On EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE

Joe D’Amato’s trashy sex drama is as lurid as they come

Even among the skeezy depths of Joe D’Amato’s cinematic oeuvre, his 1975 sex thriller EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE is a jaw dropper. The director made his share of unofficial sequels to the popular Silvia Kristel-starring erotic EMMANUELLE movies, most starring the lovely Laura Gemser, but this trashterpiece (also known as EMANUELLE’S REVENGE) is among the best and is almost as cheerfully vulgar than his crown-jewel of vileness, the disturbing 1977 entry EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. Echoing the plot of the decade-and-change later Lucio Fulci softcore drama THE DEVIL’S HONEY, EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE wallows in perversion to tell its operatically extreme tale of vengeance and sexual humiliation and though D’Amato’s lens captures ample upset, the entire thing is just so damned entertaining and groovy (Joe Dynamo’s funk soul score is a marvel) that you can’t help but kinda love it.

D’Amato regular George Eastman (the monster-man in ANTHROPOPHAGUS and ABSURD and the lead stud in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD) stars as Carlo a preening svengali-esque hustler brute who toils on the back-end of the entertainment business, grafting gigs and delighting in the exploitation and degradation of his lover, the sweet-natured and fragile Francoise (Patrizia Gori). As the film opens, Carlo subjects the girl to one blow too many and she jumps in front of a train.  Enter Francoise’s sister Emanuelle ( in this incarnation played by SALON KITTY’s Rosemarie Lindt), who traces the sad tale of her sister’s decline via letters, with each despicable incident leeringly illustrated by D’Amato for the audience’s outrage and titillation. Soon, Emanuelle hatches a plot to seduce, trap and torture the bastard, locking him in a room armed with a two-way mirror, drugging him and subjecting him to endless images of her getting off with a succession of lovers, both male and female.

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On KILLER NUN

 

Anita Ekberg screws the scenery in this wonderfully tasteless shocker

In the annals of the unsavory subgenre known as “nunsploitation’, director Giulio Berruti’s late-from-the-gate shocker KILLER NUN stands tall, a truly nasty piece of work that has so much fun reveling in bad behavior that it’s a grim joy to behold. And that can’t be said for many of the post-THE DEVILS “nunsploitation” ilk, as they’re often depressing, claustrophobic affairs. Now back on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video, hardcore fans and newly minted habit-horror-hounds alike can go another round with this psycho-horror classic and marvel at its delightful tawdriness.

The movie stars Fellini favorite Anita Ekberg (LA DOLCE VITA) – here, well into middle-age but still a goddamned knockout – as the deranged Sister Gertrude, a woman whose religion-fueled madness has caught up with her. Respected by her peers (and, in the case of some of her fellow nuns, lusted over), Gertrude is deeply, profoundly mentally ill and after tormenting weaker souls around her, begins self-medicating her increasingly disturbed condition with heroin addiction, serial sex with both fellow sisters and male strangers and eventually, wholesale murder.

Apparently based on a real case of convent carnage, KILLER NUN is most assuredly trash, but what beautifully crass trash it is. Ekberg dives deep into the role, making Gertrude a manic marvel, veering between the most jaw-dropping atrocities and yet tempering the character with empathy, pathos and remorse. This woman is sick and sculpted by her surroundings and is seemingly unable to stop her free-fall from happening. She’s a pathetic creation. But one doesn’t really watch KILLER NUN for its wrenching drama. No, the true pleasures to be found here are gleefully grotesque and often hilariously cruel. My favorite is the unforgettable sequence where Gertrude screams at an elderly woman for taking out her dentures at the table then proceeds to grab the old lady’s teeth and stomp them to dust while laughing maniacally. As the woman recoils in shock, Gertrude snaps out of her derangement and apologizes. Hours later, the poor gummy granny dies of a heart attack! Nasty? Sure. Tasteless. You bet. But scenes like this (and there are plenty of them) are SO outrageous that Berruti is inviting us to laugh. And we do. Well, at least some of us will.

FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN/BLOOD FOR DRACULA legend Joe Dallesandro also shows up as a doctor but the dubbed actor has little to do but look square-jawed and concerned while Paola Mora threatens to steal scenes from Ekberg as a horny sister who is in love with Gertrude. But never mind the supporting cast, this is Ekberg’s show all the way, her wild, aging eyes popping from her face while cackling like a lunatic with every fresh transgression. She’s goosed by a lush, eerie score by the great Alessandro Alessandroni (THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE), who over-the-top sonics match Ekberg’s mania.

Arrow provides a crisp 2K transfer from the 35mm camera negative. There are the usual flurry of interesting extras packed into the rear end of the disc, most edifying being Kat Ellinger’s thorough video essay tour of the nunsploitation genre and a brand new interview with Berutti himself. A remarkable, macabre and truly mad movie and a marked improvement over the previous Blue Underground release.

On TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN

A closer look at the sleazy but intelligent 1972 exploitation film

It’s arguable that the greatest sorts of exploration films dial back their visually explicit shocks in favor of the power of suggestion. The most obvious example might be PSYCHO, with its skillfully edited shower scene making us think we see more than we do. But that’s not particularly fair, as PSYCHO was made by a major filmmaker and studio and released during a period where nudity, sex and extreme bloodshed were simply not on the mainstream menu. But later, the same Ed Gein-centric source material was mined for THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, a 1973 release that was produced at a time when all manner of gushy thing was allowed and accepted on screen. And yet, CHAIN SAW, one of the most brutal and notorious pictures of its kind in the world, refused to show too much either, using sound and suggestion and style to to turn stomachs and smack its audience senseless. Other films, like 1971’s BLOOD AND LACE, 1973’s THE BABY et al also proved ample sleazy and upsetting while teetering between PG and R and using theme and tone to their advantage.

Which brings us to 1972’s harrowing and hideous and unforgettable trash sorta-classic TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, now widely available via a splendid, feature-packed Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, a restored 2K visual upgrade from the long out-of-print Something Weird Video DVD release, where it was paired with the icky and awesome THE TOY BOX. The film is as perverse and seedy as they come, telling the tale of the emotionally disturbed young woman Jamie (a fascinating one-shot turn from Marcia Forbes), who we first meet masturbating in bed to one of her many stuffed animals as she breathlessly chants “daddy, daddy”, a sweaty session interrupted by her braying mother, who chastises her and accuses her of being “just like her father”. Seems Jamie’s dad was a cad who tom-catted around and eventually bailed on the family, leaving the vulgar mother to smother her only child. Though MIA, Jamie’s pop has continued to send her toys, which she keeps littered around her room and whose presence have contributed to her bizarre, sexually stunted, childlike state of mind, where she yearns for daddy’s love while yearning for other more carnal pleasures.

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Interview: Norman J. Warren

A career discussion with the legendary British exploitation film director

The eccentric exploitation films of British filmmaker Norman J. Warren are certainly flawed and nowhere near as angry or socially-minded as his contemporary, Pete Walker, but they have a charm all their own.

Films like INSEMINOID (aka HORROR PLANET), PREY (aka ALIEN PREY), TERROR, SATAN’S SLAVE and of course, his final film to date, BLOODY NEW YEAR, offer nothing save 90 minutes (or less) of pure, down and dirty phantasmagorical escapism; well-crafted genre romps made to distract, shock and titillate.

And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Warren’s roots were in short films and eventually included, as many European genre director’s early credits did, soft core porn comedies; but it is with horror and dark fantasy that we concern ourselves and that put the charming director on the small stretch of the cult film map he now occupies.

So then, in honor Vinegar Syndrome’s delicious recent Blu-ray re-release of his first horror movie, 1976’s SATAN’S SLAVE, we’re happy to present this interview with the one and only Norman J. Warren.

ALEXANDER: After your initial short film experiments in the mid ’60s, your first feature-length picture was 1968’s A PRIVATE HELL, a naughty film, no?

WARREN: Yes, it was! There were of course many films like it around from Germany and Sweden, sexploitation films we called them then and still do, but none really that were made in England. So when Her Private Hell came along, it suddenly became this enormous hit and I think that it was because it was homegrown. It was also one of the first sex films to really tell a coherent story. So while it was still pretty far from being a great film, it was unique and box office wise it was an amazing hit, which did me a world of good, I assure you!

ALEXANDER: The BBFC have always been notorious for their hatred of horror…but what were their views on the sexploitation film? How much could you show without getting your figurative knuckles rapped?

WARREN: If you were to see HER PRIVATE HELL now, it would seem innocent, naïve and really, it was never that bad. But still, the censor was very particular about what you could put on screen. If you had a bare breast you couldn’t show the nipple. And of course the guy still had to keep his pants on in bed or else you had to cover him with a sheet. So it was a very innocent time. My film did run into trouble, however, even though most of my nudity was only shown from the rear. I made only one more sexploitation film called Loving Feeling the following year – in color and in cinemascope – and by that time the censor had relaxed. We could at this point show the nipple and show SOME female frontal nudity. Things were beginning to change.

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On MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE

Words on a rock ‘n’ roll trash horror classic

It’s taken Stephen King’s MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE thirty years to get any sort of authentic respect and I don’t even think it’s quite there yet. Thing is, I’ve loved it since the first time I saw it and, as it features a full soundtrack by iconic Aussie rockers AC/DC, heard it. Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating and virtually every other critic of the period saddled it with the same sort of sneering disdain.

To be an 11 year old boy in 1986 and stand up and say “FUCK YOU! I LOVE MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE!” took courage. I ran the risk of spinning into the roll of cinematic social outcast, shunned by my peers and ridiculed by my pals.

But I’ve never really been one to give a gear what anyone else thinks about me so what the hell.

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is a hubcap headed, gas spitting 1986 sci-fi action trash classic; the first and – if you believe his publicly uttered promise since then – only film to be directed by one of the most influential and Important fantasy/horror fiction writers in history. The film was indeed one of the worst reviewed studio pictures of its time and it has since been either ignored, reviled or smarmily dismissed. And while the diesel powered shocker is indeed nowhere near a decent creeper and is a pretty odd choice for one of the major forces of literary fear to choose as his maiden film voyage, I think it’s a fascinating example of the working class hero King aesthetic in full, perversely amplified effect and truly believe that there’s more going on in the picture than perhaps even its director understood.

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On EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

Joe Berlinger’s tragic, disturbing portrait of the final days of Ted Bundy is a quiet masterpiece

Director Joe Berlinger has long traded in making movies that juxtapose perceptions of truth vs. the actual truth while sifting through the messy, often mind-bending micro-truths that pulse between those two often radical extremes. From his acclaimed, award-winning documentary work like BROTHER’S KEEPER and the near-revolutionary West Memphis Three-chronicling PARADISE LOST pictures, to his once derrided, now considerably more respected horror film BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, Berlinger refuses to settle for easy answers and is even less interested in easily-cast judgements.

The misunderstood and troubled BLAIR WITCH sequel is a particularly fascinating work, exploring the way those who commit dreadful crimes are often able to delude themselves, swallowing their own lies enough that they actually believe them. In the case of that picture, the theme is embedded with the body of a supernatural story but in Berlinger’s latest film, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, the tale told is fact-based, chronicling as it does the final reel of serial killer Ted Bundy’s reign of barbarism and deceit. Based on the book THE PHANTOM PRINCE by Bundy’s then-girlfriend Liz Kendall, the movie opts to use as its point of entry both Kendall’s intimate perceptions and observations of Bundy’s behavior as the law closes in, and also the way others in the media and elsewhere did. Because the capper and hook of Bundy’s public legacy was that no matter how much smoke seeped from his gun, he hid all culpability under a greasy sheen of mock-outrage and liquid charm. How could a man this intelligent, attractive and articulate possibly  be the monster he was accused of being?

Maybe its because Berlinger chose this as the way to illustrate his tale, using actor and co-producer Zac Efron as his Bundy-puppet, that some critics and audiences have attacked the picture (which incidentally, is currently streaming on Netflx). Its possible they are missing the point of Berlinger’s faux-romanticised portrait or were expecting/demanding a more blood-spattered glimpse into the gynecology of Bundy’s horrific crimes. Generally speaking, audiences want absolutes. Especially now, in this often hysterical culture of outrage, where facts, empathy and investigation are second to the instant reward of shared anger, of being able to easily identify and crucify “the enemy”. That’s not what EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE offers. What Berlinger wants to do with this story is go so much deeper, not into WHAT happened, but HOW something like this could ever happen and, at the end of it, realizing that sometimes…there is no answer. Evil is not absolute. And the path to it and through it is often not easily charted.

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Interview: Composer Alessandro Alessandroni

A vintage interview with legendary THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE composer

Italian composer Ennio Morricone deserves every accolade awarded him. The impact of his work in Italian westerns, horror, action, arthouse and mainstream American cinema (check out his now-iconic work in Brian De Palma’s 1987 classic THE UNTOUCHABLES) cannot be properly measured.

But a name that rarely gets mentioned in respect to vital European film soundtracks with as much reverence is Maestro Alessandro Alessandroni.

Born in Rome in 1925, Alessandroni (who sadly passed in 2017) was a multi-instrumentalist composer whose work spanned almost 50 films in a myraid of genres. Working with his friend Morricone, it was Alessandroni who supplied the signature twang guitar sound and haunting whistles in Morricone’s scores for the Sergio Leone “Dollars” trilogy. On his own, his signature sounds have defined the energies of horror films like Mel Welles’ kinky and atmospheric 1971 sexploitation number LADY FRANKENSTEIN as well as this writer’s personal favorite 70’s Europudding trash flick, Jean Brismee’s 1971 supernatural, erotic morality tale, THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE, which just received a beautiful, respectful Blu-ray release courtesy of Mondo Macabro.

I spoke with the brilliant Alessandroni in 2010 to discuss THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE and touch on some of his many adventures in Golden and Silver age Italian genre cinema. I’m happy to reprint that chat here…

CHRIS ALEXANDER: How did music become your life?

ALESSANDRO ALESSANDRONI: In the village of Soriano, where I grew up, there were small shops called Barber & Taylor shops and they had a myriad of instruments hanging on the walls. In between clients—or when there were no clients at all—anyone could play the mandolin or guitar or cello or clarinet….and that is how I started this journey. I am self-taught with no professional training.

ALEXANDER: Many fans know you from your work with Ennio Morricone on all those incredible Sergio Leone westerns, especially with respect to your trademark whistle. When did you discover your talent for whistling?

ALESSANDRONI: Well, it was quite by accident that this became my trademark. During a recording session of music for an early film I was involved with, (composer) Nino Rota asked if anyone in the orchestra could whistle—I was playing guitar then. No one came forward so I said that I could try but couldn’t promise anything. But it worked and that is how the quality of my whistle was discovered. By the time Ennio and I worked together, I was an expert!

ALEXANDER: Can you tell me about your initial work with Morricone? How free were you to experiment?

ALESSANDRONI: My work with Ennio was always engaging and always creative. Often I would suggest alternative styles in the execution of his written music, bringing in guitar – the whistling – some more rock influenced sounds.

ALEXANDER: Do you ever feel that you haven’t received enough credit for your work on those incredible westerns?

ALESSANDRONI: Oh yes, absolutely. But, that’s life, I suppose.

ALEXANDER: Can you describe those prolific days working in the golden era of Italian cinema in the 60’s and 70’s? It must have been a very exciting time…

ALESSANDRONI: In those years we had so many wonderful directors in this country – Fellini, Pasolini, Risi, Germi, Leone – and so many wonderful films were being made. After the success of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, we Italian musicians were kept very busy because so many westerns were being made as well as horror films and other pictures that could be exported easily to America and around the world. Also, my choir The Cantoni Moderni di Alessandroni was very much in demand for films and recordings. Yes as you say, it was a very exciting and incredibly busy time and I’ll admit that I miss it.

ALEXANDER: One of my favorite scores of yours was for Jean Brismee’s 1971 horror film THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE. What are your memories of that picture?

ALESSANDRONI: I remember that film vaguely. It wasn’t too bad as I recall. But after some 40 years – and a lot of music in between – I don’t remember very much about my score!

ALEXANDER: Who did those haunting female vocals for the film’s opening theme?

ALESSANDRONI: Ah, that would have been my late wife, Giulia De Mutiis.

ALEXANDER: Your work in the same year’s LADY FRANKENSTEIN is also brilliant, fully exploiting that distinctive fuzz guitar. What did you think of that film and of its American director, Mel Welles?

ALESSANDRONI: That film is actually pretty good! One of my better horror scores, I think. I don’t recall working with Mel Welles, however. As was often the case, he may have left it up to me to create the sound as I chose appropriate without too much interference on his part.

ALEXANDER: You’ve also worked with notorious Italian exploitation filmmaker Bruno Mattei on 1977’s SS EXPERIMENT CAMP. What was Mattei like?

ALESSANDRONI: Now that one was no great masterpiece, I can tell you that. In fact, I must admit that it was a very mediocre picture and I refer to both the film and the music itself. But I worked very well with Mattei and I found him to be a very nice man.

ALEXANDER: You worked on two adult films in 1980 with the great Joe D’Amato (Aristide Massachessi)…

ALESSANDRONI: Yes I did and you know, D’Amato was really amusing, a very colorful character. As far as my music on those pornographic pictures, the big difference was that, well I was obliged to think erotically, not horrifically. I think my work on those movies is pretty good and a lot of fun.

ALEXANDER: Your last credited film is 1998’s TRINITY GOES WEST. Any plans to return to film composing?

ALESSANDRONI: I would willingly compose more film scores but in Italy these days everything is motivated by politics for political ends. That is not for me. I am a free man and I would want my music free of obligations or constraints. Anyhow, I am glad that publishers are reprinting a lot of my music and that people are now buying the CD collections.

ALEXANDER: Your scores for horror films were so eccentric and interesting. Do you watch horror? Have you heard any music in horror that you really liked?

ALESSANDRONI: No, I have never watched or listened to horror except to compose for those horror movies I wrote the scores for. I simply followed my instincts. The bottom line is that I LOVE to create new sounds all the time and horror movies gave me great freedom to do that.

 

Interview: Veronica Cartwright

In conversation with the revered co-star of THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, ALIEN, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and much more

Actress Veronica Cartwright has been casting spells in cinema since she was a little girl, co-starring at the age of 12 with heavy-hitters Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine in William Wyler’s controversial 1961 thriller THE CHILDREN’S HOUR and a tidal wave of entertainments made for both the big (THE BIRDS) and small (The Twilight Zone, Leave it to Beaver) screen.

Hers is truly a life spent in front of the lens. But it was in the 1970s, when Cartwright was in her late 20s, that she began to find her footing, starring in John Byrum’s sexually-explicit INSERTS, in director/star Jack Nicholson’s comedy western GOIN’ SOUTH and in a pair of films that history has proven to be two of the greatest science fiction horror movies ever made: Philip Kaufman’s nightmarish remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking ALIEN.

We had the honor of speaking with the funny, talented actress – she of those near-translucent, oversized blue eyes – about her many film appearances, including her blistering and outrageous turn in George Miller’s 1987 horror comedy THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and so much more…

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On THE COMING OF SIN

JOSE LARRAZ’S ELEGANT AND DEPRAVED MASTERWORK

In the annals of exploitation cinema, Spanish filmmaker Jose Larraz had one of the more unique voices; a multi-hyphenate artist who dabbled in many mediums, including comic books, and whose filmed fixations on beautiful women and hot sex were matched for his interests in darker, more psychological explorations. And while his resume certainly boasts a more than a few middling efforts, his undisputed masterworks outweigh the weaker material. Joining the director’s essential ranks is his 1978 shocker THE COMING OF SIN, an  astonishing work of erotic horror that’s the depraved equal to his WHIRLPOOL and sensual kin to his most recognizable picture, VAMPYRES. THE COMING OF SIN is a balletic three-hander that forsakes plot in favor of fevered couplings and ratcheting tension and whose measured rhythm might turn off the average viewer seeking smutty Eurotrash thrills. But for the rest of us…look out.

The film (released in many markets under the riotous and misleading title THE VIOLATION OF THE BITCH) stars Lidia Stern as Triana, a beautiful but simple Gypsy servant girl whose masters “loan” her out to an older, sexually voracious artist named Lorna (Patrice Grant) at her beautiful country estate. Before you can say “The Rain in Spain”, Lorna is smugly boasting that she will refine Triana’s palette, teaching her how to read, to speak, to socialize. And to fuck. Because it’s clear from the moment the two women meet that there is a strong sexual connection and Larraz revels in sustaining that tension, creating a dripping erotic aura that only relaxes once his film veers into full blown mania.

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On THE WITCHES

A closer look at an underrated Hammer Horror classic

Director Cyril Frankel’s 1966 supernatural drama THE WITCHES (based on the novel “The Devil’s Own” by Peter Curtis) might be one of Hammer’s most misunderstood and undervalued productions, with casual admirers of the venerable studio’s output often either ignoring or dismissing it. This is likely due to the film being released squarely in the center of Hammer’s “Golden Age”, when the company had had a near decade-long paydirt mining and perfecting Gothic melodrama and more sensational shockers. It defied audience expectations and needs, in some respects. But Frankel’s eerie mystery is more in-line with the studio’s post-PSYCHO “Mini-Hitchcock” thrillers, material like Frankel’s own queasy NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM STRANGERS, but one armed with a supernatural twist and buoyed by two mature female leads in the cast. But unlike Hammer’s 1965 scenery-chomper DIE, DIE MY DARLING – in which an aged and deranged Talulah Bankhead out-babied BABY JANE – THE WITCHES is no pandering horror-hagsploitation potboiler. It’s something far more evolved and interesting (and I say that with ardent adoration of the hagsploitation subgenre).

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