Dario Argento: The Man, the Myths and the Magic – FAB Press (Alan Jones)

Profondo Argento, now fully updated, re-named and re-issued with brand new chapters!

Limited Edition, available in hardback only!

Features full-length interviews with: Asia Argento, Claudio Argento, Fiore Argento, Lamberto Bava, Roy Bava, Simon Boswell, Michael Brandon, Chiara Caselli, Luigi Cozzi, Liam Cunningham, Keith Emerson, Franco Ferrini, Jessica Harper, Udo Kier, Daria Nicolodi, Stefania Rocca, George A. Romero, Gianni Romoli, Dardano Sacchetti, Julian Sands, Tom Savini, Claudio Simonetti, Michele Soavi, Sergio Stivaletti, Max Von Sydow, Ronnie Taylor, Luciano Tovoli.

All-new illustrations! Never-before-seen behind the scenes photos, exclusive shots specially produced for this book, rare artwork and stills.

This book features full coverage of Argento’s new film Dracula 3D.

Full details and pre-order info at the FAB Press website HERE

Circle of Fear

Circle of Fear (Aldo Lado, 1992)

aka Alibi perfetto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Johan Melle)

Roma a mano armata

Roma a mano armata (Umberto Lenzi, 1976)

aka Rome Armed To The Teeth / The Tough Ones / Assault With a Deadly Weapon / Die Viper

Downtown Rome in the mid 1970s was a tough place for the local Police. Purse snatchers prowl the local parks, gangs of armed men turn over betting shops and spoiled rich kids get their kicks from raping young girls. Luckily, for anyone on the right side of the law, Inspector Leonardo Tanzi (Maurizio Merli) is on the local beat, cruising the streets in his Alfetta, ready and willing to run down injustice in a heartbeat. Unfortunately Tanzi’s superior, Vice questore Ruini (Arthur Kennedy), prefers justice to be served up in the time honoured manner – by the book and following the codes of conduct.

Following a lead Tanzi brings in Vincenzo Moretto (Tomas Milian) a hunchbacked slaughterhouse worker who has more than few crooked business sidelines. Sitting him in a darkened room, with only a lamp on his face, Tanzi takes the official interrogation procedures and throws them in the bin, resulting in Morreto being hospitalised and Tanzi up before his boss. Taking a dressing down and being told that Morreto will be released without charge incenses Tanzi. Adding insult to injury Ruini also demotes him to an office job. Officially off the streets Tanzi uses his spare time to carry on his investigations into Morreto and the links he may have to Tony (Ivan Rassimov), a drug dealer who’s keeping a missing girl strung out on smack up in his apartment…

Director Umberto Lenzi delivers a fast paced rollercoaster ride of a movie, expertly filmed by cinematographer Federico Zanni – a veteran of over 50 movies for a diverse range of Directors such as Lenzi, Sergio Martino, Stelvio Massi and Marino Girolami – and featuring one of the classic Polizieschi scores by Maestro Franco Micalizzi. As soon as the opening credits start with the POV shot from inside the car as it drives down through Rome’s city centre, that oh-so-familiar music kicks in and you just know you’re in for a treat. With no real major plot to focus on Lenzi instead whisks the viewer from one mini adventure to the next and when all else fails stages a random crime so that Tanzi can show up at just the right moment, slap the perpetrator around a bit before handing him over to the uniformed police who arrive out of nowhere in the olive green Alfas. It defies logic but it does so in a good way, you have after all just seen a man take four or five huge open handed slaps across the face as punishment for stealing a ladies handbag. It no longer matters if the scenario is logical, what matters is that justice has been served and the guilty have been punished!

This would be the first of two outings for Tomas Milian in the role of ‘Il Gobbo’–the second being Lenzi’s LA BANDA DEL GOBBO (1978)–a character created by screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti in reference to Giuseppe Albano the original ‘Il Gobbo del Quarticciolo’; a real life character who lived in Rome during the Nazi occupation in the 1940’s.  A member of the resistance during the occupation he went on to become a local ‘Robin Hood’ character after the Nazi’s were overthrown. Albano’s story was made into a feature film ‘Il Gobbo’ directed by Carlo Lizzani in 1960, and starring French born actor Gérard Blain in the title role.

Milian is just superb in the role and displays a range of emotions that see him at turns being fragile and pathetic—he truly gains the viewers sympathy when he’s being beaten by the police–the next he’s cold and calculating, ruthless and utterly insane; a marvellous performance and surely one of his most memorable roles.

Maurizio Merli also plays a character–that of tough, takes no bullshit, cop Leonardo Tanzi–who would be seen again in Lenzi’s 1977 film, IL CINICO, L’INFAME, IL VIOLENTO (THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST) though albeit in a more calm and composed frame of mind than he is in this film. At times looking like he’s going to literally explode with rage, Merli pulls out all the stops in bringing to life a cop who’s just run completely out of patience. With a justice system that is constantly letting the honest man on the street down he takes it upon himself to “get back to the old ways” and fight fire with fire. A clichéd plot device for sure, but it keeps the film barrelling along and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

This latest DVD from New Entertainment World is an upgrade of their previous release which had no English options. Happily for us fans, this limited edition re-release features English, German and Italian audio plus optional English and German subtitles. The transfer is truly a thing of beauty, identical to the NoShame Italy DVD released a few years ago, and perfectly framed in its 2.35:1 ratio, with 16:9 enhancement. It’s doubtful that this film could look any better than it does on this DVD. The English audio doesn’t fare so well as it’s obviously sourced from VHS which in turn sounds like it was sourced from a well used theatrical print. It’s serviceable though and is better than not having an English audio option at all. The Italian audio is pretty much pristine barring a handful of instances where the audio wows for a second or two–think what it sounds like when you momentarily touch a vinyl record while it’s playing on a turntable and your more or less there–these same audio flaws are present on the NoShame release so must be a problem with the master used and not something to blame on NEW. The English subtitles follow the Italian audio track and are not simply copied from the English dub verbatim, a very welcome addition and viewing the film in Italian with subtitles is absolutely the only way to watch this film. Extra features consist of the Italian language theatrical trailer, a trailer show for other titles in the NEW catalogue, an essay about the film in German and PC accessible Tiff files of German poster art and lobby cards for the German theatrical release under the title ‘DIE VIPER’.

ROMA A MANO ARMATA is almost the quintessential ‘Polizieschi’ movie, it has all the ingredients necessary – Alfa Romeo cars, stereotypical bad guys, angry ‘beat the system’ cops and lashings of over the top violence. All packaged together on what is so far the definitive DVD release of this film for the English speaking fan of ‘Poliziesco all’Italiana’. You can’t really ask for much more.

(Jonny Redman)

Mark the Narc

Mark il poliziotto (Stelvio Massi, 1975)

aka Mark the Narc

Packing a mean looking revolver and dressing in open-collared shirts and jeans tight enough to send your voice an octave or two higher, Commissario Mark Terzi (Franco Gasparri) is your typical mid-70s anti-establishment plain clothes cop. Drugs, namely heroin, are causing trouble on Mark’s patch and adding to the trouble is the return of Gruber (Carlo Duran). After a few years inside, Gruber’s a touch pissed off and going around town claiming back what was his, not thinking twice about cold blooded murder in order to speed things up. Heading up the heroin importation business is grumpy faced Benzi (Lee J. Cobb) a wealthy business man with a younger wife who has a penchant for expensive tiger skin capes.

With Benzi proving a hard character to pin any misdemeanours on and Gruber eluding capture whenever spotted by the police, Mark’s job is getting stressful but despite the pressure he graciously allows Irene (Sara Sperati), junkie girlfriend of a recent murder victim, a bed at his apartment in order to get her off the junk. Aided by his trusted colleague Bonetti (Giampiero Albertini), Mark goes out on to the streets in search of leads and after spotting a familiar criminal behind the wheel of an ambulance, he finally gets the break he needs. Chasing down the ambulance he discovers that it’s being used as a cover to transport fake oxygen bottles filled with heroin. Seeing an opportunity to trace the source of the drugs Mark ‘accidentally’ lets the driver escape knowing he’ll lead them to a much bigger fish. It’s not quite time to be patting each others backs yet though, as his junkie flat mate Irene has sneaked out of the flat and scored a large bag of smack that has OD written all over it…

Director Stelvio Massi’s fifth film– only his second foray into the Polizieschi genre after SQUADRA VOLANTE (1974)–sees ex-paratrooper and fotoromanzi model Franco Gasparri gain top billing status and the chance to show everyone what he’s made of. It turns out he’s actually pretty good, he’s certainly got the looks and he pulls off the action scenes without any problems whatsoever. Massi stages quite a few testing scenes for him too, with plenty of foot chases and a fair few bouts of fisticuffs. However, it’s the stunts with cars that really stand out; especially the set-piece where, faced with a getaway car full of armed bank robbers, Commissario Terzi stands his ground in the middle of the road, taking aim at the oncoming Alfa Romeo and shooting its driver. The out of control Alfa smashes into a parked car, leaps into the air, flipping on its roof as it lands and slides at speed towards Terzi, who casually side steps past the car as it slides by him upside-down.

Italian audiences must have liked what they saw as Massi, Gasparri and Lee J. Cobb all returned a matter of months later with a sequel, MARK IL POLIZIOTTO SPARA PER PRIMO (aka ULTIMATUM / MARK SHOOTS FIRST), which in turn was followed by MARK COLPISCE ANCORRA (aka MARK STRIKES AGAIN / THE .44 SPECIALIST) in 1976. With a successful trilogy of films under his belt it looked like a bright future for Gasparri, but tragedy struck in 1980 when he was paralysed after a motorcycle accident and confined to a wheelchair up until his death in 1999. The final film in the Mark trilogy was his last role in a feature film.

Cecchi Gori Home Video has released MARK IL POLIZIOTTO on DVD with a very nice 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) transfer. There are hardly any flaws to note and it is definitely the best the film has ever looked on home video. Language options are limited to Italian audio, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and subtitles for the hard of hearing in Italian. Extra features consist of actor and director filmographies plus a 20 minute on-camera interview with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti. Sacchetti talks about his work in the genre and the characters he helped create for actors such as Tomas Milian and of course Franco Gasparri.

While it is certainly not the best film by either the star or the director, MARK THE NARC is a thoroughly entertaining 88 minutes and comes highly recommended.

(Jonny Redman)