fredag 22. februar 2008

Death on the Fourposter/Delitto allo specchio

Italy/France, 1964

Directed by Jean Josipovici and Ambrogio Molteni

Michel Lemoine, Antonella Lualdi, Mario Valdemarin, Maria Pia Conte, Vittoria Prada, John Drew Barrymore, Luisa Rivelli, Alberto Cevenini, Gloria Milland, Jo Atlanta [Pino Polidori], José Greci, Monique Vita, Massimo Carocci, Giuseppe Fortis

This very obscure little film introduces us to a large group of wild, carefree 1960s youths. As we meet them, the youngsters are made up five girls and five boys. The girls are Frankie (Gloria Milland), a sweet good-girl; Edie (Monique Vita), an air-headed bimbo; Lucy-Ann (Vittoria Prada), a rich but mousy and bookworm-ish girl; Kitty (José Greci), a pretty but nondescript character; and Nikki (Maria Pia Conte), a sweet girl who is the newcomer in the gang. The boys consist of: Charlie (Mario Valdemarin), a suave charmer; Georgie (Massimo Carocci), a nerdy, bespectacled guy; Paul (Pino Polidori), a risk-taker who is a bit too fond of gambling; Lulu (Alberto Cevenini), the youngest, least bright and decidedly horniest in the group; and finally Ricky (Michel Lemoine), a rich, shifty-eyed playboy.

The merry gang of youths

Ricky owns a large castle out in the country, and the group decides it would be a great idea to spend the weekend there. So off they go in their cars, but not without taking numerous stops to “act crazy” while “Rock Around the Clock”-style music plays as the boys run around carrying the girls on their backs, or throw the flirtatious Edie around.

After some goofing about, they finally arrive at Ricky’s castle, where they are greeted by Catherine (Luisa Rivelli), the stern and sinister housekeeper. While the giggling girls head to the bathroom to freshen themselves up, the eager boys gather to discuss who will get to couple up with which girl. There are a few couples in the group that seem to be going steady already but in the end all the boys are satisfied no matter who they get to pair up with since all the girls are quite good-looking.

But there’s another resident at the castle too: the creepy-looking, old caretaker Aldo (Giuseppe Fortis). Aldo is quite the voyeur and of course takes the opportunity to spy on the girls while they are changing in the bathroom.

Catherine the housekeeper

The voyeuristic caretaker

What the peeper saw

Finally, the girls are ready and head downstairs to the boys. They waste no time and pretty soon they are all kissing and making out.

Just your typical 1960s party

But in the midst of all the fun, another girl arrives for a surprise visit. It is the flirtatious and provocative Serena (Antonella Lualdi), the enfant terrible of the group. While some of the kids are pleased to see her, there are others in the group who appear far less enthusiastic about this last minute arrival. Serena has brought along a handsome date named Anthony (John Drew Barrymore), and she immediately sets out to spice up the party. She whips out a record called ‘Sexy Party’, which Anthony has composed, and tells Ricky to put it on. Serena then starts doing a sexy dance routine and pretty soon she has all the others joining her in a big group dance while Anthony’s funky music plays.

Serena turns up the heat

The group is now quite cheerful but Serena has no intention of stopping here. She quickly organizes a silly ‘Truth or Dare’-style party game called ‘Shattering the Illusion’, which leads to a lot of flirtation and fuss – resulting in some jealousy and re-couplings. Still not content, Serena announces that Anthony is actually a psychic and pushes him into conducting a séance. Anthony goes along and predicts that something terrible is going to happen to the group.

Upset by his own visions and angry at Serena, Anthony breaks off the séance and leaves the castle in anger. None too concerned, the friends continue to have fun and go about exploring the castle. Unfortunately, Anthony’s predicaments come through as one of the friends is discovered murdered. With no telephone installed at the desolate castle, the understandably frightened kids decide to leave immediately but discover to their horror that they can’t reach their cars because someone has stolen the keys to the garage…

Anthony makes grim predicaments

Death on the Fourposter is one of the earliest Italian gialli – if it can really qualify as that. Made before Mario Bava’s landmark giallo Blood and Black Lace (1964), this very early entry can’t really be seen as part of a trend because the genre hadn’t really taken off yet. It also lacks many of the characteristic giallo traits such as the black-gloved killer or the flashy murders. Indeed, this film has a very low body count and all the killings take place off-screen. Nevertheless, it does contain many elements that would later become typical of the giallo, like the voyeuristic caretaker, the sexy shenanigans and the twist ending, which is surprisingly clever and highly effective.

With the film being set in an old castle, this could easily have become one of those hybrids between old-fashioned gothic horror and modern-day thriller but that isn’t the case. Other than the castle setting, some dark, secret passageways and the sinister housekeeper, there aren’t many gothic elements to be found here. The music and the feel of the film are both very modern (well, modern à la 1964, of course), and all the characters are your typical carefree and fun-loving 1960s types.

Death on the Fourposter still is a hybrid of genres, though, as it starts out like a fun youth movie of sorts; with dancing, flirting and partying before settling into more of a traditional thriller about halfway through. The first murder doesn’t occur until around the 50 minute mark, which may be too late in the proceedings for some viewers. But, really, the first part of the film – while without any real thriller elements – is not boring. Far from it! It’s terrifically fun and enjoyable, if somewhat cheesy. Things get especially steamy after the Serena character arrives, as she really stirs up some emotions. The sexy dance routine and the cheesy dialogues all lend an irresistible camp appeal to the proceedings.

Sexy party with Serena

Once the first murder takes place, the mood shifts somewhat but the film remains just as entertaining. A few decent thrills are stirred up and, as mentioned, the final climatic twist is very effective and suspenseful but the film never really becomes too serious – frequently retaining a tongue-in-cheek approach. What’s really amazing are the three sleuthing characters in the group: smart, bespectacled Lucy-Ann; pretty and spunky redhead Nikki; and the nice but somewhat cowardly Lulu (figures, with a name like that for a boy), who all play an important part in unmasking the killer. The amazing thing about these three kids is that they are very reminiscent of Velma, Daphne and Shaggy from the animated Scooby-Doo series that would premiere in 1969.

Possible inspirations for Velma, Daphne and Shaggy?

Technically, this is a good-looking and well-shot film that uses some nice camera work to create atmosphere and stylish images. Unfortunately, some of the compositions are partly ruined by the commonly seen fullscreen versions. The music is typical of the time period but fits the film very nicely.

Various stylish sequences

Unfortunately, Death on the Fourposter is very obscure and hard to get hold of. It was originally released in the UK under the title Sexy Party (the name of the record the characters dance to in the film) but has also been broadcast on television in the US under the Death on the Fourposter title. This review refers to the US television print, which may have been shorn of some nudity or other naughty bits. The opening credits states that the film is directed by Jean Josipovici – followed by a credit that reads ‘American version directed by Ambrogio Molteni’, who wrote stuff like The Sexorcist (1974) and Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1976) but never directed anything else. Not quite sure what this credit means but it could be there’s a ‘sexier’ European version out there somewhere. In any case, the film is worthy of far greater recognition.

The cast is also fantastic and several of the actors warrant special mention. Many of them may not be too well-known to giallo and horror fans but they have all had very solid careers. The best presence in the film is easily the attractive Antonella Lualdi as the trouble-making temptress Serena. Lualdi steals every scene she is in and looks like she really enjoyed herself during filming. American actor John Drew Barrymore is also a very welcome presence even though his role is relatively brief, and the always watchable French actor/director Michel Lemoine with his creepily intense eyes is wonderful as the troubled playboy who owns the castle.

Other interesting actors include the sweet Maria Pia Conte as the spunky Nikki. This was one of Conte’s earliest roles – she later appeared in numerous fotoromanzi (photo novels) and notable genre films like The Hanging Woman (1973), The Arena (1973) and Spasmo (1974). I also confess to having a particular fondness for Vittoria Prada who plays Lucy-Ann, the plain girl with the glasses – only you can clearly see that she’s a very sweet girl underneath those big glasses. Prada had a very short-lived but interesting career, which included films like Max Pécas’ Sweet Ecstasy (1962) and Renato Polselli’s The Vampire of the Opera (1964).

But there are more familiar faces too, such as José Greci, who had a tiny role in Ben-Hur (1959) and numerous peplums; Luisa Rivelli, a popular actress at the time who appeared in many spy and adventure film; the gorgeous Gloria Milland, a peplum and spaghetti western veteran; and the great Giuseppe Fortis, known from films like Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) and The Beast in Space (1978), who is wonderfully creepy here as the peeping caretaker.

Overall, the entire cast does a great job and all the 1960s babes look wonderful – even Catherine the maid sexes it up at one point when she lets her hair out and slips out of her maid’s uniform.

Catherine sexes it up

Simply put, Death on the Fourposter is superlative early giallo that provides sexy, campy fun from beginning to end. If you thought the earlier gialli were boring and not worth checking out, this one is proof of the contrary. Later that same year, John Drew Barrymore and Luisa Rivelli would both go on to appear in Game of Crime (1964), another early and highly obscure giallo. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing it but if it’s anywhere near the same league as Death on the Fourposter, it should be worth tracking down.

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Michel Lemoine as Ricky

Antonella Lualdi as Serena

Mario Valdemarin as Charlie

Maria Pia Conte as Nikki

Vittoria Prada as Lucy-Ann

John Drew Barrymore as Anthony

Luisa Rivelli as Catherine

Alberto Cevenini as Lulu

Gloria Milland as Frankie

Pino Polidor (a.k.a. Jo Atlanta) as Paul

José Greci as Kitty

Monique Vita as Edie

Massimo Carocci as Georgie

Giuseppe Fortis as Aldo

onsdag 20. februar 2008

Disco Crazy/Brillantina Rock

Italy, 1979

Directed by Michele Massimo Tarantini

Monty Ray Garrison, Cecilia Buonocore, Auretta Gay, Mauro Frittella, Mimmo Bua, Sergio Borelli, Jimmy il Fenomeno, Christine Kenneally, Fiamma Maglione

Aah! Those wacky Italians! It would seem that every time a big Hollywood hit was released, various Italian producers hurriedly put together a couple of cheap knock-offs that were released in quick succession – usually resulting in a short-lived trend that disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. One of the Hollywood films to inspire a bunch of Italian imitations was the John Travolta starring vehicle Saturday Night Fever (1977). Unfortunately, most of these Italian disco films don’t appear to have been dubbed into English and are tricky to find these days. The most well-known of these films is probably Claudio Giorgi's American Fever (1978) but director Michele Massimo Tarantini – best known for a string of teen sex comedies and the mediocre police thriller A Man Called Magnum (1977) – also tried his hand at the genre with the super-cheesy and hilarious Disco Crazy.

Rather than trying to pass itself off as an American product, Disco Crazy is actually set in Italy for a change. We meet Robbie (Monty Ray Garrison), a goofy kid with enormous amounts of grease in his hair, and a comb up his sleeve – just in case!

Robbie’s pride and joy is Lizzie, his Russian motorcycle with a side-car. He has glued pictures of his hero John Travolta over the side-view mirrors, and as the opening credits play to the strains of John Paul Young’s big disco hit “Love is in the Air”, we see Robbie riding through the streets of the city on his beloved Lizzie.


Handy with the comb

Robbie and his bike

Both Robbie and the crowd he hangs with are a bunch of lazy kids who seem to spend their entire days doing nothing but slouch off, and then dancing the night away at the local disco. The only one in the gang who has a regular job is Robbie’s kind but dim-witted buddy Oscar (Mimmo Bua), who ends up spending most of his earnings on buying disco tickets for the rest of the lazy kids.

Robbie’s rival is Rick (Mauro Frittella), a “bad” kid who is the leader of another gang of lazy youngsters. Rick and his gang wear all black clothes, though, to signalize that they are the bad kids in town.

The rivalling gangs

So the kids decide to settle the score – on the dance floor. Using their best moves, they try to out-dance each other to teach their rivals a lesson they won’t soon forget! Ooooh!

The battle of the dance floor

Anyway, in the midst of all this competing, the new girl in town makes her arrival on the dance floor. She is Cindy (Auretta Gay), an American, upper-class girl with a fondness for wearing kitschy leopard suits. The mere sight of this disco-loving southern belle is enough to completely bewitch Robbie, who makes it his goal to woo Cindy. This might prove a difficult task, though, as Cindy is quite the popular girl and she likes playing hard to get.

Cindy and her leopard outfits

Robbie and Cindy eventually get closer, even though the class difference between them is obvious. When a big dance competition to crown the “king and queen of rock” is announced, Robbie goes bananas and manages to convince Cindy to be his partner in the competition. However, Cindy is a highly independent woman who doesn’t want to belong to anyone, so when bad boy Rick starts putting the moves on her, the conflict between Robbie and Rick grows more serious as the two boys start competing for Cindy’s affections.

The rivals...

... and the girl they're competing for

Wow! Disco Crazy is a really crazy piece of work. No one would ever mistake this for a good film. It’s extremely idiotic and moves along very predictably up until its final climatic dance competition. But whatever short-comings the film may have, it more than makes up for with its insanely cheesy charms, wacky dancing and bad but catchy disco songs.

All is settled in the climatic dance competition

There’s no way to really describe the songs in the film. Most of them are really, really bad but in a good way. One fun high-light is “Honey With Bears”, sung by Daniel Danieli, whose terrible grasp of English makes the lyrics sound more like ‘Honey With Bars’. We also get the Rolling Stones hit “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” performed in extremely accented and phonetic English by some woman who is about as good at singing as she is at pronouncing words in English. But what’s really mind-blowing is the fact that most of the music was written by Gianfranco Reverberi, the same guy who did the wonderful scores for the Polselli films The Reincarnation of Isabel (1971) and Delirium (1972).

The actors strut their stuff to trashy music

There’s more cool stuff too. One particularly agreeable number called “La Papaya” is just wickedly catchy, not to mention an instrumental oddity that is some sort of country/disco hybrid. To be honest, it sounds like it’s more suited for a barn dance. Actually, I don’t understand the film’s Italian title Brillantina Rock, or why they are crowning the king and queen of rock in the competition because there aren’t really any rock songs in the film at all. Still, the absurdity of it all, really just makes the film all the more enjoyable. I dig the Italian title and – silly as it may be – it’s hard not to tap your foot or clap along to many of the catchy songs (country/disco number included).

Country disco

La Papaya

Even the geeks join the fun

But the film isn’t only about kids dancing to stupid songs. Director Michele Massimo Tarantini can’t resist the temptation of throwing in some fighting and a couple of action scenes, such a motorcycle race and a car chase, to keep the audience’s interest up.

Fighting fun

Robbie messes up a car

There’s no denying, however, that it’s the disco scenes that are the film’s raison d’être but the fun doesn’t come from the silly songs alone – the garish costumes (Cindy’s leopard outfits are real jaw-smackers) and the crazy dancing moves certainly help too. One-film wonder Monty Ray Garrison is just so insanely goofy and his dance moves are completely hysterical. The guy obviously knows how to dance and he was probably a real-life dancer even, but that doesn’t stop him from looking totally wacky as he jumps about like a lunatic with his über-cheesy dance moves. As far as Garrison’s acting goes, he doesn’t exactly come across like a particularly likeable character, either. He’s lazy and he generally takes advantage of everyone, including his friends and family.

Robbie shows off his moves

Robbie without grease in his hair

Another important character in the story is that of Sandra, Robbie’s old childhood friend with a secret crush on him, and who used to hang out with the rest of the disco gang until she got a job and made something of herself. Initially shown as a somewhat more responsible and mature character, we eventually learn that Sandra got her job simply by sleeping with her boss. So much for ideals! Still, Sandra is by far the most sympathetic and likeable of the leading characters and is played with a great deal of charm and sweetness by Cecilia Buonocore. This is Buonocore's only film apperance but she was a popular singer in Italy at the time this was made and could be seen on TV a lot. Here she proves that she is quite the good dancer too.

The charming Cecilia Buonocore

One of Cecilia's records

However, the most welcome face in the cast is arguably that of Auretta Gay in her first film role. Gay is a well-known face to most Euro-cult aficionados thanks to her performance as Susan in Lucio Fulci’s gory horror favorite Zombie (1979) but she has remained quite enigmatic as she only appeared in a handful of films before vanishing completely from the acting scene. Here, she looks marvelous with long dark hair and numerous tight leopard outfits. She too does an impressive job with her dancing scenes considering she wasn’t a professional dancer (at least I don’t think she was).

The mysterious Auretta Gay

Well, there isn’t much more to say really. Disco Crazy is just plain silly. Some scenes actually go for intentional comedy, like a scene in which Cindy brings Robbie to a snobbish restaurant, where he starts goofing about and causing some fuzz because he doesn’t know how to eat the fancy food he’s served. However, this scene isn’t particularly funny. It’s the rivaling dance acts, the catchy songs with heavily accented lyrics and the cheesy dubbed dialogue full of laughable “insults” that really make this a terrifically enjoyable experience. Now, when are we going to get a CD release of the soundtrack!?

The film scores a 10 on enjoyability factor

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Monty Ray Garrison as Robbie

Cecilia Buonocore as Sandra

Auretta Gay as Cindy

Mauro Frittella as Rick

Mimmo Bua as Oscar

??? as Giulio

Jimmy il Fenomeno as Gas station attendant

??? as Franca

??? as Bartender

Fiamma Maglione (right) as Robbie's sister

??? as Sandra's boss