Cauldron of Blood

Cauldron of Blood (Santos Alcocer, 1967)

aka COLECCIONISTA DE CADAVERES, BLIND MAN’S BLUFF

Travel writer Claude Marchand (Jean-Pierre Aumont of Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT, dubbing himself in the English version) gets assigned to interview reclusive sculptor Franz Badulescu (Boris Karloff) who resides in a Spanish artists’ colony. Arriving in the picturesque under-touristed area, Marchand immediately strikes a deal with restaurant owner Shanghai (Milo Quesada, BLACK SABBATH) to buy up the beachfront property and promote the town to tourists. Through artist Valerie (Ingrid Pitt look-a-like Rosenda Monteros), Claude meets Badulescu and his imperious wife Tanya (the always delightful Viveca Lindfors – next to her turns in CREEPSHOW and BELL FROM HELL, this is my favorite performance of hers) who controls all dealings with her blind and crippled husband; who himself is unaware that the skeletons used as armatures for his famous sculptures are locals picked off by an unseen strangler rather than being illegally obtained through arrangements with cemeteries in the neighboring villages as he has been told by his wife. The killings go largely unnoticed by our jet-setting main characters until perpetually-sunbathing Elga (Dianik Zurakowska of RETURN OF THE ZOMBIS) disappears after spending the night at Tanya’s and Claude finally listens to the superstitious mutterings of the Queen of the Gypsies (Mercedes Rojo) who predicts more deaths to come including someone close to Claude.

The summary doesn’t even begin to cover everything that happens in this sun-bleached, leisurely-paced Spanish-American co-production. There are subplots involving Tanya’s mute maid, a waiter at Shanghai’s (Manuel de Blas) who stalks and rapes her, the village’s gypsies, the disappearance of hunchbacked umbrella vendor Majo, village children doing some 400 BLOWS-type running around the town seen overhead, and Marchand’s drunk playboy friend Pablo (Ruben Rojo). It’s not really a mystery. Its one of those laidback thrillers that you put on when you’re in the mood for a pleasant diversion. While we do not know who the killer is until the end, we know why he’s killing. We also learn early on that Karloff does not know that the skeletons used in his statues are murder victims so he’s not really as sinister a figure as the film wants to portray him. I suppose it could be described as a jet-set thriller even though none of the fun-loving characters are particularly wealthy but they spend a lot of time sunbathing, drinking, partying at the local dive, painting, modeling, and taking aerial photographs. There are some surreal touches such as the subplot involving Tanya’s leather fetish giving way to a nightmare in which a little blonde girl is terrorized by a woman with a whip, a woman in a Nazi uniform, and a model of Karloff’s head that melts away into a skull.

Aumont (father of Eurocult goddess Tina Aumont) makes for an amusing hero, Monteros a feisty damsel-in-distress, and Zurakowska is great window-dressing here (she wears bathing suits most of the time and reveals varying degrees of skin in her bubble bath and death scenes depending on the version you see) but the film belongs to Lindfors who steals every scene. Karloff is given little to do but doesn’t phone in the performance. There’s a jazzy trumpet-heavy sixties score that glosses over some of the clunkier scenes (including Aumont’s fisticuffs with the strangler which is the usual getting-thrown-across-the-room, breaking-everything-in-their-path knockabout with foley-ed punches). Cinematographer Francisco Sempere (Jorge Grau’s LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE) captures some arresting compositions that can only be appreciated in the widescreen versions. French company Thierry-Pathe contribute the film’s extensive optical effects including title sequence animation in which Zurakowska’s sunbathing figure turns into a skeleton whose bones form the title in the English version (the Spanish version omits this footage and superimposes the title in regular lettering) and the various superimpositions in the title sequence and dream sequence, and other opticals later in the film.

CAULDRON OF BLOOD has had a rather complicated history on video. There were two tape releases in the US, one from NTA Entertainment (subsequently reissued by Republic Pictures Home Video) that was a cropped print of the TV version (which still reveals one darkened shot of Zurakowska’s bare breast) and a reissue version from VidAmerica called BLIND MAN’S BLUFF which had another instance of brief nudity during the bubble bath sequence but was still incomplete. The OOP budget DVD release in the UK (whose artwork mistakenly includes part of the artwork from its underrated co-feature CRUCIBLE OF HORROR) is believed to be this same version even though the pre-cert Vampix release turned out to be the uncut export version which not only included the above-mentioned nude scenes, but an additional shot during Elga’s death scene as the strangler rips her nightgown away and some additional footage of Lindfors smoking while watching the attack (the US version only shows her drinking). The Spanish DVD release from Divisa is of course the covered Spanish version but the differences are much more complex than just the censoring of nudity. The Spanish DVD is letterboxed at 1.66:1 (in the fullscreen versions, you cannot see Elga at the edge of the frame overhearing Pablo call her a “cheap tramp” to Claude early in the film) and looks better than the UK tape and features Spanish mono and 5.1 tracks and only text extras. The differences I’ve noted are (previously posted at Latarnia) – SPOILERS AHEAD:

– Spanish version does not have the pre-credits sequence in which Claude gets off a plane in Paris, learns he has an assignment from an overly emphatic airline rep, and gets onto another plane.

– The Spanish version is also missing the shot of Elga reclining back and turning into the animated skeleton whose bones form the English title. The Spanish version just fades in on the cauldron with the Spanish title in the same font as the rest of the credits but it does feature the shot of the animated skeleton turning back into Elga who is once again sunbathing but in a different place (she seems to only sunbathe and pose nude throughout).

– The English credits cite director Santos Alcocer as “realizador” and end with “a film by Edward Mann.” Mann is not a pseudonym for Alcocer. According to Tim Lucas, Mann “was known to make arrangements with friends and acquaintences to add his name to scripts he had nothing to do with, as in the case of Oliver Stone’s SEIZURE” ( see his blog review on the film at this link )

– The next difference takes place during Tanya’s nightmare. The English version has a shots of a mannequin of Karloff’s head melting and revealing a skull underneath. The Spanish version cuts from Karloff’s face intact to the skeletal hand on the child’s shoulder.

– The next difference is during Pilar’s rape by Shanghai’s busboy. In the Spanish version, he grabs her, they struggle, and there’s a cut to the night sky followed by the aftermath of Pilar with her clothes ripped, getting up and walking away followed by a scene in Valerie’s house where Elga upon hearing the lightning realizes that she has left the windows open and leaves. In the English version, the busboy grabs Pilar and their struggle slows down into slow motion and then a freeze frame followed by a cut to a lightning strike and the scene in Valerie’s house. After Elga leaves, we get a shot of her running along the beach and then a cut to the aftermath of Pilar’s rape where she walks away followed by the sequence of Elga being stalked.

– Elga’s bath is the next variation. In the uncut English version (the Republic tape is the US TV version), there is a shot of her nipple through the bubbles when she dumps her glass of wine back into her bath and then a topless shot when she gets up in the bath to pull the towel from the nude bust. She says to the head of the statue, “I’m just as pretty as you.” The Spanish version cuts to a stormy exterior as she dumps her wine into the bath to cover up the nudity and then cuts away in the second nude shot as she reaches for the towel.

– When Elga is struggling with the strangler, there are shots of her robe being ripped away, shots of Tanya smoking, and shots of a nude statue no in the TV version or the Spanish cut.

– When the strangler carries Elga’s body towards Tanya, a brief topless shot is scene as Tanya pulls aside the curtain in the TV version and the English version. This is substituted with a slightly different angle in the Spanish version.

– An optical effect is missing from the Spanish version (and the Republic tape I think) at the beginning of the scene with Claude taking photographs of Franz and his artwork. It is a black screen with two animated circles that turn out to be Franz’s glasses.

– After Claude knocks over the sculpture of the hands and Valerie discovers Elga’s scarf, the Spanish version is missing the shot of Valerie putting the scarf in her hat and saying “I’ll give it back to her.”

– The next difference comes when Claude is called over to talk to the queen of the gypsies. In the English version, two guys in cloaks and masks come over and one of them dons his mask to translate for the gypsy to Claude. Since everyone speaks Spanish in the Spanish version, no translation is required so other than the shot of the two men joining the circle, the other shots of the man translating are missing and the sequence is resultingly shorter.

– When Tanya’s hand is plunged into the acid, she screams in close-up and then lifts her hand out of the acid in the Spanish version. In the English version, her scream freeze-frames and there is a cut to the nightmare image of the little girl screaming at the skeletal hand on her shoulder which cuts back to Tanya’s face and resumes the action.

– The English version cuts to a shot of Valerie and Claude embracing upstairs followed by Karloff finding his cane and heading upstairs. The Spanish version does not cutaway after Tanya dies. Karloff immediately goes looking for his cane and heads upstairs followed by Claude and Valerie walking away.

– The last difference is the end credits. The English version fades to black and has a cast listing and some other technical credits. The Spanish version has the FIN credit on the shot of the water with no further end credits.

(Eric Cotenas)

The New York Ripper

The New York Ripper (Lucio Fulci, 1982)

NEW YORK RIPPER follows the attempts of the New York Police Department, as they try to uncover the identity of a serial killer who’s been slaughtering promiscuous females. Will this sadistic fiend be apprehended before he claims another victim? The film has an extremely simple plot at its core, but as they say, it’s all in the execution. NEW YORK RIPPER is one of the sleaziest, grimiest and downright nasty little flicks you’re ever likely to see, even in this slightly censored version brought to you by new company on the block, Shameless Screen Entertainment.

Lucio Fulci’s NEW YORK RIPPER has had a somewhat troubled history on our fair shores. Back in 1984, the film was refused a certificate by then-BBFC head honcho James Ferman and he insisted that the film print be transported out of the country under police escort. The film became even more infamous when Ferman mentioned it in an interview for SEX AND THE CENSORS–a documentary that was made for Channel Four and aired during their ‘Banned Season’ during the early nineties—where he cited NEW YORK RIPPER for being completely irresponsible. I don’t know about anyone else, but Ferman’s comments were like a seal of approval to me; I was desperate to see the film!

I finally got around to seeing NEW YORK RIPPER after meeting Tanzi. Tanzi was a cool cat to an eighteen-year-old that had only read about the banned films, but in all honesty, I wasn’t ready for seeing the film back then, as I found it really disturbing and without a doubt, the nastiest, grubbiest flick I’d ever seen.  I even told Tanzi that I had no intention of ever watching the film again…|

So, fastforward a few years and I began to re-evaluate Fulci’s films, so I thought I’d give NEW YORK RIPPER another go. Though the film had lost none of its power, I was ready to acknowledge the fact that it is an excellently crafted piece of sleaze and probably the last great, non Argento-directed giallo.

Shameless’ disc presents the film well. Although the disc isn’t anamorphically enhanced, the print preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and serves the film well and is sharper and has more vivid colours, when compared to Anchor Bay’s US release from several years ago, especially during darker scenes. The sound is also well presented, though as one would expect from a film of this age, it’s a little undistinguished. The film’s trailer is included, as are trailers for six other Shameless releases.

The film has been censored in accordance to BBFC policy and although much of the grisly impact of the climactic murder is now missing, the cuts are well placed and are not jarring.

Obviously, hardcore, net-savvy fans more than likely own NEW YORK RIPPER already, but to the undiscerning viewer, this is still a very well-presented release of a notorious film. Then again, if you were always bothered by the scene in question, then this is the release for you! If Shameless can maintain the same level of quality for their future titles, I shall be very pleased.

(Paul Alaoui)

Circle of Fear

Circle of Fear (Aldo Lado, 1992)

aka Alibi perfetto

Although fondly remembered for his early gialli SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS (1971) and WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972), very little is spoken about the later works of Italian director Aldo Lado. One of Lado’s last films was CIRCLE OF FEAR, which sees the gifted filmmaker returning to the genre that first got him started as a director. The end result, however, is radically different from his earlier thrillers.

After lengthy undercover work, narcotics agent Tony Giordani (Michael Woods) and his sexy partner (and secret lover) Lisa Bonetti (Kay Rush) are about to make a big drug bust in a Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, they manage to blow it – causing a big shoot-out, during which the top man, seedy mobster Mancini (Burt Young), manages to escape. Tony and Lisa’s grumpy chief (Philippe Leroy) furiously reprimands them for letting Mancini get away right under their noses, and Tony walks out in anger. Later, Tony meets his soon-to-be ex-wife Elvi (Gianna Paola Scaffidi) for lunch but when they head down to the parking garage after their meal, a mysterious killer appears and brutally guns them down.

Tony barely survives the attempt on his life but poor Elvi dies from her injuries. Everyone assumes the shooting was mafia vendetta for the drug bust, but then Tony receives pictures of an old villa that Elvi–who had worked as a real estate agent–had photographed the day she was killed. Tony starts wondering if Elvi was the real target of the shooting because she had unknowingly photographed something she wasn’t supposed to have seen. His suspicions are confirmed when blow-ups of the photos reveal a shadowy figure in one of the windows. Tony tracks down the villa, where a rotten corpse and clues leading to the so-called “Full Moon Killer” are discovered. The Full Moon Killer was a brutal serial killer who was never caught, and because the body’s cause of death appears to be suicide, the cops believe they have finally found this long lost killer.

Tony, however, thinks there must be more to the case and wonders who the figure in Elvi’s photo could be. His chief keeps insisting the mafia was behind the shooting, so Tony decides to do some investigating of his own. He learns that the owner of the villa is Countess Beaumont (Annie Girardot), a middle-aged noblewoman who is locked up in an asylum. Tony goes to visit the countess and is informed that though she looks harmless, she is actually extremely dangerous and is kept behind a secure glass wall that no visitors are allowed to approach. Tony isn’t able to get much out of her but soon after his visit, the countess violently escapes the asylum and another murder is committed. It’s up to Tony and Lisa to solve the complicated case before the killer can strike again…

CIRCLE OF FEAR’s story and screenplay by veteran writer Dardano Sacchetti (with assistance from Robert Brodie Booth and Lado himself) is for the most part rather well done. Certainly, the addition of a mafia subplot is rather curious as it doesn’t really blend in too well with the rest of the film, but it was presumably added to pad the running time as the film, at just 78 minutes, is rather short. The rest of the story is quite good, though, even if Sacchetti borrows elements from DEEP RED (1975) – particularly the mysterious old villa with the corpse – as well as Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980). Furthermore, the insane countess behind the glass wall is clearly inspired by the Hannibal Lecter character from the then recent THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991). But in spite of the borrowing, these plot elements blend together pretty nicely and Sacchetti’s story has some good twists and ideas. Indeed, I dare say the story is so well-crafted that had this film been made in the 1970s–with the typically stylish and flamboyant style of Italian genre films of the time–it would probably have been on a lot of people’s lists of favourite gialli. But unfortunately, CIRCLE OF FEAR was made in 1992 with the typical early 90s aesthetic that most other Italian films from this period are laced with. In other words, it has a flat, boring and impersonal look to it. Luigi Kuveiller’s cinematography is competent but very traditional and without any distinct visual style – it’s hard to believe this is the same guy who once shot DEEP RED. The jazzy music score by Romano Mussolini contains one good, toe-tapping suspense track, while the rest is the kind of dire music one expects to find in a bad, low-budget porno movie.

Fortunately, the film is redeemed somewhat through the presence of a few memorable supporting actors. Outstanding French actress Annie Girardot can always be relied on for a solid performance and she does a splendid job as the sinister madwoman who is not at all nice as she would seem. Carla Cassola – remembered from late Fulci films like THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS (1989) and DEMONIA (1990), as well as Michele Soavi’s THE SECT (1991) – also does a good job as the imperilled lawyer who’s handling the old villa but the most welcome presence is that of fan favourite Bobby Rhodes–unforgettable as the bad-ass pimp in DEMONS (1985)–as the brainy pathologist who’s chummy with the leading man. It’s always nice to see Bobby, even though he has a rather atypical role here.

Sadly, daytime soap actor Michael Woods just doesn’t cut it in the leading role. He’s handsome but without any discernible charisma, and his uninvolved acting makes it hard to care for his character. His co-star Kay Rush is no Meryl Streep either (at the time, Rush was a popular hostess for various music shows on Italian TV and radio) but she seems more relaxed and natural than Woods. Besides, Rush, who is of Japanese and German heritage and quite the looker, provides both welcome nudity and looks stunning in a tight blue cheongsam during the film’s opening sequence.

Veteran actor Philippe Leroy is also onboard as the temperamental police chief, whose character is obviously patterned after the grumpy police chiefs seen in numerous American “buddy cop films”. Leroy acts on auto-pilot in the clichéd scenes where he’s arguing with Michaels Woods, so he obviously took his part only for the money. American actor Burt Young–best known for his role as Sylvester Stallone’s brother-in-law in the ROCKY films–is mildly amusing but saddled with a mostly clichéd and poorly utilized role of the revenge-seeking mobster.

The thing that struck me the most about CIRCLE OF FEAR is how the eye for detail and visual style Aldo Lado displayed in SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS and WHO SAW HER DIE? is completely missing. For the most part, his direction is just lifeless and impersonal. What little energy and life the film does have is solely due to Sacchetti’s story and some gifted supporting actors. Either Lado had lost his touch, or he just didn’t believe in the project. Regardless, it’s really sad to see how he is unable to get anything decent out of an interesting story.

The North American DVD from the budget Canadian company Madacy Entertainment is surprisingly good. The image is fullscreen but this looks to be the correct framing. Image is generally nice and sharp, with good, solid colours. The English dub track (featuring the usual gang of familiar dubbing voices) sounds clear and fine too. The only extra is a trailer, which spoils the killer’s identity and looks cheap and home-made. There are also a few preview trailers for other Madacy releases. All in all, this release isn’t spectacular but is pretty solid – especially for a cheap budget release.

It’s sad to see a talented director like Aldo Lado direct with such little enthusiasm. Sacchetti’s story has a lot of potential and could have been turned into a really nice little film had the direction, visuals and the leading actor been better. But as it is, CIRCLE OF FEAR is a missed opportunity. It may nevertheless warrant a viewing because of a few talented supporting actors and some good ideas.

(Johan Melle)

Island of the Fishmen

Island of the Fishmen (Sergio Martino, 1979)

aka L’ISOLA DEGLI UOMINI PESCE / SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK / SCREAMERS / ISLAND OF MUTATIONS

Having been lost at sea for days with a number of convicts from a downed prison vessel, Lieutenant Claude de Ross and company run afoul of strange creatures that attack them amidst a fog enshrouded reef. Awakening the following day on the beach of a beautiful, yet dangerous island, the group find the place is inhabited by the aristocratic Edmond Rackham and his much younger wife, Amanda. Ignoring warnings to leave the isle, strange and mysterious happenings such as voodoo rites and the appearance of humanoid like fish monsters lead to many unanswered questions for the inquisitive Lieutenant. While Claude’s shipwrecked detainees begin disappearing, horrifying as well as fascinating secrets are finally revealed about the atoll and its residents as a disturbed volcano threatens to destroy the island paradise…

Easily the most ambitious of Martino’s unrelated horror/adventure/fantasy trilogy which also includes MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978) and THE BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979), Martino crafts an interesting variation on H.G. Wells’s classic story, ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, a story that has been adapted for the screen on countless occasions since the 1930s. Martino manages to cram in so many elements, including the army of fishmen, the voodoo priestess and her followers, the volcano that threatens to erupt at any minute and the lost city of Atlantis! Martino manages to weave elements of the Wells’ story in addition to the search for a hidden treasure 2,000 feet below the ocean’s depths. With so much potential and variety in the plot, the setting is ripe for a smorgasborge of thrills and excitement. Although Martino gels all his ingredients successfully, the pacing does drag at times, peddling when it should be full steam ahead. The film itself could have done with a bit more editing, cutting away some of the extraneous fat and toning the rhythm to make it move a little more lively. Such a thing was attempted by Roger Corman the following year (more on that later) when he released the film through his New World Pictures outfit.

However, there are more than enough good moments throughout and the final 15 minutes pile on the action and spectacle. Working with what must have been a small budget, Martino does go the extra mile as usual in delivering more than what his financial constraints should allow. The monster suits are fine; nothing overly spectacular but they suffice in their function to add entertainment value or move the plot along when necessary. Some extra touches could have made them more believable but the film would have been a far lesser affair without them. The creatures are often seen accompanying some fine underwater photography and it’s also obvious the performers inside the suits have been outfitted with air tanks under their costumes during some of the wider shots near the end. But compared with Martino’s other two films often linked with this one, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979) is extremely tame in the violence department. Far more fantasy oriented than a gory exercise in mayhem, this may turn a number of fans off to this picture but it’s definitely got a lot more going for it in the overall plot and its adventure aspects.

The late Claudio Cassinelli is the main star here although Barbara Bach precedes him in the credits. Cassinelli has a commanding presence and I’m curious if he dubbed his own voice here. His character of Lt. Claude de Ross, who is also a medical officer, is constantly at odds with Rackham and finds out late in the film why Rackham has kept him alive for so long. Cassinelli starred in Martino’s two other films in this unofficial trilogy, another of which with Barbara Bach. Cassinelli, as is widely known, was killed in a helicopter accident while filming Martino’s HANDS OF STEEL (1986). The actor left behind a plethora of vibrant roles in many a fan favourite spanning various genres of European cinema, including gialli such as THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR (1975), crime movies like KILLER COP (1974) and BLOODY PAYROLL 1976) and the giallo/crime hybrid WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974). Cassinelli even found time to appear as the mythological Zeus in two abominably bad movies, HERCULES (1983) and THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (1984) from director Luigi Cozzi. With so many intriguing movies on his resume, his star will never fade.

Barbara Bach on the other hand, is beauty personified but she seldom does anything more than waltz around looking like she’s in a state of catatonia or possibly entranced by the voodoo priestess in the film. Most of her other performances follow a similar pattern. However, she was quite lively in CAVEMAN (1981), the film in which she met her husband, former Beatle Ringo Starr. Bach is probably best remembered for her star turn alongside Roger Moore in the James Bond film, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). In addition to her two Martino horror/fantasy films, she had previously featured in a handful of Italian giallo and crime movies prior to her nabbing the role in the Bond film.

Respected British actor Richard Johnson stars as the villainous Edmond Rackham and he plays the role rather viciously, sometimes bordering on the comical. His near constant butting of heads with Cassinelli grows a bit tiresome here and there but by the end, he proves to be quite the sophisticated and determined bad guy, reaching an almost Bondian level of villainy in his plans. Johnson will forever be remembered by Italian horror fans for his role of Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979). In ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979), Johnson is dressed more or less identical to his outfit seen in the flashback in Fulci’s movie. Perhaps the two films were shot simultaneously? Johnson also appeared in Martino’s THE BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER the same year and played a hermetic and loony priest.

Joseph Cotten appears briefly here to reveal a good chunk of this films mystery and his scenes amount to around five minutes of screen time. Cotten is no stranger to foreign cinema and it is often stated that when American actors reach the end of their illustrious careers in their homeland, they resign themselves to foreign shores as it’s the last plateau where their careers still hold weight. To me, this notion, whether it be true or not, is a bit insulting to foreign productions. That the star of CITIZEN CANE (1941) did a large number of often critically maligned European productions, those critics should not forget the fact that he also appeared in what is considered to be three of the worst American films of all time–DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), THE OSCAR (1966) and HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), a film that seriously crippled United Artists, though has enjoyed something of a critical reappraisal since its release.

The cinematography by Giancarlo Ferrando is nothing short of stunning. Full advantage is taken of some truly magnificent locations. Locales that, if not for the air of horror and danger present, are almost idyllic. The photography here is a definite highpoint and something that is shared with the other two evidently more violent Martino horror/adventure films. Numerous times the actors are framed amidst awestricken shots of island fauna, beach locales surrounding the isle or massive caverns like the one seen during the film’s last half. Likewise, the soundtrack by Luciano Michelini is ambitious in its scope, going for scene-specific stingers, voodoo enhanced jungle beats, melodic, sometimes romantic passages and even one cue that sounds reminiscent of one heard in the score for Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! (1980).

Like many Italian genre films of the time, FISHMEN was released in America and suffered the worst fate of Martino’s three jungle adventure films. ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979) was released in US cinemas sometime during the Summer of 1981 in a seriously bastardized, severely altered and truncated version from United Pictures Organization and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Corman apparently was displeased with Martino’s original version and between himself and a director named Miller Drake, commissioned an entirely new opening sequence to accentuate the horror aspects of the film. This new opening segment featured Cameron Mitchell, Mel Ferrer and a group of unknowns as 19th century pirates searching for gold and being attacked by the fishmen (these new effects shots were created by a young special FX maestro and future film director Chris Walas) and showcased some decapitations and throat ripping. The fishmen seen in Martino’s original movie are not seen in this new opening sequence.

In addition to this gory opening, some 15 minutes were removed, new music was added and the title was changed to SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK. The film died quickly but Corman wasn’t finished yet. A new trailer for the film was created but under the newly christened title, SCREAMERS. This new version utilized the tagline, “See a man turned inside out!” and featured footage of “this guy running around covered in slime…all his veins hanging out, chasing a girl in a bikini”. This new snippet was shot by trash peddler Jim Wynorski. The “new film” opened in Atlanta, Georgia and stories of incensed patrons destroying the drive-in due to not seeing a man being turned inside out resulted in the shot from the trailer being inserted into the film at some point or other. The added scene was not in any video version I saw as it never existed in the original film nor, presumably, the initial amalgamation from New World Pictures. Reportedly, the SCREAMERS version made some money. To make matters worse, the SCREAMERS version lists a Dan T. Miller as director which is apparently a pseudonym of Joe Dante although Dante had no known involvement in the creation of any version of this film other than that of being an employee of New World prior to Corman’s tinkering and subsequent release of the Martino movie.

In 1995, Martino would direct a made for Italian TV movie sequel entitled THE FISHMEN & THEIR QUEEN. This oddity was included as an extra on the out of print Marketing Films DVD from Germany. This NoShame Italy DVD is lovingly restored save for a brief bit during the opening moments. The sound is robust and clear on the English track included (for a change) here. There are also 5.1 and mono Italian audio options. The biggest surprise and also the most disappointing, is the inclusion of an hour long doc on the making of the film as well as some of his other movies as told by Sergio and Luciano Martino and Massimo Antonello Geleng. What’s disappointing about it is that there are no English options for this feature. A trailer and photo gallery round out an excellent package.

A fine fantasy adventure film from one of Italy’s best and most versatile fantastic film directors, Sergio Martino. ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979) has much to appreciate in the concept-driven script and the cinematography and due to the lack of any gore or nudity the film is relatively safe enough for younger viewers, though they may be distracted when the creatures are not on screen. Regardless, any Serious Martino fan should have this in their collection. Those expecting something along the lines of his cannibal opus or post apocalyptic landscape might do better to look elsewhere.

(Brian Bankston)

 

The Long Hair of Death

The Long Hair of Death (Antonio Margheriti, 1964)

aka I LUNGHI CAPELLI DELLA MORTE

Adele Karnstein is condemned to burn at the stake for suspicion of witchcraft, as well as the murder or Count France, the brother of Count Humboldt. Soldiers search for Adele’s oldest daughter, Helen Karnstein, also suspected of witchery. She secretly enters the room of Count Humboldt and begs for her mother’s freedom, proclaiming that she is in fact innocent and it is someone else that had murdered the Count; someone living within the castle. Humboldt promises to delay the burning should Helen give her body to him. She does, but the execution is carried out anyway. As she burns, Adele promises that a curse and a plague will befall the castle of Humboldt and the villages that surround it. Helen tries to escape but is caught and murdered by Humboldt. Years later a plague indeed penetrates the castle, laying waste to the villagers living nearby. Count Humboldt–now living in fear and riddled with sickness–enters the chapel along with his son during a violent thunderstorm to hear passages from the bible. At which time, a lightning bolt strikes the tomb of Helen Karnstein, cracking it open. Suddenly, the doors of the church swing open and a mysterious woman enters; a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Helen Karnstein. Thus begins the vengeance of the witch…

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) is a nice companion piece to Margheriti’s other Black and white Gothic horror romp, CASTLE OF BLOOD (1963). Owing much to the style of Mario Bava and his phenomenally successful BLACK SUNDAY/THE MASK OF SATAN (1959; but not forgetting Ricardo Freda’s I, VAMPIRI from 1956, which Bava also worked on), Italian Gothic horror of the 1960s had a flair that could stand with the best of the Hammer Productions from England. Like the Gothic horror films emerging from Mexico around the same time, the most foreboding and intrinsic entries were often the B/W features. THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) has a number of atmospheric sequences, adding layers of dread that possibly would be lost had the film been shot in colour. After the 40 minute mark, the film’s pace begins to slow down when Mary (Steele), the strange woman who entered the church on the night of Humboldt’s death, enters the picture. All the necessary ingredients to make one of these spooky oldeworld horror films are on hand here; a wrongful death/burning of a witch, the eerie castle, hidden passageways, ghosts, and like MASK OF SATAN (1959), there’s a hint of necrophilia present.

Barbara Steele was a striking beauty with an unusually sensual face. Prior to her stint as the Queen of Italian horror, conflicting stories have Steele either storming off the set of the Elvis Presley movie FLAMING STAR (1960) after arguing with the director, or getting fired because of her ill-fitting accent. Whichever the case, having turned her back on Hollywood at the time, she turned to Italy and enjoyed a steady career in Euro horror for a number of years before returning to America where she got little work; mostly in the horror or fantasy field. Her best is undoubtedly her dual role in the groundbreaking BLACK SUNDAY (1959), followed by Roger Corman’s THE PIT & THE PENDULUM (1961) and subsequent Italo horror output such as THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (1962), the aforementioned CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THE FACELESS MONSTER (1965) and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965). According to the booklet that’s included with Raro’s DVD, Steele exposes one of her breasts during one of the love scenes. However, during the scene there is a cut between Ardisson covering Mary’s face with her hair and a shot of him ripping her top away which would suggest the use of a stand-in, as Steele’s face is never seen in the shot.

Character actor Nello Pazzafini is seen in a number of scenes as the character named Monk. Like director Margheriti, Pazzafini had his hands in every Italian genre throughout the 60s and 70s almost always in supporting or minor roles in sword and sandal movies, before making the successful transition to spaghetti westerns, horror, crime, comedy and more, thus becoming, without doubt, one of the most recognizable faces in Italian genre cinema.

Antonio Margheriti was a versatile talent whose stamp covers most genres, his favourite being the cinema of the fantastique. Margheriti also helmed a number of Italian Sci-Fi pictures and sword and sandal adventures such as HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1965); a lesser entry in the peplum/fusto genre that is actually part of the URSUS series of films, but the title was changed for US distribution. The film had elements of horror and features a sorceress who turns men into werewolves. Margheriti also delivered a somewhat mediocre, but lively film in the Italian cannibal subgenre with CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), which starred John Saxon, Tony King and John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice), and is the story of deadly virus brought back from Vietnam by infected veterans.

Margheriti peppers THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) with interesting characters and situations and although the action slows down somewhat during the last half, the suspenseful second half benefits from these interactions. The film is also enhanced by a hauntingly beautiful score (by Evirust aka Carlo Rustichelli) that echoes the later score for Hammer’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971). The deliciously ghoulish ending is foreshadowed around the 70 minute mark. Even though you can pretty much guess how the twist is going to play out at the end, it is still a good, gloomy trip getting there and remains recommended viewing for Barbara Steele fans and those who enjoy older horror films with Gothic trappings.

The Region 2 DVD from Raro contains both the Italian and English audio track. The print is a bit battered and lacks anamorphic enhancement but the English audio is very clear and crisp throughout. Aside from some rather bright shots here and there, the presentation is fine for such a lesser-known film of this vintage. One brief snippet of film apparently wasn’t dubbed in English and there’s no audible dialog present on the English track. This is only noticeable because Ardisson is clearly seen mouthing some dialog to Steele in a large mirror. There is also approximately 31 seconds of missing frames or footage from this release and this includes a shot of beams of light shining through an ornate window, reflecting off of a crucifix followed by a shot of a group of monks. It is possible these brief bits were removed because of damage to the print. The opening title card is presented in Italian; the title appears in front of a wall – presumably the dungeon seen in the castle, with a burning torch to the left of the frame giving off a shadow effect of the films title. A nice touch which is missing from release versions bearing the films English translated title. Two interviews are also on the disc, one with Margheriti’s son Eduordo the other with writer Antonio Tentori but sadly both are in Italian with no English options offered. The booklet inside the DVD keepcase has both Italian and English text.

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) is an often visually striking piece of Euro horror that should find a home in the collections of Margheriti, Steele and B&W terror film fans alike.

(Brian Bankston)

Redemption to Unleash the Power of Bava and Franco on Blu-ray

The US division of Redemption has been issuing its library on Blu-ray at quite a pace and things aren’t set to slow down, as a host of Mario Bava’s finest films will join those of prolific Spanish cult filmmaker Jess Franco before the end of this year. While exact dates and disc specifications have yet to be announced, you can expect to see HD versions of the following: BLACK SUNDAY, LISA AND THE DEVIL, A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, FEMAL VAMPIRE, EXORCISM and VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. The first titles are expected in Spetember/October.

Source: Blu-ray.com

 

Stigma

Stigma (Jose Ramon Larraz, 1980)

aka Estigma

Jose (Emilio Caba, once the young troubled hero of Xavier Seto’s black and white horror sleeper SWEET SOUND OF DEATH, 1965) wakes up to a call from the hospital informing him that his father has been killed in an accident. His mother (Helga Line, showing less skin than usual but she then had Larraz’s SEX ACADEMY and BLACK CANDLES ahead of her) does some appropriate mourning before bouncing back to her active social life, but his younger brother Sebastian (Christian Borromeo, TENEBRAE) is indifferent to his father’s death. His mother puts it down to Sebastian being at “that difficult age” but Jose is disturbed by Sebastian’s apparent precognition of the death. After Sebastian psychically induces the death of a girl who dumped him, Jose attempts to spend more time with him and takes him to dinner with his new girlfriend Anna (Alexandra Bastedo – whose website lists neither this film nor BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE among her credits).

Anna’s medium friend senses an evil aura emanating from Sebastian who she thinks she recognizes from another life and warns Anna to stay away from him. Anna, however, cannot help but feel sorry for the troubled youth much to the consternation of Jose. After Jose threatens to send Sebastian to boarding school if his grades do not improve, Sebastian orchestrates his death by car crash. Following Jose’s death (as with the girl’s death earlier), Sebastian’s lower lip bleeds (the stigma of the title). Anna does not want to believe in Sebastian’s abilities but he consents to hypnosis by her medium friend. The session summons up images of a past life nearly a century earlier. Sebastian, followed by Anna, tracks down the long abandoned house from his visions – where a young man once murdered his parents and sister – in order to discover his own fate.


The potentially interesting story is diluted by influences from CARRIE and other popular films (coincidentally, the film was made the same year as Frank LaLoggia’s FEAR NO EVIL which was also about misunderstood demonic youth). There seems to be a subtext about youth not possessing the language to express their turmoil to their more conservative elders. Unable to comprehend why Sebastian cannot get along with his classmates, Jose warns him to stay in line or else (the threat is echoed by the father [Massimo Serato] of Sebastian’s past incarnation Miguel, whose sister also says that she knows his thoughts are better than his words). Regardless of whether Jose thinks the cause of Sebastian’s problems are supernatural or social, he emphatically tells Anna that Sebastian “cannot be helped.” It doesn’t help that when Sebastian visits his priest (Craig Hill), he is told that evil thoughts are as bad as evil deeds. The medium too is insistent that Sebastian is evil though he is mostly portrayed as a victim (being an unsuspecting reincarnation of a damned youth and victimized in both lives by intolerant elders unwilling to try to understand him and impatient for him to get past that “difficult age”).


Manifestations of Sebastian’s supernatural powers are imaginatively done through montage and music in the usual Larraz style but lack of technical proficiency of the film’s models. The period flashbacks are more lavishly rendered than the modern settings and one imagines that Larraz could just as easily have made a feature length period piece with the same resources. Christian Borromeo looks convincing in period clothes and Larraz makes good use of him visually throughout, with his slightly perverse gaze offsetting his otherwise amiable appearance.

Given her impressive malevolent performance/presence in THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, it is unfortunate that Bastedo has little to do as the innocent heroine. Likewise, Line spends most of her screen-time on the periphery while Caba is thanklessly killed off halfway through without getting a chance to lend a scientific approach to the mystery (though the scripting of his character is inconsistent as he expresses disbelief in mediums but asks his mother if Sebastian might be psychic and believes in stigma). Some of Daniele Petruchi’s score (published by CAM) turned up as library music alongside Marcello Giombini library cues in Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES (more so in the NAKED DREAMS re-edit where one Petruchi cue was used throughout the recycled sex scenes to drown out the sound effects and dialogue). Cinematographer Giuseppe Berardini (THE OTHER HELL, FATAL FRAMES) makes very effective use of both ghostly blues and warm candlelight (in both the period and contemporary scenes). Unlike Larraz’s other films, there is very little nudity in this film and this may be to its detriment as more explicit sexual content might have better conveyed the atmosphere of sexual frustration and confusion (between Sebastian’s past incarnation and his sister, between Sebastian and his touchy-feely mother, and between Sebastian and Anna).


My source for review was the BCI disc that is part of the for-now delayed CRYPT OF NIGHTMARES boxed set that also supposedly includes both Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES (as previously seen paired with THE EVIL EYE in BCI’s WELCOME TO THE GRINDHOUSE volume) and its NAKED DREAMS re-edit (which shares a two-sided disc with the dire Tiny Tim slasher BLOOD HARVEST) along with some other horror films belonging to the Films Around the World catalogue. While screener copies were apparently not sent out, no copies have shown up in stores, and online retailers list it as delayed or not in stock, copies of some of the discs from the set made it to Netflix where I rented my copy.

The image is fullscreen and looks tape-sourced with the wear and haze of an old master but this seems to be the only way to see the film as I am not aware of any foreign-subtitled or English dubbed tape releases. Mono sound is fine but not particularly bold or detailed though that might be a limitation of the original mix. No extras, just “play feature” and “scene selections” though the one sided disc has artwork while the BLOOD HARVEST/NAKED DREAMS disc is the usual two-sided disc with the titles listed on the inner circle.

(Eric Cotenas)

House of Psychotic Women – Kier-La Janisse (FAB Press)

Coming this July from FAB Press…

House of Psychotic Women is an autobiographical exploration of female neurosis in horror and exploitation films. Anecdotes and memories interweave with film history, criticism, trivia and confrontational imagery to create a reflective personal history and examination of female madness, both onscreen and off.

God, this woman can write, with a voice and intellect that’s so new. The truth in the most deadly unique way I’ve ever read.
– Ralph Bakshi, director of Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Fire and Ice, etc.

This sharply-designed book with a 16-page full-colour section is packed with rare stills, posters, pressbooks and artwork that combine with family photos and artifacts to form a titillating sensory overload, with a filmography that traverses the acclaimed and the obscure in equal measure. Films covered include The Entity, The Corruption of Chris Miller, Singapore Sling, 3 Women, Toys Are Not for Children, Repulsion, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Haunting of Julia, Secret Ceremony, Cutting Moments, Out of the Blue, Mademoiselle, The Piano Teacher, Possession, Antichrist and hundreds more!

HARDBACK STRICTLY LIMITED TO ONLY 250 COPIES WORLDWIDE
Limited edition hardback comes with alternative cover artwork, plus an exclusive free gift of a flexi-disc postcard featuring the song ‘Somebody’s Waitin’ for You’ by Charles Bernstein, from the 1972 film PIGS!

Ordering info and more details can be found over at the FAB Press website HERE

First Skyfall Trailer Arrives

After a series of false starts and delays, the 23rd official James Bond film went before the cameras earlier this year and is currently in post production – it arrives in UK cinemas on 26th October.

The film, which has been shrouded in secrecy, was written by Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade in collaboration with GLADIATOR scribe John Logan. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY) steps behind the camera to direct his first action picture. Daniel Craig is joined by series stalwart Judi Dench as M and a phenomenal cast that includes Albert Finney, Ralph Finenes, Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe.

The above poster was unveiled just last week so it comes as a surprise that the film’s first trailer would arrive less than seven days later, though there was some whispering about it going out with MEN IN BLACK 3.

From looking at the trailer it would seem we’re in for a treat and a fitting tribute to the characters big screen 50th anniversary but it’s going to be a long five months!

Redemption announce more upcoming titles from Kino Lorber

Redemption have announced further titles via their Facebook page :- Mask of Satan, Lisa and the Devil / House of Exorcism, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Black Magic Rites, Au Pair Girls, Zeta One, Female Vampire, Exorcism, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, House of Whipcord, The Comeback, Die Screaming Marianne, Burke and Hare, The Blood Beast Terror, The Living Dead Girl, Two Orphan Vampires, & Visions of Ecstasy / Sacred Flesh / Axel / Faustine

More details will be posted once available.