Footprints

Footprints (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)

aka LE ORME

Alice (Florinda Bolkan, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN), a translator living in Italy, wakes from a disturbing dream (of an astronaut left to die on the moon, a scene she recalls from a film) to discover that she has lost three days after having a breakdown and running out in the middle of a conference.  Her friend Mary (Evelyn Stewart aka Ida Galli, KNIFE OF ICE) believes that Alice is exhausted and that the tranquilizers she has been taking caused her to sleep through those missing days.  The only clues to where she may have been are a postcard for a hotel in Garma, a missing earring, and an unfamiliar yellow dress with a bloodspot hanging in her wardrobe.  Alice takes off to Garma and finds herself remembering details of the place (she requests a specific room in the hotel).  Paula, an “imaginative little girl” (played by, who else, Nicoletta Elmi from BARON BLOOD and PROFONDO ROSSO) calls her Nicole and claims that she last saw her on the beach a couple days before.  Alice also makes the acquaintance of Henry (Peter McEnery, THE CAT AND THE CANARY), a biologist who lives on the island.  An old acquaintance (John Karlsen, SLAUGHTER HOTEL) who has been on holiday in Garma also claims to have caught sight of her days before.

When Alice presses Paula for more details about Nicole, the girl is less sure that Alice and Nicole are one in the same (Nicole had red hair) and Mrs. Ines (Lila Kedrova), a vacationing widow who was on the beach with them does not remember seeing Alice.  The dream imagery from the astronaut film becomes more vivid (we learn that the movie character Dr. Blackmann, played by Klaus Kinski, is experimenting with “cosmic isolation”).  Alice learns from Paula that Nicole was always hiding in the woods and that she tried to destroy a document about astronautics.  Paula’s stray dog friend Fox also turns up with a red wig and the wigmaker also recognizes Alice as Nicole.  A boutique that carries the same yellow dress she found in her apartment sends her a hat and a purse with the name “Nicole” engraved on it.  Alice discovers that Nicole bought a pair of scissors from another shop and she buys a replacement pair.  Even the offer of a sympathetic ear from Henry is suspicious when Mrs. Ines points out that Alice’s pin was made by a Garma artisan who died years ago (suggesting that Alice/Nicole may have been to Garma even before her lost three days).

Based on a novel called “Las Huertas” by co-scenarist Mario Fanelli, FOOTPRINTS is a superior giallo-esque piece of cinema and is no easier to pin down to a specific genre than Bazzoni’s LADY OF THE LAKE.  The ending is ambiguous and open to multiple interesting interpretations (even the final text coda inspires yet another interpretation rather than wrapping up the story).  Kinski is sinister but does not get to go off the rails here (he’s dubbed by someone else).  By this point in giallo filmmaking, Nicoletta Elmi functions as more of a signifier of the genre than a character.  The talented Kedrova and Karlsen are similarly more archetypal presences in their exposition-conveying roles.  McEnery is the only unfamiliar presence in the genre and he is quite good with what little he is given to do.  A disorienting storyline filled with ambiguous and suspicious supporting characters (that is not written and/or directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet) requires a strong anchoring central performance and Florinda Bolkan is compelling as always and conveys her character’s disorientation effectively.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro does perhaps his most stunning work on a giallo (more so than Argento’s BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE or on his previous collaboration with Bazzoni: THE FIFTH CORD) here with his trademark blues and golds along with some wonderful natural lighting and sparkling sunlit exteriors; Storaro’s camera operator Mauro Marchetti also worked with him on Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS.  Academy Award-winning composer Nicola Piovani provides a lyrical organ and orchestral score that (as has been observed in the forums) recalls passages from his masterful work on Gianfranco Mingozzi’s FLAVIA THE HERETIC (also with Bolkan) the previous year.  The ornate Garma exteriors and interiors contrast starkly with the Alice’s bare apartment and the modern architecture of the Italian locations and add wonderfully to the film’s surreal feel.  Pierluigi Pizzi’s (THE WITCH IN LOVE) production design is hard to tell apart from the Turkish locations and may have been largely confined to the Italian locations; if his contributions include the ornate stained-glass window of a peacock that figures prominently in the film, then he should be proud of his work here.

English-friendly sources for FOOTPRINTS were few and far between before the age of international tape and then DVDR trading.  US viewers likely saw the film on its US tape release as PRIMAL IMPULSE from Force Video (as part of their “Wild Women” series that also included the horror version of Jess Franco’s FEMALE VAMPIRE as EROTIKILL and Bruno Corbucci’s sexy, comic-strip adventure ISABELLA DUCHESS OF THE DEVILS as MISS STILETTO).  That release had fine colour and a sharp image but was cropped to fullscreen.  In Europe, the widescreen Swedish-subtitled and Greek-subtitled releases were the ones to track down (the Swedish-subbed release seems to have been more widely traded on DVDR).  The film was to have had a tape release on the UK Redemption label but at the time the licensors only had a fullscreen Italian master (in Italy, LE ORME was re-released as part of the Nocturno sell-through tape series in the nineties).  Recently, a widescreen German transfer broadcast on Kinowelt’s TV station started making the rounds and that master was a candidate for use on the Shameless release until Marc Morris tracked down a superior widescreen master.

Morris (who did the encoding, authoring, and menu design as well as assembling the extras) and Shameless Film Entertainment are to be commended for yet another wonderful release of a neglected title.  The dual-layer encoding of this anamorphic widescreen master at its best looks better than the German TV broadcast that made the rounds a while ago and is letterboxed at a wider ratio than that 1.66:1 transfer.  The English Dolby 2.0 track is fine with only some hiss in quieter scenes (a snippet of dialogue from an Italian-only that is missing from the English audio track on the screener has been fixed on the final disc).  Scenes that only existed in the Italian version have been inserted into the master from a lesser source and English subtitles have been included for theses scenes as well as a complete set of English subs for the Italian Dolby 2.0 audio track (Italian subtitles for the English dialogue are a nice touch too).

The English and Italian tracks reveal a lot of little differences between the two translations.  Alice’s last name is Cassidy on the English track but it is Campos on the Italian track (the latter makes sense since on both tracks she tells Henry that she is Portuguese), John Karlsen’s character is named Alfred Lowenthal on the English track and Alfredo Laurenti on the Italian.  Kinski’s character speaks English on both tracks.  Certain scenes have always had subtitles on all prints (i.e. Italian subtitles for English/German/French dialogue spoken on the Italian prints and English subtitles for the same dialogue on English prints).  Although the source has Italian credits and text, the conference flashback has the English print subtitles.  At 92m 28s (96m 41s at film speed), the Shameless release is longer than the 88m Greek tape release and  92m 18s NTSC tape release (probably the same content-wise) as well as the German broadcast which would run 95m 17s at film speed.  The English title sequence has been included (mastered from the widescreen Greek tape release) as well as a rare theatrical trailer, the US Force Video trailer, a photo gallery, a series of start-up trailers and a Shameless trailer reel consisting of twenty trailers for their current releases.  As with several other Shameless releases, FOOTPRINTS comes with a double-sided cover (with the LE ORME artwork on the reverse).

Along with their restored but bare-bones release of THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN and their restored, extras-laden releases of WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, THE DESIGNATED VICTIM, and BABA YAGA, Shameless Film Entertainment have been steadily turning out thus-far definitive releases of films that have not always received such respectable treatment on the DVD medium, and for prices that other labels would sell barebones releases at.  FOOTPRINTS is another triumph for Shameless (and Marc Morris).  A true fan of the film cannot live without this release, and a true Eurocult scholar cannot not have this in their library for reference and viewing pleasure.

(Eric Cotenas)

 

 

So Sweet, So Dead

So Sweet, So Dead (Roberto Bianchi Montero, 1972)

aka Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile

For my money there are two key gialli that helped shape the genre, I’m not talking about films that helped create the genre, but films that gave it a direction for imitators to follow. The first was Argento’s 1970 debut, THE BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE. This gave us the ‘innocent civilian caught up in a police hunt’ angle that would become a major staple of the genre. It’s also a high-tier movie that strives beyond its genre trappings, whereas the second feature I find an inspiration for the genre played very much too those trappings, Sergio Martino’s excellent 1971 effort, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH. A film that focused more on the de-robing of its actresses, before slashing them to ribbons, than it was on the revelation of the culprit.

The latter is also the inspiration for the latest release from Camera Obscura, 1972’s SO SWEET, SO DEAD from Roberto Bianchi Montero; father of SATAN’S BABY DOLL’s Mario Bianchi. Montero also shares more in common with Martino than their admiration of breasts and bloodshed, in as much as they’re both ‘jack of all trade’ types within the Italian film industry; turning their hands to various genres during the course of their careers, from Westerns to sex comedies via mondo documentaries, although Martino didn’t go as far as Montero, who took the plunge into hardcore porn towards the end of his career.

Hitchcock favourite, Farley Granger, stars as Inspector Capuana, a big city cop living the easy life in a well to-do town. Only the peace isn’t going to last long, as a sexual maniac – or as some call him – moral avenger, is on the loose dispatching the unfaithful wives of the towns successful husbands. As the bodies pile up, the only clue left at the scene is the photographic evidence of the wives betrayal; due to political pressure Capuana is urged to stay out of the lives of the wealthy and focus on the obvious low-rent who is behind the killing spree. Capuana takes action by setting up an innocent man, causing the killer to take drastic action to reclaim his mantle.

An outdated Catholic morality tale may come across a little misogynistic 40 years after the fact, but the film is hard to label as such as all the characters, male and female, are depicted as liars and cheaters. It’s more of an attack on the upper-class than an attack on women. The widowers wish to keep the fact that their wives had cheated on them out of the press due to the damage it would do to their reputations, it all indicates the film is a product of a time that we will have to have lived in to have fully understood, a time where men were expected to have a mistress and wives were expected to deal with it silently, however, for a man to be cuckold was enough to ruin his career.

The real issue facing the film is the distracting second act. After a gripping and quite frankly excellent first half hour, the film oddly decides to shift focus from Capuana’s investigation to pay homage to Argento’s preferred modus operandi of having an innocent witness get caught up in the investigation after seeing the killer at work. It throws the film’s flow slightly and isn’t as interesting as the opening act, but it does finally shift back to focus on Capuana’s investigation before the brilliant, and still controversial, finale.

Where the film does shine though is in its audacity. Martino brought an increased level of sex and violence to the genre, but Montero takes it into overdrive here. Bringing with him a truckload of Euro-starlets, he provides the audience with enough nudity to carry three movies of this ilk. Actresses such as Femi Benussi (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN) and Nieves Navarro (DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT) have pretty much been hired to strip, run, scream and get covered in fake blood; unrewarding work sure but it helps maintain the films pace and momentum perfectly, so sterling work all round.  Montero always amps up the style for his murder set-pieces, some are more effective than others; for instance a murder early in the film, on a beach, is greatly realised (why are night for day shots so endearing?) but over does it on the slow-motion. The scene overdoes it to the point of laughter.

Much has been made of the US X-rated re-edit of this film known as ‘PENETRATION’ which featured inserted hardcore sequences with Porn legends Harry Reems, Marc Stevens and Tina Russell. Camera Obscura were initially going to provide that alternate version, but source elements foiled their plans, how the film would play with hardcore inserts is questionable as the film really is classier than it may sound and the inserts will no doubt cheapen the effect of the film. Still, it would have made a great addition as a curio; what with Farley Granger seemingly sharing the screen with Harry Reems!

What they have provided us with though is, hands down, the definitive release of the film. Being rescued from obscurity would have been lucky enough for the film, but Camera Obscura have gone above and beyond once again, providing fans with a brilliant looking anamorphic print that suffers only two instances of poor quality due to the difference in source material. The inferior material pads-out a sex scene and adds a little bit of missing dialogue that really wouldn’t have harmed the film if it were omitted, but always the perfectionists, they’ve provided the longest print available. They included both the Italian dub and the German dub of the film, which comes with flawless English subtitles.

As with previous releases the digi-pack contains the gorgeous original poster art with the cardboard inbox housing the disc and liner notes from German Cult specialist Christian Kessler, who offers his thoughts on the movie in a small essay. On the disc we have ‘Revelations of a Jazz Maniac’ which is an in-depth interview with the film’s composer, Giorgio Gaslini. There’s also an audio commentary from Kessler and fellow Cult enthusiast Marcus Stiglegger, which is in German but once again English subtitles are thankfully provided. The final extra is pretty sweet, in a geeky sense, as it’s a French photo novel that plays out to the films soundtrack; once again English subtitles are provided. The only thing that’s missing is a trailer, but they’ve more than compensated for that. Again Camera Obscura have done a grade-A job on rescuing a much deserved title from the depths of obscurity, this release is essential for any fan of the Giallo genre or Italian Cult film.

 

(Phillip Escott)

 

Oasis of Fear

 

 Un posto ideale per uccidere (Umberto Lenzi, 1971)

aka OASIS OF FEAR / DIRTY PICTURES / AN IDEAL PLACE TO KILL

After a credit sequence romp through the landmarks of Copenhagen, Dick (Ray Lovelock) and Ingrid (Ornella Muti) high-tail it to Italy, paying their way by selling pornography. When the money and stock runs out, they decide to make their own and are promptly arrested by the Italian authorities.

Given the chance to leave the country and not face charges they hook up with some bikers and find what’s left of their cash gone the next morning. After a gas station attendant mistakes them for a German couple mentioned in the newspaper as being wanted for robbery, they go on the run and eventually run out of gas at a remote villa (the ‘oasis’ of the title). They plan to siphon the gas from a Rolls Royce in the unlocked garage but are discovered by Barbara (Irene Papas). She is initially apprehensive about their presence but soon warms to their youthful exuberance and free love philosophy.

I’m with other reviewers on this one being a more cynical giallo than Lenzi’s previous entries with Carroll Baker (PARANOIA, ORGASMO, etc). It does however serve as a bridge between those thrillers and Lenzi’s later films SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS and SPASMO (a fight scene in an aviary anticipates the latter film which may have used some of the same bird sound effects). While PARANOIA was a bit more balanced in its presentation of the jet set, ORGASMO presented both the free-loving young and high-living old as equally corrupt. In OASIS OF FEAR, youth are amoral but also childlike in their enjoyment of life and sex, the old are almost universally corrupt in this film.

The buyers of the pornography Dick and Ingrid sell are older Catholic women who cross themselves while looking at the pictures as well as married fathers lured by Ingrid’s long legs (Muti was underage at the time and a body double was used for nude scenes). Barbara sees the spur-of-the-moment opportunity to set up the younger couple and seizes it, pretending to embrace their free love philosophy (using her body and sensuality towards Dick not unlike Ingrid with the various older men). The authorities really are the “finks” that Ingrid calls them. After fleeing Barbara’s house, Dick and Ingrid stupidly decide to stop for a swim at the beach. A police patrol car sights from a distance the young couple sunning on the beach and – rather than questioning why two murder suspects would take time to have a swim hours from the border – the cop radios in that a young couple on the beach might be the two suspects.

It is obvious that Lenzi enjoys working with his three leads. They all get great close-ups and opportunities to show off. Lovelock and Muti are engaging as the representatives of modern youth and Papas is better utilized here in the “Carroll Baker” role than in her supporting role in DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING. Once she, literally, lets her hair down and rocks out with Lovelock, its easy to see why he’s fascinated by her.

Alfio Contini (THE NIGHT PORTER, RIPLEY’S GAME) provides some attractive Technicolor-Techniscope cinematography of Copenhagen and Italy, favouring rack-focus compositions contrasting the young and the old (actors in the frame, actors and background/foreground sculptures and statues). Bruno Lauzi’s score is less interesting than Piero Umilliani’s work on ORGASMO, Gregorio Garcia Segura’s on PARANOIA (conducted by Umiliani with a title song written by Terry Umiliani), and Riz Ortolani’s for SO SWEET… SO PERVERSE. Like those films, however, OASIS OF FEAR has a theme song: “How Can You Live” heard in two different versions in the film. Whilst not as good as the other films’ title songs it’s still memorable, catchy, and thematically relevant. The song is credited to “I Leoni” and Lorenza Visconti. I’m assuming that the main title version is performed by The Lions  and the version heard during the montage of Dick and Ingrid living it up is sung by Lorenza Visconti. The theme also shows up again as an “Indian” instrumental that Ingrid dances to in one of her body double’s nude scenes.

Shameless Film Entertainment’s PAL Region 0 DVD is the second official release of Lenzi’s film on DVD. The film first showed up on an Italian R2 DVD from Alan Young Pictures in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer (the cover incorrectly states a 1.85:1 ratio) with Italian 5.1 and mono audio and Italian subtitles claiming to have been transferred from the original uncut negative. If this is the case, then this Carlo Ponti production has not been well-cared for. The image quality is more soft and grainy than one would expect even for a film of this age (especially compared to the excellent transfers of the older Lenzi gialli PARANOIA and KNIFE OF ICE). Shameless’ release utilizes the same master but is apparently not a direct port of the R2 disc as the titles are in English (obviously newly created over a textless version of the montage shown under the opening credits). This source looks similarly soft and grainy but the audio is quite vibrant. Two separate fan dubs of the Italian source led to the discovery of significant differences between the Italian and English language version which are not so simply explained by the notion that one is a rougher cut of the other.

First off is the presence of an opening narration by Lovelock’s character following the opening credits in the English language version. This narration begins abruptly on my source for the English version – The Greek-subtitled VHS release – because that release was apparently an early attempt to integrate the footage from both versions. The narration is not present in the Italian version and has not been included in the composite English track on the Shameless disc.

 Next is a brief shot of Dick and Ingrid driving to the gas station (the Italian/Shameless version cuts from Dick distracting some nuns while Ingrid is posing nude in the photo booth).

When Barbara asks Dick to go down to the garage and get some more cigarettes, there is a brief extension in the  Greek English language VHS version where Dick protests that it’s too far (the Italian/Shameless version cuts from her asking him to a shot of Dick opening the garage door).

The next extension is in the scene featuring Barbara’s accomplice (Jacques Stany, PARANOIA) after he gives a statement to the police about a road accident. Once he leaves, there is a brief exchange between the two cops which Dick stumbles across on his bike. He turns around and is about to ride off when one of the cops calls him over. The Italian/Shameless version cuts from Stany pulling away to the shot of Lovelock riding towards the roadblock. The Greek/English version features a reverse angle two shot of the two officers talking before Lovelock arrives.

Finally, the Italian language version as seen on disc fades the music out with the ending of the credits while the Greek tape (which has Italian credits) continues the music for twenty seconds on black.

The Italian version, on the other hand, features two exclusive Italian language scenes. The first is between Dick and Ingrid in the garage which is then followed by a scene with them and a bound and gagged Barbara. There are also some Italian only scenes with subtitles in the English language versions but those feature Italian characters conversing and those were likely included in the English version in Italian because the Greek tape features original English subtitles for those scenes (cropped by the panning and scanning and sometimes covered up by the Greek video subtitles). It is highly unlikely that Dick and Ingrid would carry out an entire heated conversation in Italian together in a scene meant for the English language version; the same goes for the scene that follows that with Barbara since she also speaks English throughout. English subtitles are provided for the Italian only scenes on the Shameless disc. Curiously, the print also features the burned in original English subtitles to translate the newspaper headings early on. The Shameless release did manage to restore a brief sequence in which Barbara’s body double gives Dick a blowjob (this body double is reportedly the same one used for Muti’s nude scenes). The quality noticeably decreases from the already soft and grainy look of the rest of the transfer and the sound becomes muffled. I’m not sure for what version this scene was shot for but its inclusion – while welcome – is abrupt and may have been scrapped rather than used for some alternate cut. It was hoped that the Shameless release would restore the other footage seen only in the English version but this did not transpire.

Extras include a text commentary track by Kevin and Nicholas Wilson – who “hope you don’t take it too seriously” – that is informative, sometimes humorous and sometimes a bit smarmy. They manage to clear up some historical facts that would have been unclear to many a viewer; for instance, the popularity of aural pornography early on after pornography’s legalisation when the waters were still being tested. The significance of setting the opening in Copenhagen, which was one of the first countries to legalise pornography, would have had meaning to the movie-going public as many an American and British exploitation filmmaker of the time would disguise their films as Danish productions to attract audiences. There’s also a lot of trivia that is more familiar to Eurocult viewers such as Ray Lovelock’s Italian/British parentage and early musical career with Tomas Milian. A newly constructed trailer is underscored by what the commentators refer to as “Italian bubble-gum music” (the music Dick and Barbara are seen rocking out to early in the film). Other newly created trailers one for Shameless’ restored version of the interesting-looking THE DESIGNATED VICTIM that touts all of its attributes (another text commentary, English and Italian audio, deleted scenes), Corrado Farina’s restoration of his film BABA YAGA (branded with the subtitle “Reloaded”), WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, along with original trailers for TORSO and STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER.

Shameless has not given us the definitive release of OASIS OF FEAR but it could be argued that the missing scenes do not hurt the film and the picture quality may reflect the condition of the available elements.  They have, on the other hand, put an admirable amount of work into the release (text commentary, a surprising recovered scene, subtitling much of the Italian dialogue including some not translated in English prints) and their showmanship is infectious with one of their best self-made trailers and cool – nay, iconic – cover art that makes use of imagery from the Japanese poster.  Eurocult enthusiasts – especially lovelockandload members – who have not seen this film would be doing themselves a disservice if they skipped out on the film just because of the discs minor demerits.

(Eric Cotenas)