevance to the actual finished product but it would have served as a great reminder for a bygone era where producers would go to any length to scrape a few extra bucks from their acquisitions!

So Sweet, So Dead has deservedly been rescued from obscurity and afforded a beautiful release by one of the finest companies out there with a true respect for the product they’re releasing. I’m already excited for their next release, La Orca, which is due out later this year. Genre fans owe it to themselves to treat themselves to this gorgeous release: beg, borrow, steel or ask a loved one – just get it!

Purchase the DVD from these sites:


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Human Centipede (2009)

Tired of re-makes and sequels? Pained by the thought of conveyer-belt horror being churned out, not just Hollywood, but by Indie production companies and faux-underground auteurs that seem to think that fake-snuff movies are the future for the genre? You certainly aren’t alone, mio amico. When news of Tom Six’ debut The Human Centipede hit the World Wide Web, my interest was instantly raised; what was a Human Centipede? How do you make one? Are they safe? Can I have one? After seeing the trailer for the film, I instantly decided that having one would be wrong and somewhat amoral, but I did want to see the film still– as nasty and twisted as it appeared to be!

Two annoying American tourists, Lindsey and Ashley, breakdown in the middle of some woodland while looking for a club called ‘Bunker’. They are accosted by some German perv who propositions them, but refuses to lend a helping hand in fixing their flat tire. Too add to the cliché, they decide to wonder off into the woods in order to find help… or a road. What they find is a nice secluded house of the mad Doctor Heiter, who specializes in separating Siamese twins; only he's shifted focus from separation to attachment. We can see from a photo that he has successfully made a Dog Centipede and now aims to do the same with these American girls. All he has to do is find a suitable third part, which he does in a Japanese touris, Katsura.

Taking the most clichéd of horror clichés, Tom Six manages to avoid boredom and tedium by creating a great air of unease and mystery from the off-set. There’s also a great sense of dark humor powering the film that is evident from the start; what with the mad doctor trapping bait by shooting a trucker with a dart gun while he takes a roadside dump. When we first meet our American tourists, they come across as air-headed bimbo’s whom you secretly wish bad things upon, which is where the dark humor strikes once again, as bad things do happen to these poor girls; very bad things.

This is the beauty within the grime; the set up is so familiar that you’ve already figured out what the character will do next in vein attempts to escape; but much like the doomed protagonists, Director Tom Six is playing with us as the villainous doctor is his captives. They aren’t going to escape and neither are we – the horror will play out, and we will watch and endure it. The idea of the human centipede is revolting enough, but when the doctor begins to describe how he will achieve his goals, the stomach will start to feel queasy. Then the harsh realities of what would occur, in such a situation as this, start to arrive as the film progresses and it isn’t pretty; but then again when has the consumption of excretion ever been portrayed as pleasant? Let alone scar tissue exposed to such bodily discharge – revolting stuff indeed. Yet for all the revulsion the film remains gripping and engrossing.

Taking our fear of medical procedures to new sickening heights, The Human Centipede is a film that will be required viewing for genre fans whom believe they have 'seen it all'. The film itself is like an extended version of a Tales From The Crypt episode, so some viewers may loose interest after the first hour. Which is understandable, as it's a film with little to say and even little less to show after it's initial premise, we get to see the Centipede within the first half hour of the film, once seen the gimmick will soon wear-off and the story really has nowhere to go after that. Luckily, Deiter Laser gives a hugely enjoyable performance as the demented Dr. Heiter. Given that he's in the majority of the films run-time, had the role been cast to a lesser actor the film wouldn't be half as enjoyable and watchable as it is.

Tom Six is due to start production on the films sequel, which will apparently make this outing look like a child's movie, as long as he has more to say in this outing I can't see why the sequel can't better the original,. outside of it's great premise, lead performance and confident direction, The Human Centipede does begin to outstay it's welcome, even at ninety minutes. I wouldn't call the film a disappointment in the least, it's a solid little entry into a new decade of horror; but it's a film that was in need of a much needed kick in the ass in terms of pacing, Six goes hell for leather for forty minutes then falls into lackluster for the next half hour before picking back up the pace in the films admittedly gripping climax.

Highly recommended indeed, just don't expect to have your world moved, there's a talented man waiting to bloom; if this film hints at anything, it's that of a brave new voice in the horror community. One that has been brought up on Cronenberg movies, while having a love for the Japanese horror explosion of the late 90's/ early noughties – Takeshi Miike in particular – and is fully aware of the fear we have of traveling abroad.

Theatrical Trailer: