Sunday, 28 August 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
(Lamberto Bava, 1984)

At some point in this review thread, we had to turn our gaze toward that prodigal son of the Italian exploitation business, Lamberto Bava, and what better place to start than here, as a Commandoed up moustache warrior stares us down through the barrel of a magnificently rendered shooter in what must surely count as one of the most definitive action movie posters of the 1980s (maestro Enzo Sciotti in full effect, of course).

On the basis of its title and poster artwork alone, I had always assumed that ‘Blastfighter’ must be one of those Filipino-shot gonzo war movies that so wantonly proliferated through the final decade of the cold war – you know, exploding huts, chopper stunts, bloody dog-tags, the whole nine yards. So strong in fact was my belief that ‘Blastfighter’ was one of those movies that I somehow managed to read some stuff about it on the internet, buy a copy of it (from a SHOP no less), and put the disc in my player on one of those increasingly rare post-midnight moments when I still have the energy to consider plugging in the headphones and tackling a movie before bed…. all before realising that it is in fact a different kind of movie altogether. Such is the power of Sciotti’s airbrush.

Once I discovered that what “John M. Old Jr” actually had in mind back in ’84 was a comparatively restrained backwoods Americana survival thriller, I felt a tad uneasy, but I ploughed on regardless, and ultimately I’m glad that I did. Maybe it was the woozy early hours time-slot, the accompanying glass of whisky or the complete lack of any particular expectations, but, for reasons I can neither explain nor fully justify, myself and ‘Blastfighter’ had a pretty good time together on that lonesome Saturday night.

Dardano Sacchetti’s script comprises a neatly polished Frankenstein’s monster of parts repurposed from ‘First Blood’, ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Death Wish’, and as such ‘Blastfighter’ begins as disgraced hero-cop Jake ‘Tiger’ Sharp walks out of prison, having served an eight year stretch for blowing away the politically connected scumbag who killed his wife.* (‘Tiger’ is played by Michael Sopkiw, whom you may recall from Sergio Martino’s ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983), here efficiently embodying a 2nd gen photocopy of ‘70s Franco Nero.)

As inevitably happens in such situations, ‘Tiger’ is reluctantly picked up by a limo containing his former boss in whatever elite, special operations-type police unit he belonged to, who tries to convince him to come back on-board, offering him a prototype of an experimental new super-shotgun that fires every form of projectile under the sun as a token of goodwill. (Whoever this big-wig answers to, he apparently anticipates no “COP GIVES FREE GUN TO CONVICTED MURDERER” headlines looming in his future.)

Much to our disappointment as well as the boss-man’s however, ‘Tiger’ shakes his head and declines the offer of returning to an exciting career of legally-shaky, villain-blasting mayhem, opting instead to make a lonesome new life for himself ruing his past mistakes, nursing his broken heart and espousing the cause of peace and human dignity from the comforts of his cabin in the mountains of rural Georgia. He takes the super-gun with him nonetheless though and stashes it under the floorboards on his porch, because hey – this is America, so who knows when a steadfast, law-abiding citizen will need the help of a laser-guided, pump-action grenade launcher to uphold what is good and right.

To no one’s surprise, the build-up to that day begins almost immediately, as Tiger encounters a posse of perpetually whoopin’ and hollerin’ young rednecks who are in the process of decimating the local deer population, cruelly keeping their wounded prey alive as they sling them in the back of a truck to take home. Naturally, our hero must step up to confront such barbarity, and, as you might expect given his past history, he is far from diplomatic in his approach.

As it transpires, the rednecks are making a living selling the live animals to a Chinese butcher who is hacking them up for medicinal ingredients (the racist language thrown in this guy’s direction by both sides in the film’s drama goes unchallenged, incidentally), and matters are further complicated by the fact the leader of the posse is the younger brother of Tiger’s former hunting buddy and small town rival George Eastman – now a local logging company foreman who grants tacit paternal approval to their unsavoury shenanigans on a “well it give the boys something to do” type basis.

As the antagonism between Tiger and the good ol’ boys swiftly intensifies, the stakes are raised further when his teenaged daughter (Valentina Forte) tracks him down and turns up demanding some fatherly affection. (He had previously abandoned her to an orphanage after her mother was murdered on the self-fulfilling basis that “I was a lousy cop and I’d make a lousy father too” – our hero, ladies & gentlemen.)

Inevitably, the lecherous overtures the rednecks cast in Valentina’s direction add a slight pinch of ‘Straw Dogs’ to the brew, and of course we know it’s only a matter of time before Tiger is going to be pulling up the floorboards to retrieve his mighty gat, his tache bristling with a renewed thirst for vengeance…

Driven on by the kind of inflexible moral certainty that only a truly cynical production can muster, ‘Blastfighter’ happily jettisons the relatively complex issues that weighed upon its aforementioned source texts, instead choosing present its story as an almost pre-modern popular morality tale, in which a character’s courage and martial prowess is entirely dependent upon the righteousness of their cause (as solely determined by the film’s scriptwriters), and in which real world consequences matter not a damn, so long as the cruel baddies are vanquished and the deer can gambol freely across the wooded hillsides as nature intended. (Except of course on rare occasions when some fine, upstanding sandy-haired hunter needs to shoot one of them for food, or to humanely manage the population or whatever, which is wholly acceptable – look, Tiger agrees, and you’re not going to argue with him, are you?)

Legend has it that this movie only exists at all because the budget Lamberto had lined up for a proposed post-nuke science fiction project fell through, and, having already pre-sold it to distributors under the name ‘Blastfighter’, he and his producers had to cobble something cheaper together to fill the gap. Under such  circumstances, I think everyone concerned did extremely well, but, inevitably, quality still comes on something of a sliding scale here, with ‘Blastfighter’s strongest moments (the action and outdoors stuff, chiefly) sitting right at the top end of what you’d expect of mid-‘80s Italian genre product, whilst the weakest sink to an almost Troll 2 level of face-slapping stupefaction.

The latter, it must be said, is almost entirely a result of the appalling English-as-second-language dialogue, and of the especially shoddy post-sync dubbing with which it is delivered. [English is the only language option on my DVD of the film, so I am unable to comment on how the Italian track fares in comparison.]

Regrettably, this serves to reduce many of ‘Blastfighter’s character interactions and tender “back story” conversations to a state of borderline nonsense, as actors’ on-set lip movements are inexpertly matched up with entirely inexplicable pronouncements (“there’s only one way to get pleasure in this life, but one hundred ways to get pain – don’t seem fair does it?”) that one suspects existed only as “LINE NEEDED HERE – ASK ENGLISH DIALOGUE GUY” gaps until long after principal photography was completed. Thus, we must persevere through dozens of instances of semi-meaningless, generic action movie blather whose zen-like opacity will boggle the mind of any viewers actually paying attention.

(That said, I did at least enjoy Sopkiw’s spirited “You want to know who I am? I’M A SON OF A BITCH… who wants to be left alone!” – a minor delight which more traditional line delivery would probably not have provided us with.)

That this state of affairs renders it impossible to connect with any of the film’s events on anything but the very bluntest level is hardly a surprise, but it is a particular shame in this case, given that the film-making here could under other circumstances have easily scaled the dizzy heights of actually-making-us-care.

Indeed, ‘Blastfighter’s technical acumen is actually far greater than its era and background might have led one to expect. Editing, cinematography and action choreography are all slick to a fault, whilst Sacchetti’s script (dialogue aside) is surprisingly coherent and well-paced (quite an achievement in itself from the man who gave us the dog’s dinner un-storytelling of Lucio Fulci’s early ‘80s horrors). In purely visual terms in fact, this could easily pass for a slightly rough-around-the-edges Hollywood studio film - making it all the more unfortunate that the game is up as soon as anyone opens their mouth.

Sadly, such unwarranted professionalism also elevates ‘Blastfighter’ to that particular grey area in which a film proves too well made and po-faced for viewers to simply laugh it off and enjoy it as a brainless thrill ride, whilst at the same time it is nowhere near “good” enough to generate any real emotional involvement or thematic engagement, meaning that, at the end of the day, what remains is just kind of… there.

Less the yummy cinematic junk food promised by its poster and personnel, ‘Blastfighter’ is instead more like a plate of tasteless steak and potatoes served at a quaint rural diner; despite occasional moments of uncouth wildness and genetically ingrained sleaze (could the brief flashback to Sopkiw’s wife’s death be leftover footage from one of Lamberto’s earlier gialli..?) and an absolutely bangin’ synth-rock theme from Fabio Frizzi, those who thrill to the madness and degeneracy of more typical Italian exploito product will be in for a letdown here.

If on the other hand though, you suddenly find yourself with a hankering for a reassuringly one dimensional tale of men with moustaches doing the right thing, attractively shot forest locations, badly dubbed teenage daughters, string-bending lead guitar stings and cars that explode in the slightest breeze – well, dive right into these cool Georgia waters my friend, and you won’t be disappointed.

Watchable, predictable, kind of likeable in a distant, undemanding fashion, ‘Blastfighter’ is, in a profound sense, a MOVIE. It also features a lovely country n’ western song written (though not performed) by The Bee-Gees, which plays three times in its entirety, so that's nice.


In closing, check out this interesting alternative promotional artwork (also by Sciotti), which I *bet* must have originated back when the film was still being envisioned as an SF-tinged ‘Mad Max’ rip-off:


* Whilst watching ‘Blastfighter’, I was convinced that Schwarzenegger’s ‘Commando’ also must have been a key influence, but subsequent research informs me that that film actually came out a year later, in ’85. I must have just been picking up on the shared Rambo inheritance common to both projects, I suppose.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
Zombi Holocaust
(Marino Girolami, 1981)

(In the absence of any decent scans of an original Italian poster, let’s enjoy this splendid effort from Thailand.)

When it comes to the “rip off” aesthetic that increasingly dominated Italian genre cinema from the late ‘70s onwards, wherein cash-strapped producers ceased even trying to differentiate their product from the prior hits they were cashing in on, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more glorious example of the phenomenon’s ultimate, self-consuming end-point than ‘Zombi Holocaust’ – an infamously shoddy venture that forms something of a line in the sand for fans of Euro-horror/exploitation.

For many, this film represents the bottom of the barrel in terms of mindlessly derivative cine-sludge, whilst for others of a less discerning / more adventurous nature [delete as applicable], it instead forms the gateway to a whole new subterranean kingdom of trash-horror wonderment. Either way, it’s quite the thing to behold, and even the highest minded aficionados of this-sort-of-thing probably owe it to themselves to sit down and give it a try at some point – if only to test their individual tolerance for further trash-gore spelunking.

Often playing more like an extended cult cinema in-joke than a stand-alone movie, the sheer opportunistic shamelessness of the logic behind ‘Zombi Holocaust’s existence (basically: ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ was a hit? ‘Zombi 2’ [aka ‘Zombie’ (U.S.), ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (U.K.)] was a hit? Et Voila = ZOMBI HOLOCAUST!) is already somewhat irresistible, whilst the fact that one of the films it is chiefly cannibalizing was *already* an unauthorised Italian sequel to a successful American movie (‘Dawn of the Dead’, released in Italy as ‘Zombi’) takes cinematic plagiarism to what at the time must have been new and giddy heights. (I’m sure if you follow the bread-crumb trail a few years down the line, you’ll find that someone in turn started making rip-offs of ‘Zombi Holocaust’, and so the glorious cycle continues.)*

Actually, the lengths to which ‘Zombi Holocaust’ goes to rip off Lucio Fulci’s film in particular are really quite extraordinary. I mean, I can see the rationale for borrowing the basic plot outline, using similar zombie make up and even rehiring the same lead actor (fan favourite Ian McCulloch) - but was there REALLY an audience back in 1980 who were liable to sit there thinking, “OMG, that isolated house in the jungle looks EXACTLY like the one in ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’, and that low angle shot where the Landrover arrives in the village is exactly the same too! I am so psyched!”..?

I don’t know, but if such peculiar viewers did exist, they certainly would have found themselves well catered for here, as ‘Zombi Holocaust’ repeatedly reaches that baffling point on the “rip off” spectrum wherein the effort taken to painstakingly recreate entirely incidental details from an earlier film exceeds that which would have been necessary to feign originality by actually just shooting some new stuff that might have proved more appealing to the target audience… and scratching one’s head over the twisted logic of such decision-making is but one of many, many small pleasures that help make Girolami’s film such endlessly charming viewing for us jaded 21st century know-it-alls.

Taking a “2 + 2 = ?!?!” approach to combining elements of its two source texts, ‘Zombi Holocaust’s New York set opening – in which cultists belonging to an obscure Asian cannibal sect are found to be rampaging around a city hospital misappropriating body parts – is a pure, politically questionable b-movie delight. Reminding me somewhat of the equally unlikely Quetzalcoatl cultist sub-plot in Larry Cohen’s ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’, I can’t help wishing that they’d spun this idea out into an entire movie of its own.

But at the same time, I’m also glad they didn’t, because then we would have missed out on the earnest discussions conducted between the police and the pipe-smoking “Professor Drydock” (no, really) from the University, and their decision that the best solution to this problem is to ask the Mighty McCulloch (is his character a doctor of some kind, or a policeman? I’m not really sure it’s make clear) to step in and head up an expedition to the remote islands in the East Indies from which the cult originated, where, accompanied by a photogenic anthropology-studying nurse (Alexandra Delli Colli), some other guy and the obligatory interfering journalist, he will uncover the secrets of this benighted cannibal tribe and… well, I don’t know really.

I mean, wouldn’t be easier to just arrest the people who are getting up to all the monkey business at the hospital, and go from there? You know, interrogate them, look for witnesses, that sort of thing? But what do I know of police work. Pack your khakis and don’t forget the mosquito net - the boat leaves at dawn!

And so, as absurdity piles upon absurdity, ‘Zombi Holocaust’ repeatedly demonstrates that, despite its aspirations toward innard-chewing, brain-sawing video nasty infamy, at heart it really has more in common with old psychotronic favourites like ‘Mesa of Lost Women’ (1953) or ‘Horrors of Spider Island’ (1960) – a goofy, comforting little b-movie that is fully aware of its own silliness, whilst simultaneously remaining conscious of the fact that actually cracking a smile would cause the audience’s enjoyment to crumble like the Walls of Jericho.

That the credited director of this mess was actually the FATHER of Italian action supremo Enzo G. Castellari was something I initially found inordinately amusing (it’s easy to imagine Enzo taking breaks from whatever ‘Jaws’/’Dirty Dozen’ rip-off he was making at the time to field excruciating “No Dad, THIS is how you do a tracking shot..” style phone calls) - until that is, I checked IMDB and discovered that ‘Zombi Holocaust’ was actually Marino Girolami’s seventy second film as director, and that he had in fact been calling “action” on lower budget genre pictures pretty much non-stop since 1950.

We could speculate as to whether it was a deficit of quality or sheer bad luck that ensured that none of Girolami’s films prior to this one have ever gained much exposure outside of Italy, but given the number of technically accomplished European directors who found themselves delivering absolute rubbish when the VHS horror boom hit in the ‘80s, it would seem manifestly unfair to make a judgment call on his work based solely on ‘Zombi Holocaust’ - so I won’t.

Either way though, it seems likely that the director’s veteran status may have contributed somewhat to the strangely old-fashioned feel of ‘Zombi Holocaust’. Whilst it is ostensibly still a gore-soaked rampage through a tropical hell, the film somehow ends up feeling just sort of… I don’t know… nice, even whilst poorly paid local extras in ridiculous b-western Indian get-up are gobbling cream of tomato soup from some poor unfortunate’s latex torso.

Despite what I take to be the producers’ best efforts to pile on the nastiness, this one entirely lacks the mean-spirited extremity or queasy gross up agenda of a contemporary Fulci or Deodato film. Much like the minimum-of-effort “bloodshed” usually employed by Jess Franco, this is purely emblematic gore – any resemblance to the real thing is purely coincidental. Like everything in ‘Zombi Holocaust’, it’s all offered up in a spirit of pure, casual fun, with little suggestion that anyone is ever actually in pain.

And, essentially, I could continue trudging through a blow-by-blow account of all the great stuff in ‘Zombi Holocaust’ until the cows come home. There’s the square-jawed, cheque-collecting determination of McCulloch’s “I-failed-the-audition-for-Indiana-Jones-and-woke-up-here” lead performance for instance - or how about the perfectly shaped stone mold that the cannibals have lying around ready for Delli Colli after they strip her naked and body-paint her with some pretty flowers? (Hippy cannibals, eh? Well, you live and learn.).

From the adorably off-beat antics of Donald O’Brien as one of the least hygienic yet most strangely sincere mad scientists seen this side of the 1950s, to the to the bit where one of expedition’s dubiously portrayed ‘native porters’ almost throws an “oh man, you mean I gotta bury ANOTHER body..” style teenage strop after our heroes respond to the grizzly demise of his friend with scarcely more than a “huh, there ya go” shrug… well, you get the picture. There is just so much to enjoy here.

You can mock ‘Zombi Holocaust’ all you like, but to give Girolami his due, at the end of the day it is a vastly more entertaining prospect than most of the other bottom-feeding zombie/cannibal snoozefests that emerged in the early ‘80s (yes, I’m looking at you, Eurocine). This is chiefly due to the fact that, for all of its many shortcomings, the picture rattles along like a goddamned freight train, never resorting to dreary ‘padding out the run time’ type footage and rarely going more than a couple of minutes without throwing us something divertingly awesome and/or ridiculous to chew on.

Add one standing ovation-worthy Classic Gore Moment (all I need say is: outboard motor), the eventual appearence of some genuinely kind-of-scary looking zombies (well, I liked them), and a pitch perfect grinding, electronic dirge of a score from Nico Fidenco (whose 70s/80s CV is so sleazy, this almost counts as a career highlight), and, for those with the alchemical suss to suitably process it, ‘Zombi Holocaust’ is pure gold - a mighty anti-classic that no one with even the slightest fondness for Italian trash cinema could fail to love like a disfigured child.


* On the cannibals-meet-zombies tip, Bruno Mattei’s actually-pretty-great ‘Zombie Creeping Flesh’ aka ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ (which premiered about six months after this film) springs to mind as an obvious ‘Zombi Holocaust’ descendent, although I’m not exactly about to call the lawyers in over that one, y’know what I mean.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
(Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1977)

(Original Title: ‘Autostop Rosso Sangue’.)

You know this one of course. An Italian-shot / American-set three-hander in which Franco Nero plays a boorish Italian journalist and Corinne Clery his long-suffering wife. We meet the couple mid-way through an especially cantankerous caravanning/hunting holiday in a not-quite-right looking Arizona, and, when they ill-advisedly offer a lift to fugitive bank robber and all-round psychopath David Hess, the spirit (if not the precise detail) of what follows can be most eloquently expressed by the awkwardly collaged cover of this Raro DVD edition.

So.. yeah. Basically, Campanile’s film rose far, far above my (relatively low) expectations, swiftly revealing itself to be a brutally effective, edge-of-seat kidnap/survival thriller in which the outrageous outbursts of violence and psychological handbrake turns necessary to keep such a tale rolling are handled with enough gravitas to ensure the tone remains serious as cancer throughout, creating a “literally anything could happen next” atmosphere that ratchets the tension mercilessly.

When it comes to critical writing (particularly on the subject of horror or crime movies), it has long been a cliché for reviewers to try to explain their dislike for a particular authorial voice by falling back some variation of the old “when every character is completely dislikeable, why should we care what happens to them?” argument. Perhaps I’ve even used this once or twice here myself over the years, I don’t recall, but anyway – following in the footsteps of any number of talented writers and filmmakers who have provided persuasive answers to that hypothetical question, ‘Hitch-Hike’ offers a stark lesson in just how shallow and wrong-headed such a judgmental approach to story-telling can be.

As such, let the record state that every character with a speaking part in ‘Hitch Hike’ is an absolute bastard, plain and simple. The only sympathetic emotion either Nero or Hess are liable to extract from an audience is one of pity, and even then, their constant, self-centered whining gets old pretty quick. Clery meanwhile is so steely she doesn’t even have that much going for her, shrugging off the assorted indignities she suffers through with an expressionless acceptance that suggests she’s angling to push both of her ugly suitors straight off the edge of a precipice as soon as is humanly possible.

When, as here, though, the writing and performances are strong enough to force you to walk a mile or two in the characters’ shoes, well... who gives a damn for your conception of whether or not you “like” them? If you’re looking to spend some time with people whose company you’d enjoy at a dinner party, you’re in the wrong genre here right from the outset, let’s face it.

Watching ‘Hitch Hike’ in its American dub – which is really the best option, given that we get Hess as nature intended and Nero dubbing himself in heavily accented English (which makes perfect sense, given that his character is an Italian tourist) – Clery’s performance inevitably suffers as the only dubbed member of the central trio, but to be honest she’d probably make the least impression in any language. You’d be hard-pressed to find any film more comprehensively disdainful of the demands of the Bechdel test than this one, and, devious though Clery’s character may be, we’re in the darkest heart of ‘70s machismo here, and it’s the tragic dance between Nero and Hess that really commands our attention – two deeply pathetic, animalistic losers, practically frothing at the mouth to try to grasp alpha-male status from the other, straining at the leash to take each other down, with the woman serving as a combined prize, servant and all-purpose hate object.

Nero in particular gives a fantastic performance, dragging the reprehensive thought processes of a man a less imaginative film might simply have pegged as our ‘hero’ into full view and letting them sizzle and melt in the sunlight, whilst Hess – true to form – gives us a leering human monster to rival Al Lettieri in ‘The Getaway’, Andrew Robinson in ‘Dirty Harry’ or Tomas Milian in ‘Almost Human’, even as he openly mocks the off-the-peg “I came from a broken home / society made me do it” self-justifications offered by those characters, opining at one point that he had a perfectly happy childhood and supportive family, but turned to the dark side because… well, you fill in the blanks. (We’ll get the ghost of Michael Winner to mark your answers after the show.)

Taken out of context, the scene in which Hess eventually rapes Clery whilst her husband watches tied to a chair (you’re watching a movie with Hess in, so you know he’s got to do his thing, right?), would be difficult to even sit through. But, coming at the point in the film at which it does, with the black-hearted, calculating intent of all three characters writ large upon their faces, the ‘big event’ takes on an entirely different complexion. As director, Campanile deserves huge kudos for presenting this scene less as the titillating act of gratuitous abuse most of his peers would have settled for, and more as a kind of hideous, inevitable ritual through which all three parties are angling toward their own, mutually exclusive goals. Like so many bits of business in ‘Hitch Hike’, it’s the kind of scene that sticks in your mind after viewing, encouraging you to start picking at its emotional residue like a dried scab, against your better judgment. Nasty, but irresistible.

Actually, Campanile and his collaborators excel all round here. Though ‘Hitch-Hike’ rarely gets stylistically flashy, as an efficient piece of dramatic film-making in the ‘70s crime idiom, it pretty much nails it. Character interactions are text-book exemplars of bug-eyed, whisky-soaked tension (you can almost feel the spirit burn at the back of your throat), whilst the film’s action sequences are surprisingly elaborate and often pretty awesome, incorporating wild-ass, verge-of-disaster stunt work and Peckinpah-esque cross-cutting that pretty much embodies everything you’ve ever loved about low budget ‘70s action cinema.

Running an unexpectedly lengthy 105 minutes, the film’s final act may induce a certain amount of head-scratching as the story continues to ramble on for a good fifteen minutes after what seems to be its natural conclusion, but I suppose they just figured, hey, we’ve got our movie-making mojo working so good here, let’s just keep on rolling (there’s that spirit of generosity I mentioned in the previous post in full effect)… and when we do eventually reach the final pay-off, you’ll get the point loud and clear.

Accomplished as it may be in technical terms, ‘Hitch Hike’ exhibits absolutely no traces of self-conscious artistry or social responsibility, and frankly a story this relentlessly hard-boiled is better off without them. It’s as if an Umberto Lenzi movie crashed head-first into a Jim Thompson novel leaving bullet casings and panties scattered across the asphalt, and it doesn’t need no fuckin’ auteur theory getting in the way.

Though it is often pegged as a poor cousin to Mario Bava’s broadly similar ‘Rabid Dogs’ (1975), I’ve got to admit that, in my heart of hearts, I think ‘Hitch Hike’ is the better of the two films. It’s a harrowing, high octane floor-punch of a movie, and if you’ve managed to side-step it thus far in your cinematic career, now is as good a time as any to take it on the chin and see if you’re still standing when the credits roll. [Spits out blood and teeth before staggering off toward the next review.]

(PRO TIP: For a great double bill, why not try this one out alongside Luigi Bazzoni’s style-is-the-substance giallo masterpiece ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971)? Two very different varieties of Italian filmmaking, united by their shared status in the rarefied sub-genre of “movies in which Franco Nero has his Hemingway-esque macho self-image systematically destroyed whilst he stares out at the world with big, sad eyes”.)

Monday, 15 August 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:

"Delivery for Breakfast In the Ruins..."

When life hits hard, geo-political certainties crumble and potential movie-watching time is compressed into aggressively fenced off, sub-ninety minute blocks once or twice a week, there is only one place for jaded cinephiles to turn for an instant hit of the good stuff: Italy. And I’m not talking Pasolini and Visconti, y’know what I mean.

The “long ‘70s” (running roughly, say, ’69 to ’83?) marked an era in which filmmakers toiling in the grimier depths of Italy’s popular film industry asked nothing of their audience, but gave them everything. Like tireless fry-cooks dishing out the cholesterol to a crowd of famished construction workers, their product might not be good for you (in any sense), but nonetheless it delivers, with a spirit of perverse generosity that it is difficult not to admire. Garish, cynical, gratuitous, delirious – it rarely fails to hit the spot.

As such, I’ve recently found myself catching up on a number of classic examples of Italian exploitation that I had never actually taken the time to sit down and watched before – possibly as a result of some misguided aspiration toward good taste, or possibly a lack of living quarters that allowed me to screen such raging crap without judgment – who knows, and who cares. This summer I’ve been making amends, and enjoying the hell out of it.

If cornered, I’ll still vigorously insist that I have little or no interest in cannibal flicks, Nazi flicks or post-‘Last House On the Left’ rape flicks, but, as we gently touch upon some of those tropes in the posts that follow and come out smiling, those still occupying the moral high ground may wish to note that standards ‘round here are slipping.

Reviews beginning tomorrow, and running intermittently for the next few weeks, I hope.

(The screen-grab above comes from Massimo Dallamano’s ‘Si Può Essere Più Bastardi Dell'Ispettore Cliff?’, aka ‘Blue Movie Blackmail’, aka ‘Super-Bitch’ (1973), which is not included in this series of reviews, but should be, because it is brilliant, and probably as much fun as all three of those titles combined.)

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Nikkatsu Trailer Theatre #4:

Although it is not a film that’s received a great deal of love from English language critics, I nonetheless enjoyed Toshio Masuda’s ‘Red Pier’ (otherwise known as ‘Red Quay’ or ‘Red Harbour’, 1958) a great deal.

A more or less quintessential example of Nikkatsu’s ‘borderless action’ formula, this one sees the basic plotline of Julien Duvivier’s classic ‘Pepe le Moko’ (1937) relocated to the port city of Kobe, wherein a jaded Tokyo hitman – rather unconvincingly portrayed by twenty three year old heart-throb Yujiro Ishihara - is hiding out from the cops, as represented by the Colombo-esque Detective Noro (Shirô Ôsaka), whilst also juggling his love-life, as a pouting show-girl (Sanae Nakahara) and a gentle, upstanding fisherman’s daughter (Mie Kitahara) compete for his attentions.

Though it inevitably veers more towards frothy romance and matinee melodrama than proper yakuza business, ‘Red Pier’ is still beautifully designed and shot, with a charming cast, swinging mod nightclubs, bustling scenes of harbor life, much dreamy rhetoric about “sailing over the ocean to freedom” (a telling Nikkatsu trademark), and, crucially, just about enough action to keep the boys in their seats alongside the girls.

It’s not the kind of movie that’s ever going to change anyone’s life, but as a breezy, exuberant popcorn flick full of enjoyable sights and sounds alongside just a touch of melancholy poignancy, it hits the spot perfectly. It’s easy to see why members of Japan’s equivalent of the baby-boomer generation get misty-eyed about these Yujiro movies – watch a few of ‘em, and perhaps you will too.

Nikkatsu’s trailer very much seems to emphasize the ‘tough guy’ angle, beginning by recapping one of my favourite bits in the movie, wherein Yujiro – who is of course portrayed as being preternaturally talented at any activity he turns his hand to – walks into a nightclub and wipes out the rival gang who have been hassling him with a single burst of gunfire that would do The Man With No Name proud. Job done, motherfuckers. A casual scene that scarcely lasts thirty seconds, clearly thrown in as an afterthought to wrap up that particular plotline with a minimum of fuss, I really dug its sheer ballsiness.