tirsdag 29. mars 2011

Crazy Desires of a Murderer/I vizi morbosi di una governante

Italy, 1973

Directed by Filippo Walter Ratti

Corrado Gaipa, Isabelle Marchall, Roberto Zattin, Gaetano Russo, Annie Karole Edel, Adler Gray, Beppe Colombo, Patrizia Gori, Rino Bellini, Ambrogio Molteni, Sergio Orsi, Claudio Peticchio

Time for me to sit down with another obscure little giallo – more specifically an obscure little low-budget effort named Crazy Desires of a Murderer from director Filippo Walter Ratti, who is probably best remembered for his stylish gothic horror movie The Night of the Damned (1971).

The plot plays out in a crumbling old castle and we are introduced to a beautiful young upper class girl named Ileana De Chablais (Isabelle Marchall) as she returns to her massive family estate after a trip to China. With her she has brought her old friends Frank (Beppe Colombo), Gretel (Adler Gray) and Elsa (Patrizia Gori), as well as two more recent acquaintances, Bobby (Gaetano Russo) and Pier Luigi (Roberto Zattin). Ileana’s father, an old, wheelchair-bound baron, is an antiques lover, so Ileana has brought some collectible Chinese vases for him. But unbeknownst to Ileana, Bobby and Pier Luigi have hidden a stash of opium in the vases, which went through the customs with no problems thanks to Ileana’s wealth and connections. Apparently, Pier Luigi owes a lot of money to a couple of nasty drug dealers and they are threatening to kill him unless he pays up quickly.

Ileana and her friends arrive at the castle

The precious Chinese vases

It doesn’t take long before the young friends start to engage in an evening of wild partying and a bit of kinky bed-hopping. But in the middle of the night, a mysterious killer sneaks into Elsa’s bedroom and stabs her to death. He then proceeds to carve out her eyeballs.

Elsa’s gruesome demise

Soon afterwards, a peculiar police inspector (Corrado Gaipa) arrives to investigate the murder and he decides to take residence at the estate until he is able to unmask the killer. There is certainly no shortage of prospective killers but the number one suspect is Ileana’s younger brother Leandro, a disturbed young man who is mute due to a childhood trauma and who prefers to stay hidden in the basement where he can practice his taxidermist hobby. The rest of the suspects are made up of Ileana and her friends, as well as Hans, the sinister butler; Dr. Olsen, the equally sinister family physician, and Bertha (Annie Karole Edel), the faithful but horny housekeeper who seems to be getting it on with everyone.

The creepy taxidermist brother gives Gretel a good scare

Made at the height of the giallo craze in the early 1970s, Crazy Desires of a Murderer was plagued by a long and complicated release history and it continues to languish in obscurity to this day. It was filmed circa late 1972 or early 1973 but for whatever reason it was put on the shelf for several years. However, a photo-novel version was published in the magazine Cinesex Mese in June 1973 under the title Gli occhi verdi della morte (translation: The green eyes of death). Presumably, this was the film’s original title and it is most likely in reference to the half-witted taxidermist brother whose sinister green eyes are given enough close-ups to make Lucio Fulci proud.

The cover for the rare photo novel version of the film

A sample scan from the photo-novel showcasing Elsa’s gory fate

The green eyes alluded to in the photo-novel title

The film remained on the shelf for three years until it was submitted to the Italian censorship board and obtained a censorship visa in May 1976. It was now cleared for theatrical release but somehow it still took nearly one more year before the film finally premiered in April 1977. By now, the whole giallo craze had died down and this is probably why it was released under the title I vizi morbosi di una governante (translation: The morbid vices of a housekeeper), which sounds more like a sexploitation flick than a giallo. The film’s housekeeper does admittedly get it on with several of the male characters but this title nevertheless fails to really convey what type of film this is. In any case, it did poorly at the Italian box office. An English-dubbed version was never prepared and the film received very little release outside of Italy.

The titular housekeeper with morbid vices

In 1996, the film was rescued from obscurity by British video company Redemption Film, which issued it on VHS under the title Crazy Desires of a Murderer - in Italian with English subtitles. Redemption’s release featured a good-looking widescreen print but, unfortunately, 5 seconds of an eyeball carving was removed at the insistence of the Britsh Board of Film Classification. And once again the film fared poorly as Redemption apparently only sold around 150 copies.

The reasons for the film’s lack of success may initially seem puzzling as the plot sounds quite promising. It has most of the ingredients needed to make an enjoyable giallo but, unfortunately, it falls rather flat in its execution. Ambrogio Molteni's meandering script is probably the biggest problem. Molteni’s storytelling is annoyingly unfocused as he spends far too much time on the boring subplot about Pier Luigi’s troubles with the drug dealers he owes money to. In fact, the plot is full of irrelevant details that are brought up only to be dropped a few minutes later. Characterization is kept at a strictly rudimentary level (if that) and the characters display a surprising lack of interest in the fact that someone among them is a killer, although it’s possible that the many disinterested faces are simply a reflection of the actors’ lack of interest in the material. Not helping matters any is the sluggish pacing as well as Filippo Walter Ratti’s often lifeless direction.

But in spite of these faults, Crazy Desires possesses a quirky atmosphere that is strangely compelling in its own weird way, and it does feature a couple of notable plus points. The strongest card is probably Corrado Gaipa as the wry, old police inspector who walks with a limp. Gaipa, who appeared in everything from The Godfather (1972) to nazisploitation trash like The Red Nights of the Gestapo (1977), is a fine character actor and he puts in a good performance as the peculiar Columbo-style inspector. Piero Piccioni's moody score is another great asset, and the camerawork is not bad either - capturing some pretty stylish images along the way.

The excellent Corrado Gaipa as the peculiar police inspector

Stylish camerawork in the creepy basement

Another stylish shot - of the killer with the murder weapon in hand. Notice how the gloves are actually white for a change!

With the exception of Corrado Gaipa’s inspector, the actors are not really given much opportunity to shine but petite, catty-eyed French starlet Isabelle Marchall, who also appeared in the much better giallo The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972) and in the original Black Emanuelle (1975), is very cute and appealing as Ileana, and the lovely Patrizia Gori is always a pleasure to watch even though she is under-used in the role of the ill-fated Elsa. Marchall and Gori feature prominently in one of the film's most enjoyable scenes, which occurs during a salacious party game where some of the characters are mimicking movie scenes while the others try to guess the name of the movie. Marchall and Gori get down on the floor and start kissing and caressing each other, while the others are having a hard time guessing the right movie. “All movies have scenes like that now!”, one of them complains before another is finally able to guess that the movie in question is Alberto Cavallone's Le salamandre (1969), the first Italian lesbo-erotic film and a huge box office success. A very funny in-joke that gives the film extra points in my book.

Your typical Italian party game

The graphic eyeball removals are pretty well-done and provide some much-needed visceral thrills. It's just too bad that the film doesn't have more scenes of bloodletting or graphic sex because it could have livened up the proceedings and made up for the slow pacing. As it turns out, Ratti did actually shoot some very graphic and kinky sex scenes for the film but, unfortunately, they were deemed too extreme by the censors and thereby removed. Fortunately, these “naughty” sequences are present in photo-novel version printed in Cinesex Mese, so let’s have a look at what we are missing out on.

Firstly, the sex scene between Isabelle Marchall and Gaetano Russo is considerably more detailed than the brief sequence seen in the film. As seen in these scans, the session originally included cunnilingus:

...and some doggie style action:

Even more regrettable, however, are the cuts made to the sex scene between Patrizia Gori and Roberto Zattin. In the film, Zattin gets a kinky idea when he notices a big candle next to the bed and he proceeds to light it and start shaping it into a dildo while Gori grins and licks her lips in anticipation.

Suggestive kinkiness

But just as Gori turns over on her stomach and things are about to get more interesting, the scene cuts away. In the photo-novel, however, the scene goes much further as Zattin proceeds to fuck Gori with the burning candle while calling her a whore:

Love Italian style

The reason why these “forbidden” scenes are left intact in the photo-novel is because it was customary for the photo-novel publishers to receive copies of the films before they were sent to the censor board and any cuts were imposed. Hence, a lot of the photo-novels printed in the likes of Cinesex, Cinestop, Bigfilm and Topfilm feature racy scenes that are not present in the release version of the films. This is the case with The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971), Frankenstein 80 (1972) and Sex of the Witch (1973) just to mention a few. But because there is so much else going on in those films, the removal of a few naughty bits doesn’t hurt them as badly as it does Crazy Desires. If there was ever a film that could truly benefit from the restoration of censored scenes then it is surely this one!

In the end I must say that Crazy Desires of a Murderer is not a very good film but nevertheless I find myself being fascinated by it. Maybe its troubled release history is why it appeals to me as I do find things like that very interesting. To be honest I’m not entirely sure of the reason as this is one of those films whose appeal is extremely hard to pinpoint. I cannot in good conscience recommend this film but I do think that true giallo fans should give it a shot.

© 2011 Johan Melle

The cast:

Corrado Gaipa as The Police Inspector

Isabelle Marchall as Ileana De Chablais

Roberto Zattin as Pier Luigi La Rocca

Gaetano Russo as Bobby Heston

Annie Karole Edel as Bertha, the housekeeper

Adler Gray as Gretel Schanz

Beppe Colombo as Frank Hoffmann

Patrizia Gori as Elsa Leiter

??? as Hans, the butler

??? as Leandro

??? as Baron De Chablais

??? as Dr. Olsen

??? as Moretti, the inspector's assistant

søndag 20. mars 2011

Lost film #4: Paura

Italy, 1972

Directed by Luigi Russo

Rosario Borelli, Kai Fischer, Rosalba Grottesi, Patrizia Gori

Unfinished, unreleased or lost films have always intrigued me, and it is really interesting to try and piece together information about such projects. One lost film that is particularly fascinating is the thriller Paura (or Fear as it translates to in English), which was written and directed by little-known filmmaker Luigi Russo, who spent most of his career making various skin flicks such as the Blue Lagoon rip-off Blue Island (1982) with Sabrina Siani. Paura was Russo's directorial debut and it has never been released. Apparently, shooting was nearly completed but the was shut down when Russo ran out of money.

Due to its unavailability there is little information available on Paura but, fortunately, great Italian magazine Cinesex ran a piece on the film in early 1972. The article includes both pictures and a plot summary that helps give you an idea about what the film is like.

According to the plot summary in the Cinesex article, Paura opens in brutal fashion: a beautiful girl named Orsola is violently raped by three masked men. Orsola becomes pregnant after the rape and eventually gives birth to a deformed and grotesque son - a "monster". But in spite of his physical appearance and the circumstances under which he was conceived, Orsola loves her son and she wants to protect him from the gazing eyes of people who do not accept anything that is different. Hence, she takes her baby son and hides with him in the abandoned underground level of an old theater.

Cut to 20 years later. The "monster" is now grown up - having spent his entire life in the theater's abandoned underground level and never having seen other people than his mother. One day, however, an acting troupe consisting of four men and four women arrive at the theater to rehearse a play. Apparently, several of the actors are quite horny, and in between rehearsals they sneak off to look for isolated spots to have sex. Naturally, they end up in the theater's underground area and start to go at it without knowing that they are being watched by the "monster". Having never been exposed to sex before, the "monster" snaps after witnessing all the copulating, and starts killing the unsuspecting theater actors one by one.

From the plot description, Paura appears to be more of a horror movie than a giallo, and it sounds fairly bizarre. According to the Cinesex article, the killer only murders the men, whom he considers as sexual rivals (although he does kill one unfortunate woman too because her short hair made him think that she was a man!) and this is a rather unusual touch. The women figure prominently in the many sex scenes, though, and the Cinesex article includes several stills from a lesbian scene between the sexy platinum blonde Patrizia Gori and another unidentified actress. Below are some scans of this lesbian love scene:

The Cinesex article briefly mentions that Paura stars Richard Melvill, Kai Fischer, Rosalba Grottesi and Patrizia Gori, but it doesn't say anything about the roles they play. Let's take a little closer look at these four actors, though.

First off, Richard Melvill is actually a pseudonym that was used by Italian actor Rosario Borelli in a couple of early 1970s films.

Rosario Borelli as he looked in The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist (1977)

Borelli had been a popular leading man in the 1950s but when he got older he switched to directing and acting in violent photo-novels such as "Antar" and "Killing", and playing supporting roles in Euro-crime movies. At the time Paura was filmed, Borelli was in his mid 40s, so clearly it cannot be him who plays the monster (who is supposed to be 20). Presumably, he plays one of the actors - or maybe the director. No director is specifically mentioned in the plot summary but it seems likely that such a character could be present and it would fit Borelli age-wise.

Then we have Kai Fischer, a popular German actress known for numerous krimis such as Room 13 and The Monster of London City (both 1964), and Mel Welles' cult horror movie Man Eater of Hydra (1967).

Kai Fischer in a still from Room 13

Fischer was pushing 40 when Paura was made, so it seems like a fair guess that she plays the role of Orsola, the mother of the "monster".

Beautiful and likeable blonde starlet Patrizia Gori plays one of the horny young theater actresses, and she figures prominently in the pictures of the lesbian scene printed in Cinesex.

Patrizia Gori photographed by the famous Angelo Frontoni in 1973

Gori was just getting her career started when she appeared in Paura, and she seemed to be suffering from bad luck. Not only was Paura never released but her next film, the obscure giallo Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1973), was also shelved for several years. She soon found success, though, in sleaze classics such as Emanuelle and Françoise (1975), Cries and Shadows (1975) and Elsa Fräulein SS (1977), and was married for several years to porno director Franco Lo Cascio (a.k.a. Luca Damiano).

Also listed as a cast member is the gorgeous, raven-haired Rosalba Grottesi. Although she only appeared in a handful of films, Grottesi had enormous success as both leading ladies and femme fatales in photo-novels during the 1960s and 70s, and she would continue to play supporting parts in photo-novels up until her retirement in 2001.

Rosalba Grottesi in a photo-novel from 1973

Again, there is no mention about what kind of character she plays in the film but I think it is reasonable to assume that she plays one of the theater actresses.

This is pretty much all the information I've been able to dig up about Paura. As I've already mentioned, the shooting the film was apparently close to being finished and the footage is supposed to still exist. It has, however, never been edited or dubbed and, quite frankly, I find it highly unlikely that it ever will be after so many years. And that's a great shame because Paura sounds just like the kind of film I'd like to watch. It has some really cool actors, the plot sounds delightfully bizarre, and I imagine that the theater setting could be used to very atmospheric effect as it was in later films like The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) and Stagefright (1987).

lørdag 12. mars 2011

More print ads with Euro actresses unearthed

Finally! It's time for another batch of vintage prints ads featuring beautiful Euro-actresses. Enjoy the show!

First woman out is the gorgeous Virna Lisi. I've already posted an ad she did for Chlorodont toothpaste in 1964 here, but below we have a much earlier Chlorodont ad that Virna did in 1960, when she was looking very young and innocent:

Virna endorsed Chlorodont throughout most of the 1960s so there's certainly no shortage of different ads to be found. Here is one from 1964:

But as usual, Lux soap is the big favorite, and the next scan is a Lux ad featuring the beautiful Danish actress Annette Stroyberg. Annette is best known for her marriage to the famous French director Roger Vadim, who directed her in Les liaisons dangereuses (1959) and in the vampire film Blood and Roses (1960). After their divorce in 1960, Annette moved to Italy, where she appeared in notable films like Roberto Rosselini's Anima nera (1962), as well as less prestigious stuff like the comedies Beach Casanova (1962) and The Eye of the Needle (1963). Annette had become a popular actress in Italy by the time she did this ad in 1964 but she retired from acting shortly afterwards.

Lovely Italian actress Rossana Podestà started her acting career in 1950 and was given a chance at worldwide fame when she landed the title role in the Hollywood epic Helen of Troy (1956) directed by Robert Wise. Unfortunately, the film wasn't all that successful but Rossana nevertheless had a long and successful career in Italy, where she appeared in memorable films such as the adventure flick The Golden Arrow (1962) where she starred alongside Tab Hunter, the spectacle Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), the gothic horror film The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963), the caper classic Seven Golden Men (1965) and its sequel Seven Golden Men Strike Again (1966). Her popularity and good looks made her a natural choice to be featured in this advertisement for Lux soap in 1967:

Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of the legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin, should need no introduction. She has enjoyed a long and succesful career in Hollywood but has also done occasional work in Europe. Geraldine had just starred in the obscure Italian film Andremo in città (1966) and in Robert Hossein's French/Italian production I Killed Rasputin (1967) when she did this ad for Lux soap in 1967:

Finally, we have yet another ad for Lux soap, featuring the sexy German Elke Sommer - famous for her roles in such films as A Shot in the Dark (1964), Deadlier Than the Male (1967), Baron Blood (1972), Lisa and the Devil (1973) and numerous others. I have previously posted a Lux ad that Elke did in 1965 here, but below is a later one that she did in 1967:

That's all for now but I promise that some more goodies will follow later on.

lørdag 5. mars 2011

Ligeia forever

Italy, 1979

Directed by Daniele D’Anza

Umberto Orsini, Silvia Dionisio, Dagmar Lassander, Philippe Leroy, Victoria Zinny, Giuseppe Pertile

While Italian cinema from the 1960s, 70s and 80s continues to grow in popularity among movie lovers, far fewer seem eager to rediscover Italian television productions from the same period. Which is probably because a lot of the stuff made for television is of a much lower standard but here and there you can find a couple of gems hidden. One such gem is the four-part mini series Racconti fantastici, which freely adapts a series of Edgar Allan Poe stories into a contemporary setting. Each of the four episodes is self-contained but they are linked together by the character of Roderick Usher, who is present in all four episodes. While the series as a whole is highly interesting, the best of episode is arguably the second one, Ligeia forever, an intriguing amalgamation of the Poe stories "Ligeia" and "Morella".

The story begins in the house of Usher in the present time of 1979, where a dusty old photo and a gramophone record causes the ageing Roderick Usher (Philippe Leroy) to recount the story of one of his ancestors – thereby allowing the narrative to flash back to the late 1920s. Here we meet the handsome Robert Usher (Umberto Orsini), who is married to the stunning Ligeia (Dagmar Lassander), a renowned silent movie actress who has just starred in her first talkie.

Robert and Ligeia

While they await word from Hollywood about the audience response to the talkie, Robert and Ligeia throw a party to celebrate what will no doubt be another huge success for Ligeia. Unfortunately, their celebration turns out to be more than a bit premature. Once the phone call from Hollywood arrives it is actually bad news: the audience has reacted with laughter and derision to hearing Ligeia speak. Utterly humiliated and fraught with despair, Ligeia is unable to deal with this crushing defeat, and the disastrous party ends with her committing suicide in front of the shocked guests.

Cut to five years later. Robert has not set foot in the house of Usher since the devastating death of his beloved wife. In an attempt to forget and move on he has taken a new wife, the sweet and loving Morella (Silvia Dionisio), and decides that the time has come to return to the family estate. Together with his young bride, Robert moves back into the house he had shared with Ligeia but the section of the house where Ligeia’s rooms are located is kept securely locked and off limits.

The newlyweds arrive at the house of Usher

Morella has a hard time getting adjusted to her new home as Ligeia’s personal maid, Miss Crown (Victoria Zinny), is hostile towards her, and Robert starts being haunted by memories of the past. He finds himself compelled to enter the section of the house where all of Ligeia’s rooms are located. All the rooms are completely untouched since Ligeia’s death and the walls adorned with pictures and movie posters of her.

The forbidden house...

...and the memories it holds

Robert starts to get overcome by memories of Ligeia and he senses her presence as if she was still alive. Poor Morella knows nothing about Robert’s first marriage but she feels him gradually slipping away from her and starts snooping around. Upon entering the forbidden parts of the house, Morella uncovers the truth about her husband’s past but soon afterwards she falls victim to a strange accident. Robert is convinced that Ligeia’s ghost is trying to kill his new wife...

Morella angers her husband by desecrating his shrine for Ligeia

Morella in fear of her life

Writers Daniele D’Anza and Biagio Proietti have done a good job of piecing together story elements from the two thematically similar Poe stories "Ligeia" and "Morella" while adding new touches and retaining an appropriate bit of ambiguity. The late 1920s/early 1930s setting and the prominent use of brightness and sunshine is highly atypical of a Poe adaptation but it gives a fresh and inspired spin on the material. Furthermore, the period setting imbues the piece with an atmosphere of nostalgia that poignantly mirrors the emotions experienced by Robert upon his return to the home he had shared with his dead wife. D’Anza and Proietti (who penned numerous television scripts together) are both good writers but Proietti, in particular, has a real talent for coming up with interesting ideas. He had previously written the underrated giallo The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974), and would later go on to explore Poe material again when he wrote Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat (1981).

In spite of the subject matter, Ligeia forever is not really a horror story. If anything, it is a melancholy tale – one in which love, death and being haunted by the past just happen to be the main ingredients. Instead of striving for suspense or chills, Proietti and D’Anza favor mood and atmosphere, and they are aided in their quest by an eerie and dreamily evocative musical score by the popular pop/rock band Pooh. The atmosphere is further enriched by Blasco Giurato’s beautiful cinematography, which together with high production values, lush period costumes and effective locations, gives Ligeia forever a polished and classy look that greatly surpasses other Italian television products from this era.

Bright and sunny...

...but also dark and gloomy where appropriate

The small but well-chosen cast is uniformly good. The renowned Umberto Orsini delivers a strong and dedicated portrayal of the tormented protagonist, but the best performance comes from the beautiful Silvia Dionisio, who is extremely sweet and sympathetic as the tragic Morella. It is hard not to feel sad for the character when witnessing Dionisio skillfully portray her gradual transformation from happy and carefree to despaired and tormented. Also of note is the part of Ligeia’s maid Miss Crown, a sinister figure that seems to be modelled after the Mrs. Danvers character from Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), and played with an appropriate sense of mystique by the gifted Argentinean actress Victoria Zinny. Finally, there is of course Dagmar Lassander, who looks absolutely gorgeous as Ligeia but she is not really given much to do here. She appears relatively briefly but Ligeia’s presence is still felt throughout the entire running time – making a strong impression on the viewer. Not so much because of Lassander’s acting but actually more because of her hauntingly deep blue eyes and enchanting beauty, which is effectively captured in the numerous photos and movie posters that adorn the walls of Ligeia’s old rooms. These gorgeous images are instrumental in manifesting the character’s never fading presence in the house, and the way these dusty and shrine-like relics from a glorious past has been preserved creates a a very strong feeling of sadness and melancholy.

Clever and effective use of Dagmar Lassander’s photogenic looks

Elegant and atmospheric, moody and compelling – Ligeia forever is an inspired Poe adaptation that is worthy of a larger audience. Highly recommended!

© 2011 Johan Melle

The cast:

Umberto Orsini as Robert Usher

Silvia Dionisio as Morella

Dagmar Lassander as Ligeia

Philippe Leroy as Roderick Usher

Victoria Zinny as Miss Crown

Giuseppe Pertile as Dr. Brooks