Monday, February 19, 2018

Christmas Evil (USA, 1980)


Christmas is already a little while back, but then we never do put our reviews online in a timely manner. The original title of this odd little film was You Better Watch Out, which is perhaps the more appropriate moniker for though the Santa-dressed nutcase does do "evil" in that he kills a few assholes, he is less innately evil than he is a poor nebbish who's gone off the deep end.


Christmas Evil is far from the earliest modern horror feature film to use the Christmas season as its setting and theme — that honor arguably goes Silent Night Bloody Night (1972 / trailer) — but with its rebranding as "Christmas Evil" the movie became one in a long series of name-day horror flicks spanning from Halloween (1978 / trailer & 2007 / trailer) to Friday the 13th (1980 / trailer & 2009 / trailer), My Bloody Valentine (1981 / trailer & 2016 / trailer) to Graduation Day (1981 / trailer) to Prom Night (1980 / trailer & 2008 / trailer) and so many more. (If, in the meantime, it hasn't yet joined most of the previously named slashers on the list of mostly unneeded remakes, it has, since its debut, been joined by an unending plethora of Christmas-themed horror movies of all sub-genres.) Of all the films just named, Christmas Evil is perhaps the most quirky, and the one that fits least to the expectations and genre traditions of a typical slasher or body-count film. Hell's Bells, it can't even be called a "dead teenager flick" 'cause not single teen appears in the movie, much less dies.

Nevertheless, or perhaps therefore, Christmas Evil is an oddly popular and generally well-regarded movie, one famously enough championed by no one less than the cult icon John Waters, who once claimed it to be "the greatest Christmas movie ever made". And although Waters' recommendations can generally be trusted — Lesbian Nuns is as good of a read as he said it was — we would tend to say that he was indeed being a bit hyperbolic in his praise of Christmas Evil, which, on the whole, is indeed mildly interesting and extremely idiosyncratic, but is never scary or horrific, is seldom bloody, and, worst of all, extremely slow.

Like most horror films, Christmas Evil opens with the mandatory prelude setting up a thin motivation to the events to occur years later: here, little Harry Stadling (Gus Salud) doesn't just catch Mommy (Ellen McElduff) kissing Santa Clause (Brian Hartigan), he catches Santa Claus licking Mommy in a place most adults find fun to lick — which causes him to grow up to be an unmarried, Christmas-obsessed loser (Brandon Maggart) working as an ineffectual manager at cheap-toy factory.*
* Sixteen years later, catching mommy having Yuletide sex was also used as the cause for sending the killer off the deep end in John Russo's indefinitely far more sleazy and bloody and breast-heavy and inept slasher Santa Claws (1996 / trailer).

And how Christmas-obsessed? Well, his walls have more Christmas paraphernalia than those of college boys (used to) have Playboy centerfolds. Worse, he also has extremely and perversely creepy voyeuristic tendencies: he spends his free time spying on kids to find out who's naughty or nice, diligently recording everything in notebooks. (Although his voyeuristic tendencies are clearly non-sexual in nature, they are nevertheless oddly uncomfortable to witness — luckily the scene in which he sees one kid reading Penthouse is not taken to its possible extremes.)

It takes well over 50 minutes before Christmas Evil embraces the violence and bloody that is expected of a movie marketed as it was, but even then the deaths are intermittent and rare. More than anything else, the mostly melancholic movie concentrates on the unraveling character of its lead loser and the world he inhabits, a world populated by hypocrisy, greed, and a lack of goodness. (An early version of Trump's world, so to speak, but on a smaller level.) The expected horror or trashiness is underwhelming, lost amidst scenes that veer from character development to whimsical to arty before almost being redeemed by a WTF ending which allegedly alienated audiences at the time of the movie's original ending. The oddly ineffectual and dislikable characterization of the second most important male of the movie, Harry's adult brother Philip Stadling — who is played as an aggressive choleric in an inexplicably one-dimensional manner by the soon-to-become great character actor Jeffrey DeMunn (also found in The Hitcher [1986], The Blob [1988], Turbulence [1997] and much more) — doesn't help things much, either.

For all its arguable failings, the biggest flaw of Christmas Evil is nevertheless not its failure as a horror movie, a failure that only arises if one goes into the movie actually expecting a horror flick: to put it simply, though the movie has "horrific" elements, it is not a horror movie. Thus, if viewers instead await an eccentric and drily black comedy with occasional flashes of artiness (e.g., the snow-covered street of Christmas lights) and inexplicableness (e.g., the Frankenstein [1937 / trailer] homage), they will in all likelihood find the movie entertaining in its own right, particularly if the print viewed is a newer, more pristine one and not one of the many no-budget and mutilated DVD versions found at dollar stores across the US.

Still, while Christmas Evil does function as the black comedy it was obviously intended to be, the humor is mostly intermittent, mostly wry or dry, and usually only mildly funny. Were it not for the gloriously WTF final scene, which totally redeemed the movie for us — a filmmaker really has to have balls to have an ending like that — we would have probably labeled Christmas Evil a loser. Instead, it gets a half-hearted recommendation as a movie that tries to be different and, in that sense, succeeds.

Addendum of irrelevant facts pertaining to and not to the movie:
One of the producers of the Christmas Evil, "the mod Los Angeles stockbroker and Pop-art collector" Burt Kleiner, who also briefly appears in the movie playing Sol Wiseman, was one of the original backers the L.A. Weekly.

In Brian Albright's  Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews, filmmaker Lewis Jackson, whose baby this project was, reveals that made his directorial debut in 1970 with the now-lost 16mm "comedy about sexual perversions" entitled The Deviators, the producers of which subsequently added hardcore sex scenes shot by Eduardo Cemano who, according to Wikipedia, used the stunt prick belonging to Harry Reems. (Cemano, by the way, promptly used Reems' talents again alongside those of Dolly Sharp in the early porn flick The Weirdos and the Oddballs aka Zora Knows Best [1971]).

The lost movie Jackson calls The Deviators is actually, according to the movie's producer Barry Kerr over at the Rialto Report (whence the image above comes), the now lost movie The Deviates. Kerr's memory differs from Jackson's: "[Jackson and I] both wanted to make a movie. He had more experience than me, so we agreed he would write and direct the film and I would produce it. We put a little ad in the New York Times, and these two elderly guys in suits and ties with slight eastern European accents answered it. I don't remember their names but they wanted to make a movie. Not just any movie either; they wanted to make a porno movie. [...] So they gave us around $5,000 and Lewis wrote The Deviates. It was a hardcore film but it had a plot too. It wasn't wall-to-wall sex. I don't remember who was in it. [...] We made the film, we handed it over to the two old guys, we got paid — and that's the last I heard of it."

Nevertheless, in the 12 Aug 1972 issue of Billboard, on page 66, in a small blurb about Kerr's involvement with the soundtrack to his only know directorial project, Forbidden Under the Censorship of the Law aka The Flasher (1972), it is written that "Kerr's previous film, The Deviates, grossed  $300,000." (For the full story behind The Flasher, and Kerr, check out the previously mentioned Rialto Report entry.)

Jackson's next film projects were both released in 1974 and involved producer Elliot Krasnow aka Kenneth Elliot. Perhaps the most notable is the only one still extant, a movie that perhaps could only have been made at that period of time when Blaxploitation and "porno chic" were all the rage: Jackson co-produced the world's first and probably only "black porno musical", Barron Bercovichy's Lialeh (1974). The plot, according to Jason S. Martinko's The XXX Filmography, 1968-88: "A black beauty (Jennifer Leigh) stars as a singer trying to make it big in the entertainment business."

NSFW Opening Credits to
Barron Bercovichy's Lialeh (1974):

Jackson's other project with producer Krasnow at the time was as writer and director of the now lost movie The Transformation (The Sandwich of Nightmares), the plot of which was based on a story he read in an issue of the underground comic Insect Fear. According to Jackson (again in Brian Albright's book), "The movie itself is quite mediocre because I couldn't get decent actors. I had written a lot of dialogue, and the actors were just bad."

One of the "untalented" actors of Lewis Jackson's lost The Transformation (The Sandwich of Nightmares), Les Crook, who plays Renfield in the flick, has since rechristened himself as "Les Visible" and, going by stuff found on one of his many blogs, has found a god of some sort, thinks Israel was behind 9-11, and the Holocaust never happened. He also discovered The Lost Plays by William Shakespeare. In regard to The Transformation (The Sandwich of Nightmares), a lost film that he is obviously incapable of discovering, in his mail to Temple of Schlock Les "Visible" Crook says, "That was a strange production." (Strange is a matter of opinion, one might say.)
Jackson went on to do uncredited work on porn films such as Maraschino Cherry (1978 / movie) and Barbara Broadcast (1977 / promo / movie), before finally making Christmas Evil. According to the imdb, while given "Thanks" in the credits of Rock Hudson's Home Movies (1992 / film), his last official credit is as an associate producer for the independent regional horror The Ghouls (2003 / trailer).

Monday, February 12, 2018

R.I.P.: Umberto Lenzi, Part III: 1969-72


6 August 1931 – 19 October 2017

"A mostly unsung titan has passed." The great Umberto Lenzi has left us! In a career that spanned over 30 years, the Italian director churned out fine-quality as well as crappy Eurotrash in all genres: comedy, peplum, Eurospy, spaghetti western and macaroni combat, poliziotteschi, cannibal and giallo.

Go here for Part I: 1958-63
Go here for Part II: 1964-68



Tarzan in the Golden Grotto
(1969, dir. Manuel Caño)

Italian title: Tarzán en la gruta del oro. OK, imdb and elsewhere credit the screenplay to Umberto Lenzi, from a story by Santiago Moncada and Joaquín Romero Hernández, but the credit sequence to the movie (below) doesn't support that. But who are we to say it ain't so, Joe? In any event, great soundtrack.
 
Credit Sequence to
Tarzan in the Golden Grotto:
Santiago Moncada and Joaquín Romero Hernández, the credited screenwriters, went on to write Cut-Throat Nine (1972 / trailer), while Santiago Moncada also worked on better-known movies, including Bell from Hell (1973 / trailer), Mario Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970 / trailer), and José Ramón Larraz's Rest in Pieces (1987 / trailer). 

Upon Tarzan in the Golden Grotto's initial release in Italy, to avoid paying licensing fees to the Burroughs estate the loincloth-wearing jungle king was called Zan ("Zan", "Tarzan" — get it?) and the movie Zan, re della giungla, or: "Zan, King of the Jungle". By the time of Manuel Caño's sequel three years later, entitled Tarzan and the Brown Prince (1972) from the go, one assumes some licensing was achieved. 

The fan-website Down Memory Lane with Tarzan says Steve Hawkes is "probably the best of the unauthorized 'Tarzans'." Maybe, but the Tarzans of Tarzan, A Gay XXX Parody (2016 / full film), Diego Sans, and Joe D'Amato's Tarzan X: Shame of Jane (1994) and Tarzhard — The Return (1995), Rocco Siffredi, are far more impressive, to say the least. And uncircumsized.
Trailer to
Tarzan and the Brown Prince:
Over at the great website Shock Cinema, Steven Puchalski, who thinks that "Steve Hawkes was the worst Tarzan to ever grace the silver screen", has the plot: "Steve Hawkes […] headed up two cut-rate, brain-dead Tarzan knock-offs by Spanish director Manuel Caño (The Swamp of the Ravens [1974 / song]). […] Hawkes had the necessary physique and loincloth, his '60s sideburns, '50s pompadour, wobbly yell, and all-around lousy acting made him an easy laughing stock..."
Puchalski also has the plot: "When sultry, scantily-clad white chick Irula (Kitty Swan, star of Ruggero Deodato's Gungala, the Black Panther Girl [1968 / first 30 minutes] & Virgin of the Jungle [1967 / first 27 minutes]) is seized by an African tribe in the opening minutes, who can save her? Muy macho Zan, of course, who rides to her rescue on an elephant, takes on her captors singlehandedly, and returns this beauty to her hidden Amazon village. Soon afterward, Zan is shot by greedy, evil white hunters who're after the Amazons' 'yellow stones' (i.e., gold), but it takes more than a bullet to put down our studly savage. After a hard-drinking old prospector patches his wound, shortsighted Zan rewards him with gold stolen from the Amazons' secret grotto, which quickly catches the attention of our stock villains. Meanwhile, Krista Nell (Feast of Satan [1971 / trailer], The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance [1975 / trailer], The Slasher [1972 / trailer, with Farley Granger], and The Red-Headed Corpse [1972 / scene, also with Farley Granger]) plays the prospector's gorgeous daughter, who's new in town and shocked by local customs (e.g., finding a eight-foot snake in her hotel room, the chief of police wandering in while she's bathing). After Irula becomes the new Amazon Queen, their home turf is attacked, her sisters are all slaughtered, and it's up to Zan (who's essentially responsible for this massacre in the first place, by revealing the location of their gold) to save the day... The production boasts scenic nature photography and comely actresses […], but it's still a ridiculously cheap, often excruciatingly dull mess. […]"
Stjepan "Steve Hawkes" Šipek eventually wrote, directed and (sometimes) starred in a variety of no-budget regional films down in Florida, most infamously the "anti-drug, pro-Christian, turkey-headed-killer horror film" (and total trash classic) Blood Freak (1972).
Trailer to
Blood Freak:


Battle of the Commandos
(1969, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
 
Italian title: La legione dei dannati. Everyone who has ever watched The Dirty Dozen (1967 / trailer) please raise their hands. Aka Legion of the Damned, possibly to cash in the similarly entitled Sven Hassel's book of the same name, which came out the same year. Lenzi goes back to macaroni combat; among the men who cooked up the screenplay, Dario Argento.
The Movie Scene, which says that Legion of the Damned "[…] takes on a whole new level of entertainment as some of it is so bad it becomes good", has a plot description: "After his platoon was massacred on what ended up being a suicide mission against the Germans, Irish Colonel Charlie McPhearson (Jack Palance) has had enough. That is until he is asked to assemble a group of men to go on another mission as the target is an operation run by Colonel Ackerman (Wolfgang Preiss of The Mad Executioners [1963 / trailer] and Cave of the Living Dead [1964 / full film]), whose troops were responsible for his platoon's demise. Assembling a group of military convicts McPherson knocks them into shape to complete their mission, which is to defuse underwater mines to clear the way for a June 10 invasion by commandos. But for McPhearson this is personal and he wants his men not only to do what they had to do but also the job of the commandos." 

At imdb, Steve Nyland (aka Squonkamatic) from New York, USA, says "It's a film populated and made by legends or semi-legends, with the added bonus of Euro Horror siren Diana Lorys, since after all what good is an Italian genre film without some gorgeous woman to ogle. Jack Palance steals the show with a cockeyed performance highlighted by a half-Irish accent that he probably fed with a solid half pint of booze during the course of an average day's shoot. Can't blame the guy for turning it into a good time." 

Among Diana Lorys' horror films, all of which are better than this war film, are Jesús Franco's The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962 / trailer), The Bloody Judge (1970 / trailer) and Nightmares Come at Night (1972 / German trailer), Carlos Aured's Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974 / trailer), and the great Fangs of the Living Dead (1969 / trailer).

Trailer to the totally unknown 1968
spaghetti western with Diana Lorys,
La ciudad maldita:


Orgasmo / Paranoia
(1969, writ & dir. Umberto Lenzi)

Starring the great Carroll "Baby Doll" Baker, in the second year of her Eurotrash phase — her first Eurotrash project being Marco Ferreri's Her Harem (1967 / trailer). In her autobiography Baby Doll (Dell, 1985), Baker writes little of her Italo-years, but she does mention that "The Italian film indusry was thriving then and I made close to twenty-four films. I'm never sure of the exact number. [...] I ended up in three different movies, all entitled Paranoia. Not only were the stories similar, but I'm fairly certain that Jean Sorel [...] was my leading man in all three." (She's wrong about the last, actually: in this Paranoia here, her leading man was Lou Castel.) According to Baker, her "three" Paranoias — though we know only of two — all had the same title "because an Italian producer didn't want to pay the title-registration-tax more than once."

Orgasmo is the first of four movies she was to make with Umberto Lenzi, the first three of which were done in a row. The movie's original title, Orgasmo, decidedly inappropriate for a land as prudish as the US of A, became her first Paranoia when it was thusly re-titled when shipped abroad. (In 1970, Carroll Baker starred in her next Paranoia, another Umberto Lenzi movie, which though entitled Paranoia in Italy was released in the USA as A Quiet Place to Kill. Confusion between the two has reigned since.)

Trailer to
Orgasmo:
In any event, this Paranoia aka Orgasmo was co-written with Ugo Moretti (who also had a hand in Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights [1978 / German trailer with — GASP! — penis]) and Marie Claire Solleville. Orgasmo was Lenzi's first giallo film, and like many a giallo film made before Dario Argento's style-setting directorial debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970 / trailer), the narrative and events are less codified.
Theme to Orgasmo
Lydia MacDonald's
Fate Had Planned It So:
A plot description can be found At the Mansion of Madness: "Recently widowed and wealthy Kathryn West (Carroll Baker) has moved from America to a lonely villa in Italy. Detached from her past and looking to live a quiet life of peace and isolation, her only form of contact and company now is her lawyer (Tino Carraro of Werewolf Woman [1976 / trailer]), a stern housemaid (Lilla Brigone), and a deaf gardener. Kathryn finds herself attracted to a young stranger (Lou Castel of Requiescant [1967]) whose motor happens to breakdown in front of her house one day and is seduced and charmed into letting the young man and his sister (Colette Descombes, seen below from the July 1968 issue of Playmen International) stay with her. Once she is hooked in, both brother and sister, and surely some other outside influence, mess with her sanity in cruel and evil ways that drive her mad."
Over at the ever intelligently written She Blogged by Night, She-Who-Blogs points out that Lenzi's gialli "were never met with the same enthusiasm as those from his contemporaries such as Mario Bava or Dario Argento, and in many ways his films are more straightforward exploitation rather than full-blown gialli."
 
She later adds, "Not that Lenzi strove for all that much beyond salaciousness with his film, mind you. Orgasmo plays more like the American erotic thrillers so popular in the 1980s and 1990s than a true giallo. The sleazy mystery at the heart of Orgasmo is pure giallo […] as is its criticism of women, especially women of wealth. There's often a frustrating double standard in gialli, movies that use the sexuality of their female leads as the primary advertising point, while condemning the female characters they play for being too sexual. In Orgasmo, this condemnation mirrors heavily the 'woman of 40' trope so popular in pulp novels, the stereotype of a woman hitting her sexual peak while at the same time, in the more sexist plots, desperate for one last sexual fling in the face of the unspoken threat of menopause." Her final judgment is: "[…] Lazy storytelling permeates Orgasmo, and is the most responsible for the film's insubstantial feel. One can't go into the film expecting true, classic giallo without being disappointed, but when approached as a campy 60s throwback, Orgasmo can be a whole lot of fun. It's bright, colorful, soapy and silly, with just enough depth in the right places to keep you interested. This is one of the lightest, fluffiest gialli you will ever see."
Also from Orgasmo
Wess & the Airedales'
Just Tell Me:
 

So Sweet... So Perverse
(1969, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Italian title: Così dolce... così perversa. Carroll Baker's second movie  for Lenzi, with a cast that also includes Eurobabe faves Erica Blanc (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave [1971 / Italian trailer], The Devil's Nightmare [1971 / music], Mark of the Devil Part II [1973 / trailer], La vendetta di Lady Morgan [1965 / Italian trailer] and much, much more) and Helga Liné (of Orgy of the Vampires [1973 / trailer], The Dracula Saga [1973 / trailer] and much, much more). 
Note: Not in any way to be confused with Corrado Farina's  Kiss Me, Kill Me aka The Devil Witch aka Baba Yaga (1969 / trailer), which, for some strange reason is not only often incorrectly credited as a Lenzi film, but is also often confused with this one.

One of the screenwriters of So Sweet... So Perverse, Massimo D'Avak, who worked on the mondo documentary Die andere Seite der Sünde / L'altra faccia del peccato / The Queer... The Erotic (music) the same year as this movie, later went on to help write Who Saw Her Die? (1972). The other co-scribe, Ernesto Gastaldi, wrote many a fun Eurotrash film, including 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983 / trailer), Torso (1973 / trailer) and Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory (1961).

Opening Credits:
The plot, according to Spinning Image: "Wealthy socialite Jean Reynaud (Jean-Louis Trintignant) leads a jet-setting lifestyle. Stuck in a dull marriage to his beautiful but frigid wife Danielle (Erika Blanc, seen below not from the film), he alleviates his boredom by sleeping with friends like the sexy but married Helene (Helga Liné). One day Jean hears a woman being assaulted in the apartment above where he encounters Nicole (Carroll Baker). Intrigued by the beautiful American woman, Jean discovers she is trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship with a brute named Klaus (Horst Frank of The Cat o' Nine Tails [1971 / trailer]). Inevitably Jean and Nicole have an affair whereupon he tries to help her escape her abusive boyfriend so they can start a new life together. But then various secrets come to light and […]." 

Tofu Nerdpunk more or less says (in German), "Carroll Baker, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Erika Blanc are truly good, talented and charming actors and are what make this early giallo from Umberto Lenzi watchable in the first place. Other than that, Lenzi has a few nice visual ideas, most of which are shoddily executed. The plot never really takes off, and one is used to better within the genre. You never really care about the puzzle or the different interconnections between the characters. […]"

At Hannes' Filmarchiv, however, Hannes more or less disagrees (also in German): "We are in the realm of Diabolique (1955 / trailer), but not that bad of a variation. […] But each revelation brings a reversal. As a result, the viewer's expectations are played with, and that all the way to the unusual, rather open ending. Cinematically the film is also at a high level. Accomplished visuals with thought-out perspectives and clever lighting are complemented by the actors' expressive body language."
Cinezilla also likes the movie, pointing out that "Like many of the titles that get sold off as gialli, Umberto Lenzi's So Sweet... So Perverse is unquestionably not a giallo. And even though it has a great title, it's neither sweet nor perverse. But it is a pretty entertaining little movie that stays safely inside the thriller sphere and comes off more like an extended twist on the Boileau-Narcejac novel Celle qui n'était plus ('The Woman Who Was')." (What? You haven't read that book yet?)

The great Riz Ortolani did the score; the song Why (music by Riz Ortolani, lyrics by Norman Newell and performed by J. Vincent Edwards) also showed up later in Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1971).
Scenes and Music from
So Sweet... So Perverse:


Paranoia / A Quiet Place to Kill
(1970, dir. Umberto Lenzi)

Lenzi's third movie with Carroll Baker, once again a movie that takes plot elements from Henri-Georges Clouzot's film Les Diaboliques (1955 / trailer) and, like so many films of its ilk, wallows in wealthy people doing bad things in beautiful environments.
The Italian title, Paranoia, naturally couldn't be used for the movie's stateside release, as that title has been previously used in the US for Orgasmo (1969), so it was instead renamed A Quiet Place to Kill. Spain got the better title: "A Drug Named Helen" (Una droga llamada Helen).
Opening Credits:
Over at All Movie, Robert Firsching offers the following synopsis to what he calls a "ludicrous thriller": "Carroll Baker plays Helen, a race-car driver who recovers from a coma and is summoned to the Majorcan villa of her ex-husband Maurice (Jean Sorel). Constance (Marina Coffa) is Maurice's new wife and wants Helen to help her kill him. Unfortunately for Constance, Helen double-crosses her and she is killed instead. But there are more surprises ahead when Constance's daughter Susan (Anna Proclemer) shows up and tries to kill Helen because she wants to help Maurice, who is revealed to be her lover. The story […] is all quite complicated, but has very little dramatic impact due to static cinematography and weak performances."
Terror Trap calls the movie "Standard stuff, but Lenzi's creations are always fun to watch and he consistently coats his work with a dash of stylin' flavor (check out that mod, reverse-negative opener). Leads Baker and Sorel are mucho easy on the eyes; and the grand guignol type climax is a cool touch."
(Spoilers) Over at imdb, that busy purveyor of porn lor of New York, New York, also thinks "impressive visuals, merely OK thriller", but he points out that the movie actually only nods at Les Diaboliques (1955) and, rather, that "the real ripoff here is from an equally distinguished source, René Clément's Purple Noon (1960 / trailer). […] That classic Patricia Highsmith movie presented the thriller format in sundrenched, always bright & beautiful settings, probably the best such example of that approach since Leave Her to Heaven (trailer) in the '40s. Lenzi adopts the same against-the-grain (no Gothic or gloomy visuals) look and carefully imitates the key elements of Purple Noon's suspense. The murder takes place on a yacht, and the final twist of the film, the 'return of the repressed' frisson moment, is identical, as the incriminating corpse is dredged up from Davy Jones Locker not as part of the official search but rather accidentally from another search instigated by the guilty parties."
The whole movie
in under 7 Minutes:



Deadly Trap
(1971, writ. & dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Italian title: Un posto ideale per uccidere. Aka Oasis of Fear and Dirty Pictures. Lenzi's Easy Rider (1969 / trailer) in the form of a giallo — being hip was never so dangerous as in the the late 60s and early 70s. This is one of his more popular gialli, and not just because a young and beautiful Ornella Muti does a lot of nude scenes (considering her age at the time, 16 or 17, possibly done with a body double). The photo of her below is of when she was of legal age and did a photo shoot for the Italian literary magazine, Playmen.
Video Vista as the plot: "The story is of two handsome young smut peddlers, Dick Butler (Ray Lovelock of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue [1974 / trailer], Autopsy [1975 / trailer]), Queens of Evil [1970 / trailer] and much more) and Ingrid Sjoman (a 16-year old Ornella Muti of Eleonore [1975 / music] and Flash Gordon [1980 / trailer]) taking advantage of sexual freedoms in Copenhagen and smuggling rude material, including audio sex tapes, into other countries. In Italy they do well in the black market but live fast on the proceedings moving in a cycle of impoverishment to wealth and back to impoverishment again, always in the belief that the new era in pornography can be exploited ad infinitum. They live on their youth and when they find themselves without other resources produce dirty still shots of their own beautiful bodies to peddle on. Things take a further dip when they are robbed of everything including their camera equipment and they are forced to resort to taking nude shots of Muti in a photo booth. Incriminated in a theft in which they have played no part they become sought after by the police. Running out of petrol they steer their vehicle into a large remote property and when unable to get a response at the house steal into the garage and siphon petrol from another vehicle. The householder is in though. A jittery Barbara Slater (Irene Papas, 44 and very fetching) interrupts them and, when less hysterical and more understanding, invites them in. The sexual mischief of the young ones is attractive to her and she sleeps with Lovelock but the following morning the young couple awaken to find another game afoot. The sex was consensual and they only imbibed in what was offered but Papas seems to be setting them up for rape and robbery. Matters worsen when the newly-cautious pair find a dead body in the boot of a car. […]"
Trailer to
Oasis of Fear:
The Spitting Image intectualizes "With Ingrid a dreamy lovechild who happily hands a kite taped with wads of cash to a impoverished child and Dick prone to spinning outrageous lies about their hippie exploits, the youngsters are both innocent and shrewd, both exploiters and the exploited. Their tendency to live life as a fun and games marks them as doomed. While they're canny enough to turn the tables on Barbara, Dick can't bring himself to commit real cruelty. The older woman has no such qualms. While not quite a long-lost classic, this evolves into an interesting chamber piece, and Lenzi delivers psychological drama and a number of tense sequences. […] While laced with intrigue and titillation, the film refuses to address icy Barbara's motivations and she wavers between pensive and hysterical. Coupled with a fatalistic streak that renders the Bonnie & Clyde (1967 / trailer)-style climax a foregone conclusion, Oasis of Fear is worth a watch but rather gimmicky and soulless."
Over at imdb, the Void from Beverley Hills, England, might disagree with the last statement about what (s)he sees as a "standout giallo from Umberto Lenzi": "[...] Oasis of Fear was made while Lenzi still had a lot of respect for the genre, and as such it stands tall as one of his very best films. [...] This film doesn't adhere to the usual giallo rules and traditions, and at first it's difficult to see where it's going. Lenzi does a good job with creating his characters, however, and although the first half of the movie is all about setting up the second half, it's interesting thanks to the handling and decent performances from all concerned. When the twist in the tale comes about, it's amazingly shocking because it appears to come out of nowhere, although Lenzi does a good job of ensuring that it doesn't feel superfluous to the plot, and the change of direction certainly suits the film. Oasis of Fear benefits from a good cast [...]. The real standout, however, is Irene Papas who is handed the meatiest role in the film [...], and gets to have fun with a character who is anything but what she seems. The standout sequence of the film takes place in an aviary full of owls, and the nihilistic conclusion manages to be sad despite the lightweight nature of the movie, and overall; this is a giallo definitely worth tracking down."
As the newspaper advert above reveals, long ago, at the Grand Theater in Paris, Texas, Dirty Pictures was shown as part of a double feature with Maurizio Lucidi's The Designated Victim (1971).
Trailer to Maurizio Lucidi's
The Designated Victim:


Knife of Ice
(1972, writ. & dir. Umberto Lenzi)

"Italian director Umberto Lenzi dispatches with his usual decadence and debauchery for an Agatha Christie-styled whodunit set in the Spanish countryside."
Italian title: Il coltello di ghiaccio. Aka Vertigine, Silent Horror, Dagger of Ice, Detrás del Silencio and The Ice Pick, the film marked Carroll Baker's fourth and last collaboration with Umberto Lenzi in a movie that some say has the hallmarks of a Lucio Fulci movie. Not necessarily a complement, though we here at A Wasted Life do usually enjoy Fulci's films immensely, even when we find them not that good. The title supposedly comes from an Edgar Allan Poe quote, "Fear is a knife of ice which penetrates the senses down to the depth of conscience," but oddly enough that attribution is only found in articles about the movie. In all truth, to us it sounds like publicity work from the days before the internet — or has anyone out there ever found exactly where Poe supposedly wrote it?
 
Trailer(s) to the Movie:
TCM has a truncated plot description: "As a thirteen year old, Martha Caldwell (Carroll Baker) witnessed the death of her parents in a terrible railway accident. Barely surviving the tragedy herself, Martha was struck dumb due to the shock. Now an adult, the still mute Martha lives with her uncle Ralph (George Rigaud, 11 Aug 1905 – 17 Jan 1984, of José Ramón Larraz's Emma, puertas oscuras [1974], Juan Piquer Simón's Journey to the Center of the Earth [1976 / trailer], and the great classic Horror Express [1972 / trailer]) in the Spanish countryside. Martha's cousin Jenny (Ida Galli, billed "Evelyn Stewart", of Hercules and the Haunted World [1961 / trailer] and The Night Child [1975 / trailer]) arrives to be with the family but is quickly stabbed to death. It appears that a sex maniac is roaming the countryside; killing pretty young girls. The already traumatized Martha seems likely to be the next victim but the case turns out to be far more complicated than it would first seem."
10 K Bullets likes the movie, saying "Knife of Ice isn't your typical giallo film as it is devoid of on-screen carnage and copious amounts of flesh on parade. [...] Lenzi's effectively uses flashbacks throughout the film to demonstrate Martha's fragile state of mind. I have seen Carroll Baker in many films through the years and for me Knife of Ice is one of her best performances of her career. The whole film relies on her performance and through her facial expressions and action she manages to bring us the viewers into her experience. Knife of Ice relies on the atmosphere that is heightened by the locations used. [...] Knife of Ice breaks away from a lot of the traditional giallo formulas, [but] still it is an entertaining film in which Lenzi manages to keep things inventive and fresh."
Ninja Dixon, who admits that Lenzi is one his favorite directors, complains that: "Knife of Ice is a very basic thriller […], but like most films by Lenzi is works pretty good even if the story hardly is unique and the production values just is a villa and some forest and nothing else than that. The story is generic and we've seen it before, but Lenzi elegant use of camera tracking and — as usual — superior editing makes this giallo stand out a little more […]. The cast is very good. […] Visually Knife of Ice is competent, but the location is boring and the story very rarely moves around outside the area, so the film seems a bit flat. Lenzi seem aware of this and tries to liven up the interior shots with smart use of the camera to a certain degree. […] Marcello Giombini's score is brilliant, the best thing with Knife of Ice."


Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso
(1972, writ. & dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Title in English: Seven Blood-Stained Orchids — and Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds in German. We're not sure whether this should be considered an honor, but Umberto Lenzi co-wrote and directed this, the last of the "official" Rialto Edgar Wallace krimis, a series that was already wheezing and on its last legs when it made its first German-Italian co-production three years earlier with Riccardo Freda's Das Gesicht im Dunkeln / The Face in the Dark (1969 / trailer). The casting of the German actress Uschi Glas as Giulia in Seven Blood-Stained Orchids was supposedly mandated by the German producers, as she was a regular in the late-stage German Wallace movies (this was her fifth and last appearance in an "Edgar Wallace" movie).
Two other German-speaking actresses were also part of the cast: Austrian Marisa Mell (24 Feb 1939 – 16 May 1992), who is also to be found in a few Wallace productions, and Petra "Miss World 1956" Schürmann (15 Sept 1933 – 13 Jan 2010), who had likewise already been in another Wallace, Die Tote aus der Themse / Angels of Terror (1971 / trailer). Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is the only Rialto Wallace that is set and takes place completely in Italy. Traditionally, London — or at least England — was the preferred location.
German Trailer to
Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds:
(What are Edgar Wallace krimis? Here at A Wasted Life, see: Der Frosch mit der Maske [1959], Der Rächer [1960], Der Fälscher von London [1961], Das Gasthaus an der Themse [1962], Der Schwarze Abt [1963], Das indische Tuch [1963], and Im Banne des Unheimlichen [1968]... and/or our R.I.P. career review of Joachim Fuchsberger.)
In any event, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids was not based on a Wallace book or title, nor did it share any stylistic elements to the traditional German Wallace krimis, and thereafter the series was officially dead (though it was revived for a series of German TV films during the second half of the 1990s). For that, however, imdb states that the movie's (uncredited) inspiration was Cornell Woolrich's great novel Rendezvous in Black. It is, like all the "Italo Wallaces", a far more enjoyable movie experience if you go into it expecting a giallo and not a Wallace movie.
Trailer to
Seven Blood-Stained Orchids:
Digital Fix has the plot: "An assassin is on the prowl, murdering women and leaving curious silver crescent moon-shaped pendants in their hands. He works fast, too. Within the space of two nights he has done away with an old woman, a prostitute and a young English artist, as well as made an attempt on the life of Giulia (Uschi Glas), a young lady who is engaged to fashion designer Mario (Antonio Sabato of Escape from the Bronx [1983 / trailer]). Carrying out the attack on board a train, our daring killer is surprised by the ticket collector and scarpers, leaving Guilia for dead. She is, however, very much alive, but the police decide that, for her own safety, it would be better for the killer to think her dead, even going so far as to stage a funeral. Mario, however, is not one for resting on his laurels, and he and Giulia decide to track down the killer themselves (giallo police are almost always incompetent). The film here gets complicated, as Giulia recognizes the crescent moon pendant as being identical to a key-ring owned by an American man she encountered at a hotel two years ago. It becomes apparent that all the victims are people who were staying in the hotel at that time, meaning that there is a grand total of seven women lined up on the chopping board. It becomes a race against time to track down the remaining targets before the killer, who always seems to be one step ahead..."
Hysteria Lives says, "All the classic gialli elements are here and the vintage is perfect — the genre was probably at its height. There's a lot to recommend this film, it's suitably twisty and the bodies keep on dropping, with the killer always being just one step ahead of the police. Riz Ortolani's loungey score is memorable and there are some especially effective suspense scenes (including one where an acutely paranoid patient in a sanatorium, played by genre regular Rossella Falk [10 Nov 1926 – 5 May 2013], finds she really does have something to worry about as the killer lurks in her room and the staff ignore her pleas for help, fed up with her previous crying-wolf tendencies). The beautiful Marisa Mell [...] puts in a memorable double performance as a potential victim-to-be and her twin sister. One of whom is terrorised by the killer with an electric drill, in an incendiary scene which not only pre-empts the power-tool mayhem of the 80s but also the gory excesses that Lenzi himself would excel in later years. But despite all the elements being in place the film, although a thoroughly entertaining one, fails to achieve anything near classic status. The requisite sleuthing, which is left to Mario (Julia staying at home like the good little woman for most of the running time), feels a little workmanlike. [...] Also, in a slightly ridiculous touch, the film recalls some of the worst cliches of older thrillers when, not once but twice, a woman faints when confronted by the killer!"


The Man from Deep River
(1972, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Title Italiano: Il paese del sesso selvaggio. Aka Mondo Cannibal, Sacrifice! and any dozens of other names.
While Lenzi's earlier movies were always a bit exploitive, or at least had exploitive elements, this is perhaps his first true exploitation movie. The original Italian title alone reveals the depth of it intentions: translated directly into English, the original title would be "The Country of Savage Sex". And with this flick, Umberto Lenzi dove into the deep end of the exploitation realm and came up with what many people consider to be the first of the Italo cannibal genre, the most of famous example of which is arguably Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Be what it may, this baby here is definitely not without its exploitive excesses and still packs a punch today, with or without the scenes of living animals being killed onscreen.
Written by Massimo D'Avak and Francesco Barilli, the two basically took the movie A Man Called Horse (1970 / trailer) — as in: "The Man from Deep River" — and moved the events to the cannibal wilds of Bangkok, Thailand. The very same year as this, the writing duo also wrote Who Saw Her Die?, while Barilli later directed Pensione paura (1977 / "trailer") and The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974 / German trailer).
The movie stars, of course, the great, if wooden, Ivan Rassimov [7 May 1938 – 14 Mar 2003], aka "the jaw with bad hair", and the fondly remembered Me Me Lai, the latter of whom for some reason stop making movies after a juicy part in Lars von Trier's The Element of Crime (1984 / trailer).
2,500 Film Challenge has a serviceable synopsis: "Photographer John Bradley (Ivan Rassimov) travels to Thailand on business, but when he ventures too far into the wilderness, he's captured by a native tribe and forced into slavery, catering to the every whim of his 'master', Maraya (Me Me Lai), who also happens to be the chief's daughter. Befriended by an old woman (Pratitsak Singhara), Bradley manages to break free, only to be recaptured a few hours later. But the attempt doesn't go unnoticed; the chief, impressed by his tenacity, welcomes Bradley into the fold, inviting him to join the tribe. Though hesitant at first, Bradley soon settles in, and is content in his new life. His happiness is threatened, however, when some nearby cannibals attack, forcing him and the others to fight for their very survival."
Trailer to
The Man from Deep River:
Cool Ass Cinema says that though the movie is "A strange blend of brutality and romance, it's not as extreme as later [cannibal genre] entries, but for historical value, it's required viewing. One of the film's strongest attributes is the capturing of the colorful local flavor and customs of the Thai people. You get a sense of both danger and exoticism in the surroundings and the culture — particularly the natives in their element. None of the other films — including Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust — managed to do this as successfully. [...] Lenzi's movie caters to a peculiarly crude romanticism built specifically around a single character immersed in a strange new world. The film isn't driven by violence alone, although there's no denying the sensationalism was the major selling point. [...] Man is the only film in this genre that makes any attempt at humanizing its savages. We live with them for 93 minutes unlike John Bradley who gradually changes from detesting his captors to becoming one of them. Like the Kuru, the cannibalistic enemies, this moderately passive tribe isn't without their share of barbarism. The difference is they have the capacity to love."
Let's have the Devil's Honey play the devil's advocate: "This film feels and looks more like one of those sixties jungle adventures then like a cannibal movie. Its main focus is on the native's rituals and tribal life, but in a clichéd, unconvincing way. With characters like the old friendly chief, the handsome daughter and the bad-guy medicine man, it is just too slick to make a real impact. The cannibal scenes, which play more like a separate episode near the end of the film, are on the other hand pretty gruesome, especially for a pre-Deodato cannibal film, and some were re-used for Lenzi's fun, but ultra cheap-looking Eaten Alive (1980). Most of the actors don't add anything to their clichéd roles, although Ivan Rassimov (of Planet of the Vampires [1965 / trailer], Body Count [1986 / German trailer with Charles Napier and David Hess], L'Ossessa [1974 / French trailer], Emanuelle nera: Orient reportage [1976 / Italo trailer], and more), who is one of my favourite Italian actors, makes the most of his poorly defined character. Me Me Lai, who was pretty ok in Last Cannibal World (1977) and Eaten Alive (1980), doesn't make too much impression here, I found her sort of dumb and irritating."
Oh, yeah — the animal killings. The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review fills you in about what you don't want to see: "Deep River Savages does not stint when it comes to portraying the savageries of life among uncivilised tribes. These Italian cannibal films are not exactly ASPCA-approved and there are some sadistically dwelt-upon scenes with a mongoose being egged on to savage a snake. There is also a nasty pre-Crocodile Hunter (1996-2004) scene of a native wrestling a crocodile and then gutting it while it is still alive. The most stomach-churning scene is one where a monkey is bound inside a table specially built to expose its head and the top of its skull is whacked off with a machete, whereupon the natives invite Ivan Rassimov to join a feast and eat its brains."


Gang War in Milan
(1973. Writ & dir Umberto Lenzi)

Italian title: Milano rovente. From a story by Ombretta Lanza (supposedly), and co-scripted with Franco Enna. Aka Burning City, this is Lenzi's first poliziotteschi movie, as the violent Italo-crime films of the 70s are commonly called. Strange concept: a non-Blaxploitation movie in which the "hero" is a pimp. (Get me my money, bitch.) But then, no one in the movie is all that sympathetic — sounds like real life, except that in real life, we are all prostitutes. Speaking of sounds, the jazzy but downbeat soundtrack by Carlo Rustichelli is well worth checking out if you're a soundtrack kind o' person.
Celluloid Terror, which says that Gang War in Milan "is an excessively violent film that exploitation fans will eat up", has nutshell plot synopsis: "Antonio Sabato (The War of the Robots [1978 / trailer]) stars as Toto, a Sicilian who operates a prostitution ring that is confronted by Le Capitaine (Philippe Leroy of Le Trou [1960 / French trailer] and Castle of the Living Dead (1964 / trailer]), a Frenchman running a drug ring in Milan who is interested in uniting the crime families across Italy. When Toto rebukes at his offer, Le Capitaine responds in violent fashion and quickly opens up the door to one of the most violent gang wars you could imagine. […] There are a few odd shots that linger on a random object for a few seconds that seem to be forced product placement of some sort which is a bit funny. From car chases and shootouts to genital torture, Gang War in Milan really pushes the envelope and makes up for what it lacks in story with pure excess."
Trailer to
Gang War in Milan:
At 10K Bullets, John White says that "Milano Rovente is another assured Euro-crime thriller from Lenzi. It was in fact his first go at the genre. Like his later efforts it is genuinely exciting, earnestly acted and frequently gruesome. In this film there is no real hero and the central character [Toto] is selfish, shallow and a real bastard. His only real loyalty is to Lino (Antonio Casagrande, of that masterpiece that is Fellini's Satyricon [1969 / trailer]) but he even leaves him to be tortured and is willing to ignore him by running off with his money to Switzerland with Jasmina (Marisa Mell). When Toto gets his just desserts it is hard to feel anything other than he had it coming." 
Michael Den Boer, also at 10K, adds "From a performance stand point the film puts most of the attention on its two leading men […], [but] it is two lesser characters which ultimately leave the strongest impression. And these two performances are Marissa Mell in the role of this film's femme fatale and Antonio Casagrande in the role of Sabato's character's right-hand man. His character also happens to the one whose genitals get electrocuted. Overall with Gang War in Milan, Umberto Lenzi would mark his first foray in the poliziotteschi genre with an explosive film that is highly entertaining and over flowing with exploitative elements."


Almost Human
(1974, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
 

"An experience in psycho-sadism you will never forget."

Italian title: Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare. Also known as The Death Dealer, La rançon de la peur, Skylia tou ypokosmou, The Executioner, Der Berserker and The Kidnapping of Mary Lou.
Lenzi makes another poliziotteschi movie, written by one of Italy's great unsung exploitation scribes, Ernesto Gastaldi (The Monster of the Opera [1964 / French trailer], The Murder Clinic [1966 / trailer], The Vampire and the Ballerina [1960 / trailer], Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory [1961], Crypt of the Vampire  (1964 / French trailer] and The Virgin of Nuremberg [1963 / Italian trailer), and it is non-stop violence and death to the very end. When he wanted to, Ernesto Gastaldi knew how to write great trash — we have fond memories as wee kiddies of having the heebie-jeebies scared out of us by The Murder Clinic and The Virgin of Nuremberg.
US Trailer to
The Death Dealer:
When watching Almost Human, one wonders not so much why the lead anti-hero, Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian [3 March 1933 – 22 March 2017] of Don't Torture a Duckling [1972 / trailer], Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! [1967 / trailer] and much more), is so psychotic and violent, but rather how he managed to reach the age he is in the movie. (Less than Human is more like it.) Actor Milian went on to work on a grand total of six movies with Lenzi.
Also there for the ride, as the Detective Walter Grandi, the great Henry Silva (of Dick Tracy [1990 / trailer] and Alligator [1980] and much, much more) in a very rare acting job as a (tough) good guy, one who decides to take justice in his own hands.
Marketed in the US as a horror movie, Almost Human is dismissed in the comprehensive German volume Das größte Filmlexikon der Welt as a "cheap and extraordinarily cynical action movie". That might explain why it is so well received by cult movie fans — but maybe the fact that it is both well made and well acted as well substantially transgressive might have something to do with its reception, too. (The "party" scene in the mansion is a make it or break scene for most who manage to get that far.)
In any event, Furious Cinema, which describes the movie as "a highly violent, furious work of Italian crime cinema", sees things differently and includes the movie on their list of 20 Furious Italian Crime Classics.

Italian Trailer to
Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare:
The blogsite A Hero Never Dies writes: "[Tomas] Milian plays Giulio Sacchi, a smalltime petty criminal and sociopath, despised by even his criminal associates after unnecessarily killing a cop on a job. After killing a second cop for what turns out to be small change, Sacchi has an idea for a huge score and enlists a small team to kidnap the daughter (Laura Belli) of a wealthy businessman for a ransom of half a billion Lire. The kidnapping becomes a sadistic massacre and [Henry] Silva's cop Grandi is quickly on his tail but always a step behind. Grandi becomes so angered by the case, he's determined to get his man no matter what the consequences."
Over at All Movie, Donald Guarisco gushes: "This sick yet slick entry in the Italian crime film cycle of the 1970s is an archetypal example of the form, mixing sleaze and action in a manner that is compelling and unnerving all at once. The script moves along at a snappy pace, punctuating its storyline with bursts of brutal, sometimes perverse violence, and Umberto Lenzi's direction gives the mayhem a crisp, clean visual style that one wouldn't necessarily expect from such a tale. However, the real secret weapons of Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo Sparare are the lead performances by Tomas Milian and Henry Silva. […] The high quality of these performances, combined with the confident scripting and direction, make Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo Sparare a memorable venture into Italian crime filmmaking. The end result may be too grim and chilly around the edges for some viewers but anyone with an interest in this subgenre should check it out."
Cult Reviews agrees, raving "Almost Human is incredibly fast-paced, with super-exciting car chases and outrageous gunfights throughout the entire playtime. The script offers a lot of unexpected twists to keep you on the edge of your seat and Tomas Millian's hectic performance — his character is popped up on drugs most of the time — alone is enough to watch this masterpiece of 70s exploitation cinema, featuring a mesmerizing rock-score by Ennio Morricone. A true must-see!"


Spasmo
(1974, writ & dir Umberto Lenzi)
Supposedly, Lucio Fulci was originally slated to direct this film, but more than anything else the movie — which "follows two characters on a dreamlike journey involving murder, vanishing bodies, and jealous lovers, with dialogue and character development so random they would drive David Lynch into fits" — sounds like Jess Franco material.
Wikipedia, referencing Louis Paul's book Italian Horror Film Directors (ISBN 9780786487493), says "In the original cut, Lenzi opted to not show the murders as to add suspense and mystery about the motives and the identity of the assassin. The American producers felt the audience could be confused, so they added about ten minutes of footage displaying the murders and clarifying some parts of the plot. Reportedly, George A. Romero was hired to shoot the additional footage."
For that, Ninja Dixon thinks "Spasmo is a movie with very little violence and blood, except a grim murder-by-car, and Lenzi choose to have it that way to make it stand out from the rest of the thrillers being released. […] A movie like Eyeball would be a lot weaker without the blood and violence, but Spasmo is a very different kind of breed. […] It's a story of immoral people doing immoral stuff, but hey — that's what the world is all about […]. Bravo Lenzi! [...] In 1000 years, movies like Spasmo will still be talked about on the net — and Sound of Fucking Music (1965 / trailer) will be forgotten."
What can one say: Ninja Dixon is an optimist if he truly even thinks that in 1000 years there will be anyone left to talk about anything. We here at A Wasted Life will simply be happy if the world survives the Trump presidency.
 
But assuming someone is still there, why will Spasmo still be discussed? Perhaps, because the film is so weird. As Through the Shattered Lens points out, of all Lenzi's movies "none were as strange as 1974's Spasmo": "Attempting to detail the plot of Spasmo is a challenge. Even by the twisty standards of the giallo genre, the mystery at the heart of Spasmo is a complicated one. According to Troy Howarth's So Deadly, So Perverse Volume Two, even Lenzi admitted that Spasmo's storyline made no sense. Add to that, Spasmo features so many twists and turns that it's difficult to judge just how much of the movie's plot you can safely describe before you start spoiling the film. […] Even by the standards of Italian thrillers, Spasmo is chaotic. The film may not make any sense but it's never boring. Between the mannequins and the murders, it's pretty much impossible to follow the plot but who cares? As directed by Lenzi, Spasmo plays out like a dream, full of surreal images and memorably weird performances. […] Spasmo is a film that keeps you guessing. Whether it keeps you guessing because the plot is clever or because the plot itself is deliberately designed (and filmed) to make no sense is something that viewers will have to determine for themselves."
Trailer to
Spasmo:
For that, Mondo Digital has a plot description of what one on-line fan elsewhere describes as "a strange combination of Jean Rollin (the middle part in particular feels like something straight out of a Rollin film, in particular Fascination [1979 / trailer]) and David Lynch": "Our nominal 'hero' is rich kid Christian (Robert Hoffman of Naked Girl Killed in the Park [1972 / Italian trailer], Death Carries a Cane [1973 / German trailer] and the Edgar Wallace krimi Neues von Hexer / Again the Ringer [1965 / German trailer]), who hooks up one night with a cheery but mysterious blonde, Barbara (Suzy Kendall of Torso [1973 / trailer], Tales that Witness Madness [1973 / trailer], and the  Edgar Wallace krimi Psycho-Circus [1966 / trailer]), whom he had previously encountered on the beach (where she was lying face-first, apparently suffering from memory loss). After he calls her a 'sweet, sweet whore,' she offers to take him back to her place for a quick one... on the condition that he shave off his beard ('There's a razor at my place; it's big, sharp, and sexy'). Naturally he complies, but before the two can consummate, he's ambushed in the bathroom by a pistol-wielding thug (Adolfo Lastretti of The Four of the Apocalypse [1975 / trailer] and Venus in Furs [1969 / trailer]) who winds up getting shot in the ensuing scuffle. Without even bothering to see the body, Barbara accepts Christian's word and goes on the lam with him to a friend's house, a desolate villa filled with birds of prey. Unfortunately they're surprised again by a couple renting the property, but Christan and Barbara are allowed to stay the night (even after explaining why they're hiding from the police). Christian decides to elicit help from his industrialist brother, Fritz (Ivan Rassimov of The Witch [1966 / full movie], Cjamango [1967 / trailer], Emanuelle Around the World [1977 / trailer] and Mario Bava's Schock [1977 / Italian trailer])..."
The trailer further above, of course, is misleading. "The film's original trailer has always been good fun, and remains so here. 'Spasmo ... spasmo ... spasmo ...' whispers the voiceover bloke as scenes from the film are deliberately edited together in misleading fashion over the course of 3 minutes. Brilliant. (SexGoreMutants)"


Syndicate Sadists
(1975, dir Umberto Lenzi)

"Life's a hole. We are born from a hole, eat from a hole, shit from a hole, and end up in a hole."
John  Rambo (Tomas Milian)

Italian title, Il giustiziere sfida la città. So you always thought First Blood (1984 / trailer) was the first Rambo movie? Guess again — and watch Lenzi's Il giustiziere sfida la città (aka Just One Man and Rambo's Revenge and more), Lenzi's second movie project starring Tomas Milian.
OK, so it isn't really a "Rambo" movie, but prior to Stallone's interminable franchise beginning in 1982, Tomas Milian had read David Morrell's 1972 novel First Blood and tried to get a film version off the ground in Italy. He failed. But when this poliziotteschi movie came along, he had his character renamed John Rambo in honor and reference to the book. Thus, John Rambo cleans up crime in Italy instead of rednecks in the US… or Vietnamese and Soviets in Vietnam… or Soviets in Afghanistan… or Burmese in Burma.
But when speaking of literary sources, the plot to this movie has far more to do with Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest than First Blood — and thus, as most film reviewers notice, the novel's various illegitimate filmic offspring of note: Yojimbo (1961 / trailer) and, of course, For a Fistful of Dollars (1964) and, long after Lenzi's movie, Walter Hill's Last Man Standing (1996 / trailer).
German Trailer to
Flash Solo:
DVD Drive-In has the plot to a movie that Cinema de Merde  claims has "latent homoerotic content" and which "NAMBLA members may want to rent": "The film is loaded with pulp book brutality, with lots of blood squibs, a female being mercifully battered, and a heavy being suffocated with an overstuffed bag of cocaine. The dubbed dialog can be laughable at times, but Lenzi is able to cram the 92-minute running time with enough thrills for two or three films […]. Though made 30 years ago, Syndicate Sadists is the kind of vintage effort that puts modern action flicks to shame. Milian plays Rambo as a very tough, unbeatable nice guy with morals who is especially kind to children — risking his life to rescue one boy, and financially aiding another after his father's passing. Rambo is the kind of guy who would fire a bullet into a friend sporting a protective vest, as well as racing his bike from the back of a flaming truck. Lots of great scenarios are set up for the character, including a rousing fight scene where Rambo pokes a bloke in the head with a pool stick, while another ends up knocked out on a toilet seat. […] Legendary actor Joseph Cotton […] is really good as the tragic crime boss whose physical handicap is kept a secret until the end, and Euro-horror fans will love seeing [..] blonde sexpot Shirley Corrigan (of Blind Man [1971 / Italian trailer] and Dr Jekyll and the Wolfman [1972 / first six minutes]) as a bimbo […].
Fulvue Drive-in, on the other hand, was not too thrilled by the film, saying "Syndicate Sadists (1975) does not have the edge of the previous film and feels more like a Spaghetti Western in landing one big Hollywood star and hardly featuring him. Joseph Cotton is the one who gets the paycheck + vacation this time as a high-up head gangster."
Cinema de Merde, as indicated earlier, was also not a fan and complained that although thrilled by the title and appearance of the "cigar-smokin' bearded Italian biker", that after he "watched the first ten minutes […] it took […] about three weeks to finally get through the rest of the movie."
Everyone who appears in
Il giustiziere sfida la città:
Over at All Movie, however, Donald Guarisco — who had also so loved Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare aka Almost Human — is far more appreciative of the movie: "Syndicate Sadists is an interesting midlevel example of the Italian crime film. Vincenzo Mannino's script is fairly pro forma in terms of plotting […], but it distinguishes itself with unique touches like having his crime boss character suffer from an affliction he is trying to hide from the other characters. Syndicate Sadists is also unusual in that it bypasses the usual tough-guy cop protagonist that these films usually focus on in favor of making Rambo a streetwise, anti-authority loner who is as likely to use his brains as a gun or his fists to outsmart the bad guys. Tomas Milian obviously appreciated getting such a unique character to play and goes to town with it, making him a character that is as sly and charming as he is deviously intelligent. Joseph Cotten (of Lady Frankenstein  [1972]) also registers strongly as the tragic crime boss. The final surprise in this film is Umberto Lenzi's slick, confident direction; Euro-cult fans used to his sloppy, erratic horror film work will be surprised how efficient his direction is here. […]"


L'assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora
(1975, dir. Luigi Cozzi)

Aka The Dark Is Death's Friend, The Killer Must Kill Again, and The Killer Must Strike Again. Based on a novel by the Russian-Italian genre novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco (28 July 1911 – 27 Oct 1969); Umberto Lenzi — or, rather, "Umberto Linzi" — has a rare credit as producer on the movie, so who knows what his input was or to what extent.
Trailer to
The Dark Is Death's Friend:
Luigi Cozzi, though hardly the most prolific of filmmakers, is nevertheless a name not unknown to cult movie fans: he is known for his Ed-Woodian directorial talents. He's been involved with some noteworthy projects, and made some prime trash of his own — most famously Starcrash (1979 / trailer), Contamination (1980 / trailer below), The Black Cat (1989 / trailer) and Paganini Horror (1989 / trailer) — and this one here, which is known as one of his most coherent and professional projects.
Trailer to
Contamination:
Braineater is of the opinion that "The Killer Must Kill Again is a lousy name for a very good film. […] That's a shame, because is one of the best Italian thrillers, and deserves a wider audience than its clunky title is likely to attract. […]" The website, however, is shocked that the movie is as good as it is, contemplating on how one can go from Starcrash, or Paganini Horror and "incoherent crap like The Adventures of Hercules (1985 / trailer)"* to a thriller with  "a twist this unsettling". In their opinion, "if you have the slightest reservation about seeing The Killer Must Kill Again based on Cozzi's participation, put your doubts aside and see it at once. You'll never think of Luigi Cozzi the same way again."
* We went to that film when it came out cause, face it, Lou Ferrigno had a hot body and we had sort of liked Hercules (1983 / trailer). But it became the first movie we ever walked out of — a position held until we got suckered into going to see The Scent of a Women (1992 / trailer).
The plot, as given by Cinematic Shocks: "Cheating husband Giorgio Mainardi (George Hilton) has an argument with his rich wife Norma (Tere Velázquez of Night of a Thousand Deaths [1972 / trailer]) who has wised up to his betrayal and cuts him off financially with Giorrgio owing massive debts. He tells her that he is leaving her and storms out. While out after finishing a call to his mistress from a payphone he witnesses a mysterious man (Antoine Saint-John of  The Beyond [1981 / trailer]), disposing of a woman's dead body by pushing the car that he drove her in into a canal. Instead of reporting it to the police, Giorgio blackmails the murderer to kill his wife for payment. […] When doing the job, everything goes well until the killer hits a snag. After putting Norma's body in the trunk of his car and having left the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition, he goes back into the house to wipe away any fingerprints he might have left. While inside a young couple, Luca played by Alessio Orano (Mario Bava's exquisite Lisa and the Devil [1973 / trailer]) and Laura (the pretty Cristina Galbó of The House that Screamed [1970 / Spanish trailer] and the Italo-German Edgar Wallace What Have You Done to Solange? [1972 / German trailer]) come along and steal the car completely unaware of what they have in the boot. […]"
"You may think that a movie filled with such flawed, unlikable people might not make for compelling viewing. Well, Luigi Cozzi's superb thriller The Killer Must Kill Again is just that. A gripping joyride through an unpleasant and bloody journey, the movie ends up being one of the best of the overcrowded giallo genre. (tina aumont's eyes)"


Manhunt in the City
(1975, writ. & dir. Umberto Lenzi)

Italian title: L'uomo della strada fa giustizia. Aka The Italian Connection and/or La mala ordina and/or a dozen other names. Not to be confused with Fernando Di Leo's 1972 movie also sometimes entitled Manhunt in the City (trailer), which also features Henry Silva.
Opening Credits:
Lenzi's other poliziotteschi film from 1975, co-written with trash-scribe extraordinary Dardano Sacchetti whose amazingly long credit list includes, among others, Zombi 2 (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), Manhattan Baby (1982), Demons (1985), Graveyard Disturbance (1987) and Per Sempre (1987).
Henry Silva — of Chained Heat (1983 / trailer), Exterminio (1980 / trailer), Thirst (1979 / trailer) and Possessed by the Night (1994 / trailer) and much, much more — returns for his second Lenzi exploiter, this time a downbeat Italo-take on Death Wish (1974 / trailer), one which doesn't quite upend the concept of vigilance justice as much as it may have intended. (Spoiler: He kills the wrong people in the end — but walks away from it.)
This movie, in any event, has a lengthy scene in which Silva manhandles — no pun intended — a transvestite, Liana (Alberto Tarallo, cowriter of Killer Nun [1979 / trailer]), to get information ("You lyin' faggot!") which, nowadays, will surely separate Trump supporters from non-Trump supporters.
Music to
Manhunt in the City:
Cult Action has a bare-bones plot description: "A man's daughter is killed by thieves during a bank robbery. Due to the incompetence of the corrupt authorities, he (Silva) decides to take to law into his own hands and track down the killers, a gang who sport a scorpion insignia. Revenge is the name of the game, and the manhunt is on!"
Cool Ass Cinema, which is of the opinion that the "lost" movie is "a diamond in the rough […] well worth rediscovering", says "The script by both Lenzi and Dardano Saccetti gets a bit heavy handed at times with its talk of a by-the-book police force useless in taking care of the people they are sworn to protect. Silva does the disgruntled citizen shtick well, even though he's better suited to playing hitmen and hard boiled cops. It's difficult watching him getting beaten up by low level street scum a good portion of the film. By the end, though, he's a cold killing machine."
(Are we here at A Wasted Life the only ones who wonder why Quentin Tarantino hasn't written a Silva cameo into any of his movies yet?)


Eyeball
(1975, writ. & dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Like most giallo, the Italian name, Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro, is rather poetic if translated directly: "Red Cats in a Glass Maze". In English, it's aka The Eye in the Dark, Wide-Eyed in the Dark, The Devil's Eye and The Secret Killer — and possibly a few other names. A Spanish co-production, it is often considered a proto-slasher. For that, however, not only are the victims a bit broader than normal for a slasher, but the black chick (Ines Pellegrini, seen below) isn't the first one to go.
And A Slash Above has the basic plot: "A group of American tourists head to Barcelona for a summer holiday. Almost as soon as they arrive the fun comes to an end as one of their numbers is ruthlessly murdered by a hooded killer in a red rain mac. The maniac is something of a sadist and mutilates the left eye of each victim. Could it be the mentally ill wife of one of the tourists or has someone else got a grudge against the troupe?"
Trailer to
Eyeball:
The Bloody Pit of Horror has the skinny on the tourists: "So without any further ado, let's meet our group. We have lesbian fashion photographer Lisa Sanders (Mirta Miller of Count Dracula's Great Love [1973 / trailer], Vengeance of the Zombies [1973 / trailer], and much more) and her model / lover Naiba Campbell (Ines Pellegrini), unhappily married couple Robby (Daniele Vargas) and Gail (Silvia Solar of Cannibal Terror [1980 / trailer], The Man with the Severed Head [1976 / trailer], La perversa caricia de Satán [1976 / scene],  and more) Alvarado, clergyman Reverend Bronson (George Rigaud), Mr. Hamilton (John Bartha) and his teenage granddaughter Jenny (Verónica Miriel of Night of the Howling Beast [1975 / French trailer]) and Mr. and Mrs. Randall and their teenage daughter Peggy. Also along for the trip is secretary Paulette Stone (Martine Brochard of Murder Obsession [1981 / trailer]), who's flying solo because she's actually fleeing from her married boss, whom she's been having an affair with. The boss — Mark Burton (John Richardson of Black Sunday (1960 / trailer) and much more) — ends up following her there anyway and she promptly informs him 'I refuse to be a plaything!' The entire group is being chaperoned by Martinez (Raf Baldassarre), a loud, obnoxious and ridiculous weirdo who likes to scare everyone with a toy spider and laughs maniacally while doing so."
Vegan Vorhees muses, "I'm not particularly well-versed in giallo classics, but I've seen enough to spot the standard hallmarks in play: Mysterious glove-wearing killer, many-a fast zoom into character's faces as something suspicious is said, 'Americans' with Euro-accents, amusing translations and clunky dubbing. Being a pre-American slasher product, Eyeball nevertheless presents itself with more than a few 80s teenie-kill aesthetics: There are POV shots as the killer floats towards his next unsuspecting victim, boobs-a-plenty, and a short but sweet final girl sequence with, shock, a black final girl! […] Spain is presented in lush colors and inimitable 70s fashion choices, which lends the film a pleasantly diverting quality, as if you're taking a holiday from the same-old American slasher film conventions. Nothing really lets Eyeball down, it just suffers from the ridiculousness that haunts the whole sub-genre, with a motive so whacky I had to re-watch the ensure I'd actually not misunderstood it. Otherwise, it's business as usual: The females are all super hot and super killed, while the only male victim is old and creasy-faced, and killed off-camera. The men can be slimy, sleazy, and annoying but still survive intact, which is a general motif in most Italian body-count horror."
In regards to the last, the Tell-Tale Mind says, "There is a motive for the killings that take place, though it is sort of thin, but in the end it mattered very little as it was used to simply tie things up. Despite some weaknesses to it all, Lenzi's camerawork was one of the real highlights, bringing life to the scenery of Barcelona and really making those murders pop. Bruno Nicolai's music was also one of the better things about the film, though not exactly memorable, but it does compliment the picture quite well. Given what there was to work with, there are no real standout performances from the cast, though they do not necessarily do a bad job, but it adds to the overall mediocrity of the film. Still, Eyeball turned out to be an enjoyable feature where those looking for a little violence and a little blood will no doubt be pleased and those looking for something of a game changer being disappointed. A good film almost all of the right notes, but not a great one."
Main theme
to Eyeball:

More to come...
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