Fashion & Italian Horror: Tenebrae (1982)

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The films of Dario Argento are renowned for their distinctive use of colour and their lavish, excessive style. This visual style is perfectly captured in Argento's seminal work, Suspiria (1977) which is characterised by its kaleidoscopic visuals and use of colour. I discussed the fashion of Suspiria in my first fashion & Italian horror post and have decided for my follow up post to discuss Argento's 1982 film, Tenebrae, a film which is stylistically opposite to Suspiria. Whereas Suspiria featured loud primary colours, baroque buildings and interiors alongside dreamy fairy tale fashion, Tenebrae dismisses all of these elements. Tenebrae is lit in harsh white light, its version of Rome is filled with Brutalist style concrete structures and features simple fashions in a palette of bright whites and pale colours. Despite Argento's reputation as a lover of elaborate and colourful visual styles, Tenebrae shows that Argento could successfully take on a very different aesthetic proving that he could develop other styles while retaining his core ideas and visual flourishes. Throughout this post I aim to examine how fashion, as well as setting, is used throughout the film in order to highlight the film's over arching aesthetic and ideas.

My Trip to Rome & Profondo Rosso

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

So as some of you may already know, my blogging has fallen by the wayside over the past year because I've been planning a wedding which is pretty much the most stressful and time consuming thing you can do. Every time I wanted to write an entry on American giallo or erotic thrillers, I was plunged into another crisis. Sadly as well this year, my beloved Grandpa passed away which has been very difficult for me and the wedding only served to remind me of that fact so I've really been stepping away from film stuff for a good portion of the year. However, I'm happy to say that I should be getting back into it now. I've just finished an essay for a certain distributor which I'm really excited about. Unfortunately I can't divulge what it is but I promise you it's a good one! I intend to make a visual post to accompany the essay which I'll post alongside the release of the film like I did with The Killer Dames release. Stay tuned for that!

I'm going to do a separate post about the wedding as it was heavily influenced by my love of giallo and Italian horror but I have to wait for the photos so till then, you'll have to settle for this post which is about my experiences on my honeymoon in Rome. I'm going to talk a little about some of the Italian film locations I visited as well as some of the ones I intended to. Hopefully this will be an informative post that will answer some questions about the film locations used for Tenebrae and Inferno. I'm also going to talk about my visit to Profondo Rosso which will be detailed underneath my segment on film locations.

Leading Lotharios of the Italian Giallo

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Living in a time where a high percentage of men deem it acceptable to slouch around in public wearing grey joggers while still maintaining that all women should look like models 24/7 has made me weep into my film collection wishing we still lived in a time where men would wear clothes that didn't have elasticated waistbands and instant access to their ballsacks. Why can't we go back to those good old days when men were able to slap a woman about if she was being hysterical without fear of being done for domestic battery? Ok, so maybe times have changed for the better but the fashions... well that's debatable. Part of the appeal of the old Italian films I so dearly love is the suave leading men and seductive leading ladies who were the epitome of seventies European cool. While the women get a lot of love in gialli, the men are often forgotten so here's my Top 10 leading men in gialli in no particular order. The criteria? You have to have appeared in some sort of Italian giallo at some point in your career and be hot by my standards. Being able to rock a turtleneck is an added bonus. Enjoy!

Fashion & Italian Horror: The Night Evelyn Came out the Grave & The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Friday, 1 April 2016

When I first started writing entries for my blog I intended for the majority of my posts to be straight up reviews of various gialli with the odd top ten post thrown in for good measure alongside the occasional foray into style in these films as it was something that interested me personally. When I wrote my in-depth feature on the fashions in Tenebrae I had no idea that it would be so popular and I was delighted at all the wonderful feedback I received which spurred me on to write more in my Fashion & Italian Horror series. It's been fantastic to share some of my thoughts and to hopefully bring some new perspectives to these films by examining some of the ways in which fashion is used to reflect themes and ideas in gialli. Mostly its just a great way of sharing some of the wonderful looks and examples of seventies fashion throughout these films. 

Amazingly, writing these posts has led to paid work with Arrow Video and I'm absolutely delighted to announce that I have completed a piece for Arrow on style in the films of Emilio P. Miraglia which details fashion and interior design in The Night Evelyn Came Out the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Time. My piece will be published in the accompanying booklet for the film and this will be released as a limited edition set in May which you can preorder now from Amazon and Arrow. So if you want to read my detailed thoughts I would recommending getting your copy ordered!

As fantastic as it has been writing a piece for Arrow, sadly I've not been able to provide visuals for each film. I've decided to make a post here on my blog showing you all of the looks on display throughout both films and to give you an overview of the fashions. So here are all the looks in The Night Evelyn Came Out the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Enjoy and as a warning some of these pictures contain spoilers.

The Women of Gialli

Saturday, 20 February 2016

I've intended for a while now to write my own list of favourite actors and actresses of the giallo but to be perfectly honest, I've really struggled to narrow my list of favourite actresses into a top 10. Of course there's the obvious choices (who you will still see included below) but I also wanted to recognise some of the lesser known actresses who perhaps had less substantial roles but still were memorable characters. Therefore, I decided instead to write a list of the various actresses who worked within the subgenre focusing on listing my own personal favourites. The criteria for my list was that each actress on it had to have appeared in at least one film that could be considered as a giallo. Some of the actresses listed may only have one credit but still make the list as I felt their character was particularly memorable or, I've taken into account their status in Italian genre film and wider genres of cinema. Underneath each actress I've included notable films they're appeared in - I'll list all of the gialli they were in as well as other films that I feel are note worthy. Inevitably, I will have missed out some actresses that many of you feel should have been included so I'm happy to hear suggestions and build on this list. I also intend to include individual biographies for each actress over time.

Fatal Frames (1996)

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Also Known As: Fatal Frames - Fotogrammi Mortali, Suspiria 2000
Director: Al Festa
Starring: Stefania Stella, Rick Gianasi, David Warbeck, Ugo Pagliai, Alida Valli, Donald Pleasence
Running Time: 125 min
Release Date: 1996
Country of Origin: Italy

Recently I stumbled across an old documentary on YouTube called Eurotika! a 12 part series that was shown on Channel 4 back in 1999 about European erotica, exploitation and horror films from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Of course I couldn't resist watching the one titled "Blood and Black Lace: A Short History of the Italian Horror Film" which you can watch for yourself here. The documentary was average and I was more excited to see Dagmar Lassander post 1980s than hearing the same old spiel about the key players in the industry. However, one of the talking heads caught my attention - his name was Al Festa - a name I'd never heard of which struck me as odd because I'm a total anoraak when it comes to Italian horror. A poster hung behind him that looked gloriously eighties -seductive floating eyes, scrawling joined up font - I needed to know more! Luckily Al Festa couldn't resist talking about the Italian horror film without plugging his own work and thus I learned about Fatal Frames, a 1996 giallo and homage to the great Italian exploitation of the 60s and 70s. As anyone reading this will probably know, a 90s giallo is a rarity and the ones that do exist are usually very low budget so it was a pleasent surprise (see what I did there with the spelling because of Donald Pleasence? Urgh never mind) to find a 90s giallo style film that seemed to have a decent budget. So I couldn't resist, I purchased Synapse's DVD release of Fatal Frames and prepared myself for a cheesy 90s take on the giallo.

Fatal Frames is pure, unadulterated shlock. It's cheesy, it's laughable and makes you yelp in horror for all the wrong reasons. The film's downfall or source of comedy if you will, is the horrendous acting, that in particular of Stefania Stella (Festa's wife) who uses the film as a vehicle for her "assets" (when viewing the trailer for this on YouTube an advert for a boob job clinic came up) and pouts, romps and postures through every scene. Her line delivery is frankly abysmal and every bit of dialogue is delivered in the same monotonous tone without a hint of expression. The film is a whopping 2 hours and 5 minutes long and could easily have been shorter if it wasn't for Festa inserting mini music videos of his wife every 20 minutes. Now there's been some harsh things said about Stefania Stella's "look" in this film so I'm not going to add fuel to the fire - all I'm going to say is, in my mind, she bares a remarkable similarity to Lord Ilay aka the guy on all Royal Bank of Scotland notes. Judge for yourself...
Fatal Frames stars Stefania Stella as... Stefania Stella, only this version of Stefania is an Italian singing sensation adored by legions of fans across Italy. However, Stella has a problem, she's not yet cracked the lucrative American market that's sure to make her an international star! Luckily her agent enlists the help of music video director extraordinaire, Alex, to help make a lavish video that is sure to win over the yanks. Alex is your typical sleazy looking "heartthrob" of the early 90s and his acting is piss poor to put it mildly. Straight away you know the film is going to be a complete joke when the film introduces us to Alex, a man reluctant to leave New York because the blood splattered carpet in his living room is the only reminder of his dead wife. Apparently nothing conveys happy memories of your loved one more than the spattering of their blood from a gruesome machete decapitation. Unluckily for us, Alex takes Stella's agent up on his offer and flies off to Rome. Before Alex can even leave the airport car park we're treated to a drunken tramp recoiling in horror as he touches Alex's hand - that's what you get for trying to get handouts for your J&B addiction! This sequence is obviously supposed to be a sign of troubles ahead which hit at lightening speed with all the subtlety of a Dario Argento set piece. We're treated to some scenes of Alex meeting Stefania and then one of her dancers which are chock full of awful dialogue before things start to "pick up". In what I first thought was a bizarre dream sequence, Alex sees Stella's backing dancer (I genuinely can't be fucked finding out her name) running through the streets of Rome begging Alex to follow her in a sequence that resembles an 80s hair metal video, gauzy dress included. Sadly for our hero, he is trapped behind a gate (???) and forced to watch twinkle toes get butchered by a machete wielding, masked fiend. After our machete wielding psycho is finished with his victim he films her butchered body on his handheld and then dashes off. It's only when the video is passed onto the police that the murderer becomes known as the "videotape killer". Unfortunately Alex is now caught up in the investigation and hardass Commissioner Bonelli, played by David Warbeck, wants answers!

The film becomes painfully repetitive at this point as we are treated to more murders carried out in exactly the same way including the improbable scenario of Alex always being there behind bars watching in horror. Interspersed between the murders are boring talkie scenes with Commissioner Bonelli, Commissioner Valenti and FBI agent Professor Robinson (played by Donald Pleasence) who has become involved in the videotape killer case due to a link with previous murders in New York (who else is from NY... I wonder!) We're also treated to more delightful bits of filming for the greatest music video of all time and the budding romance between Stella and Rybek whose relationship has all the heat of a wet flannel. I'm still traumatised by their sex scene which involved some pretty furious humping in front of videos of Stella because let's face it, who can get moist without being surrounded by video footage of themselves.

Prior to Fatal Frames, Al Festa made his name making music videos and by god it shows in this movie. Everything in this film is staged like an 80s music video, I for one have never seen so much dry ice utilised in a film - it is literally everywhere, indoor and out. This isn't necessarily a criticism, sometimes it's just laid on too thick and is unnecessary but on the whole it does give Fatal Frames a distinctive look. Admittedly, it is hard to make Rome landmarks like the Trevi fountain and the Colosseum look like shit but Festa makes historic Rome shine by casting it in a striking lighting scheme of oranges, reds and blues which Dario himself would be proud of. The exterior nighttime shots in this film are visually great however the daytime scenes look flat and dull. Festa's visual flare only seems to apply to night shooting where he can make his world look over the top like in a music video. Overall, despite some lacklustre daytime shooting, the cinematography is of a good standard and Festa and cinematographer, Giuseppe Bernardini, work well together creating a film that, for the most part, looks fairly high budget especially when you consider the time period it was made in. 

The visual flare displayed in the nighttime scenes is a highlight of Fatal Frames and to give credit where credit is due, the film contains some other positives, primarily the impressive decapitations by Steve Johnson which look suitably gruesome. The special effects are pretty decent throughout the film but if I'm going to nitpick, the murder set pieces could have been a little bit more varied and inventive. As mentioned previously, the acting (if you could call it that) is pretty piss poor on the whole but the supporting characters are well done. It was great to see veterans of the Italian film industry such as Alida Valli, David Warbeck, Rossana Brazzi and Ugo Pagliai feature in the cast and they were all a welcome distraction from the film's horrendous leads. Finally, despite the film's questionable plot there are some interesting elements - I thoroughly enjoyed the parts of the film about a mysterious painting and a blind psychic (played by Valli) but unfortunately, Festa didn't really build on these ideas and instead focused on his wife's tits. If this wasn't such a vanity project, it maybe could have been more of a solid return to the giallo.

Now I'm fully aware this review, if I could even call it that, is becoming massive but there's just so many things to say about this heinous film that might save you forking out your hard earned money and wasting your precious time. So here's a list of just some of the things I hated about Fatal Frames;

1. The sound effects: everybody's shoes sound like they are coated in velcro
2. The zooms: my god I have never seen so many zooms in a film and so poorly used (actually scrap that, Jess Franco still holds that honour)
3. Characters talking over unrelated scenes: you'll hear characters having a conversation but something completely different is going on visually.
4. The dialogue: Here's perhaps my favourite line from the film "reportedly carved in slices like roast beef" "I'm going to arrest you if you don't curb your language"
5. The number of greasy Italian ponytails in every scene.
6. The awful tough guy "I don't take shit from anyone" bravado of Alex. One of my "favourite scenes" is an ~intense~ meeting between Alex, Robinson and Valenti where Alex goes off on one and starts effing and jeffing at everyone and it's so incredibly awful and has to be seen to be believed. Sadly Robinson doesn't beat him to death there and then with his cane although admittedly he tries.

Now I know what you're thinking, I was thinking it too - how the hell did this film get made? Well the film went into production in 1993 and wasn't completed till 1996 due to funding issues - quelle fucking surprise. Sadly Donald Pleasence died during this period which resulted in a hasty, yet fantastic exit for his character but also some awful dubbing. I imagine Al Festa had to provide a lot of the funding himself for Fatal Frames considering the state of the Italian film industry in the 90s. I guess it's to his credit that he managed to make a decent looking film, full of Italian film veterans and the great work of special effects artist, Steve Johnson, in this volatile period. It's just a shame that awful casting and a dodgy script drags it down. Like I said previously, it's rare to see a film in this genre for the 90s never mind one of this "quality".

Fatal Frames will make you question you love of the giallo. How could a homage to the genre go so horribly wrong? There are some good ideas in the film but it's ultimately bogged down by poor acting and self indulgence on the part of Festa and Stella (who also served as producer). Despite my undying hatred for the film I would encourage any fan of the genre to check it out because it's absolutely hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Fatal Frames - never has a film name been so apt.

The Houses of Doom Series

Monday, 28 December 2015

Back in the late 1980s Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci were commissioned by Italian television channel, Reitalia Television, to make two films each as part of a series entitled Le case Maledette known in English as The Houses of Doom or The Doomed Houses series. Reitalia's brief for the four films was simple - they were to be horror films each set in a "haunted house". This simple setting would set the stage for four tales of supernatural mystery, violent murder and revenge that were tied to their similar settings and themes. The four films that form the Houses of Doom series were made in 1989 and were intended to be shown on Reitalia that same year. However, when completed, the films in question were deemed to be too violent for transmission by Reitalia and were subsequently scrapped for television viewing. In order to recoup the costs of both productions, the films were subsequently given a cinematic release in Italy and were sold to international home video markets such as Japan. Unfortunately, the films failed to garner much attention or interest and are now regarded as weaker entires in Fulci and Lenzi's oeuvres, thought of as cheap television horror. There has been little demand for a release of the films in the DVD/Blu ray market however, cut versions of all four films were released by UK label, Vipco in a Houses of Doom box set in the early 2000s.

Recommended for only hardcore fans of Italian horror, the Houses of Doom series is representative of the dying Italian film industry looking suitably low budget and lacking the finesse of both directors earlier works. The House of Clocks is, in my opinion, the best film of the series with a very nice premise that would have benefited from a higher budget. Although varying in quality and looking suitably tired and dated, there's still something interesting in each film that makes them worth a watch if you're a fan of Italian horror or of Fulci and Lenzi's work. The occasional inventive set piece, interesting idea and unintentional moment of comedy makes each film worth at least, a casual watch.

In the discussion of the Houses of Doom series there is some confusion over whether some of Lenzi's films from the eighties are categorised as entires in the series. Lenzi released a film titled "Ghosthouse" aka "La Casa" aka Evil Dead 3" in 1988 and its English title and close release date to the Houses of Doom series sometimes causes it to be categorised as part of the series. Ghosthouse is instead considered as part of an unofficial Italian Evil Dead series and is not part of Lenzi's work for Reitalia. The House of Witchcraft was named as Ghosthouse 4 in Germany adding to the overall confusion over which series the film belonged to.

The House of Clocks (1989) Dir: Lucio Fulci

Often considered as the best film of the series, Lucio Fulci's The House of Clocks (La casa nel tempo) is perhaps the most well known entry in The Doomed Houses series and has been released as a stand alone film by several labels including Vipco, Beyond Terror and Shriek Show. 

The second part of the Doomed Houses trilogy, The House of Clocks tells the story of an elderly couple who live in a luxurious villa filled with clocks. One day a group of lowlife thugs break into the couple's home and murder the elderly couple but all is not as it seems as the second the old man dies the clocks begin to tick backwards and the tables begin to turn...

The Sweet House of Horrors (1989) Dir: Lucio Fulci

The Sweet House of Horrors (La dolce casa degli orrori) is the second film directed by Lucio Fulci in the series and has a similar premise to the aforementioned House of Clocks. Both House of Clocks and Sweet House of Horrors take the idea of a murderous home invasion and use this initial premise to tell a story of revenge and retribution. In The Sweet House of Horrors, a group of burglars break into a family's country home, murdering the parents leaving children, Marco and Sarah as orphans. Left in the care of their aunt and uncle, the children are reluctant to leave the house when their new guardians attempt to sell the estate. Supernatural scares ensue as the spirits of the children's parents return to the house to enact revenge on the ones who wronged them.

The Sweet House of Horrors feels different to Fulci's other films but still has some enjoyable moments and a fairy tale, surreal like feel making it the weirdest entry in the series. There's some decent gore effects as well as some laughable ones as you'd expect with low budget eighties horror fare. The film had a UK DVD release under Vipco and a North American release under the Shriek Show label.

The House of Lost Souls (1989) Dir: Umberto Lenzi

Umberto Lenzi's first entry to the series, The House of Lost Souls (La casa delle anime erranti) deviates away from the familial revenge theme of Fulci's contributions to the series and opts for a more classic approach to the haunted house sub genre of horror. The House of Lost Souls centres on a group of geologists who end up staying at a run down motel after becoming stranded on their travels. Stuck in a run down motel with a dark past and a suspicious owner, the group begin to feel uneasy when geologist, Carla begins to have violent visions. Before long the group start to be picked off one by one in a variety of imaginative ways by the ghosts who inhabit the motel.

Although it lacks gore, The House of Lost Souls still has some imaginative death scenes including a memorable decapitation by washing machine. The film ticks along at a decent enough pace and has enough moments of unintentional humour and classic one liners to make this the type of enjoyable shlock that we've come to expect from Lenzi at this stage in his career. Interestingly, the film recycles music from Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985) which seems to work in the film's favour.

The House of Witchcraft (1989) Dir: Umberto Lenzi

Lenzi's second film in the series, The House of Witchcraft (La casa del sortilegio) is in my opinion, the worst entry of the series. The film contains little in the way of gore and its slow pacing, predictable plot and lacklustre production makes for a frustrating watch. However, as par with the course of the series, there's enough humour and the occasional unsettling Freudian tinged moment to make this worth at least a casual watch.

The film centres around our protagonist, Luke, a man who keeps having the same reoccurring dream in which he finds himself in an old house inhabited by an old, witch like woman. The old hag chases him around the dilapidated house before finally catching him and boiling his head in her cauldron like pot. It should come as no surprise then, when Luke's wife books a romantic get away in an old house in the country that it's the very same house from his nightmares. Reality begins to mirror Luke's dreams as his nightmarish visions begin to come to life in all of their horrible splendour.

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