Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror

Blu-ray: Giallo! Restored Italian horrors on Arrow, Synapse and more

bloodblackBlood and Black Lace (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
What Have You Done to Solange? (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Two Adaptations by Sergio Martino & Lucio Fulci (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Tenebrae (Synapse, Blu-ray, DVD)
Manhattan Baby (Blue Underground, Blu-ray)

A mysterious stranger stalks a beautiful woman as the camera creeps in like a voyeuristic partner in crime. Black gloved hands reach for the lovely neck of a young maiden. The faceless killer strangles, stabs, slashes, or otherwise horribly murders her in front of our eyes, the camera recording every perverse detail. This description of the giallo could fit the hundreds of slasher films but the true giallo—a distinctive Italian brand of horror film that was born in the 1960s and flourished in the 1970s and 1980s—combines a poetic, haunting beauty with Grand Guignol gore and a bent of sexual perversity. You could call it “spaghetti horror,” though it hardly captures what makes the genre so unique and, at its best, so delicious.

Italian horror did not begin and end with giallo, which is the Italian word for “yellow” and refers to a series of cheap paperback mysteries and thrillers that sported yellow covers, but it certainly put the genre on the map and influenced the direction of Italian horror (as well as, among others, Spanish and French horror) for decades. The cinematic roots include Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (with its elaborately choreographed murder scenes), Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and the krimi, a distinctly German genre of murder mystery based on the British thrillers of Edgar Wallace and his son, Bryan Wallace. These films generally featured a mysterious, usually masked killer, an eccentric investigator, and a roll call of suspects that usually ended up systematically murdered in creatively gruesome ways.

Death Walks at Midnight - image courtesy of DVD Beaver

Death Walks at Midnight – image courtesy of DVD Beaver

Mario Bava and Dario Argento are the king and crown prince (respectively) of the genre that was born in the sixties, bloomed in the seventies, and celebrated a resurgence in the late nineties as scores of gialli rolled out on videotape and DVD in restored and uncut versions. I devoured these releases but, like so many other fans, I also discovered that the pool of Italian horror was, just as with the spaghetti westerns in the 1960s, huge and filled with copycats and knock-offs cashing in on the current trends. The excitement waned as the pool of classics was quickly drained and I worked my way through lesser and lesser horrors just waiting for moments of inspiration. That’s not to say anyone gave up on the genre, only that for a few years the hits were fewer and farther between.

Labels like Blue Underground, Kino Lorber, Synapse, and Mondo Macabro kept the genre alive during these fallow years. Now Arrow, a British label that recently launched an American line of Blu-ray and DVD releases (through distributor MVD), has injected new blood into the genre with some of the best editions of classic, notorious, and outrageous giallo titles in the past couple of years. Most (if not all) of these films have previously been released on DVD, some of them satisfactory, others not so much. They make their respective Blu-ray debuts in impressive deluxe editions. Here are a few stand-out releases from the past 12 months or so, as well as a few choice releases from other labels. And where better to start than…

Blood and Black Lace (Arrow/MVD, Blu-ray+DVD), Mario Bava’s 1964 giallo landmark. Many experts of the genre have cited The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) as the birth of the giallo, but I say this elegant slasher picture and its mix of poetic, haunting beauty with Grand Guignol gore and a bent of sexual perversity is where it really began. If Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch turns violence into a ballet, then Blood and Black Lace is murder as ballroom dance. Bava sets the atmosphere with a beautiful yet eerie credits sequence that gives each star his or her own moving fashion still and then jumps into a stormy night, where the winds lash and snap the chains of the hanging sign and twist the streams of the elegant fountain until it resembles the spray of a disaster. Order becomes chaos.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews, Horror

A modest compendium of fearsome flicks

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved horror movies, delighted in stories about monsters getting loose in the dark, scaring complacent squares to death. Scared me, too, but deep down I confess I’ve always been primally tickled when vampires, blobs, giant bugs, werewolves, and aliens broke all the rules. What liberating joy when some long-faced mayor/military officer/scientist/minister, confronted by nightmare, had to eat his platitudes!

Movies that come oozing up out of the darkness behind the brain seriously freak most people out. So how come we love hair-raisers? Maybe it’s connected with going about as far as you can go into really bad places (we’re not talking dreck flicks here, but real genre classics) … and coming back a little less sane, never again quite as existentially secure, but still alive and kicking. It’s a nightmare trip, the darkside equivalent of a vision quest. Vicariously surviving a descent into hell confirms your power over death. The best horror movies teach us that we do not have to go gentle into that dark night.

So this Halloween, give yourselves up to nightmare and the gruesome company of a slew of Witches, Werewolves, Vampires, Zombies, Things, and Ghosts.

The Witching Hour

For witches, warlocks and wizards, the boundaries between good and evil, the living and the dead, white and black magic have ceased to exist. They can conjure bright, utopian dreams or magick us into the very heart of darkness. Powered by unholy sorcery and sometimes inhuman beauty, they flit through our imaginations like eldritch superstars from our pagan past.

Karloff in Edgar G. Ulmer's 'The Black Cat '

The Black Cat (1934)
Mad genius Hjalmar Poelzig’s erected a Frank Lloyd Wright–style house, graced with startlingly modern curves and angles, on a crag where a fort once stood. Decades ago, General Poelzig (Boris Karloff) betrayed that fort to the enemy, and now a survivor, suave Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi), whose wife Poelzig coveted, has returned for vengeance. Karloff—his bristling brush-cut rising in a stark V from his gloriously high forehead, a wolfish smile occasionally breaking his skull-like impassivity, his flesh corpse white—looks like a dry run for The Joker, or a dead man walking. Pounding out mad organ music, hosting satanic rites, playing chess with Lugosi for the lives of two American honeymooners who’ve stumbled into this Gothic revenge tale—black-clad, sibilant-voiced Karloff dominates Cat‘s nightmare ballet.

The Sorcerers (1967)
Not long before his death, Karloff is a magnificent, hollow-eyed ruin as an old scientist who cons a bored playboy into acting as guinea pig for a new invention involving hypnosis: “Intoxication with no hangover, ecstasy with no conscience.” Professor Monserrat and his mummy-like wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) find that they not only control their subject but also vicariously experience whatever he’s up to. (High shot: the oldsters face each other across a round table, jacked into virtual reality, their arthritic hands clawing orgasmically at the faded tablecloth.) Monserrat sees his machine as a boon to old people, who will enjoy the pleasures of youth through surrogates. Estelle’s got other ideas: she wants “to use our boy” for her own fun and gain: “We all want to do things deep inside ourselves. Things we can’t allow ourselves to do. But now we have the means … without the fear of the consequences!”

Continue reading at Straight Shooting