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

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



Redemption announce more upcoming titles from Kino Lorber

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

More details will be posted once available.

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)

Killer’s Moon

Killer’s Moon (Alan Birkinshaw, 1978)

“Of course it’s a dream! And stuffed full of jailbait!”

High on a hillside road a coach rattles along carrying a small group of schoolgirls, all happily singing ‘Greensleeves’ and clutching their teddy bears. Turning a corner towards a small stone bridge, the coach lumbers to a halt, as black smoke pours from the radiator. There’s trouble ahead! The tubby driver (Chubby Oates, a big name comedian in the 70s, apparently) waddles around to the front of the conked out vehicle and takes off his hat and scratches his head. As luck would have it visiting camper Pete (Anthony Forrest) is out on a jog and is refreshing himself in the nearby stream, up he steps to lend a hand but apart from eyeing-up the girls, he can’t do much to help and so he jogs on, leaving the defenceless creatures to walk to a nearby hotel, in the dark. Cheers Pete!

Back at Pete’s tent, his chum Mike (Tom Marshall)— the world’s smuggest man– has just had a fondle with the hotel owners’ daughter, Julie (Jane Hayden, sister of Linda). Julie flashes her ample bosoms for all to see, whilst Mike reclines in the background, showing off his manly torso and asking whether his performance was up to scratch. Before being given the chance to answer, but chance enough to get her top on, a Rottweiler limps into the tent wearing what appears to be a bandana around its neck. Closer examination reveals that one of the dog’s legs is missing and blood is a-flowing. “That cut’s too clean for a trap!” mutters smug Mike, wondering where his axe has disappeared to…

Having arrived safely at the hotel, the girls are welcomed by the owner, Mrs May (Hilda Braid, Nana Moon from EASTENDERS) and it’s not long before the girls are in their ankle-long nighties and gathered around the hotel’s piano, singing harmoniously. But all is not well and the local gamekeeper senses that “things aren’t right!” and worriedly looks into the distance; you almost expect him to stare into the camera and proclaim “You’re all doomed! DOOMED, I tell you!” To be honest, the craggy faced merchant of doom is right, as four mental patients are on the loose out in the woods, dosed-up on LSD and assured by their Doctors that nothing is real, they’re experiences are just hallucinations and they are free to act out their fantasies. Not only that, but the supposedly secure facility these murderers were being experimented on was nothing more than a ‘cottage hospital’, whatever the hell that means; which leads us to believe that 1970s experimental psychiatry was carried out on dangerous mentalists in rural cottages that were run by LSD administering bumpkins. No wonder the NHS has been in such a state ever since.

Decked out in stolen doctors’ outfits and sweating like drug fuelled ravers at a warehouse all-nighter, the four loons approach the isolated hotel leaving a trail of bloodshed in their wake. With the gamekeeper, his wife and the coach driver all dead who will be the next participant in the dream world fantasies of these escaped nutbags?

Fans of trashy cinema have long since cherished this obscure and quite rare slice of British exploitation, much to the surprise of the film’s Director, who expresses his amazement at being accosted by fans with requests for signatures on prized pieces of KILLER’S MOON memorabilia—such as quad posters and VHS boxes–in an onscreen interview that is featured on Redemption’s new DVD release. Finally, after years of old VHS transfers, it hits DVD with a stellar presentation and afforded extras that include onscreen interviews with director Alan Birkinshaw and star Joanne Good, two theatrical trailers and best of all, a feature length audio commentary from both Birkinshaw and Good.

Refreshingly, both share an enthusiasm for the film and look back on the making of it with pleasure, giving us the impression that they really do enjoy the fact that this 30-year-old movie has garnered a great cult following. Both remain animated for the duration of the track, sharing many insightful snippets of trivia. Birkinshaw fills us in on the details of budgetary restrictions and the logistics of feeding and housing a cast and crew on location in the Lake District for an entire week. Joanne talks about the trials and tribulations of shooting her first feature film; the novelty of dressing as a schoolgirl–even though she and the rest of the girls were all in their mid-twenties–and almost with a little regret mentions how she was one of the only girls not to go topless; giving the impression that she feels a bit left out!

Redemption’s long anticipated DVD comes with an excellent, 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer, presenting the film in a condition that is the best it has looked since its premiere in 1978. The original mono audio mix is the only track provided and is nice and clear, and free of any noise or distortion. With the only criticism being that some of the points covered in the commentary track are repeated again in the interviews, this DVD comes highly recommended and stands as an essential purchase for fans of trash cinema and British horror.

(Jonny Redman)