Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Nights of Terror


The Nights of Terror
Aka: Burial Ground
Aka: Zombie 3
Original Title: Le notti del terrore

Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Italy, 1981
Horror / Zombies, 82min
Distributed by: Japan Shock


There’s something very potent with certain bad movies. Movies that are so bad that they in some screwed up way become good. Bad movies that you know are bad, but can’t really make yourself discard it as a real bad movie. Because certain bad movies are so bad that they become good because we all know them and keep on going back to them. They live on because of their flaws, they live on because of their cult status, and they live on because what may seem as a bad movie could very well be a good movie. They live on just like the pasty zombies in The Nights of Terror

Andrea Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror is definitely one of the classic so bad that it’s good movies. It’s cheap, it’s cheesy, it’s violent, and it’s sleazy. It’s a gem simply because it’s one of the cultural low marks of Italian Genre cinema – and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s one of those movies that people who don’t know, or get, genre cinema will say – “That was the worst film I have ever seen, it’s shit!” Whilst those initiated and with a deeper understanding and tolerance for genre cinema will say, “That was the worst film I have ever seen, it’s brilliant! “

Like so many of his colleagues in the Italian genre sphere, Andrea Bianchi also came from a background in journalism and television production. Always holding a keen eye for the sexier approach to his work he debuted with Diabólica malicia (Night Child) 1972 for which Bianchi handled the riskier euro version that saw a fully naked Britt Ekland in some very suggestive scenes with a barely thirteen-year-old Mark Lester. Bianchi continued to churn out sexploitation movies and continuously used traits that stayed sleazy with a couple of interesting titles along the way. Among the highlights you find the sleazy Giallo Nude per l’assassino (Strip Nude for Your Killer) 1975 - a classic Giallo, using classic Gialli narrative, as Edwige Fenech portrays one of the nude photo models threatened by a gloved, motorcycle helmeted, machete wielding killer, then there’s Malabimba 1979 - a pretty cheesy, but sleazy, semi Exorcist/Nunsplotiation rip off that sees Mariangela Giordano as a nun, and the hilarious stinker Commando Mengele 1987 - where sleazy French production company Eurociné bagged both Bianchi and Jess Franco in the same movie and sported some fantastic state of the art computers… and there’s obviously the one that Bianchi will forever be remembered for – the infamous The Nights of Terror.

Do you really need a quick fix for this one? I’m guessing that you have seen it, because if you haven’t, then you really have no time to waste sitting here reading bollocks online, you should be watching or re-watching the fabulous The Nights of Terror….

After a hefty Santa bearded archaeologist, Professor Ayres [Raimondo Barbieri] discovers something so gobsmacking that he has to keep it secret by concealing it though some really crap dialogue, but he can’t keep his fingers out of the cookie jar and starts banging away like a raving maniac on the walls of the cave he's found with his pickaxe. And obviously zombies emerge from the now open tomb, and ignoring his “No, no, stand back… I’m your friend!” they tear his fucking throat out and devour his flesh. - How’s that for an initial attack!

Following a pretty funky title sequence that shows the cast arriving at the mansion where the shit is about to hit the fan, the obvious counterpart to death is set in motion – sex. Already as the aristocratic bunch park their cars and ask the maid and butler why they didn’t answer the gate to let them in it’s insinuated that they where busy having it off on the second floor. Moments later the various couples start to get down to their sleazy business, Leslie [Antonella Antinori] gives James [Simone Mattioli] a little burlesque dance leading up to some great seedy dialogue - Didn’t you like my little show? You looked just like a little whore… but I like that look on you! Evelyn [Mariangela Giordano here as Maria Angela Giordano] checks in on her hideous son Michael [Peter Bark] to assure herself that he’s asleep before some nocturnal activities, but as soon as she’s on top of George [Roberto Caporali] the weird looking lad walks in on them interrupting their moment of pleasure and also delivering the first of several mulligan’s as the audience suspects the shadows cast through the hallways will be the zombies from the opening… Finally the last couple, Mark [Gianluigi Chrizzi] and Janet [Karin Well] where she predicts that something terrible will happen… Mark assures her that she’s got nothing to fear as she’s safe with him… which ironically proves to be sort of true as she eventually will be the last victim before the movie comes to it’s nihilistic climax.

The bourgeoisie couples ponder the grounds of the mansion and obviously end up in smutty snog sessions here and there as the Etruscan zombies finally break out of the earth and start causing mayhem amongst the group. It’s also at this point that the Oedipal traits that can be found in many of Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli’s movies are put into play – well actually it’s started when Michael interrupts his mothers shag session with George earlier, but here it becomes painfully obvious as Michael snatches his mom’s hand away from George and kisses it jealously… George walks to the background of cinematographer Gianfranco Maioletti’s composition and very visually and emotionally set aside. A mere minute later George will be dead and once again the gory glory of death is put in harsh contrast to the lovemaking as the couples have it off on the mansion grounds.

This is pretty much how Andrea Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror plays out, smutty groping of horny hands set against smutty groping of dead hands. Life is not a precious thing in this movie and by the end of the flick it’s profoundly obviously that death is always just around the corner.

There’s no questioning that The Nights of Terror is a blatant attempt at cashing in on the surprise success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (Zombie) 1979. It even has special effects by the one and only Gino De Rossi, and even goes as far as copying the iconic maggot infested zombie rising from the dirt gimmick and the outrageous splinter versus eye scene frame by frame, well it tries to at least. Although it should also be noted that Rosario Prestopino who worked as special makeup effects artist on the movie previously had worked on Fulci’s Zombie, and Paura nela città dei morti viventi (The Gates of Hell) 1980, along side with De Rossi, so the grotesque factor of the movie shouldn't all be credited to De Rossi alone, but also to Prestopino too. Later Prestopino would go on to work on many other chunky movies that certainly pack a punch with their special effects like Fulci’s Lo squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper) 1982, Lamberto Bava’s Dèmoni movies 1985-1986, Dario Argento’s Opera 1987 and Michele Soavi’s La Setta (The Sect) 1991 which also featured Mariangela Giordano in a leading role. But back to The Nights of Terror – Yeah the zombies are pasty, the dialogue is cheesy, the effects aren’t very special and at times the movie feels like a perverted doped up episode of Scooby Doo as the cast evade the zombies by running from one location to another through out the entire movie. But that doesn’t really matter, because the movie undoubtedly has some fantastic moments during it’s 82 minute run. But with some great smutty moments, burning zombie and several fantastic moments where the zombies get really inventive and use a bunch of garden tools to get to their victims, the movie is a jolly kick in the balls and definitely a very personal favourite for many reasons.

But The Nights of Terror is also a fantastic testament to how inventive low budget directors took the ever-popular apocalyptic nihilism of the zombie genre and blended it in with their own universe - and that’s exactly what appeals to me with this movie. Much like Joe D’Amato used every genre possible to set his sexploitation vehicles in, Bianchi, Regnoli and producer Gabriele Crisanti also stayed safe in the sphere of that genre that they had become accustomed to since they first worked together - be it Quelli che contano (Cry of a Prostitute) 1974 Bianchi and Regnoli, Le impiegate stradali – Batton Story (The Used Road) 1976 Regnoli and Crisanti, or Cara dolce nipote (Dear Sweet Niece) 1977 which saw all three of them getting together for the first time. And it’s this path that they would comfortably stick to on the more than a half dozen movies that they would make together – the trail of the gritty trashy sleaze movie. You name it and they brought their bag of depraved misogyny, butt naked women, grotesque violence and cheap sleaziness that we associate with the movies of Bianchi - and if you know what movies Regnoli wrote scripts for, you will now exactly what I mean. The Nights of Terror is a hilariously entertaining piece of horror with a big dollop of sleazy kinkiness to go around. If you want blood – you got it, if you want pasty chunky faced zombies – you got it, if you want naked Italian actors and actresses – you got it, if you want a fantastic droney pop score by Berto Pisano – you got it. Although that Pisano score is more or less lifted off several other movies that producer Gabriele Crisanti produced previously… like Mario Landi’s Giallo a Venezia (Giallo in Venice) 1979, which like many of Crisanti’s movies featured the feisty Mariangela Giordano.

In the aftermath of the Video Recordings Act 1984 – the law struck down by the British government in response to the videonasties panic of a few years earlier - Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror was a difficult movie to see in the UK, especially as it had just over ten minutes chopped out by the distributors and then another three by the BBFC before it was released in its just over an hour running time. But not living in the UK at the time, it really shouldn’t matter at all what the British censors do…. although nothing travels faster than word of mouth, and I’m certain that it’s acts like that - a butchering far more serious than anything a filmmaker could have put in their movie – that make up part of these “good/bad movie legends”, after all a movie that was so severe that it had to have almost twelve minutes taken out must be something to see, mustn’t it. And for every person who actually saw the movie in some uncut form – either imported from Holland, Greek Ex-rental or on some third generation dupe, the movies reputation grew. And you know exactly what we heard, there are loads of zombies, guts galore and there’s this really creepy kid that bites his mom’s tits off.

And what about that phenomenal cast - what a great bonus they are for this movie! The mysterious and fascinating Mariangela Giordano… She holds an aura that is reminiscent of so many other great Italian genre piece leading ladies, but never really has the same varnish that they did. There’s something of a chipped doll about her that appeals to me, and at the same time she must be applauded for still accepting key parts in movies that indeed where very misogynistic and violent. If you know her filmography, she’s certainly one of the most violated Italian actresses ever. And it’s fascinating that she, no matter what age she was, still continued to take parts that required her to get her kit off. There are not too many actresses who at the fine age of fifty-nine would strip down for the cameras, like she did for Jess Franco in Killer Barbys 1996. She’s an impressive leading lady that brings a lot to this movie, especially in that freaky incestuous relationship she holds to her son in the film. You have to admit that no matter how much the perversity of their relationship is insinuated, it is a pretty tender moment and a most ironic reunion of mother and child before he takes that mouthful out of her breast. And that chest chomp may be something of a fetish for Piero Regnoli, as he also wrote a similar tit-chomping scene for Umberto Lenzi’s Incubo sulla città contaminata (Nightmare City) 1980.

Not to forget HIM, as if you ever could, Michael, Evelyn’s son played by non other than the remarkable Peter Bark, who only starred in enough movies to count on one hand, but still made an everlasting impression insanely cast as a child when he actually was twenty-six years old. Why Bianchi didn’t go with any of the more common child actors like Giovanni Frezza or one that at least looked like a child. But instead he chose a too old, oversized midget with the most terrifying hair ever… But my goodness what a scene it is, and what an impact it has made. It’s one of the most classic moments of this movie and taking the part as Michael it also gave Bark his only acting credit and secured him a spot in Italian genre history. But there's no space for debate at all, Mariangela Giordano and Peter Bark own this movie, without them it would simply be yet another sloppy Italian zombie flick, but with those two, theres a magic vibe to the piece.

So for once and for all – Yes, Andrea Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror is the brilliantly trashy stuff that legends are made of and definitely one of the best bad movies ever to crawl out of the Italian underbelly!


Image:
Widescreen 1. 85:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono, English Dialogue, optional Dutch subtitles.

Extras:
Original trailer, slideshow. Booklet.

Il ritorno del Goblin


You guys do know that Goblin have reformed don't ya!



Just check this amazo-fest out. Recorded live in Rome just this past May...


Mike Barona's Paura Productions is putting them on the road in the US, and I hope that he brings them to Stockholm because that would fucking rock! I think we need to find good old Mr. Dimle and tell him what band to book for a blow out gig in the near future.

Keep an eye on their soon to open web page for more info.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Witchmaker



The Witchmaker
Aka: Legend of Witch Hollow
Directed by: William O. Brown
USA, 1969
Horror/Satanism/Black Magic, 97min
Distributed by:
Midnight Video

William O Brown who only ever directed two features and later wrote a book on the subject – Low Budget Features, made his movies and then vanished from the scene never to be heard of again… but he left us with a very impressive movie; The Witchmaker definitely one of the lost classics of American Independent Horror.

The tone is set instantly as a woman bathing in the everglades climbs out of the water, wriggles into her clothes only to be stabbed down, have a symbolic sign etched into her white flesh, hung upside down and bled like a pig whilst a manic man laughingly goes about his dirty task. The man is Luther the Berserk [John Lodge – who also starred as a Russian Agent in Gordon Douglas’ James Coburn super spy spoof sequel In like Flint 1967], and the poor woman is his eighth victim in two years. Roll credits…
Dr. Hayes [Alvy Moore, a good old classic character actor, who also made a brief appearance as one of the elderly cops that answer the initial call to the police in Scott Spiegel’s Intruder 1989, and associate producer on The Witchmaker] and his team of paranormal scientists are taken out to the swamps by guide Leblanc [Burt Mustin] who takes them to their drop off and warns them against trying to leave the Swamp by their own hand, as "There’s nuthin’ but gaters, moccasins and quicksand” out there. The boat ride not only establishes the dangers of the nature setting – the swamp – but also is used to explain the rules of The Witchmaker universe, how the witch mythos works and by which set of laws they work. It also presents characters such as Dr. Hayes most loyal assistant Maggie [Shelby Grant who starred against James Coburn in the original Our Man Flint 1966], young students Owen [Tony Benson] and Sharon [Robyn Millan]. Then there’s the key players, the sceptic Journalist Victor Gordon [Anthony Eisley from Al Adamson’s Dracula Vs. Frankenstein 1971, Ted V. Mikel’s The Doll Squad 1973 and the brilliant Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss 1964], and then there’s finally his love interest – yeah you got to have one of them to make your hero character take to arms - the “sensitive” Anastasia [Thordis Brandt] Brandt who not only had a minor role in William Wyler’s Funny Girl 1968 as one of the Ziegfried girls, but also starred as one of the Amazons in… Gordon Douglas In Like Flint. Brandt was once the long time girlfriend of James Arness, and after retiring from acting she returned to her original profession as a nurse. "Sensitive" being their word for emotionally frail psychic – think Pamela Franklin’s Florence Tanner in Legend of Hell House or Julie Harris’ Eleanor in The Haunting.
So this bunch of scientists arrive at the house in the swamp where they aim to conduct their research and experiments – much to Vic’s questioning, after all is it right to bring women to a place where eight other females have been murdered? Dr. Hayes, Owen and Vic prep for the session to take place later that night, and the chicks – Sharon and Anastasia –whip out their bikinis and start to lap up some sun. Just beyond them, in the shade of the woods lurks Luther who simply can’t take his eyes off Anastasia works some good old black magic on her that has her running off screaming through the swamp in slow motion whilst Luther satisfied goes back to his cave and prays to his lord Satan. At the same time he summons up the old witch Josie [Helene Winston] who claims that with the initial spell cast, she can control Anastasia who Luther wants for his coven.
Then stuff really starts to take off, Luther and Josie take power over Anastasia, who lures young Sharon out to the swamp where Luther, just like in that opening sequence, jumps her and steals her away. The blood is offered up to Josie, who drinks it and rejuvenates into an embodiment of her younger self played by Warrene Ott from here on. Ott, who starred in T.L.P. Swicegood’s hilarious pre-splatter fest The Undertaker and His Pals 1966. Young Owen is designated guard after the team of scientists bury the remains of Sharon, and Anastasia doesn’t waste any time in her seduction of him. He willingly follows her into the murky woodlands and in a superbly light scene Josie is awaiting him with a big ritualistic dagger!
With two of the team dead, Dr Hayes, Maggie and Vic, now less of a sceptic than earlier, confront Anastasia whilst she is under sedation. She summons Luther, and Vic get’s right into a fight with him. Then a blast of thunder and lightning reveal that it’s not Luther, but the body of Owen that Vic is fighting with! Ultimately the movie moves into it’s last act and the research team plan how can they take out the vile Satanist Luther and save Anastasia at the same time that Luther summons up the rest of his coven cultists – more playboy playmates amongst them – and have Anastasia go through the final ordeal, make her pledge and become one of the thirteen of the faithful. So in the end it’s all comes down to that age-old battle Good versus Evil - but not before Luther has a feast with his coven.
Rather low on the classic low budget, grindhouse traits of fast action, spontaneous nudity and gratuitous violence, the main ingredient to The Witchmaker is atmosphere, and it holds an atmosphere so rich that it could be sliced and put on a sandwich. Not to say that the movie is completely lacking pacing, nudity and violence, because it does have all those traits even if the sex and violence is pretty sparse... although there are three Playboy Playmates amongst the cast. But the controlled approach to the themes actually works in favour of the movie. I have always said that showing less is more in certain cases, and as the restriction is continuous throughout the movie it works for the narrative of The Witchmaker in a great way. Much of the atmosphere comes thanks to the location – Marksville, Louisiana, and cinematographer John Arthur Morrill’s at times superb camerawork and lighting. Morrill ended his career shooting several movies for B-movie legend John “Bud “Carlos.

And there’s a reason why movies like John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House 1973 and Robert Wise masterpiece The Haunting 1963 come to mind, as they too play off the same theme of a Parapsychology investigation that takes a turn for the worst and sets the crispy academics up against the real deal. There’s also a splendid feeling of Hammer/Amicus/Tigon vibe throughout the movie that definitely helps the movie along. Not forgetting that pretty eerie soundtrack by Jamie Mendoza-Nava.

The Witchmaker script originates from L.Q. Jones - Justus Ellis McQueen Jr the American character actor who starred in several of Sam Peckinpah’s movies and also directed a bunch of low budget flicks like A Boy and His Dog 1971 and The Devil’s Bedroom 1964, and The Witchmaker on which he was executive producer. Holding a fascination for the occult and witchcraft and at the time weary of acting within the system, Jones decided to focus more on producing his own self financed movies instead. So he started outlining a story that later would be completed by Brown as The Witchmaker.

But the real enigma here is that of director William O. Brown. There’s almost nothing to be found on the guy if you where to go searching for information on him, apart from his two Producer/director credits on The Witchmaker and the earlier One Way Wahini, a comedy from 1965 and the before mentioned book on low budget filmmaking. For a guy with so little on his public resume, Brown certainly is an intriguing character. And the screenplay to The Witchmaker is very satisfying.

There’s interesting complexity to several characters – Vic the sceptic, Anastasia who is confused by her two states of being, Dr. Hayes who knows that he’s ultimately responsible for the deaths. There’s also a fine balance between action and exposition, it would have been easy to just chuck stuff in there, but Brown takes his time to establish and set up characters and explain the rules so that we understand what is happening and where it’s all leading – well enough to keep it intriguing at least And there’s a final surprise twist in the finale that is rather unexpected when it looks as if everything is cleared up and back to normal again. It’s an impressive and smart little movie that really hold up well even with today’s’ standards

Even though The Witchmaker was made as an independent feature, it was eventually picked up by Excelsior Pictures – a division of United Artists through which they distributed their low budget, semi grindhouse titles – and was rolled up on 63 Southern California drive in theatres during the summer of 1969. It did pretty well and just like the great irony of early independent filmmaking, it made a few bucks for the owners of the film and not a lot for the actual filmmakers. After that initial run the movie, like so many others, The Witchmaker faded away and was rarely mentioned ever again.

Still to this day there is no "official" company bullshit release of William O. Brown’s impressive lost gem The Witchmaker. Which is why the Midnight Video Special Edition is the only real way to see an official version this movie in all its fascinating glory. And you should see it because it is a very entertaining piece that for some reason went missing from the conscious mind of genre fans. A sad loss of a piece that is very high on atmosphere, tells a great story and is a damned fine movie indeed, well worthy of a rediscovery.

Image:
Widescreen 2.35:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono 2.0, English Dialogue.

Extras:
Original Theatrical Trailer - under its other title Legend of Witch Hollow, and theatrical Trailer for David Cass’ Disciples of Death 1971 and a small poster gallery.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jigoku: A Visual Mix Tape


Jigoku: A Visual Mix Tape
Directed by: Cherrystones
and Lovely Jon
UK, 2008
Music, Visuals, Mindfuck, 53min

Packed with funky, furious, distorted riffs, blaring horns, pumping loops from some of the greatest soundtracks ever - accompanied by some fantastic imagery from movies that you will recognise… or will want to seek out after this... sensory orgasm. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, VIY, All the Colours of the Dark, The Blood Splattered Bride, Simon of the Witches to give you a hint of some of the visuals presented in this stunning project.

I'm pretty certain there's some of Morricone's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage in there and some Acanthus from Jean Rollin's The Shiver of the Vampires in there too - only slight accentuations, but I feel that they are there amongst the frantic wall of sound that rushes forth... which should indicate the vibe of this awesome experience. Almost a mental dot to dot which will have you going, Oh it's that one, or this one throughout the hour of playtime.

Dj/producer Cherrystones and Dj Lovely Jon, whom together as Jigoku have been up to these audio/visual antics on the live circuit for some fifteen years, have finally released a ”Promo” for their shows, that captures the stunning psychedelic nightmare of their show in the DVD Jigoku A Visual Mix Tape. An item that any fan of exploitation cinema, twangy rock’n’roll and sludgy droney ambience would want to pick up as soon as they possibly can. And I encourage you to act fast as just like the Jigoku CD’s (well CD-R’s) they run out and never get re-released again… and that’s a bitch.

Back in the lat eighties, early nineties, my mate and I used to make these kind of tapes (although not as well crafted as Jigoku) where we’d compile great punk/new wave/goth songs on one channel of the stereo track on the VCR, and let the audio of the trailers, clips and shorts stay on the other. Shit quality, but fun as hell when you get your fave music and movies at the same time. I still have two of them in a box in the vault, ”HammerTime” and ”Monsters A-Go-Go”… trippy stuff from a time long lost, so Jigoku: A Visual Mix Tape DVD fits me like a glove.

Treat yourself to some brilliant audiovisual sensory masturbation because it will blow thy mind – and you will like it it’s unlike any other mindfuck out there.

Oh yeah, almost forgot... you can get it here or here... :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Savage Streets



Savage Streets
Directed by: Danny Steinman
USA, 1984
Drama / Revenge, 93min
Distributed by: Studio S Entertainment

This is a splendid example of American exploitation film when it’s at it’s very best. Danny Steinman’s Savage Street isn’t only a trashy rape/revenge flick, but it also has a large heart and plenty of soul as it tells it’s gritty tale of a young female taking vengeance on a world where male dominance and ignorance has gone too far.

Linda Blair is something of an enigma for me. Sure, she gave a great performance in Fridekin's The Exorcist 1973, for which she as a fourteen year old kid, was nominated for an Academy Award thanks to her spiffy portrayal of Regan – an academy award which she lost to another train wreck kid, Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon. And earlier that the same year Blair was nominated and won the golden globe for Best supporting actress for The Exorcist. It’s arguably one of her absolute best roles ever, and it’s pretty easy to see the similarities in future roles that she chose to take… the troubled young woman, in some way or another tormented by antagonistic forces. Forces that on screen may have been fictive, but definitely where very factual in real life where she was tormented by drugs, drink and shit management.

Although there is really no resisting Linda Blair, with her tiny frame, chunky posture and that cherubic face, she will always hold a weird image of innocence. Something that adds to the bizarreness of her parts in violent, fast paced, mean and sleazy action flicks.


Brenda [Linda Blair] is the leader of a chick gang who spend their time between the torments of high school and partying in the city of L.A. It’s during one of these nights that a harmful prank – stealing the car off a band of punks that almost ran over Brenda’s deaf mute sister Heather [Linnea Quigley] and dumping a load of trash in it –that the band of punks set their vile revenge in action. If an eye for an eye is the reference, then their revenge is an eye for a whole face, as they sadistically drag the mute girl into a gym bathroom and take turns at raping her. Before they leave gang leader Jake [Robert Dryer] leaves her with a ferocious kick to the head that lands her in a coma. The girl gang gathers at the local club where Brenda declares that her life is falling apart now that her beloved sister is in hospital. Obviously the punks also arrive at the club, and after threatening Francine [Lisa Freeman] a huge fight breaks out that ends with Francine slashing Jake across the face with her stiletto knife. Needless to say the punks take revenge and after a shocking death of one of the girl gang, Brenda snap and takes to the streets to take her revenge on the punks and stop their rein of terror once and for all.

With that quick fix out of the way, it’s pretty fair to say that Savage Streets could have been just like any other rape/revenge flick and simply gone right out for exploitative value and, but it uses a great tool to get under the skin of it’s audience and make a larger impact than it would have done if it just went straight to the dirty deeds. Taking it’s time to set up characters and establish them within their universe is invaluable to a movie like this, which Steinman and Norman Yonemoto (who also participated in the scriptwriting of Chatterbox 1977) obviously knew when getting into this one.
If not for the relationships between Linda Blair, Linnea Quigley and to some extent Lisa Freeman and Cindy [Rebecca Perle] – Blair’s main schoolyard antagonist, Savage Streets could have fell flat on its face and vanished off the scene. But it didn’t, and underneath that cheap, gritty surface, there’s some really effective storytelling going on. And it’s all in the relationship between the three/four girls. They are the characters that will engage us emotionally and also become the cause which Brenda has to react too. There’s a great advantage in taking the time to explain the hierarchy of the girl gang, and their relations to each other. To show the audience that Brenda is the one centrepiece that they all revolve around. This is shown amongst other ways as Francine [Lisa Freeman] confides in Brenda that she isn’t only going to get married to boyfriend Richie [Richard DeHaven], but that she’s pregnant with his child too. It’s a value that Brenda obviously respects and even so the audience. Also to show that apart from being a hard leader of her pack, Brenda is a fairly gentle and loving character to her deaf mute sister Heather. She looks out for her, takes her with her out on the town, and don’t forget that little scene where Heather gives Brenda a heart locket and they tell each other how much they love each other. It all becomes emotional fuel that is ignited when the few items of positive value in Brenda’s life are threatened or taken away. It is for them that she straps on the crossbow and goes on a crusade against the world.

But also there’s a rather fascinating character in Vince [Johnny Venocur] the young man who wants’ so badly to be accepted by the punk gang that he’s easily manipulated into doing deeds he certainly wouldn’t have with out their influence. The punk gang obviously representing a symbol of independence, a symbol of going against the adult world is exactly what Vince is looking for in his state of late adolescence. A release valve through which he can become an independent adult. The rape of Heather becomes his initiation into the punk gang, but it is in no way an acceptance of the group, as he never really is let into the gang and is still their object of inner torment. It’s easy to see a situation where Vince would have become the fall guy for the rape if things had taken that path. It’s also a remarkable situation, as it is also following the rape that he starts to question the moral values of the punk band.

Like many other great coming of age movies – as that is really what Vince character arc is all about, coming of age – the object of desire, independency wasn’t really worth the fight, and you can imagine Vince crawling up next to his father and bawling his eyes out after Brenda slaps him around just before the final confrontation with the gang. Vince has made a enormous journey, from schoolyard runt, to member of The Scars only to realise that this was not what he really wanted at all, and after objecting to Jake’s murder, he realises that he wants’ out, and this also brings him the insight that he’s done wrong. He saves himself by begging Heather for forgiveness and later selling out the gang when he tells Brenda of their secret hideaway… only to be punished by gang leader Jake and that big ass car. It’s a great character that could have been fleshed out so that there at least was one more character to sympathise with as the ending comes.

But that’s really not what Savage Streets is about. I chose to look at it as being a movie about feminism, giving women the power to strike back, and strike hard, so hard that they break the mother of all taboo’s along the way – murder. Strong female characters finally get to suit up Rambo-style (watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean with that), and go out on a full-fledged Death Wish style revenge rampage. Even though Blair may have looked a hot mess in the movie, she certainly makes an impression and get’s the job done. Reconnecting to that comment earlier that she looks like the face of innocence, - when you finally buy into her as the leader of the pack, the full transformation makes a pretty interesting avenger of that once innocent little child who at least visually returns to being a little child at the end of the movie.


Sure the acting is pretty bad, the story is pretty pale and shallow - apart from those few characters that give us something of value, and something to hang onto emotionally, because that’s what all good film is about, if your audience can’t cling onto the characters, then it’s going to be lost on them. But Savage Streets certainly is grim, grim in a sadistic level that certainly is relevant to teenagers and the whole emancipation from the adult world thing, where you can trust no one and no one will pay you any attention… unless it’s from a negative standing point. Just like John Vernon’s sardonic principal. A principal that doesn’t really make much of an effort to take any responsibility for the horrific rape of Heather which took place at his school – a place for which he is outmost responsible. So it’s no wonder that the kids have no respect for the adults of the Savage Streets universe, as they don’t either take any responsibility…
Musically it would be easy to say that the soundtrack sucks, but considering the timeframe of the movie – early eighties – it get’s the job done. Although I would have considered using more rock or punk, as that’s what The Scars are supposed to be, instead of the post new wave pseudo pop rock stuff that’s in there. Then again Australian singer songwriter John Farnham who wrote and performed most of the tracks on the soundtrack, did get a single out of the album – Justice for One, and even though it never made an imprint on the charts Farnham would two years later have a world wide hit on his hands as the Whispering Jack album featured the global hit “You’re The Voice”… yeah try to pretend that you don’t remember that one. And on music, at one point in time, Runways lead singer Cherie Currie was supposed to step into the role as Brenda.

Savage Streets is a neat little exploitation movie indeed. It simply oozes the eighties; in a way it’s the alternative coming of age flick in contrast to all those John Hughes movies. But instead of moping around for lack of love, teenage angst and broken hearts, this one channels on the hate, magnifies the frustration and builds up to that revenge climax in all the right ways.

One final question though – Whatever happened to Linnea Quigley in the year between Savage Streets and Dan O’Bannon’s magnificent Return of the Living Dead 1985? There’s certainly not much in the seductive Trash that is reminiscent of the innocent Heather… so what happened…

Image:
1.85:1 Anamorphic.

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono, English Dialogue, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or Finnish Subtitles optional.

Extras:
Well well, well, this is a special edition indeed. New interviews with Linda Blair, Linnea Quigley, Johnny Vencour, Robert Dryer and producer John Strong. Original Trailer, poster gallery, biographies and then a whopping total of three audio commentary tracks, that can satisfy your every question and curiosities about Savage Streets.

Giallo in Venice


Giallo in Venice
Original Title: Giallo a Venezia
Directed by: Mario Landi
Italy, 1979
Giallo, 91 min


With an infamous reputation of being one of the sleaziest of all the Gialli, one expects a lot from Mario Landi’s Giallo in Venice. Indeed it is a rather grim and gritty piece of work, but at the same time it’s suffers quite a lot from a whole lot of problems, and there’s a very determined feeling that Landi was merely out to quickly create a series of sensationalistic vignettes instead of making a decision of what foot to stand on. Which makes up for a very peculiar, seedy and mediocre movie.

With an opening sequence that will slap any sleepy viewer awake, we witness the stabbing of Fabio [Gianni Dei – who also starred in Landi’s Patrick vive ancora (Patrick is still alive) 1980]. He’s repeatedly and violently hacked in the groin, he screams and writhes in agony before a cut to a woman in the waters, then a third cut to a man waking up with a jerk as if from a nightmare… Cue the opening credits and Berto Pisano’s pretty decent theme score, and the movie get’s a going. Detective DePaul [Jeff Blynn] can’t put his finger on the case he’s been assigned too. In the harbour they have found a man stabbed to death and next to him a drowned woman… he can’t put it together for the life of him, which obviously takes him to investigate the friends of the victims, the feisty Marzia [Mariangela Giordano] - who you all know and love as the unfortunate mother of Peter Bark in Bianchi's Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground) 1981.

Through a series of flashbacks Marzia starts to tell the tale of how her best friend Flavia [Leonora Fani] got involved with Fabio [Dei] and how he started forcing her into acts of sexual exhibitionism. At the same time there’s the killings and the shady character that is making threatening hone calls to Marzia. So the sexploitation thread is set in motion as well as the gialloesque one too. But that’s when it all starts going terribly wrong. The sexploitation parts of Giallo in Venice are pretty friggin tedious, they go on for far to long and to top it all off, the music used in the scenes to show how what a degenerated slob Fabio is – as he violates and forces Flavia on to other men – is completely wrong. It’s an upbeat quirky tune that almost brings a comical tone to the movie. It’s pretty bad, and really has no eroticism to it what so ever. Actually it’s shot so bad, that it’s almost not even sleazy, just sloppy.

In all honesty I feel that Landi missed the boat completely with this one, and should have let go of any pretence of making a “sexy Giallo”, because it isn’t. Instead he should have gone all in and made a full-fledged porn flick, because the acting, the use of the music and the overall narrative is really poor. There are better movies that manage to bring seedy scenes together with an intriguing narrative, but Giallo in Venice isn’t one of them.

But where the sexploitation movie part does absolutely nothing for me, I’m somewhat intrigued by the Gialli part of the movie, as it does actually have some pretty good scenes. Plot wise it’s pretty shallow, but it does go by the book and lays out a decent track that eventually reaches it’s destination – reveal central – where the killer is exposed and a last spin is put on the story. It has to be said that the killer has some splendid moments, and where the movie has its fair share scenes of musky sleaziness it‘s equally grim and sadistic in it’s murders. It’s also in the Giallo scenes that you will see some of the better of Franco Villa’s better cinematography on this specific film, half the time he's obviously bored out if his mind and didn't even try to compose something above average.

It’s an interesting approach to use quite long chucks of flashback to drive the plot forth (if you really can call it plot) as the non-linear approach of the movie actually works in it’s benefit, and gives Landi an effective way to solve he murders at the very end of the film when he chucks that last spin at us, and it’s pretty amusing that the three key elements to the puzzle that DePaul can’t put his finger on are the first images shown in the movie, but that piece doesn’t fall into place until the very end of the flick.

But what really makes the movie such a dull movie story wise is that old classic mistake of shallow or nonexistent characters… There’s absolutely no likeable characters in this move what so ever. Not one. So it’s a difficult movie to actually get into and invest emotionally in anyone. Which could have been done easily with the character of either Flavia or Marzia, but not. There’s not really any real interest in wanting DePaul to solve the case either, because as far as leading men go he’s a right mess. He’s constantly eating boiled eggs, strutting around in his white slacks and scruffy hairdo dropping cynical comments and completely unfitting remarks to everyone. He doesn’t even have that dark background that many other complex cops have, he’s simply a clown who we have problems taking to.

Giallo in Venice is indeed a sleazy and violent flick, but it’s also a both production wise and story wise a pretty poor achievement. I was definitely expecting more sleaze and death than the actually quite few key scenes of the movie, all that go on for far too long and actually end up becoming tedious. Yes, there are a couple of notable scenes of violence, which not only are misogynistic assaults on women – even though there are two pretty hefty such scenes – but also a rather grim murder of a male character that rarely get’s mentioned in reviews. It’s not really fair to compare movies, but put side by side to Lucio Fulci’s magnificent tour de force Lo Squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper) 1982 which came out three years later, Mario Landi’s Giallo in Venice painfully stands as a testament to the fact that Landi obviously was uninterested in what he was doing here. There’s a potency to the movie that would have made a really classic piece if only he’d had paid more attention to the details.

The script by Aldo Serio - who also wrote Antonio Bido's Il gatto dagli occhi di giada (Watch me when I Kill) 1977 probably looks pretty good on paper, but it gets lost in shoddy production values, really bad acting and slow, wearying and not very erotic, but rather boring sex scenes. Perhaps Landi was trying to tap into the voyeurism themes that drive the Fabio character, but it falls pretty flat on it’s ass, and certainly doesn’t live up to it’s reputation and once again proves my point that the later Gialli where loosing their grip.

Producer Gabriele Crisanti – who made an impressive run of sleazy sexploitation flicks with actress Mariangela Giordano in key parts may not have made a very memorable movie with this one, but he’d certainly make a larger impression two years later when he produced Andrea Bianchi’s zombie monstrosity Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground) 1981.

Mario Landi’s Giallo a Venezia can be obtained on bootleg DVD-R from here or here.

Image:

Fullscreen 4:3

Audio:
2.0 Stereo, Italian Dialogue, forced English subtitles.