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Posts Tagged ‘Dario Argento’

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

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Stars – Tony Musante, Eva Renzi, Suzy Kendall
Director – Dario Argento * Released by Arrow Films
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage marks the debut of cult horror director Dario Argento. Argento shows an awful lot of confidence and style for his fist feature. In the opening sequence we meet Tony Musante an American writer living in Italy. He has just completed a book on birds. He takes the check for his work but declines his author’s copy of the volume. On the way home at night he spots a savage fight between a man and a woman in an art gallery. They are framed behind massive store front windows. There are huge statues with clawed feet and lots of empty white space. Up on a stairway someone in black is going after a women in white with a knife. Blood spills. The figure in black spots Tony and takes off. We see the woman scream but we can’t hear her. Tony tries to get in but becomes trapped between a second set of glass doors as the figure in black locks them on his way out. So not only do we get the voyeur identification from watching this attempted murder in an art gallery but we become trapped in the fish bowl alongside the man who spotted this. The woman screams. Tony asks her where the door switch is. There is all this talk but no one can hear anyone. It’s as useless as screaming look out to a character on screen in the movie you are watching. A woman walks by outside and Tony is able get her to call the cops through hand signals. The detectives and cops finally arrive and begin to mark the crime scene and ask questions. That is a very stylish opening that shows this Argento fellow has watched a lot of Hitchcock films.

The next bit that becomes so intriguing is the relationship that develops between the lead detective Morosini and Musante. Enrico Maria Salerno plays this man as an open friendly fellow who is tasked with yet another impossible job. There have been three murders. All women. All done in a similar fashion. Musante gets grilled and told not to leave town. However he becomes fascinated with the case and begins to play amateur detective. Morosini surprisingly welcomes the help. It’s a clever bit of writing that invites us as an audience to play along and try to figure out who done it. But any of us who know these kind of films will smile at the invitation because we know it’s a set up. Somebody has a very neat twist up their sleeve in store for us.

Agento rightfully gets credit for helping to kick off and define the giallo subgenre. Giallo films regularly feature a killer clad in black. They exhibit a knife fetish and favor wearing slick gloves to commit their murders. The victims are frequently beautiful women. Bloodshed and nudity often accompany these attacks. Argento’s film established all this grammar but he often favors a bit of teasing brinkmanship at times at least in this instance. The look of the film is outstanding. Compositions and color choices stand out in a professional fashion. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack offers strong orchestral support. It’s great to see this film that depends so much on its visuals looking this good. And yes the title does figure into it.

Video – 2.35:1
The new 4K transfer looks fantastic. Colors look bold and display lots of shades. The compositions by Vittorio Storaro are continually entertaining. More than enough grain is retained still give a nice filmic quality to the shots but nothing distorts or crushes.

Audio – Mono DTS track in Italian and English with subtitles offers in English SDH
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack sounds nice even in the mono presentation here. Dialogue has that dubbed feel to it which one gets used pretty quickly.

Extras – Commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger New interview with writer/director Dario Argento New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp) Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook

Kat Ellinger offers up a very detailed look at Argento’s work here. She talks about his gender bending choices in this film and others. She makes some interesting points that shed new light on one’s appreciation of the director. Troy Howarth contributes a commentary loaded with information. We learn a lot about the friction the director had with the American actor Tony Musante on the set. Troy points out though that he remains very likeable through out the film being in almost every single scene. This man loves his Italian horror, knows his stuff and is more than happy to make you a convert and fan of the style by the time you finish your hour and a half listening to him.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movies – Excellent

The Other Hell (1980) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

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Stars – Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo
Director – Bruno Mattei

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The film begins with a naked woman laid out on a mortuary slab deep down in the dank and dark basement of an old church. One of the nuns there has apparently become unhinged in a very bad way. She circles the woman on the slab getting herself worked up into a real frenzy. She suddenly exclaims, “The genitals are the door to evil! The vagina – the uterus! The womb – the labyrinth that leads to hell! The devil’s tools! “ You might want to back that up and repeat it to be sure you caught that. The deranged nun then proceeds to stab the lady on the slab between her legs repeatedly. At the end of this sequences she passes through another area that has all kinds of baby and child sized mannequins dangling from the ceiling. This is pretty much the high point of mayhem in this film. Director Bruno Mattei has front loaded the best parts of his film into the beginning. We don’t get all that much more bloodshed until the last bit save for a close up of a chicken being beheaded. What is it with the need to put these extraneous shots of animal cruelty in these films? There is some neck chocking and a few stabbings later on in the proceedings. Some blood gets splattered over the white parts of the nuns’ outfits but for the most part things bog down after that wild opening.

oh one

A priest is brought in to investigate the growing number of murders of the nuns in this convent. He doesn’t have a whole lot of suspects but you’re not watching this for the intricate plot developments. There is no getting around the fact that this is a nunsploitation picture without its fair share of perversity in it. So that’s a bit of a let down. The best part was hearing the music by Goblin. They were the band that Dario Argento brought in to provide some great music for his film Suspiria (1977). Argento also had them add some memorable cues to George Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead (1978). Director Mattei as well as the two actors interviewed in the extras admits that he was shooting two films at once while he made The Other Hell. He says he often made up the plot as he went along. Lead actress Franca Stoppi talks about having to change her make up during the day so she could do scenes for both films. While the other two are subtitled Carolo De Mejo speaks fluent English in his included interview. He’s quite charming as he recalls the shoot that was filled with fun and confusion for him.
The Other Hell is not as high on the exploitation meter as one may have expected but it is still filled with the kind of wacky figure it out on the fly filmmaking that Bruno Mattei’s fans have come to love.

oh two

Video – 1.66:1
The beginning of the film starts off with some excessive grain. In the opening sequence in the church catacombs detail disappears into a murky mass of black crush. The look is reminiscent of an old VHS. However at about the 30 minute mark things pick up. Anything outside in the sunlight looks much better. Interiors also show a marked improvement. Even darkly lit scenes back in the church basement offer a clearer image with more distinct colors.

Audio – English 2.0, French 2.0, Italian 2.0. Closed captions in English are available (though not mentioned on the cover)
The dialogue is the usual dubbed affair however the music by Goblin is a real treat.

Extras – Commentary With Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso Moderated By Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddeo / Sister Franca: Interview With Actress Franca Stoppi / To Hell And Back: Archive Interviews With Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo. This edition also comes with reversible cover art.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Fair at first then Good / Excellent

Movie – Clearly made for those who like this kind of thing

The Other Hell (1980) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

cover

Stars – Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo
Director – Bruno Mattei

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The film begins with a naked woman laid out on a mortuary slab deep down in the dank and dark basement of an old church. One of the nuns there has apparently become unhinged in a very bad way. She circles the woman on the slab getting herself worked up into a real frenzy. She suddenly exclaims, “The genitals are the door to evil! The vagina – the uterus! The womb – the labyrinth that leads to hell! The devil’s tools! “ You might want to back that up and repeat it to be sure you caught that. The deranged nun then proceeds to stab the lady on the slab between her legs repeatedly. At the end of this sequences she passes through another area that has all kinds of baby and child sized mannequins dangling from the ceiling. This is pretty much the high point of mayhem in this film. Director Bruno Mattei has front loaded the best parts of his film into the beginning. We don’t get all that much more bloodshed until the last bit save for a close up of a chicken being beheaded. What is it with the need to put these extraneous shots of animal cruelty in these films? There is some neck chocking and a few stabbings later on in the proceedings. Some blood gets splattered over the white parts of the nuns’ outfits but for the most part things bog down after that wild opening.

oh one

A priest is brought in to investigate the growing number of murders of the nuns in this convent. He doesn’t have a whole lot of suspects but you’re not watching this for the intricate plot developments. There is no getting around the fact that this is a nunsploitation picture without its fair share of perversity in it. So that’s a bit of a let down. The best part was hearing the music by Goblin. They were the band that Dario Argento brought in to provide some great music for his film Suspiria (1977). Argento also had them add some memorable cues to George Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead (1978). Director Mattei as well as the two actors interviewed in the extras admits that he was shooting two films at once while he made The Other Hell. He says he often made up the plot as he went along. Lead actress Franca Stoppi talks about having to change her make up during the day so she could do scenes for both films. While the other two are subtitled Carolo De Mejo speaks fluent English in his included interview. He’s quite charming as he recalls the shoot that was filled with fun and confusion for him.
The Other Hell is not as high on the exploitation meter as one may have expected but it is still filled with the kind of wacky figure it out on the fly filmmaking that Bruno Mattei’s fans have come to love.

oh two

Video – 1.66:1
The beginning of the film starts off with some excessive grain. In the opening sequence in the church catacombs detail disappears into a murky mass of black crush. The look is reminiscent of an old VHS. However at about the 30 minute mark things pick up. Anything outside in the sunlight looks much better. Interiors also show a marked improvement. Even darkly lit scenes back in the church basement offer a clearer image with more distinct colors.

Audio – English 2.0, French 2.0, Italian 2.0. Closed captions in English are available (though not mentioned on the cover)
The dialogue is the usual dubbed affair however the music by Goblin is a real treat.

Extras – Commentary With Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso Moderated By Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddeo / Sister Franca: Interview With Actress Franca Stoppi / To Hell And Back: Archive Interviews With Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo. This edition also comes with reversible cover art.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Fair at first then Good / Excellent

Movie – Clearly made for those who like this kind of thing

Torture Chamber: DVD Review

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Torture Chamber (2012)

by Troy Howarth

torturechamber

Directed by Dante Tomaselli

Starring Vincent Pastore, Christie Sanford, Richard D. Busser, Carmen LoPorto, Lynn Lowry, Ron Millkie

A deeply religious woman inflicts psychological scars on her two children.  The older of the two, Mark, goes on to become a priest, while Jimmy is horribly burned in an accident and inflicts terror on everybody who encounters him.  The child is locked away but displays an ability to start fires and inflict harm without lifting a finger.  When he escapes, Dr. Fiore and Mark must attempt to find him before he succeeds in his mission of destroying his mother and anybody who gets in his way…

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Beginning with Desecration (1999), independent filmmaker Dante Tomaselli has established himself as a distinctive voice in the modern horror film.  Working on small budgets and outside of the studio system, Tomaselli explores deeply personal neuroses and obsessions in the context of commercial horror subjects.  Over the course of several films – Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and now Torture Chamber – the filmmaker has grown in style and ability while refusing to compromise his very personal and very idiosyncratic vision.

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On the surface, it would seem fair to suggest that Tomaselli has learned much from the dreamy Italian horror films of the 1960s and 70s, but it would be unfair to suggest that he is a mere imitator.  Tomaselli’s approach is deliberately stylized but while he doesn’t shy away from visceral shocks, he doesn’t go in for the type of over the top grand guignol effects that one would expect to see in a film by, say, Lucio Fulci or even the latter-day Dario Argento.  The violence is rough when it occurs, but the film is more of a mood piece on the whole, juxtaposing the dreamworld with reality in such a way as to erase the boundary between the two altogether.  Tomaselli’s characters don’t act like real human beings simply because they’re not functioning in a realistic milieu dictated by concerns of logic.  If anything, they are pawns in a nightmarish dreamscape where anything can happen – and very often does.

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Torture Chamber builds upon the director’s earlier work and emerges as his most consistently accomplished film to date.  Production values are very good.  Makeup and effects are kept practical and old school, which is a major plus, and the various shock sequences are handled with a flair for the tactile which proves all the more effective in context.  The performances are quite good here, in contrast to the sometimes stilted performances found in, say, Desecration and Horror.  Child actor Carmen LoPorto does an impressive job as the monstrous Jimmy, while Christie Sanford is convincing as the religious zealot mother unknowingly causes the tragedy.  Name value is provided by Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos) and Lynn Lowery (I Drink Your Blood), both of whom give depth and gravitas to their characters.  Tomaselli’s excellent use of sound adds to the claustrophic, nightmarish vibe.  Viewers looking for a more straight-forward, linear approach to storytelling may find Tomaselli’s elliptical approach a little hard to warm to, but in a genre currently overloaded with bland remakes and endless sequels, Torture Chamber offers a refreshing alternative.

Video:

Torture Chamber makes its home video from Cinedigm.  The region 1 disc is presented in the appropriate 1.85 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs.  The transfer is clean and colorful, with strong detail and no distracting authoring defects to report.  It’s a shame that they didn’t elect to give the film a Blu-ray release, as well, as the striking colors would have looked particularly impressive in that format, but even so – this is a handsome presentation.

Audio:

Audio options include a 2.0 stereo track and a 5.1 surround track.  Both tracks are in excellent shape, with the latter in particular having an added kick that really shows off Tomaselli’s intricate sound design.  Captioning options are included.

Extras:

This is where the release really falls down: Tomaselli has recorded some very good commentary tracks in the past, but for whatever reason he does not get a chance to do a commentary for this one… there isn’t even so much as an interview featurette.  All you get is a still gallery.

Film: ***1/2 out of *****

Video: ****1/2 out of *****

Audio: ****1/2 out of *****

Extras: * out of *****