Monday, June 26, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 26: Italian Horror!


  1. The Unnaturals (1969)

    June 25: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie— is Italian horror! We’re excited to tackle a different genre every day, so check back and see what’s next.

    Dino Buzzati's I sette messaggeri (The Seven Messengers) is a collection of nineteen short stories in which a variety of protagonists interact with the unknown and death, often with the ending left up to the reader. One of the stories, Sette piani (The Seventh Floor) was made into a movie in 1967, while is based on Eppure bussano alla porta (Yet They Knock On the Door). In all, thirty-three movies and shows were made from the author's work.

    On a stormy night -- is there a better evening for Italian horror? -- the top of London's high society of the 1920s gets stuck in the mud and forced to turn to a mansion in the darkness. Uriat (Luciano Pigozzi, a fixture in the films of director and writer Antonio Margheriti) explains to them that while they are in his home, they may use the powers of his mother (Marianne Leibl), a woman who can communicate with the dead. Yet she can do even more. She's able to tell the dark secrets of every one of them, which includes violence, deception and -- shudder, it's 1969 in an Italian genre movie -- a sapphic affair. 

    But they aren't the only ones filled with sin, as Uriat and his mother were once charged with two murders, which conveniently may have been committed by one of the elite in their humble abode. 

    Shot on sets from other films, cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini achieved the look of the seance scene by being suspended upside down from the ceiling. With camera in hand, he was slowly dropped down as he bent over backward to raise the camera and capture each conspirator's face.

    Those characters include Archibald Barrett (Giuliano Raffaelli), a real estate baron who hasn't exactly made his money ethically, aided by his lawyer Ben Taylor (Joachim Fuchsberger). Ben’s wife Vivian (Marianne Koch) has always come in second to her husband's career, which is why she secretly shares a mistress -- Elizabeth (Helga Anders) -- with both Barrett and his business manager Alfred Sinclair (Claudio Camaso). 

    Set in a decades shuttered hunting lodged stuffed -- pardon the pun -- with taxidermied wild animals, the noose tightens around each person as this film goes from a dark night haunted house film to one of near-apocalyptic intensity. That's what happens when a medium tells you, “An invincible monster will devour you all. That monster is your conscience.”

    Thanks to Castle of Blood and The Long Hair of Death, Margheriti -- known in the U.S. as Anthony Dawson -- was a known gothic horror quality. This just works for me, as it has a wild look thanks to all the leftover sets the director found while shooting at Carlo Ponti’s studio. This is also the most that Pigozzi ever got to do in a movie, as he's as close as this has to a hero instead of a henchman or the hero's older friend. The score of Carlo Savina (Lisa and the Devil) helps this achieve more, as well.

    If you thought that this movie wouldn't involve Margheriti's skill with shooting miniatures, have no fear. He's saving it for the end.

    Actors picked for success in the German market playing English people in an Italian horror film based on an English literary genre. Ah, I love movies.

  2. Another deleted entry.
    TROPIC OF CANCER, 1972, 8/10.
    FRANKENSTEIN '80, 1972, 7/10

  3. Torso - 1973, dir. Sergio Martino

    So wait, why exactly is this movie titled “Torso”? The killer is strangling coeds with a silk scarf and then sometimes cutting their bodies up, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear focus on the eponymous “torso”. For some reason I was thinking this was going to be a play on the Black Dahlia murder, or at least that this giallo slasher was based on some true event. Regardless, Martino cranks up the sleaze and sets up all the red herring dominos, only for them to finally topple and give us the most obvious reveal I’ve seen in a while.

    Coming off his run of twistedly sexual, deeply adult, and very solid giallo thrillers, I was expecting something a little more sophisticated than what this movie boils down to, which is essentially just an American slasher that’s a decade early. The vixen victims are all completely interchangeable and disposable with zero character depth for the audience to grab onto. The red herrings are also just carbon copy rapists, perverts, and douchebags with no real motives other than they want to fuck and/or murder and just happen to be nearby.

    What the movie does have going for it is style. Giancarlo Ferrando’s camerawork is excellent (his previous collaboration with Martino, ‘All the Colors of the Dark’, is one of the most gorgeous giallo films of all time), the cliffside country villa is stunning, and the score by Guido and Maurizio de Angelis bops. Despite the cheap and shoddy day-glow gore and murder effects, the murders themselves have a visceral quality that’s tough to shake, even if they make no sense in context of the title. If you’re looking for a good example of giallo style with a simpler story, this might be your ticket.

  4. Two Evil Eyes (1990, dir. George Romero and Dario Argento)

    It had been so long since I'd seen this one it was like watching it for the first time (getting old is cool). I thought Romero's segment was fine. I thought Argento's was really dull and missing his usual flair or flourishes. A swing and a miss for me.

  5. The Psychic a.k.a. Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes (1977, dir. Lucio Fulci)

    A woman living in Italy has a psychic vision of a murder, and when she finds a dead body, it seems to prove the vision real. When the police get involved, all signs start to point to the woman's husband, but she's convinced he's innocent.

    Whereas my personal Fulci preference is more towards the gory and nightmarish, this is on the more understated and realistic end of the spectrum. But it's a very good specimen of it: it looks fantastic, has an intriguing central mystery, and the lead actors are Jennifer O'Neill from Scanners and Tracy's father from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (although it took me a while to figure out where I knew him from).

  6. banned in 31 countries…

    aka Make Them Die Slowly
    dir. Umberto Lenzi

    These are all unlikable and stupid characters, with terrible dialog, poorly performed.

    And real animal death…

    I do not recommend this, at all, to anyone.

    “Come on sis. Stanley found what’s his name. It’s a round world. You can’t fall off it.”

  7. New-to-me: LIBIDO (1965)
    A guy with repressed childhood trauma grows up to have messed-up feelings about women, which then turn to murder. Hitchcock’s PSYCHO is the obvious template, both in theme and in the sharp black and white photography. This movie’s not as suspenseful or as horny as you’d expect, but it was a compelling enough thriller to keep me interested in what’d happen next. And am I going crazy, or do parts of the score sound exactly like that little tune Gizmo hums in GREMLINS?

    Old fave: PHENOMENA (a.k.a. CREEPERS)
    This was another one of those discoveries from the very back of the video store, that made me say “What is THIS?” It opened up the door to a whole other world of movie watching. Rewatching it this morning, I’m struck with how the movie was so far ahead of its time. The premise of a psychic girl investigating mystery at a fancy boarding school must have been outlandish at the time, but today it describes hundreds (thousands?) of YA novels. But the movie rocks. Young Jennifer Connelly is super earnest, Donald Pleasance brings the quirkiness, and the finale piles on one horror after another after another. It’s time to buy the Blu-ray.

  8. 5 WOMEN FOR THE KILLER (1974, d. Stelvio Massi)
    First-time watch on Vinegar Syndrome BluRay, 8/10.

  9. IL DEMONIO (1963, d. Brunello Rondi)
    First-time watch on Severin BluRay, 8/10.
    "I hid you life and your destiny within my body! Find them and I'll give them back to you!"

  10. Demons (1985)

    A bunch of colorful characters get trapped in a cursed movie theater where they are shown a scary movie about opening graves and whatnot. Soon they start to realize that events on the screen hit a little too close to home, as one by one the viewers start succumbing to demonic possession (which in practice works a lot like good old fashioned zombie infection, but there's no need to split hairs here). What follows is an orgy of over the top violence, gooey old school gore, and lovingly rendered horror cliches, set to a killer, rocking soundtrack. Without a doubt one of the most purely entertaining movies I’ve watched this month.

  11. (Blogger is also giving me trouble today.)

    THE REINCARNATION OF ISABEL (1973, dir. Renato Polselli)

  12. The end certainly is close now, J.M. Though I always feel a little mental fatigue at this point, the motivation to watch movies remains high, especially with only a few days to go.

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  14. The fatigue is real, for some reason it's hitting me harder this year.