Archives May 2012

The Alcove

The Alcove (Joe D’Amato, 1993)

 In 1936 Italy, Elio (Ali Cliver, ZOMBI 2) returns home from Africa with a present for his wife in the form of Zerbal (Laura Gemser, BLACK EMANUELLE), the daughter of a tribal king.  Unbeknownst to him, his neglected wife Alessandra (Lili Carati, CANDIDO EROTICO) has formed a lesbian relationship with Elio’s otherwise frigid secretary Velma (Annie Belle, LAURE) who is less than pleased at Elio’s return (especially when he gets drunk and forces himself on her).  Neither woman immediately takes to Zerbal nor Elio’s disapproving son Furio (Roberto Caruso, THE CHURCH) who is quietly attracted to Velma.  Elio turns Zerbal over to Alessandra “body and soul” and she becomes Alessandra’s model while Velma is busy transcribing Elio’s memoirs (the proceeds from which he will pay off his many creditors).  Elio – who is making little progress with his manuscript – returns the belongings of a fallen comrade to his widow only to discover that the dead man was a stag filmmaker and decides to produce some of his own to make money with Alessandra, Velma, and Zerbal as the cast.  Slowly, the subservient and much-abused catalyst Zerbal gains sexual and psychological dominance over Elio, Alessandra, even managing to turn them against Velma who becomes an unwilling participant in one of his stag films directed by Zerbal.  Velma in turn appeals to Furio to free Elio and Alessandra from Zerbal’s influence.

Although regarded as one of the D’Amato’s best Filmirage-era erotica entries, THE ALCOVE is a frustrating movie.  Scripted by Ugo Moretti (Lenzi’s ORGASMO), the period detail is well-sustained and the cast is attractive but the plot takes a sudden hypocritical turn from Gemser doing her exotic femme fatale giving the despicable Elio, racist Alessandra, and jealous Velma what they deserve (this is certainly no BLACK EVA) to a gallant Furio comforting Velma and rescuing his father and stepmother from the evil influence of Zerbal who may be nefarious but her comeuppance is not so satisfying since she’s had our sympathy for the first half as the exploited victim.  Early on, the script is fairly sophisticated for softcore erotica.  Zerbal is constantly underestimated as being “just a savage” and “a feline creature” who doesn’t know what she is doing or why.

As it progresses, we start to wonder if Zerbal’s “Go and get yourself fucked” is simply her misuse of one of the phrases Elio taught her or her intended greeting to Alessandra and if her acquiescence to Elio’s turning her subservience over to Alessandra was ever sincere.  During a discussion with Furio of Elio’s African victories which upsets Zerbal, Alessandra points out that history is shaped by the victors and no one takes an interest in the perspective of the losers only after she has become enchanted by Zerbal’s body.

While Gemser is a commanding presence as always, Cliver is rather nondescript without Nick Alexander’s dubbing while Belle’s presence is diminished by the covering of her trademark short, cropped hairdo (whether dark as in LIPS OF BLOOD or platinum blonde as in LAURE and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) with a more period-suitable long wig.  Carati fares better in later scenes when Alessandra is totally psychologically dependent on Zerbal.  Instead of Filmirage regular synth composer Carlo Maria Cordio, Manuel de Sica (DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) contributes a suitable-to-the-period score.  The Filmirage erotica entries were divided between modern-day entries of lesser quality such as the dire TOP MODEL and ELEVEN DAYS, ELEVEN NIGHTS and better period entries including this, THE PLEASURE (also featuring Carati), ROOM OF WORDS (a New Orleans-set version of the Henry Miller/Anais Nin story popularized by HENRY & JUNE), PEEPSHOW (a take on BELLE DU JOUR), and one or two others.  While the sex scenes are very standard for eighties softcore erotica, the stag film footage crosses the line into hardcore (and probably was cut from the UK release).  Although flawed, THE ALCOVE has the best combination of elements in terms of casting and settings.

Severin’s anamorphic widescreen transfer of the English version of THE ALCOVE is a satisfying rendition with a clear transfer (excepting the intentional softness of Joe D’Amato’s cinematography, here billed under his Filmirage cinematographer pseudonym Frederiko Slonisko) and good mono audio (dialogue is clear and hiss is only apparent during passages with only music).  Grain is heavy enough in some interiors and dark exteriors but that is likely the original cinematography.  Although a 1.66:1 aspect ratio would have offered a bit more headroom in some of D’Amato’s artier compositions, the 1.78:1 matting is not as ruinous here as it was on Severin’s Filmexport-licensed THE ART OF LOVE and HANNA D.

The rare theatrical trailer is in worse condition and seems to be taken from an old videotape.  The English-language D’Amato interview comes from grainy, fuzzy VHS as well but it is quite interesting (the augmenting film clips range from VHS quality to newer digital masters which may explain why the 4:3 video interview has been inserted into a 16:9 palette). The film has also been released in Italy by Avofilm who distributed the film on VHS in the eighties but the quality of their DVD product has been spotty (including a panned-and-scanned NEW YORK RIPPER when the rest of the world had anamorphic widescreen editions) and in Germany in a 4:3 letterbox version with forced German subtitles when the English track is selected.  Although some may covet the German edition’s hardbox clamshell, Severin’s newer edition looks like the winner.

                                                                                                                          (Eric Cotenas)


Night of Death

Night of Death (Raphael Delpard, 1980)

aka La Nuit de la Mort

France has certainly proved itself to be the most innovative and provocative source for horror fans in the new millennium, with films such as HAUTE TENSION, INSIDE, MARTYRS and FRONTIERS, it’s not hard understanding why the horror community gets sweaty when news breaks of the latest French onslaughts: THE HORD and The PACK being two for 2010. As captivating as the recent releases are, what was the state of the French horror genre in the 80s? Aside from an occasional Euro-cine production or a Jean Rollin title, I’ve seen very little; so it’s to Synapse Films credit that it has given fans the chance to discover one of French horrors’ hidden gems.

Martine (Isabella Goguey), with the aide of her boyfriend Serge (Michel Duchezeau), has just found work as an assistant nurse at the lush, secluded Deadlock House retirement home. The sanest, and least bizarre, is Nicole (Charlotte de Turckheim), a fellow nurse who is unaware that the owner, Madame Héléne (Betty Beckers) has hired another nurse and isn’t shy with displaying her displeasure. That night, Martine is allowed to spend time with Serge; after that she will have no contact with anyone outside the house for two months. The morning after Martine discovers that Nicole has disappeared and Madam Héléne explains that she had to fire her for questioning her choice of hiring Martine; but Martine has a note from Nicole apologising for mouthing-off and is looking forward to making friends with her. Determined, Martine sets out to discover the truth behind the disappearance of Nicole and what exactly happened that night.

NIGHT OF DEATH is a simple film. I don’t want to give anything away but the twists are so apparent that you’ll see exactly where the film is going within twenty minutes or so, but that’s not to say it isn’t a fun ride regardless of its predictability. The atmosphere is the film’s star, and it is here where the film excels most. It’s evidently low-budget but the visuals are soft, dream-like and appealing, the gore effects are also surprisingly effective and shockingly good for their time: with one dismemberment that stands out in particular. There’s also a welcome level of dark humour to be found, mostly in the surreal characters and their actions; such as the childish behaviour from the geriatric inhabitants of Deadlock House. Fighting over their possessions to squabbling like spoilt little brats around the breakfast table; it’s juvenile but undeniably fun.

There’s also an interesting slave-like grounds keeper called Flavien: a character who offers the audience something it can feel sorry for one minute, then fear the next. Flavien is handicapped and abused by the old inhabitants and Madame Héléne; then he switches and becomes the abuser depending on his temperament. Isabella Goguey is an interesting choice (read: inappropriate) for the lead, she’s certainly easy on the eye, but she doesn’t have the ability to hold the viewers attention for the amount of time that’s required; more-so when she is being upstaged by the older cast members who are genuinely, as opposed to ascetically, likeable performers.

Though NIGHT OF DEATH is a flawed film, it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable genre films from this period; not to mention one of the few. Jean Rollin fans will enjoy the obviously influenced visuals and gore fans will enjoy the visceral set-pieces the film has to offer. Synapse Films has lovingly restored the film, the presentation is beautiful and this is certainly the cleanest the film will have ever looked. Due to the rarity of the film, finding extra material for the DVD – not to mention the scarcity of the niche audience who will be interested in this title – investing in further supplements was no-doubt too much of a risk; so we have a bare-bones release here. Having said that, the price isn’t going to break the bank of those curious for something new.

NIGHT OF DEATH is definitely a must for fans of the new horror movement that has seen France take the scene by storm.  Raphael Delpard has done a great job in creating an enjoyable, atmospheric slice of weirdness but it won’t linger in the mind long after viewing.

(Phillip Escott)


The Reflecting Skin

The Reflecting Skin (Philip Ridley, 1990)

Back in 1990 Philip Ridley was best known for writing the screenplay which would form the basis of Peter Medak’s film THE KRAYS; his first foray into directing would come the same year. Produced by Ray Burdis and Dominic Anciano, who also produced THE KRAYS, Ridley’s follow-up film PASSION OF DARKLY NOON and their own, heavily improvised FINAL CUT and LOVE, HONOUR AND OBEY, THE REFLECTING SKIN is unlike anything else the pair has produced (although I’ve not yet gotten around to seeing DARKLY NOON) and I have to say, it’s unlike any other British film I’ve seen.

Set in the US sometime during the 1950s, THE REFLECTING SKIN focuses on Seth, a young lad who has something of a miserable home life. His father runs the local filling station and is a broken man living in fear of his domineering wife. Seth’s mother spends most of her time fantasising about the return of her eldest son who’s away with the army. Living in a vast, rural space, Seth and his friends seek relief from their boredom by fooling around and playing pranks on unsuspecting passers-by. One such stunt brings Seth into contact with the sultry Dolphin Blue: a black clad widow who may or may not be a vampire. The more time Seth spends with Dolphin the more he becomes convinced that she is a vampire, and when his friends begin to go missing she seems to be the likeliest culprit…

Ridley’s film is superb on both visual and narrative levels. While the story may seem overtly simple when it is encapsulated in a synopsis, it’s extremely rich in subtext and nuance.  Visually the film is amazing – Ridley is obviously a gifted artist, with each frame looking either like an exquisite picture or is deeply rich in symbolism. He is a filmmaker with an eye for meticulous detail and many of the compositions throughout the film are almost without equal.

The performances are also terrific: Jeremy Cooper, the kid that plays Seth, is spellbinding and it’s a real shame that after such an auspicious debut he’s appeared in nothing of note since. The rest of the cast are ace too, with Lindsay Duncan (who plays Dolphin) and an incredibly young-looking Viggo Mortensen (playing Seth’s elder brother Cameron) really standing out.

I saw the film via the German Blu-ray from Intergroove. The film is presented in either original English (Dolby Digital 5.1) or German dub and is accompanied by fully removable subtitles. The sound isn’t in the league of the latest blockbusters but the English track services the film well and delivers dialogue, foley and score clearly. The image is presented at roughly 1.77:1 –certain shots look excellent (daytime exteriors look lovely) while others not so good (night time and darker interiors do exhibit excessive grain) but this is a decent enough transfer for a film that’s fairly obscure (it’s had one English-friendly DVD release to my knowledge in Japan and that’s long out of print. Sadly the German DVD release only features the German dub). Extras consist of a short German film (which seems to have been selected for being thematically similar) and a couple of text-based features. All are in German only.

If you’re a fan of slow-burning, arty (though not pretentious) filmmaking I’d recommend the film without hesitation. It’s been a day since I’ve seen it and its imagery and themes continue to resonate. I’m now looking forward to seeing THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON (I have a fullscreen Canadian DVD on the way) and Ridley’s most recent film (and third feature as director) HEARTLESS, which is due for release in the UK in May.

                                                                                                                             (Paul Alaoui)



JOY (Sergio Bergonzelli/Serge Bergon, 1983)

Joy (Claudia Udy, EDGE OF SANITY) is a fashion model with some daddy issues (her American father having walked out on her and her mother shortly after young Joy accidentally saw her parents having sex).  All grown up and on her way to stardom – in a chick-with-a-gun action film being shot in New York by a director named George Miller (not that one), she leaves her current rock star boyfriend Alain (Manuel Gelin, whose SLOGAN character was similarly cast off by Jane Birkin in favor of the more worldly Serge Gainsbourg) for older, wealthy Marc (Gérard-Antoine Huart, who later made the erotica rounds in EMMANUELLE IV and the film of LE DECLIC) who she believes may be the perfect man for her.

They cruise the neon-lit Paris nightlife in Marc’s Jag and visit various underground S/M clubs (Marc takes Joy for the first time in front of a video camera on a robotic chair in a private studio for the viewing pleasure of some wealthy friends.  Joy’s relationship with her mother is strained not only because of her attachment to her absent father but also because her mother blames her whenever her current stepfather gets a little handsy.  While in New York starring in a chick-with-a-gun action flick (directed by George Miller, but not that one), Joy meets New Agey Bruce (Kenneth Langolois) who introduces her to Tantric sex (and starts looking for Joy’s father behind her back after her tearful confession that “the love of my life is a ghost”).

She continues her search during her modeling assignments (including a dalliance with a Lebanese photographer during an island shoot) but Marc seems open minded; especially since Joy is open to multi-partner sex until she realizes that he sees her as nothing more than a whore (“You are not the type of girl men marry…”).  A surprise phone call (and a convenient telegram) steer Joy to confront her past.

Purporting to be the scandalous memoirs of a pseudonymous French model Joy Laurey, JOY was the first of a series of erotic novels which was adapted to screen and later as a series of softcore cable movies produced by Alain Seritzky; much like the THE STORY OF O, the EMMANUELLE novels and LE DECLIC comics.  Directed by Italian exploitation director Sergio Bergonzelli (as Serge Bergon since this is a French/Canadian co-production), JOY is slick if a little over-long but Bergonzelli knows how to continually top himself with erotic set-pieces; piling more and more lathered and tanned naked, gyrating bodies upon each other once the constant sight of Udy’s perpetually erect nipples starts to lose its novelty value.

Looking like a cross between a young Goldie Hawn and Farrah Fawcett, Udy isn’t a particularly compelling presence (then again, the film doesn’t really have that compelling a plot) but Bergonzelli lets shots of her face and body smooth over the transitions from one set piece to another.  The film is gorgeously photographed throughout by Canadian film industry stalwart Rene Verzier who employs color gels and various natural filters like mesh curtains, diaphanous clothing, and steamed windows rather to keep things visually interesting (late in the film he also uses a nice transitional matte effect and a split screen optical; although a final matte effect before the closing credits isn’t quite as well rendered).  Debbie Davis provides the cloying theme song (“Joy, for love is not a game, you play so he will hold you in his arms” and the like to very eighties French pop synths and electronic percussion).

I first experienced JOY on a Greek VHS of the 95 minute English version.  The print was so battered and the contrasts so harsh that Verzier’s photography looked dreary and murky.  While it is too bad the English track wasn’t also synchronized to this release, the fresh transfer of the 110 minute French version is quite the revelation.  Letterboxed at 1.83:1 and anamorphically-enhanced, Severin’s transfer has some edge enhancement but the grain and some softness in long shots (Verzier uses set decoration like steamed windows and meshed curtains and diaphanous costuming on the actors to diffuse the image rather than on-camera filters) seems to be part of the original cinematography.  There is a 2-3 frame encoding/authoring glitch late in the film (in the scene directly following the Tantric orgy).  The French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound is clear and the optional English subtitles seem error-free.

The only extra is an interview with Claudia Udy (who is American, not Canadian or French as her name might suggest).  She is lively and perhaps takes the whole project a bit too seriously.  She refers to the director under his French pseudonym and observes that he was not an actor’s director (just as well as the visuals are all the film really has going for it).  Well worth seeking out for lovers of European cinematic erotica and a very appropriate title for Severin who missed out on the EMMANUELLE films and THE STORY OF O but have given us some of their better rip-offs like VANESSA, FELICITY, and GWENDOLINE.

                                                                                                                      (Eric Cotenas)


Joy & Joan

Joy & Joan (Jacques Saurel, 1985)

Joy returns in this entirely French sequel (this time in the form of Jean Rollin muse Brigitte Lahaie) and she’s still having troubles with Marc (Jean-Marc Maurel) who is younger here and now a roving journalist rather than a businessman.  Joy’s modeling work suffers when Marc finally walks out on her and jets off to Bangkok.  Wealthy friend Bruce (Pierre Londiche) – less New Agey than in the original – offers Joy the world but all she wants is him to take her to Thailand.  Upon arrival, Bruce presents Joy with personal slave Millarca (Maria Isabel Lopez), a diamond ring, and a palace belonging to the creepy prince Cornelius (Jacques Bryland).

For her birthday, Bruce gives Joy 9,125 pearls (“I’ve lived for 9,125 days without you”) and “the gift of pleasure through others” (read: drugs her and makes her the centerpiece of an orgy for his rich friends).  Joy flees Bruce – although Cornelius is never far behind – and runs into Marc who takes her into a photo booth for a quickie before leaving her again.  Fleeing Cornelius, Joy meets tour guide Joan (Isabelle Solar).  Joan immediately confesses her love for Joy and they jet off to the Philippines where Joan’s old boyfriend (one of those eighties guys who thinks he can get away wearing pink tank tops) who owns a hotel.  He puts them up but arranges for them to be kidnapped and taken to a spa/brothel.  Cornelius disrupts the actions and Joan disappears.

Rather than taking her back to Bruce, Cornelius takes Joy to the airport (because she resembles a woman he was in love with; then he gets all creepy again just as we were beginning to feel some sympathy for him).  Joy gets back to Paris and back to work only for Joan to show up on her doorstep.  When Joy goes off for a four day commercial shoot, Joan meets Marc who showed up for a quickie just after Joy left.  Joan obliges him and then confesses to Joy when she discovers she is pregnant (she explains that she wanted to find out how Marc got under her skin).  Ever flexible, Joy finds a way to scrounge up a happy ending.

Jacques Saurel‘s follow-up to Sergio Bergonzelli’s JOY is also based on a novel by the pseudonymous Joy Laurey and is more plot-oriented than the original; but also even more absurd.  Whereas in the original, Joy’s adventures were confined to underground sex clubs and wielding a gun on the set of a cheesy action flick, here she is drugged, raped, kidnapped, and the like as if she were the heroine of one of the later EMMANUELLE film sequels.  Debbie Davis’ theme from JOY is reprised early on as Joy spots Marc on the dance floor of a club with another woman as if to remind us of their prior history but both characters are very different from the way they were in the previous film (besides being played by different actors) in which they had already split before the end.

New composer Francois Valery comes up with a new “Joy and Joan” theme song (“Call it love, call it fun, call it play…”) that plays throughout (even though Joan doesn’t show up until nearly halfway through the running time).  Valery’s vocal “You Need Love” is a bit whiny but the instrumental version is nicely employed and recalls some of Pierre Bachelet’s themes for Just Jaeckin’s GWENDOLINE more than the setting recalls his EMMANUELLE.  Statuesque Lahaie’s doll-like inexpressiveness made her a simultaneously chilly and sensuous presence in her work for Jean Rollin (along with a well-cast bit as the Alida Valli-equivalent in FACELESS, Jess Franco’s sexy, glitzy reworking of EYES WITHOUT A FACE) but here her passivity cements her role as victim throughout (whereas Claudia Udy’s Joy was merely going with the flow for most of the prior film).

That’s not to say, Lahaie isn’t up to the role.  In the rare instances in this film where her expression does crack into a smile or a look of hurt, it is effective.  Solar fares a little better but she’s also a bit whiny in her proclamations of instant love for Joy.  Maurel as Mark has little to do than look decorative.  Still photographer Ian Patrick also plays the photographer in Joy’s opening modeling session.  The film is less visually interesting than the prior JOY film although there’s plenty of nice landscapes and costumes (the scenes in the misty French countryside towards the end of the film and the candlelit interiors of Joy’s country home are a lot more interesting to look at).

Having never seen JOY ET JOAN before, I am not sure just how much Severin’s transfer improves upon previous versions (although I’m sure the R2 French DVD uses the same master) but it is an anamorphic 1.62:1, progressive, single-layer transfer that seems to represent the original cinematography rather well (apart from some edge enhancement) from the bright Thailand settings to the misty and candlelit French chateau setting of the last section of the film.  There are no extras on Severin’s disc but it is recommended for fans of European softcore erotica – it’s not the best but it hits all the right notes – and a solid release from Severin.                                                                              (Eric Cotenas)