The Frightened Woman

The Frightened Woman (Piero Schivazappa, 1969)

aka Femina ridens (The Laughing Woman)

Maria (Dagmar Lassander), a rather bookish and seemingly innocent young journalist is offered the chance to look at some files which will help with a report she is in the process of writing. Said files are in the apartment of one Dr. Sayer (Phillipe Leroy); a smart, well-groomed character who would appear to be the embodiment of respectability. Offered a hospitable glass of J&B, Maria accepts but moments after the liquid passes her lips she is on the floor unconscious. The “good doctor” takes advantage of Maria’s drugged state by whisking her away to his country retreat, where she awakes to the realization that her fate lies in the hands of a twisted lunatic; a man convinced that women will lead to the undoing of mankind and it soon becomes apparent that his plan is to lead her through numerous humiliating scenarios before killing her at the point orgasm.

Maria soon realizes that resisting Sayer’s twisted games is a futile task and accepts her fate, starting some games of her own and teasing the doctor’s reasoning with suggestions of sex without death, sex with tenderness and care instead of bondage and pain; filling his mind with thoughts of love and affection. Will this be enough to change the mind of a man who has killed so many women that he’s lost count?

Sporting bleached-blonde hair and buffed-up muscles, Phillipe Leroy’s Dr. Sayer commands a narcissistic onscreen presence, with his constant preening and exercising lending an air of superiority, and he flaunts his manliness for Maria at every turn. One particular scene has him taking a bath while Maria stands waiting with a towel. Rather than taking the towel from Maria or letting her dry him off, he leaps into the air and grabs a trapeze above the bath, practicing naked pull-ups. But it’s not long before both Maria and the audience deduce that beneath Sayer’s confident façade lies a mass of insecurities and a flaw that could lead to his possible downfall. Maria’s effect on her captor enables her to begin turning the tables on her him, with the line between who controls the balance of power blurring with each minute that passes…

Kicking off looking like it’s going to be little more than 90 minutes of misogynistic mind games peppered with the odd bout of S&M, ‘Femina Ridens’ thankfully turns out to be quite the antithesis of such an assumption. When Maria’s charms eventually allow Sayer to release his grip on her just enough for the couple to venture out into the countryside, the chance to see her take the upper hand is played out with some sequences that are surprisingly sexy and funny: most notably when the pair are out driving in Sayer’s boat-car (yes, you read that correctly) and pull up to a level crossing. While they wait for a train to pass, Maria puts her head down below the dashboard, with director Piero Schivazappa suggestively intercutting between a close-up of Sayer’s near-ecstatic face and a group of female band members blowing into their woodwind instruments onboard the open-topped carriage of the passing train!

Dagmar Lassander steals the film, transforming from a fragile waif to foxy temptress that isn’t afraid to dish out a blow job at the side of a railroad. It’s not just Sayer she’ll have enthralled, either; from the moment she starts her gauze-clad strip tease in Sayer’s lounge, any red-blooded heterosexual male will be left speechless and suffering love-struck palpitations.

Schivazappa’s directorial output consists mostly of TV productions, with only four other feature films to his name in a career dating back to 1962; a crying shame as ‘Femina Ridens’ is a cracking film on every possible level and one would’ve expected more from a man who set such a high benchmark with this one. Shot through with dazzling late 60’s chic, pretty much every scene is pure pop art heaven, filmed with style, framed to perfection and all topped off with an unforgettable Stelvio Cipriani score.

Picked up by Radley Metzger’s Audubon Film company for theatrical distribution in the USA, ‘Femina Ridens’ subsequently fared quite badly on home video, with a poorly-framed Audubon VHS coming out in the mid 90’s. A release from Redemption followed and although correctly framed, it suffered BBFC-imposed cuts. Shameless, in a brave move, decided to create the ultimate version of the film, incorporating footage from a variety of different sources, including that that was originally cut and amazingly, the film was passed with all previous cuts waived.

This definitive release has since been endorsed by a very happy Schivazappa and marks the first time that a complete version has been available on DVD anywhere in the world, but means a few additional elements had to be inserted into the print using footage of a lesser quality. Knowing this could potentially cause some annoyance with a small minority of die-hard aficionados, this was a bold decision on Shameless’ part and as far as I’m concerned, was the right thing to do. Though most of the inserts are noticeable, there were a couple that I didn’t spot at all and had to have someone point them out to me. Without a doubt, these additions will not spoil the enjoyment of the film and it would have been a massive shame to relegate them to a deleted scenes section of the disc, rather than putting them back into the film itself.  This is a gamble that’s paid off and has resulted in a DVD that stands as Shameless’ best release to date.

Inserted footage aside, the first thing that strikes you is the vibrancy of the colour when compared to the old R1 DVD release from First Run; a transfer that had a muddy brown tinge and suffered from excessive frame damage. This isn’t the case with Shameless’ disc I’m glad to say, as the transfer is great and 16:9 enhanced to boot. Sound is presented by way of a solid 2.0 mono soundtrack which delivers the English dubbed version of the film. As usual the extras consist of a trailer reel for upcoming and current Shameless titles plus the now standard reversible cover featuring all new art work on the front and an original poster repro on the reverse.

This new version of ‘Femina Ridens’ is cause for celebration; a new, fully-revitalised version of an obscure curiosity. The film is a real treat and is presented in a version that won’t be bettered.

(Jonny Redman)

My Dear Killer

My Dear Killer (Tonino Valerii, 1972)

aka Mio caro assassino

The Italian murder mystery (better known to Euro Cult aficionados as the giallo) is a well-worn genre. For every exemplary giallo, there are three or four that are mediocre at best, but almost all of them have one thing in common; an effortless sense of style, and Tonino Valerii’s MY DEAR KILLER is no exception. While it’s not an exceptional film it’s certainly above average  and true to the spirit of a pantheon of films that is synonymous with black leather glove-clad killers, obtuse camera angles and operatic music scores.

Valerii—like many of his brethren–was something of a journeyman throughout his career in the Italian film industry. Having established himself as a sometime writer and assistant director to Sergio Leone (no small feat when you consider the so-called ‘Father of the Italian Western’ had taken the same road and without doubt, must have been a hard man to please) the young filmmaker soon began to carve out a career as a director and, like his mentor, would make the spaghetti his staple. Valerii’s ascension to the director’s chair was fairly typical of the era, as many emerging filmmakers were given the chance to cut their teeth on Westerns simply because there were more projects than there were directors, but the films of Valerii (and, like the work of fellow Leone alumni Duccio Tessari, Massimo Dallamano and Sergio Corbucci) managed to rise above the deluge of functional or sub-par efforts that were becoming the staple; the crescendo of which was his 1969 effort, THE PRICE OF POWER (Il Prezzo del potere); a film that transposes the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination to the Old West.

After the Italian Western began to fall from prominence in the early 70s, Valerii, like many of his peers, ended up drifting from genre to genre but unlike a lot of lesser filmmakers, seemed to make a success of whatever he turned his hand to. MY DEAR KILLER marked Valerii’s first and only foray into the giallo, which is a shame because he certainly exhibits a strong understanding of getting the most out of the format, effortlessly juxtaposing roving killer point-of-view shots with gratuitous nudity, gore and an atypically low-key Ennio Morricone score.

Inspector Luca Peretti (George Hilton) is called to the scene of what appears to be an accident: an insurance investigator’s body lies decapitated; the victim of an apparent mishap with a digger and all fingers point to the machine’s operator; a man who appears to have vanished. It’s not long before the digger driver’s body is found hanging from a ceiling. The driver had accidentally killed the insurance investigator, fled the scene and had killed himself when he realised he could no longer live with the guilt; an open and shut case? Not as far as Peretti is concerned and the dedicated cop is soon uncovering a labyrinthine plot that becomes intertwined with the kidnapping and murder of a young girl.

What sets MY DEAR KILLER apart from more formulaic gialli is that its greatest attribute is its strong narrative. Many gialli rely on the flimsiest of contrivances to propel their narratives but Valerii’s film (which he co-wrote with Roberto Leoni, Franco Bucceri and José Gutiérrez Maesso) has some genuinely surprising and more importantly, credible twists and turns.

The transfer on Shameless’ recently released region free disc is certainly a step up from Shriek Show DVD, with the picture looking a lot brighter than that of its American counterpart. Print damage and grain are both evident, though typical of a film of MY DEAR KILLER’S vintage. The sound is presented in English mono and is perfectly fine. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included, along with previews for six other Shameless releases.

 

MY DEAR KILLER is a good, solid giallo and should find a home in the collection of all self-respecting genre enthusiasts. While the US disc has been available for some time now, Shameless’ disc presents the film, in my humble opinion, in a better transfer and is definitely worth an upgrade if you’re not content with Shriek Show’s darker image.

(Paul Alaoui)

Who Saw Her Die?

Who Saw Her Die? (Aldo Lado, 1972)

aka Chi l’ha vista morire? / The Child

Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW is rightly considered to be a classic of the horror genre and regarded as a landmark of British cinema. Roeg’s film manages to present the picturesque city of Venice as a nightmarish landscape; one draped in a constant blanket of fog and where danger can lurk anywhere in the city’s labyrinth of alleyways and bridges. But director Aldo Lado (THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS) had himself done a great job of depicting an edgier side of the city of canals a year earlier with WHO SAW HER DIE?, a fantastic giallo that has been criminally overlooked by the critical cognoscenti. Not only does Lado’s film share the same setting as Roeg’s but DON’T LOOK NOW also touches on many of WHO SAW HER DIE’s themes too.

Sculpter Franco Serpieri (former James Bond, George Lazenby) is delighted to be joined in Venice by his daughter, Roberta (prolific child actor  Nicoletta Elmi – DEEP RED, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), who has been living in London with his estranged wife, Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg – ALMOST HUMAN, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN). Although Franco is happy to show his beloved Roberta the sights of his hometown, it’s not long before he’s leaving her to play in the street with a group of kids, so that he can hop into bed with a woman with whom he has been having a casual affair. Whist Franco and his mistress engage in intercourse, Roberta’s play friends desert her and leave her alone; making her easy prey for the murderer that has been stalking her. Joined by Elizabeth for the impending funeral, a guilt-stricken Franco decides to pursue his own investigation into the death of his daughter, and in true giallo style, a labyrinthine stew of intrigue follows…

Anyone familiar with DON’T LOOK NOW will recognise other similarities between the two films, particularly that of the grieving parents whose loveless marriage becomes rekindled after the death of a precious daughter. One can only hazard a guess that the writers of WHO SAW HER DIE – Francesco Barilli, Massimo D’Avak and Ruediger von Spiess must have been familiar with Du Maurier’s original text, as elements of Lado’s film border on plagiarism. That said, the editing of the film also echoes that of Roeg’s, with Lado and his editor, Angelo Curi, utilising flash cuts—something that is atypical of the giallo but used to great effect in DON’T LOOK NOW—which would indicate that the British director must have been aware of WHO SAW HER DIE? too.

WHO SAW HER DIE? marked Lado’s second foray into the realms of the giallo after his excellent debut, SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS the year previously; although if fate hadn’t intervened, Lado would not have directed the film. Although an established director by 1972, Lado had worked his way up from assistant director, most notably on Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST. Having made SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS as director, Lado was preparing to work as an assistant director on Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS before filming was postponed to allow Marlon Brando to return to the US and film THE GODFATHER. Without a project in the pipeline, Lado was delighted to accept directorial duties on WHO SAW HER DIE? when his SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS producer, Enzo Doria came calling, and the rest is history. Given that Lado is a native of Venice, it would be hard to imagine any other director making WHO SAW HER DIE? now, as he managed to resist the temptation to make the film look like a travelogue. With the exception of a smattering of shots of the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square, the director is content to show a side of the city that had rarely been captured before, and in doing so, orchestrates some truly beautiful compositions with his cinematographer, Franco Di Giacomo. The film has a very distinctive iconography and its black lace-clad killer is an unforgettable image and a real genre standout. Ennio Morricone’s score is also terrific and again truly memorable; it’s haunting use of child vocals will stay with you for days after.

WHO SAW HER DIE? was previously released on DVD in the US by Anchor Bay Entertainment as part of their Giallo Collection, on what is regarded to be a great disc. This same transfer was utilised by Blue Underground for their recent re-release. However, Shameless’ disc now stands as the definitive article, though it does not include the brief interview with Lado that adorns the American discs. What makes the Shameless release essential is that it features footage not included on either of the US discs. Said footage consists of an extension to the scene in which a murder takes place in the room with the birdcage. In the US versions, we see the assailant stab the victim five times, whereas the victim is knifed seven times in the Shameless version. Though this additional material amounts to mere seconds, it manages to prolong the viciousness of the attack.

The Shameless disc presents WHO SAW HER DIE? In its original 2.35:1 ratio and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. The print itself compares favourably to the American releases, as it is somewhat brighter overall. That said, the level of detail is slightly better on the Anchor Bay disc, with the Shameless release looking a little soft by comparison. This is however a very minor issue. The sound is presented in English mono and is strong and consistent throughout. Rounding out the package is the film’s trailer and a collection of previews for other Shameless releases.

WHO SAW HER DIE? is an excellent and very stylish giallo. Shameless’ release of the film is an essential purchase for giallo completists and with the inclusion of footage not seen in any other version, makes it a worthwhile double-dip for those that already own one of the US releases.

(Paul Alaoui)

 

Strip Nude For Your Killer

Strip Nude For Your Killer (Andrea Bianchi, 1975)

aka Nude per l’assassino

Set in and around a fashion house in Milan, Andrea Bianchi’s 1975 giallo effort STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER epitomises exploitation cinema; a film that is so balls-to-the-wall (or should that be bush-to-the-wall?) in terms of it’s depiction of nudity and sex, that it’s surely one of the most salacious and lurid examples of a genre that was pretty sleazy to begin with. That said, Bianchi’s film doesn’t even try and trouble the reputation of some of the best gialli, as the plot literally serves as the dots between each scene of gratuitous sex and nudity; but then again, most viewers aren’t going to be watching a film called STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER because they’re interested in sating their appetite with an intriguing thriller.. Bianchi’s film seems to have been borne out of the same “twenty words or less” pitches that were made famous by the high concept event pictures of the eighties and early nineties where a film could be summarised by either a title or very, very short sentence. With this in mind, the film delivers wholesale, as many of the beauties that orbit the film’s plot do strip and are indeed killed for your viewing pleasure.

Bianchi sets the tone immediately, with a between-the-legs shot of a young woman lying atop of a gynaecologist’s examination table. When said young woman dies during a botched procedure, the setting shifts to a fashion house in Milan. One by one those that are connected with the business are murdered. A killer clad in crash helmet and motor cycle leathers begins to dispatch photographers and models, seemingly indiscriminately, though in true giallo style, there’s a motivation behind the psycho’s actions. As mentioned earlier, the plot of STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER is functional at best and it’s the set pieces that are of most interest here. The murders come as thick and fast as the comely beauties that are affiliated with the fashion house. And what beauties they are; because no matter how short Bianchi’s film falls in terms of narrative ingenuity, such shortcomings can be overcome when you’re being subjected to oodles of naked Euro goddesses—headed by the lovely Edwige Fenech–flesh that is on offer here. One can easily forgive Bianchi’s liberal theft from the likes of Mario Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE–with which it shares its fashion industry setting–and Massimo Dallamano’s WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTER, from which it steals the look of it’s killer.

Curiously, there isn’t one male character in the film that’s not portrayed as either a voyeur or some kind of sex pest. Even one of the detectives (one that seems to have raided Inspector Clouseau’s wardrobe) can’t stop himself from staring at the crotch of an interviewee! It’s this type of characterization that adds to the films overall aura of sleaziness and results in a sum of parts that really must be seen to be believed. Because each of the film’s male characters, and even some of the parts inhabited by women, are such lecherous predators, Bianchi manages to inspire a feeling within that viewer that leads them to believe that anything can happen, and frequently does.

Shameless’ new DVD release of the film marks the first time it has been released in the UK. While the quality of the audio/visual presentation is a significant step up from the X-Rated Kult Film release from Germany, the print—presented uncut and in anamorphic 2.35:1–still leaves a lot to be desired when compared to other gialli of similar vintage. Picture quality is solid for the most part through daylight and well-lit interior scenes but there’s a fair amount of grain present in those taking place a night. The English soundtrack is far better than that included on the German disc and does a great job of presenting audible dialogue and Roberto Pisano’s catchy music score. The film’s trailer and previews for other Shameless titles are the only extras.

All in all, this is another solid presentation from Shameless. While both narrative and picture quality leave a lot to be desired, the lashings of bare naked beauties and an overall kitsch appeal should please fans that do not own the film already.

(Paul Alaoui)

 

The Designated Victim

The Designated Victim (Maurizio Lucidi, 1971)

aka La Vittima designata / Murder By Design / Slam Out

In the annals of Italian cinema Maurizio Lucidi’s THE DESIGNATED VICTIM is something of a standout when you consider the period in which it was made. Shot in 1970 and released in Italy early the following year, it pre-dates the poliziesco explosion by a couple of years but doesn’t fit perfectly within the confines of the genre anyway: nor does it play like the gialli that were typical of the period either; it’s far closer to thrillers such as Elio Petri’s Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (aka INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) and therefore would seem more like an attempt at serious filmmaking, rather than the exploitationer that its credentials would suggest.

Lucidi’s plot (co-devised by Augusto Caminto, Aldo Lado and Antonio Trioso) owes its central conceit to Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and foreshadows Dario Argento’s own homage, DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? Tomas Milian stars as Stefano Argenti: a fashion designer stuck in a loveless marriage to Luisa (Marisa Bartoli). While he tends to the day-to-day running of her business he becomes increasingly frustrated by the lack of confidence she has in his capabilities. With a buyer lined up to purchase a sizeable amount of the company’s shares, Stefano becomes incensed when Luisa refuses to allow him to sell, thus scuppering his plan to pocket the money and disappear with his mistress, Fabienne (Katia Christine). While on a short break with Fabienne in Venice, Stefano meets Matteo Tiepolo (Pierre Clementi) a mysterious count who offers him a solution to his problems: Matteo is happy to kill Luisa if Stefano is prepared to return the favour by murdering the Count’s bully of an older brother.

Though Matteo’s plan seems like an obvious solution to Stefano’s problems, the designer declines the Count’s offer and returns to his wife. However, Matteo continues to court Stefano, seemingly desperate to eliminate his brother who has now taken to physical violence. Stefano refuses once more which results in Matteo killing Luisa and him being blackmailed into upholding what the Count believes to be the designer’s side of the bargain. With Matteo doggedly pursuing him and planting crucial evidence, and the police closing in, time is clearly running out for Stefano…

THE DESIGNATED VICTIM is a cracking thriller. Lucidi and his writers establish their plot early on, leaving the stage clear for some tremendous sparring between Milian and Clementi, both of whom deliver first rate performances. Milian’s Stefano is at first confident and calculating but becomes much more sympathetic as the narrative unfolds and the actor nails both of these dispositions perfectly. In contrast to Stefano, Clementi’s Matteo is the complete antithesis: we are introduced to a softly-spoken, sensitive and frail Count whose devious plan is borne out of desperation. But as his manipulation of Stefano amps up in the second half of the film, we begin to see a much darker side of his character. Such complicated characters live and die by the actors that play them and if either of them had been inhabited by a weaker actor, the film would never have reached the heights of intelligence and plausibility that it maintains throughout.

Though the acting and dynamic between Stefano and Matteo–that is clearly derived from the script–is the essence of what makes THE DESIGNATED VICTIM such a great film, Lucidi’s role as director also brings a great deal of prestige to the proceedings and is certainly the best example of his work that I have seen. Having directed spaghetti westerns such as A STRANGER IN TOWN and HALLELUJA FOR DJANGO before THE DESIGNATED VICTIM and the likes of STATELINE MOTEL and SICILIAN CROSS after it, nothing else on his directorial filmography would appear to be in the same class. That said, many of Lucidi’s key contributors add a great deal of elegance to THE DESIGNATED VICTIM too. From Enrico Sabbatini’s sublime and heavily-stylised production design to Aldo Tonti’s formidable cinematography, the film manages to gel on every conceivable level. The ever reliable Luis Enríquez Bacalov also delivers another memorable musical score that stands among the likes of DJANGO and MILANO CALIBRO 9 as the composer’s best work.

Coming almost two years after the German release and English-language DVD debut from New Entertainment World, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Shameless’ recently issued UK disc would be ripe for overlooking but you’d be wrong. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen and framed in the original 2.35:1 ratio. While the quality of print isn’t as good as some of the company’s better releases, the print is serviceable and slightly better than the NEW release to my eye. However, Shameless have gone the extra mile by adding some of the elements that were missing from the print found on the German disc. Although the inserts do come from a noticeably inferior source, they are brief and detract from the sudden scene cuts that plagued the NEW release. There is also the choice of either the original Italian soundtrack (accompanied by English subtitles) or the English language dub. Extras include a gallery of artwork, deleted scenes the trailer and the now obligatory selection of previews for other Shameless releases. Best of all however, is a text-based fact track that unspools during the film. Written by Stefan Novak, the track mines much information regarding the differences between versions released around the world and trivia surrounding the filmmakers and actors. Definitely worth 90 minutes of anyone’s time.

Shameless have delivered the definitive version of an excellent film. THE DESIGNATED VICTIM transcends the limitations that pigeon-holed many of its contemporaries. It’s a sterling feature film and one that stands up to repeat viewings.

(Paul Alaoui)

 

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga (Corrado Farina, 1973)

Walking home from a party, Valentina Rosselli (Isabelle de Funes, niece of Louis de Funes and former wife of French actor Michel Duchaussoy), a young Milanese photographer, saves a dog from being run over by a Rolls Royce driven by the mysterious Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker in a role meant for Anne Heywood). Baba Yaga tells Valentina that their meeting was preordained and that the will meet again soon. That night Valentina is assailed by a nightmare featuring women in Nazi uniforms and a bottomless pit. Following a photo shoot in her apartment, Valentina is visited by Baba Yaga who casts a spell on the taking lens of her Rolleiflex camera (“That’s the eye… the eye that reasons reality.”) and her camera subsequently jams filmmaker boyfriend Arno’s (George Eastman, ANTHROPOPHAGUS) motion picture camera during a film shoot. A hippie protestor also drops dead when Valentina takes a photograph of him. Baba Yaga invites Valentina to her old mansion and allows her to take photographs of her rooms and antiques. While taking photos, Valentina discovers not only a bottomless hole in the floor but also a Victorian doll dressed in leather gear. Baba Yaga makes a present of the doll to Valentina. During another photo shoot, Valentina’s model friend Toni (Angela Covello, TORSO) falls mysteriously ill when Valentina takes a picture of her with her hexed camera. Valentina also hallucinates that the doll has come to life (in the form of the voluptuous Ely Galleani, LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN) and confides in Arno when Toni mysteriously dies.

Performances are all rather bland here. De Funes projects little authority as a photographer and does not look that much like Louise Brooks while Eastman who does not really convince as a filmmaker (though in real life Eastman would direct in the eighties for Filmirage). Although made to look more frail, Baker doesn’t really resemble Baba Yaga as seen in Crepax’s drawings under the opening and closing credits, but she manages to come across as a little mysterious thanks to her fetishistic stroking of cameras and dolls or nibbling on a garter clip (and a slight echo in her dubbed voice). Although Baker dubs herself, the Italian voice actor’s deeper voice seems more suited to the character. Piero Umiliani’s score features some source music from his album TO-DAY’S SOUND – including the recurrent main title theme – but his solo piano theme for Baba Yaga is simple yet romantic and nostalgic. Aiace Parolin (KEOMA, SIMONA) provides some attractive cinematography but it does not really suit that film’s comic book origins (the love scene between Valentina and Arno looks more like it is composed of art film abstract close-ups than being imitative of comic book montage despite some striking use of still photographs). Cameraman Angelo Lannuti worked with Parolin again on Patrick Longchamps’ SIMONA the following year. Editor/assistant director/co-writer Guilio Berruti also co-wrote Farina’s HANNO CAMBIATO FACCIA and would go on to direct KILLER NUN with Anita Ekberg. Berutti’s editing is striking throughout with memory and fantasy represented with both flash cuts and sequential high contrast black and white stills. Set and costume design are not particularly striking though one does wonder if Farina had taken his inspiration for this film from Tinto Brass’ COL CUORE IN GOLA which was storyboarded by Crepax (Brass appears in an Easter Egg interview on the BU disc of BABA YAGA). Set and costume designer Giulia Mafai also performed the same services on Brass’ pop-art western YANKEE (1968).

The political incorrectness of Arno’s soap commercial in which a black villain is vanquished by a white man (dressed all in white) seems to go against the grain of Farina’s leftism but I think the casual racism is indicative of the shallowness of the characters. The same can be said of Valentina who is called an idealist in one scene and then in another gives direction to her black model/revolutionary university student – during a “sex and civil rights photo shoot” – that she wants him “to forget that you have an education and live in a civilized world […] and let me see some nice primitive drive like your ancestors. You know the ones in the jungle that ate up the missionaries.” Although the Wilson brothers on their text commentary suggest that the previously cut opening sequence with its raping of Native Americans, castrating of pilgrims, and burning of the flag would not go over well in America these days, it is obvious that Farina intends this performance to be a pretentious “happening.” Farina paints a shallow picture of creative intellectuals who say things like “Even Snoopy in his own way is anti-establishment,” “We’re all whores in some way or another” and the oft-heard “Godard is Godard” at parties – perhaps in contrast to the street protestor that Valentina accidentally kills with her cursed camera – and he may have been poking fun at himself with the Arno character since he started out as a prolific director of commercials. The problem is that Farina’s leftist attitude does not extend to the exploitable aspects of the genre. Lesbianism is a sign of old world decadence as represented by Baba Yaga and the Victorian doll in leather gear so it is also synonymous with witchcraft. Despite Baba Yaga hexing her camera, it’s really only Valentina’s body Baba Yaga is after thus her rescuing requires brawn rather than the creative acumen of either Valentina herself as a photographer or Arno as a filmmaker.

The ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR MOVIES cites Farina as stating that the producers cut 20 minutes of political content from the film but the deleted scenes on the BU disc amount to about 10 minutes and integrated into the feature would run 93 minutes in NTSC (assuming the deleted scenes had been properly converted). Either not all of the ten minutes worth of deleted scenes were restored or some other footage was removed from the body of the film since the Shameless release with deleted scenes integrated would run just under 90 minutes in NTSC. Although Shameless’ DVD of BABA YAGA represents the film’s director’s cut as newly prepared by director Corrado Farina, the deleted footage had previously appeared in the supplements of Blue Underground’s US DVD release. The transfer of the body of the film appears to have been derived from the same master while the restored footage looks to be in about the same quality as it did on the US DVD extras; this is especially noticeable in the scene where Baba Yaga visits Valentina’s apartment in which the first few seconds of a shot have been restored causing a mid-shot cut from pale, blooming, scratchy, soft to relatively sharp, colourful, and blemish-free. While prior versions of the film which began with Valentina arriving at the opening party did not seem to be missing anything, the lengthy cemetery sequence now placed before the opening credits seems less like a vignette and gives the film a much livelier opening. Frontal nudity from Carroll Baker and Isabelle de Funes in a later sequence has also been restored (in lesser quality). The restoration isn’t perfect – there is a pause between the opening notes of Umiliani’s opening track as it starts at the end of the pre-credits sequence and the fade in to the first credit and the music tempo switches – but only so much could be done with the materials as they were. As with the Blue Underground DVD, Shameless’s DVD is dual-layer but the disc must accommodate more extras than the domestic release. Although Shameless includes both the English and Italian audio with English subtitles (and English subtitles for the Italian-only scenes on the English track), Blue Underground’s rendering of the English mono track is cleaner and full bodied; on par with the main feature’s transfer.

The two major extras on the disc are the Farina-directed documentary on Crepax “Freud and Fumetti” which was also featured on the Blue Underground disc under the title “Freud in Color” and a second Farina documentary called “Fumettophobia” which is more focused on the fummetti in general. The 20 minute interview with Farina is different from the one featured on the Blue Underground disc. Shameless provides their third fan commentary subtitle track on BABA YAGA – following OASIS OF FEAR and THE DESIGNATED VICTIM – in which we learn among other things that Farina started out as a prolific commercial filmmaker – not unlike the superfluous-seeming Arno – and that birds were crazy for bearded guys in the seventies. Other extras include a poster gallery, a trailer for the film along with trailers for WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, OASIS OF FEAR, STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, VENUS IN FURS, and a newly created one for the upcoming FOOTPRINTS.

The Shameless disc is a great presentation of the film as it was meant to be seen despite the quality of the restored sequences along with the English and Italian tracks and subtitles and some great extras but fans may also want to hold onto the BU disc for its exclusive extras: the other Farina interview, the Brass Easter Egg interview, the DVD-ROM comic to film comparison, and a superior still and poster.

(Eric Cotenas)

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)