The Sadist

released in 2010 by Johnny Legend
video: 1080p / 1.78:1 / B&W / Mpeg-4 AVC
audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
subtitles: none
discs: 1 x 25GB BD-R / 1 x DVD-R / All Region
supplements: Interview with Arch Hall Jr. by Ray Dennis Steckler, Arch Hall Jr. Video Songbook, Epilogue to The Sadist by Johnny Legend
The Sadist is available now through Amazon.com and Diabolik DVD.

Between Something Weird / Image Entertainment’s latest H. G. Lewis offering and Arrow Video’s long-delayed and predictably problematic treatment of Lamberto Bava’s Demons films, I’ve had about all I can take in the way of disappointing cult Blu-rays for this month. A pity, really, as I had sincerely hoped that at least one of those, if not both, would turn out all right. But if there’s one good thing about disappointment it’s that it can leave you open for the best kind of surprises, and Johnny Legend’s outwardly dubious high definition treatment of schlock icon Arch Hall Jr.’s one really good film is a surprise indeed.

Unlike the other two titles I mentioned, Legend’s The Sadist Blu-ray isn’t a new release at all. He first began offering this 2-disc Blu-ray / DVD combo online in 2010, and continues to give any sort of wide-release model amiss in favor of selling it himself, one copy at a time. Having been long devoted to the DVD issued by historian David Kalat’s All Day Entertainment in 1997 (most notable now for its feature commentary with The Sadist‘s renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and still available for those who missed out on it), it took me a while to work up the steam to give the Blu-ray a go – it was expensive after all, $29.95 plus shipping through most outlets. As is so often the case, however, my love of cinema ultimately overrode any good financial sense, and I finally broke down and ordered The Sadist Blu from Diabolik DVD on Friday. $30 was still a tough pill to swallow, but in retrospect I’m glad I did.

Before I get to the goods, it must be said that the outward impression of this Blu-ray doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  The sleeve art is nicely designed, if a bit over-populated with glowing critical quotations (there are even more on the back), but has the deficiency of being physically too tall for the sleeve it inhabits and sticking out about half a centimeter beyond the cellophane. With regards to the case itself, this may be the first time I’ve ever received a Blu-ray in one that’s completely devoid of any sort of Blu-ray logo. I honestly don’t hold either of these things against the release (as quibbles go they are the very definition of minor), but some may find the next bit more difficult to stomach. Having been produced in too low a run to warrant the expense and effort of standard replication, The Sadist is presented on a single-layer 25GB BD-R as opposed to the pressed discs we’re all familiar with. As one Blu-ray.com forum member noted of it, “BD-arrrrgh!”

With all the above taken into account I found myself expecting the very worst from this release when the package arrived yesterday, and it was with no small amount of animosity that I removed it from its resealable plastic baggie to check out the disc proper. Thankfully I soon found my low expectations to be thoroughly and delightfully trounced. Who could ever have thought that Johnny Legend would succeed where mainstream labels like Arrow Video and Image Entertainment failed?

The cover for The Sadist notes that it is sourced from a “new high definition transfer from the original 35mm master print”, and while the “new” bit may be a little suspect (this is the same transfer that was sourced for Legend’s DVD edition after all) the rest is difficult to argue with. Legend presents The Sadist in full 1080p at the comfortable matted ratio of 1.78:1 (the case incorrectly lists a taller 1.66:1), and I was floored by the results. It must be noted that this is not sourced from a pristine print, but it is more pristine than I ever remember the film being. Damage is prevalent throughout, from dirt and specks to reel change markers and all manner of scratching, but I was undeterred. The Sadist looks demonstrably better here than it ever has before on video, and those familiar with just how bad the film has looked in the past will be thrilled.

Rarely lauded by this reviewer, the contrast on this disc may be its keenest attribute. Ace photographer Zsigmond has always been a master of contrast, and the delicious range of it in The Sadist‘s black and white visuals is captured beautifully, perfectly here. The image is suitably crisp and detailed for a film of this vintage and budget ($33,000!), and close-ups can look mighty impressive. Textures are also strong throughout, and the light, unobtrusive grain goes unperturbed by man, beast, or video filter – those who like myself are downright allergic to digital manipulation will find no such impediments here. The Sadist looks like film, pure and simple, and in motion improves handily over both All Day Entertainment’s 15-year old effort and Legend’s own DVD – this transfer would look lovely projected theatrically.

Those worried by the 25GB BD-R specification and what it could have meant for the technical proficiency of this release can rest easy. The Sadist occupies the disc all by itself with the exception of a rudimentary main menu (play film is the only option) and fares all the better for it, with a robust 20.8 GB alotted for the 92 minute film. The video is encoded in Mpeg-4 AVC at a strong average bitrate of 29.4 Mbps with peaks reaching as high as 35.0 Mbps. Compression artifacts are never an issue and the image held up well under even my admittedly excessive scrutinizing. If there’s one sticking point to the release it’s the audio which, as was the case with many of Warner’s early Blu-rays, is presented in lossy Dolby Digital only. That’s not to say that the 2.0 monophonic mix sounds bad by any means, a few unsightly bumps around the reel changes excepted, but I’d love to have heard Paul Sawtell and Bert Schefter’s wicked opening theme in lossless. There are no subtitles.

While The Sadist occupies the Blu-ray by itself, the release is far from supplement free. Included in the package is Legend’s original DVD from 2009 (also a burned disc, a single-layer DVD-R), which arrives with a 10 minute Arch Hall Jr. interview conducted and photographed by the late Ray Dennis Steckler (trailers for Arch’s films are mixed in here as well), a 20 minute Arch Hall Jr. video songbook featuring songs from his various films, and a very enthusiastic 10 minute “epilogue” to the film by Johnny Legend himself. The commentary with Vilmos Zsigmond was unfortunately not licensed for this release, and those interested in it will want to check out the old All Day Entertainment DVD.

The Sadist is both a bona fide American nightmare and a surprisingly great film, and it’s lost none of its potent gut-wrench potential in the last fifty years. This Blu-ray edition from Johnny Legend is an unlikely hit that rises above its perceived limitations and bests some of the bigger labels at their own game. Sure it’s expensive, but I’d rather pay more for something that gets things mostly right than pay less for more crap like this. The Sadist gets a wholehearted endorsement from me, and fans of the film are encouraged to indulge.

Screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

The Last Run

dir. Richard Fleischer
1971 / MGM / 91′
written by Alan Sharp
cinematography by Sven Nykvist
music by Jerry Goldsmith
starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Tony Musante, Colleen Dewhurst, Aldo Sambrell and Antonio Tarruella
The Last Run is available as part of the Warner Archive Collection and through Amazon.com

Former professional driver of getaway cars Harry Garmes (George C. Scott being very brilliantly George C. Scott) had retired to a Portuguese fishing village nearly a decade ago. Shortly after coming to the village he lost his child in an accident, and a bit later his wife to another man, leaving him if not dead inside, then emotionally hibernating for a long time.

Now, Harry seems to have decided that enough is enough, and takes on the job of helping in the escape of con Paul Rickard (Tony Musante) from a Spanish prison. Harry’s supposed to pick up Paul while the guards of his chain gang (or whatever the Spanish version of one is called) are distracted by a big damn explosion, and get him over the border to France.

Of course, things don’t go quite as planned. It’s not just that Paul turns out to be – fitting enough for a professional criminal – a bit of a jerk – a rather dumb one at that, and is willing to risk a detour just to pick up his girlfriend Claudie (Trish Van Devere), who one might imagine to be able to make her way to France on her own. There’s also the little problem that the people responsible for Paul’s break-out only got him out of jail to kill him once he arrives in France.

At that point, the very lonely Harry has already fallen a bit in love with Claudie – something Paul supports for practical reasons – and is willing to risk the little bit of life he feels he still has to help the couple escape. The trio’s best route of escape seems to be to reach Harry’s Portuguese home and cross the ocean to Africa on a fishing boat the driver owns. They only need to somehow avoid the horde of killers that’s on their trail. Yet even if they manage that, things still may not turn out too well for Harry.

  
  
  

The Last Run‘s director Richard Fleischer is a peculiar case of a man often only regarded as a work for hire guy of dubious talent (which probably is the kind of reputation you deserve when you end your career directing films like Red Sonja and Conan the Destroyer), yet who nonetheless has some fantastic films that look pretty damn personal and auteur-ish to me in his filmography. Especially some of Fleischer’s later RKO noirs and many of the films he made in the late 60s and early 70s are well worth a look, and possibly even worth a snooty remark calling the director a “true auteur” or some such.

Until last year, when Warner decided to finally release the film on one of their overpriced Archives DVD-Rs, it was quite difficult to get a hold of The Last Run at all, so it was easy to believe the critical mauling the film got from people like Roger Ebert. Fortunately, now that one can see the film with one’s own eyes, one just might be able to see a film that certainly isn’t flawless but is also much better than the reviews and its rather pained production history (George C. Scott driving away initial director John Huston! George C. Scott ruining his marriage on set and already working on his new wife! George C. Scott being as difficult as Kinski! Etc.) would lead one to expect.

One of the most criticized elements of the film is the lack of dynamic in its action sequences, but watching them in context, I couldn’t help but think their dry, laconic, and utterly naturalistic tone is part of the point of the whole affair. After all, Fleischer (or frequently brilliant scriptwriter Alan Sharp) even sets up an explicit contrast between the old gangster romanticism of classic Hollywood and the much dryer tone of his own film through various dialogue scenes between Musante and Scott and another scene where Musante and Van Devere are watching an old gangster movie.

This does not mean that the action scenes are completely unexciting. In fact, if you’re willing to accept Fleischer’s clear emphasis on staying inside the realm of the physically possible, you’ll perhaps find them to be unexpectedly effective at raising your blood pressure. Fleischer’s direction of these scenes, and really, of the whole rest of the film too, is wonderfully off-handed and laconic, avoiding all big directorial gestures and all showing off – and not by making this avoidance of showing-off its own grand gesture, either. The director grounds his sparse plot in a believable sense of place, giving as much room to the Spanish landscape his characters drive through as to the things happening in that landscape.

Neither the action scenes nor the crime plot are really what the movie is interested in anyway. I believe these elements are only there at all to fulfil the genre expectations an audience will probably have going in. At its core, though, The Last Run is a film much more interested in exploring the nature of loneliness in middle-aged men and the emotional death it can lead to, the difference between the cynical optimism of youth as embodied by Musante and the – ironically – much less cynical pessimism of Scott’s age, and the very existentialist (or Nietzschean, depending on your philosophical favourites) concept of hope as the most destructive emotion of them all – even if the one hoping is as conscious as Scott here of how little importance his hopes are in the greater picture of the universe.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Twilight Time: Swamp Water

Swamp Water is available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3000, and is offered exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment and their Amazon storefront.

Dana Andrews goes looking for Trouble (with a capital “T”) and finds it deep in the Okefenokee in 1941′s Swamp Water, expat director Jean Renoir’s first American film and his only for Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Fox. When his appropriately-named hound goes missing in the 440-thousand acre swampland Ben (Andrews, looking uncharacteristically youthful in the second year of his career) makes up his mind to find him. What he tracks down instead is wrongly-convicted murderer Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan), scrounging a living for himself in the Okefenokee five years after his escape from the law.

Though at first confrontational, Ben soon strikes up an unlikely alliance with Keefer, and takes to trapping in the Okefenokee as a means of supporting himself and Keefer’s daughter Julie (a wonderful, feral Anne Baxter), whom Ben takes to courting after falling out of favor with town belle Mabel (Virginia Gilmore, who would co-star with Andrews in the following year’s Berlin Correspondent). It isn’t long, however, before his attention to Julie and trapping success in the swamp lead the townspeople to suspect that Ben is in cahoots with the murderer-on-the-run, and when Ben fails to tell them of his whereabouts (after a bit of backwoods waterboarding) he finds himself ostracized by all but his kindly stepmother Mrs. Hannah (Mary Howard) and rough-edged father Thursday (Walter Huston).

Adapted by Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach) from Vereen Bell’s eponymous tale of small-town injustice, Swamp Water is ripe with studio influence (from the casting of Ford stock players like Brennan, John Carradine, and Russell Simpson to the post-production concoction of a conventionally happy Hollywood ending) yet manages, in spite of it all, to remain uniquely Renoir’s. The film is marked by his long, uninterrupted takes and fluid photographic direction (dual DP’s J. Peverell Marley, House of Wax, and Lucien Ballard, True Grit, lens the show beautifully), and his location shooting in the Okefenokee Swamp, limited by Zanuck to just a handful of crew and star Dana Andrews, takes on a fantastical and mythic quality. As the philosophical Keefer ruminates, “Living alone in this swamp is just like living on another star.” Indeed, Swamp Water presents its star location in a manner that’s appropriately other-worldly, rendering small and insignificant the human characters who dare wander among its ancient mangroves and treacherous peat bogs.

In line with its mythical presentation (its borders are grimly marked by a submerged cross topped with a human skull) the primordial landscape pulls double duty as both a purgatory for the unjustly hunted Tom Keefer and a hell for those ultimately discovered to have committed the murder for which he was convicted. When the real murderers show themselves, intent on stopping Ben and Keefer before they can share the truth with rotund Sheriff McKane (Friar Tuck himself, the great Eugene Pallette), the swamp rises as a formidable deliverer of cosmic justice, devouring one of the guilty men outright. The other, in a satisfying twist of fate, is condemned to troll its cottonmouth and gator-infested wilds forever with the knowledge that nothing but a hangman’s noose awaits them on the outside.

Beyond its central tale of cold injustice and righteous retribution, Swamp Water also offers its share of enduring human developments. Huston is as fantastic as ever as Thursday, evolving from a hard-hearted authority figure, determined to keep his head-strong (or as he says, “butt-headed”) son under his thumb, into a caring, understanding father when Ben is really put in harm’s way. The beautiful Anne Baxter blossoms as Julie, shedding the skin of a ragged social outcast with a moonlit dance both joyous and elegant, and made all the more so by contrast to the awkwardness that came before. Walter Brennan bolsters the fantastical undertone of the piece in rising from the sure-death of a cottonmouth bite, rendering Ben’s funeral arrangements blessedly unnecessary. Consequently, Ben’s eulogy (necessary or not) makes for one of the film’s most sincere and touching moments. “I ain’t gonna hold nothing against him, Lord, not even his trying to steal old Trouble. So if you want to go easy on him for killing Jim Collins it’ll be alright with me.”

Swamp Water has been released in numerous other territories on DVD, but this limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time (just 3,000 pressed, the norm for the label) marks its domestic premiere on digital video. There aren’t nearly enough of these classic Academy ratio black and white productions out in high definition for my tastes, but Twilight Time’s presentation of Swamp Water (sourced from the latest 20th Century Fox restoration of the film) can stand toe-to-toe with the best of them.

The worst that can be said for the film as presented here is that it sometimes shows its age (can it really be 71 years?), presenting with mostly frame-specific specs and scratches, but occasionally leaving a few more persistent vertical lines to contend with. That said, this is an absolutely beautiful transfer, with as fine a clarity of detail as can be expected of the production and pitch-perfect contrast throughout. There’s a fine layer of grain in evidence, and rendered well enough that it holds its own even at excessive magnification (with the image zoomed in 4-5x its native resolution). That one-of-a-kind 35mm allure is alive and well here, and makes for a tremendously satisfying viewing.

With just the 90 minute feature and its accompanying audio tracks to contend with Swamp Water only occupies a single layer BD-25, but this proves to be more than enough. The 1080p 1.33:1-framed image receives a healthy Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 29.4 Mbps, and the results are impossible to argue with. Encoding flaws, if any, are so negligible as to go unnoticed, and I suspect the image could be presented theatrically without issue. This is another reference level presentation from Twilight Time and 20th Century Fox, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Screenshots were captured as full 1920×1080 resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 monophonic, and while it doesn’t impress so much as the visuals of the film it sounds perfectly accurate to the original recording. Sound effects and dialogue are clear as a bell – the odd element out is, strangely enough, the score from David Buttolph, which presents with a notable warble at times. The disc’s only supplement, an isolated score track in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0, does not present with this issue, and sounds very good given the age of the recordings (pre-cue noise, like band members coughing and the cue number being read, has been delightfully retained in some cases). Unfortunately there are no subtitles, making it clear again that Sony are providing sub tracks for these Twilight Time discs while Fox are, for whatever reason, not.

Swamp Water is another fully-functional Blu-ray disc, complete with non-generic chapter stops (12 of them) and a pop-up menu accessible during feature playback. In terms of design this may be my favorite yet of Twilight Time’s releases, with a superb cover illustration that reflects the film’s indelible first shot. Julie Kirgo’s liner notes again prove indispensable. Several insightful quotes from Renoir himself are included, along with some lovely behind-the-scenes production stills of the director at work with his top-flight cast.

What can I say, I loved Swamp Water, from its ominous opening shot straight through to its somewhat dubious conclusion. Huston, Andrews, Baxter, and Brennan are each in top form, and Renoir’s touch is unmistakable. There’s very, very little to complain about with Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation, which ranks as one of my favorite classic film releases of the year thus far. Highly recommended!

No Orchids for Miss Blandish

dir. St. John Legh Clowes
1948 / Tudor-Alliance103′
written by St. John Legh Clowes
from the novel by James Hadley Chase
cinematography by
Gerald Gibbs
music by George Melachrino
starring Linden Travers, Jack La Rue, Hugh McDermott, Walter Crisham, MacDonald Park and Lilli Molnar
No Orchids for Miss Blandish is available on DVD through Amazon.com

It looks like a certain thing for a trio of would-be gangsters: grab the incredibly valuable jewellery of millionaire’s daughter Miss “I don’t need no stinking first name” Blandish (Linden Travers) while she and her fiancée are driving through dark country roads on the way to a roadhouse. As it goes with things that are certain, the robbery plan ends with a dead fiancée, two dead would-be gangsters and Miss Blandish kidnapped by the last surviving gangster, a certain Bailey (Leslie Bradley). Oops.

Bailey drives his victim to a country shack, where is planning on, well, shacking up for a while and doing Miss Blandish harm. Just when he is about to rape her, members of the Grisson gang, who learned of Bailey’s plans and whereabouts by ways too complicated to explain, appear like a particularly inappropriate sort of cavalry. Their leader, Slim Grisson (Jack La Rue), decides to kill off Bailey and kidnap Miss Blandish (and her jewellery) for himself.

But a strange thing happens to the hardened gangster once his booty (human and monetary) is safely stashed away at the club he owns. Slim falls in love with his victim, even becoming willing to risk the wrath of his partner/boss Ma Grisson (Lilli Molnar) – who doesn’t actually seem to be related to him – for said love. When Slim tells Miss Blandish to take her jewellery and just go on home, it turns out that he’s not the only one who’s in love here. Clearly, that sort of mutual feeling can not end well in a noir.

 
 
 

At the time the British noir No Orchids for Miss Blandish came out, it seems to have caused a minor scandal by flaunting British censorship scandals towards filmic violence (and probably sex) enough to end the career of its director, the excellently named St. John Legh Clowes and its female lead Linden Travers. From my modern perspective, this, like a lot of things causing censors to foam at the mouth, seems more than just a bit overblown. Sure, conceptually the film’s scenes of violence are a bit more directly visceral than was typical for its time, but Clowes execution of those scenes is so unconvincing, with fists that miss bellies by miles and bullets that are so clearly never shot no audience member (many of whom will have lived through various kinds of real violence during World War II) can have been shocked by what’s happening on screen.

I suspect that it’s the sexual content that broke the film’s neck anyhow, seeing as the amount of innuendo and the number of scenes where the film is basically stating “the characters are now going to have premarital sex while the camera’s not looking” reminds of the raunchier Hollywood pre-code films I’ve seen.

But really, it’s not the sex nor the violence that makes No Orchids as interesting a film as it is, it’s the peculiar way it goes about its business of being a British noir. Most of the British noirs I’ve seen were putting their efforts into taking the aesthetics and philosophy of the Hollywood noir and putting them into a decidedly British setting, with decidedly British characters and exploring decidedly British themes. It’s none of that for No Orchids. Like the novels of James Hadley Chase (one of which this is based on), the film tries its damndest to pretend it is an American noir, setting its story in the USA yet still casting – apart from Jack La Rue’s ersatz-Bogart and Walter Crisham’s ersatz-Widmark – British actors for the roles.

This lets No Orchids take place in a particularly strange place – a USA where everyone tries for a different kind of badly done American accent to stiffly utter (often rather weird) dialogue full of off-key americanisms in, frequently while wearing clothes that are clearly supposed to be American-style, but actually look like the clothes people wear in classic gangster films as recreated by a mad tourist. This whole aspect of the movie has a highly alienating effect, putting a distance between a modern viewer and the film that makes emotional involvement near impossible. It’s all much too artificial too be immersive.

 
 
 

This effect is even further heightened by a script that is confusing and difficult to believe even for noir standards, and that oozes so much puppy-like excitement about aping all aspects of American noir it ever put its eyes on that it’s impossible to take it seriously at all. The film makes no attempt to make the sudden love between Slim and Miss believable even in the slightest, and instead puts them into scenes of bizarre domesticity that can’t help but leave one with the feeling that Clowes either had a very peculiar sense of humour and was trying to have the audience on, or is an alien only vaguely familiar with the idea and ideal of love. This sort of thing sure makes for an interesting film, but also left me giggling throughout the “dramatic” climax that – I think – is supposed to jerk a few tears.

So, by the standards of how a “good” film is supposed to be, No Orchids For Miss Blandish is pretty much a total loss. However, as a film that takes a by the time well-developed style of filmmaking and makes it weird through its own sheer wrong-headedness and an insistence on imitation as if it were a broken mirror, it’s absolutely brilliant. As regular readers of this column and my blog know, there’s not much I love better in a movie than the ability to present itself as part of a different world than the one I come from. No Orchids For Miss Blandish achieves that effect effortlessly, while also providing some very pretty pictures to look at (say what you will about Clowes’s direction, but he sure knew how to do “pretty fake”), horrible musical numbers and “comic” interludes to be disturbed by, as well as psychosexual nonsense to shake one’s head about.

For a film that is trying so hard to be like other films, No Orchids sure is very much only like itself.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Una Iena In Cassaforte

Year: 1968   Runtime: 91′  Director: Cesare Canevari
Writers: Cesare Canevari, Alberto Penna  Cinematography: Claudio Catozzo   Music: Gian Piero Reverberi
Cast: Maria Luisa Geisberger, Dimitri Nabokov, Ben Salvador, Alex Morrison, Karina Kar, Cristina Gaioni

Eleven months after the deed, a group of intrepid robbers and their backers come together in the villa of one of their own, Boris, to divide up the diamonds they stole out of a Swiss vault. The diamonds are hidden away in a safe that in its turn is hidden away in a pool of water, only to be lifted by some sort of hydraulic device, and not openable through explosives because it’s somehow built with uranium inside™. Said safe can only be opened with six keys, one of which should be in the possession of each robber.

Of the original robbers, only Steve (Dimitri Nabokov), Klaus (Otto Tinard?) and Albert (Alex Morrison) are left, though. Boris has died (and is entombed in his own backyard) and is represented by his wife Anna (Maria Luisa Geisberger) whose frightening fashion stylings will delight and/or horrify the audience for the rest of the movie, while another of the original robbers has lost his key gambling to a certain Juan (Ben Salvador). The final robber is hiding from the police and has sent his girlfriend Carina from Algiers (Karina Kar). Because two women aren’t enough, Albert has brought his fiancée Jeanine (Cristina Gaioni, doing her best Brigitte Bardot impression) to the party.

Alas, things are not going as smoothly as everyone present had hoped. Just when the group is about to open the safe, Albert realizes that he has lost his key. The others don’t believe his story and begin to first try to find the key on Jeanine’s body and then – after that doesn’t lead to anything but a woman at once sticking out her décolleté and cupping her breasts – decide to torture Albert for a night by not giving him his favourite drug and puttering about on a piano.

  
  

Once that is over, leading nowhere, somebody shoves Albert down a balcony. Obviously, this won’t be the last murder in the villa, because soon enough, everyone is at each other’s throats, and everyone’s trying to get the diamonds for his or herself.

Una Iena In Cassaforte belongs to that school of the giallo that doesn’t see its own lack of a budget as an excuse for not being a mad and stylish concoction of luridly glowing pop particles. As giallos go, this one’s most definitely far on the mindless pop and pulp side of the equation, and not at all interested in (even pop-)psychology, social commentary or depth. Instead Una Iena is a film working hard to keep its audience entertained by throwing as much exciting and crazy shit at it as the money allows, in a style closer to the weirder eurospy films than most other giallos.

The whole story is presented with all the sensibility and subtlety of a fumetti (I’d be very surprised if “make it look like a comic” wasn’t scrawled on the first page of the script), with caricatures instead of characterization, delights through weird flourishes like the “uranium in the safe” business, and is dominated by a mood of overexcited playfulness that seems to have infected every part of the movie.

  
  

The actors (most of them having only this and one or two other films in their filmographies) are inhabiting their one-note roles with great enthusiasm, as if they were born into them (and I’m not too sure they weren’t), and – when the situation affords it – can go from comparatively normal acting to wild scenery chewing at the drop of a hat. Especially Geisberger and Gaioni are fantastic that way. As a special bonus, the former actress does all her freak-outs wearing clothes and make-up that many of the more exalted drag queens would reject as a bit too tacky and bizarre, as if the guy responsible for her wardrobe were a Martian visitor trying to get his three brains around the concept of a “vamp”, at once failing and succeeding incredibly well.

There’s something wildly inventive (always bordering on hysteria, but only succumbing to it from time to time) about Cesare Canevari’s direction too. Canevari seems to have gone into the film with the determination to do something visually interesting or outright bizarre with every single shot (possibly to distract from the small number of locations). Sure, some of his ideas of the bizarre and the interesting are quite clearly part of the generic visual language of the pop cinema mainstream of his time, but Canevari manages to build a beautiful little freak out of these more generic parts and his own ideas. Plus, the generic of 1968′s pop cinema is pretty damn colourful.

Una Iena In Cassaforte (yes, as far as I understand, the film’s title really translates as “An Hyena in the Safe”) is not only an extremely fascinating and fun film to watch, it’ also a film that can make for an instructive hour and a half of “guess the influences”. Elements like the water death trap garage seem to point either at the Bond movies, the eurospy film, or Rialto’s Edgar Wallace krimis as sources and influences for the film at hand, but it’s neither impossible, nor unlikely that these influences did run in more than one direction, and this small and unassuming film influenced later films of the respective series back. We are talking about pop cinema after all, and one of pop cinema’s most noble activities is to go through an endless cycle of films borrowing ideas other films took from somewhere else, that will in turn be borrowed again by other films, and then by other films again, until it becomes difficult, possibly even absurd, to find an original source, or anything amounting to a state of authenticity.

The Horror!? is a weekly cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, an aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Die Blaue Hand

a.k.a.: The Blue Hand / Creature With the Blue Hand / The Bloody Dead
Year:
1967    Runtime: 84′  Director: Alfred Vohrer
Writer: Herbert Reinecker  Cinematography: Ernst W. Kalinke   Music: Martin Böttcher
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Harald Leipnitz, Carl Lange, Diana Körner, Siegfried Schürenberg, Albert Bessler
(This write-up concerns the original German cut of the movie, and not that abomination some cruel American producer created out of it and random horrible inserts later on.)

Dave Emerson (Klaus Kinski), descendant of a formerly rich family, is sentenced to a nice little holiday in the establishment of local shady psychiatrist (so untrustworthy he’s even wearing a monocle, for Cthulhu’s sake! in the 60s!) Dr. Mangrove (Carl Lange) for killing the family gardener.

Nobody cares much that Dave has insisted on his innocence in the murder throughout the trial, or that the evidence against him is pretty circumstantial, least of all his “loving” mother Lady Emerson (Ilse Steppat).

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357 Magnum

Year: 1979    Runtime: 88′   Director: Rubén Galindo
Writers: Rubén Galindo, Carlos Valdemar  Cinematography: Miguel Araña
Music: Manuel Esperón, Pedro Galindo   Cast: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada,
Ursula Prats, Roger Cudney, Carlos León, Jeanette Mass

(Don’t be like an IMDB reviewer and confuse this with any of the other movies of this or a slightly different name!)

The members of the improbably named “Brigade 357 Magnum” of the police are disturbing the work of a syndicate of weapons and drugs dealers only known as The Organization with a half successful raid on an arms deal with a Communist revolutionary group from a Central American country (whose boss, as we’ll later see, goes for classic Castro chic). The Organization is not pleased at all, so the whole gang – boss, favourite moll and all – stuff themselves into two cars and shoot Tony Murillo, the leading cop of the operation, his wife and his little daughter.

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BMX Bandits

Year: 1983   Company: Nielsen Premiere   Runtime: 91′
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith   Writers: Patrick Edgeworth, Russell Hagg
Cinematography: John Seale   Music: Colin Stead, Frank Strangle   Cast: David Argue, John Ley,
Nicole Kidman, Angelo D’Angelo, James Lugton, Bryan Marshall, Brian Sloman, Peter Browne,
Bill Brady, Linda Newton, Bob Hicks, Guy Norris, Chris Hession, Norman Hodges, Tracy Wallace
Disc company: Severin Films   Video: 480p 2.34:1    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD9 (Region 1)   Release Date: 03/15/2011   Product link: Amazon.com
BMX Bandits is reviewed here from a screener provided by Severin Films.

A trio of athletic youngsters with BMX bikes on the brain become embroiled in a payroll heist when they stumble upon a shipment of contraband walkie-talkies.  With a pair of bumbling crooks on their tail and the cops slow to respond, can the gang of BMX Bandits rally and put an end to the criminal goings-ons before it’s too late?

Forget the cast, forget the bikes, and forget the gorgeous north-Sydney locations.  There are really only two things one needs to know to appreciate BMX Bandits. The first is that it was directed by the legendary Brian Trenchard-Smith, the Ozsploitation mastermind behind Turkey Shoot, Stunt Rock and, my personal favorite, The Man From Hong Kong (in which Jimmy Wang Yu heads to Australia to kick international ass).  Trenchard-Smith’s career may have taken a couple (okay, a lot) of unfortunate turns in the past few decades, which have seen him credited for two Leprechaun sequels and the dreadful Sci-Fi original Aztec Rex, among others, but BMX Bandits is the director at his early-’80s prime.

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The Saviour

Year: 1980    Runtime: 81′   Director: Ronnie Yu Yan-Tai
Writer: Alfred Cheung Kin Ting    Cinematography: Tony Hope    Music: Teddy Robin Kwan
Cast: Pai Ying, Gigi Wong Suk-Yee, Ng Man-Hun, Kent Cheng Jak-Si, Tien Feng

It would be easy to confuse Hong Kong police Inspector Tom (veteran actor Pai Ying, looking a bit bored) with your run-of-the-mill cop on the edge. His boss (Chris Dryden) at least seems to take him for one, complaining that Tom never keeps any criminal alive. But what the film shows of the cop lets him look like some sort of anti-Danny Lee, killing only in self-defence, being not too fond of torture, spending his free time taking care of an orphan boy. Given these facts, our so-called loose gun acts like the least psychopathic cop in Hong Kong cinema, though, admittedly, the way police officers in HK movies usually act, that’s not much of to say of a cop’s mental health.

Tom’s newest case is a series of murders of prostitutes. While the audience knows the identity of the killer right from the start, Tom will have to spend a few scenes not moving a facial muscle, or, as the experts call it, “investigating”. Fortunately, one of the killer’s victims escapes with her life and is willing and able to identify him. The young man doing the deeds is one Paul Kwok (Ng Man-Hung?), who isn’t quite the nice little boy he once was anymore since he witnessed his mother killing herself in front of his eyes while rambling about “sluts” and “tramps”, a catastrophe caused by his Dad’s very obvious cheating. Now, with a witness, it should be an easy case for Tom, and Paul should be facing a nice vacation in an institution.

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Mision Suicida

company: Puerto Mexico Films
year: 1973
runtime: 78′
director: Federico Curiel
cast: El Santo, Lorena Velazquez,
Elsa Cardenas, Dagoberto Rodriguez,
Roxana Bellini
writer: Fernando Oses
cinematography: Augustin Jimenez
music: Guustavo C. Carrion
Order this film from Amazon.com

Mexico City, during the Cold War. A Soviet spy ring – as we later learn under the leadership of Nazis with fitting names like Otto and Elke – kidnaps the Nazi war criminal and expert in brainwashing techniques Doctor Müller (Juan Gallardo). They need him to prepare the unsuspecting women populating their secret spy training camp in Santo Domingo for their real work. These women, you see, think they are just training (for who knows what?) at a very special gym that just happens to have a lot of swastikas in some of its rooms. In truth, they are meant to be the Soviet Union’s new elite spies who are supposed to start an awesome series of sabotage missions in the USA in the near future. They just need to be convinced, and that’s where Müller will fit in.

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