Thursday, June 23, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 23: Giallo!



    Mario Caiano's EYE IN THE LABYRINTH (1972, TUBI, 95 min.) for the first time.

    A set-in-picturesque Tuscany murder mystery starring young Sybil Danning, Adolfo Celi (Largo from James Bond's "Thunderball" movie) and Alida Valli (Argento's "Suspiria," "The Third Man") with a then-fresh leading lady (Pakistan-born Rosemary Dexter) showing some acting range and full frontal? I was honestly pumped early at the potential for finding out a hidden gem, but was ultimately let down by very unimaginative and perfunctory 'meh' kills that are nowhere near what you expect from a top-notch giallo. What keeps this one going is a genuine sense of intrigue to find alongside with Julie what happened to Luca ("The Cat o' Nine Tails'" Horst Frank), her disappeared psychiatrist boyfriend who seemingly vanished while visiting the Italian equivalent of a retreat for pampered showbiz snobs. A great ending (predictable but no less shocking, especially the denouement after the reveal) lifts "Eye in the Labyrinth" from passable to worth a look, though it's still a couple of rungs below top-notch gialli. 3.5 (MILLION) BECHDEL AND #METOO EPIC FAILS (out of 5).

    Ruggero Deodato's PHANTOM OF DEATH, AKA UN DELITTO POCO COMUNE (1987, YouTube, 90 min.) for the first time.

    I grew up with a young friend in junior high school that got progeria (rapid aging disease) and died within a year of diagnosis (R.I.P. Manuelito :'( ). In the hands of the director of "Cannibal Holocaust" (who shows restraint and manages to stage a couple of epic slow-mo kills), this illness-triggers-murderous-madness giallo feels more inspired by Cronenberg's "The Fly" remake than anything else. For a change we knew very early on that egocentric, world famous pianist Robert Dominici (a perfectly cast Michael York) is the murderer, and Edwige Fenech (speaking in her perfectly-synched English voice, a rarity of Italian cinema) his ultimate source of anger and reason he spends close to a year planning his killing spree. Donald Pleasence plays the police inspector that Robert tortures with threatening phone calls ('Daddy!), which ultimately lead to a highlight reel-worthy moment when Ins. Datti loses it and starts shouting in the middle of Rome streets, Loomis-in-Haddonfield style. :-D Unfortunately "Phantom of Death" does the opposite of building toward an exciting climax, instead gradually losing steam until it literally fades away into a whimper of an ending. Worth a look for Pleasence and York (Fenech is a non-factor), a handful of good kills and some pretty elaborate old man make-up. 3 VENICE HOTEL LAMPS WITH SHARP CORNERS (out of 5).


  2. Stage Fright (Italian: Deliria) - 1987

    As a former actor and director for the stage, I really liked all of the backstage humor...but that's about it. I wanted to like it more, but I just don't. In fact, this is my second attempt at a watch - I didn't even finish it the first time. It's one of those that I'm sure I'll come around on one day, but that day is not today.

  3. Death Occurred Last Night (1970)
    Death Occurred Last Night (also known as Death Took Place Last Night and Horror Came out of the Fog) was based on the Giorgio Scerbanenco novel Milanesi Ammazzano al Sabato (The Milanese Kill on Saturdays) and was directed by Duccio Tessari, who co-wrote A Fistful of Dollars before making his name with A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. More to the interest of those who love black gloves and switchblades, he made The Bloodstained Butterfly and Puzzle. He co-wrote the script with Biagio Proietti, who was also the writer of The Killer Reserved Nine Seats and Fulci’s The Black Cat. Tessari even wrote the lyrics to two of the songs in this movie!

    Avanzio Berzaghi (Raf Vallone) has come to Milan to find his runaway daughter and works to solve the case himself — much like an Italy proto-Hardcore — at the very same time that detective Duca Lamberti (Frank Wolff) — a character who also appears in the movies Caliber 9 and Cran d’arrêt — and his partner Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti, husband of Laura Gemser) investigate the seamier side of the city. They finally find her body in a field, burned beyond all recognition. Now, all Berzaghi has left is seeking out revenge that will never be enough.

    The film also shows flashbacks of Berzaghi’s relationship with his daughter Donatella (Gillian Bray), a three-year-old child in the body of a fully grown woman with the needs that go with the physical maturity of a twenty-five-year-old. As she lusts after nearly every man she sees, her father had intended to keep her locked up after the death of his wife, but that plan obviously fails.

    A cross between giallo and poliziottecschi — each of the two storylines takes each of the genre to heart and then meet at the end — this is a film that doesn’t take its cues from Argento — it was made the same year as The Bird With the Crystal Plumage — and emerges as a unique take on the form with an even more unique soundtrack by Gianni Ferrio which doesn’t sound like any other giallo score — it doesn’t sound like any other music from a film at all — and often puts people off on this movie. Not me.

    Speaking of Bird, Lamberti’s wife is played by Eva Renzi, who is so important to Argento’s film. She’s incredible here, not just the most fashionable person in the movie, but her relationship with her policeman husband is one of equal standing.

    Want to discover some more giallo? Check out my list of three hundred plus psychosexual murder movies:

  4. Two males for Alexa (1971 – Juan Logar)
    I heard some praise for the acting and general very reduced setting before I’ve seen the movie. It didn’t connect with me, sadly. While running slim 87 minutes, it still takes 20 minutes for something to actually happen. Before that, we get little to no characterization. We have two young lovers who’s lovely quibbling just leads to nowhere, an old man whom’s anger is pretty obvious from the beginning and then – a lot of nothing. And the English title reads like of a comedy.
    I don’t want to be too harsh on it, though. There is clearly something people see in this movie, and the acting of Rosalba Neri gets a lot of praise. I was just checked out pretty fast and probably not in the best mood – really looking forward to some 90s comedy.

    1. Sometimes you need to be in the mood for something. When slasher day came, I knew that I would not get any enjoyment watching one. Rather than waste a new watch this month, I decided to wait till October for it.

      Rosalba Neri was in a trashy giallo called Amuck made around the same time. You would probably have more fun with that one.

      Are you familiar with the krimi films, Derk? Since they influenced the giallo, I was tempted to include one for today. I am sticking with the theme, though.

    2. I'm from Germany, we have Krimis all over television all the time. But I'm unsure if we use the term in the same way? For me, it's crime storys, probably mostly produced in Germany, close to Poliziotteschis probably? How would you define them?

    3. The krimis I know about are the Edgar Wallace films of the 1950s and 1960s. It sounds like krimi is a general term for crime stories now.

    4. Ah, yes. I would say those are the classical Krimis that are a little more mystique than those produced today. One example for something that is considered a Krimi nowadays is the "Tatort" franchise, a TV movie series that started in the 70s and is still running today (there are like 1205 movies).

      But to answer your first question: I know krimi films. :D

  5. Black Belly of the Tarantula(1971) dir. Paolo Cavara

    I feel like if you wanted to show someone what a Giallo is, you could do a lot worse than Black Belly of the Tarantula- the hallmarks are pretty much all here: black gloves, great score, amazing style, an especially sadistic kill method, and some great sexual intrigue and mystery- it’s kind of the perfect example- yet I think it fares even better if you go in with some knowledge of the genre, as that really just lets you bask in how satisfyingly well it nails all these tropes.

    What Have They Done to Your Daughters?(1971) dir. Massimo Dallamano

    Slightly lesser Massimo Dallamano outing, at least in comparison to the genre standout, What Have They Done to Solange?, but still a super effective, super sleazy caper that leans heavily towards the poliziotteschi side of the giallo spectrum, while sill giving us a great motorcycle masked killer (third one this month after Nightmare Beach and Nailgun Massacre- it’s a great cheap mask option lol). What really struck me watching was that it’s both pretty shocking in its sleaze, but also could just be a long episode of Law and Order SVU?

  6. The Stendhal Syndrome (1996, dir. Dario Argento)


    Two sisters in search of their long-lost mother check into a fancy resort hotel where a killer is on the loose. There are a bunch of soap opera subplots to follow as well. This is a hard movie to figure out. It's mostly all lush and romantic, with the murders and sexiness simmering under the surface. When we do get scenes with horror/exploitation stuff, it feels like something from another movie. I guess I enjoyed this one, even if I'm scratching my head over what it was all about.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, day 23: POULTREYGEIST, NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006)
    A nerdy guy hopes to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend, while the fast-food place he works at is overrun by chicken-themed zombies. Kaufman takes satiric jabs at the fast-food industry in a lot of films, so it's no surprise that he'd devote an entire movie to the subject. More curious is the decision to make this a musical. I wonder if Kaufman is trolling the fans. They're expecting Troma sex and violence, but first they must sit through singing and dancing. The movie is nonsense, but it has some good goofs and plenty of gross-outs. Double feature it with Clerks 2.

    1. Sister of Ursula actually came out in the late 1970s, when the genre had turned increasingly trashy. The film feels like soft-core porn at times. One watch of it a dozen years ago was enough for me. Most of the best gialli were made between 1970 and 1975.

    2. D'oh! You're right, it was 1978.

  8. Tenebre (1982, dir. Dario Argento)

    Didn't feel like discovering something new today, so went with a rewatch of a classic.

    A compelling murder mystery with plenty of red herrings and psychosexual overtones, impeccably directed and adequately acted.

    John Saxon has a bit with his hat that is entirely delightful.

  9. Tenebre (1982: Last Drive Inn Shudder)

    I have a HUGE gap in my love of horror: Italian Horror with the likes of Giallo stuff and works of Argento. Along comes a recent episode of Joe Bob to show me the way. I absolutely loved this flick. Great characters...great kills..shot beautifully...and some bananas stuff in the 3rd act. Definitely will seek out more from the genre!

    1. A lot of people cite Deep Red as Argento's best giallo, but I have more of a preference for Tenebre.

  10. SO SWEET… SO PERVERSE (1969, dir. Umberto Lenzi)

    I went with a title from the LENZI/BAKER Collection put out by Severin. This watch is also a tribute to the versatile star of the film, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who passed away last week.

    Trintignant plays Jean, a French industrial engineer in a strained relationship with his wife. He indulges in many affairs. One of those affairs is with Danielle (played by Carroll Baker), who just moved into his apartment building. When things get serious with Danielle, the path to a murder commences. Those expecting a giallo emphasizing kills will be disappointed with SO SWEET. This is more of a traditional thriller with each twist of the plot adding to the mystery. Umberto Lenzi directed it with style, and the cast all play their parts well. Though not the most entertaining or complex giallo I have seen, it is an enjoyable watch. The film also provides a rare opportunity to explore some new ground in a genre I have watched extensively.

  11. Blood and Black Lace (1964)

    After watching A Bay of Blood on Italian horror day I'm doubling down on classic Mario Bava. And oh boy, does this movie live up to its reputation, with its faceless killer, baroque mystery, gruesome murders, and the way every shot seems to be simultaneously engulfed in dark shadows and filled with vibrant colors. It's clear to see why it's widely considered a top tier giallo.

    1. Arguably the film that established the conventions of the genre, Blood and Black Lace does everything well, Adam. It might also be the first body count film. The Italian title is Six Women For the Killer, after all. Those colors are beautiful, made even more memorable with the HD transfers. The tracking shots impress me, particularly since the crew only had a child's wagon to use for them. Moreover, the violence is strong for the time period. The woman being slapped and thrown around the room still startles me, and the burning scene remains harsh.

      It is hard to believe that I first watched Blood and Black Lace thirteen years ago. Time does fly.

  12. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971, dir. Sergio Martino)

    Starring the beautiful Edwige Fenech, this is about as giallo as they come. There are a bunch of characters, and someone killing people with black gloves and a switchblade. I thought it was interesting that the killer himself was killed halfway through, but oh no, there were more twists and turns. And then it seemingly was concluded with a surprise ending...but oh no, more twists and turns! I really liked the score. And I liked the woman who was warming up her panties in the oven. She had fantastic boobs, and was a very personable character, but unfortunately was killed off earlier rather than later. There were some early "flashback" scenes near the beginning that had slow motion bottles breaking, etc. that was wonderfully the director showing off.

    I really enjoyed this. I wish I had time to watch another. It's going to be a struggle the next week. I'm going camping for a few days, and a long road trip to meet with family (who certainly won't be the least bit interested in Junesploitation). I'll miss some days, but maybe I'll squeeze in a few movies, probably watching on my phone before bed, or early in the morning. I had planned to pre-watch a couple movies for those days, but didn't have the time. Oh well, it's about enjoying the Junesploitation movies we do watch, and I'll enjoy reading the reviews from any days I miss.

  13. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

    An American in Rome witnesses an attempted murder, and then begins his own investigation to find the killer as more murders are happening.

    My favorite part was when the inspector had to give a press conference and basically was like, I'll just make something up. Classic.

    Some nice suspense and twists.

  14. Tenebrae (1982)

    First time watch. Blown away. I love the way Argento shoots and uses windows, architecture and art in his movies. The brief credits include John Saxon's personal costume designer. Well deserved.

  15. A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE (1973, dir. Leon Klimovsky)

    A giallo courtesy of Spain that was partially shot in Italy. The horror icon Paul Naschy wrote the script and, of course, also stars in it. He is a police inspector on the trail of a killer who leaves behind plastic dragonflies as a calling card. I cannot recommend DRAGONFLY to a novice in the genre. This is purely a giallo deep cut, and it is not one of the more compelling examples of those. The main issue with DRAGONFLY is that it is a plodding story. Anyone looking for some interesting kills will not find them here, either. They are awkwardly staged at best. Interestingly, Italian actress Erika Blanc is featured in both of my choices for today. I am certainly not complaining about that.