Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)

Women's Prison Massacre (1983) movie poster

director  Bruno Mattei
viewed: 08/07/2018

A weird avant-grade theater sequence belies the otherwise straightforward sleaze of Women’s Prison Massacre. And quality sleaze it certainly is.

Laura Gemser stars in what is likely the first Laura Gemser flick I’ve ever seen in which she didn’t get naked even once. The rest of the cast makes up for that in an abundance of flesh.

Albina the faux albino (Ursula Flores) is Gemser’s primary foil in the first half of the film, which is a sort of by the numbers “women in prison” flick. The formula takes a major twist when a quartet of vile male criminals are set to be temporarily housed in this women’s prison. They break out, take over, and sex and violence rule the roost.

It’s quality from a sleaze point of view if not from others.

Most amusing tidbit: “The sole bit of unintentional humor comes from the proliferation of expensive hosiery worn by the female cast, which was courtesy of the film’s main producer, a French undergarments company.” – Paul Gaita, AllMovie.

Death Sentence (1968)

Death Sentence (1968) movie poster

director Mario Lanfranchi
viewed: 07/25/2018

Death Sentence is an interesting if not essential Spaghetti Western. Notable for it’s four act structure, a quartet of revenge plays set Cash/Django (Robin Clarke) on the trails of his brother’s four killers.

Many agree that the first sequence, starring Richard Conte is the film’s strongest segment as Clarke hounds him in the desert as Conte’s Diaz has a gun but no water and Cash has water but no pistol.

Tomas Milian really chews scenery as the albino O’Hara, or at least tries to. 

Clarke has the rugged looks of late Sixties manliness, but doesn’t exactly exude charisma. When he digs a bullet out of his thigh to get his revenge – that’s pretty rad.

Terrible theme song.

Phenomena (1985)

Phenomena (1985) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 07/18/2018

I first encountered Dario Argento’s Phenomena as Creepers back in 1985 in the theater. Lucky me! I don’t recall my exact impression, though years later when I realized I’d viewed a compromised and hacked-up version, I wasn’t terribly surprised.

As a lot of folks have noted, Phenomena reuses several scenarios from Suspiria, which isn’t such a bad thing, but makes for a little confusion. And though I would agree with most that Phenomena doesn’t stand up quite as well as its predecessor, it’s still vivid, surreal, and in the final moments, a whole lot of bananas!

Actually, that ending that just won’t quit. I sensed a serious borrowing from the ending of Friday the 13th. You’ve got the girl on the raft on the lake, the mutant child attack, the finale with the mother on the shore and a beheading that comes out of nowhere.

I was a little more enchanted by the firefly scene than I was back in the day. I think even then I was cognizant of the slowed motion of the images tracking the animated light. This time through I found that quite nice.

Maybe the borrowed elements from Suspiria work against Phenomena only really in comparison. It’s an entertaining brew of its own, though probably not a masterpiece.

Bandidos (1967)

 Bandidos (1967) movie poster

director  Massimo Dallamano
viewed: 07/15/2018

A cool title sequence opens Bandidos, a very solid, though lesser-known and seen Spaghetti Western.  

This was Massimo Dallamano’s first film as director, having served as cinematographer for at least 15 years prior. He was fresh off of shooting A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) for Sergio Leone. According to spaghetti-western.net, Dallamano was disappointed with not being brought back for the finale of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), and infused Bandidos with themes of betrayal, apparently pointed at Leone.

“Hurry up and die, will you?”

Bandidos is packed with lots of action, nearly brimming with it, and the cinematographer turned director shoots the whole thing teaming with style and panache. It all starts with a train robbery, the brutal killing of all of the passengers, save one, a sharpshooter who has his hands maimed. Revenge percolates, a young man comes into play, student to the damaged gunslinger, but it doesn’t turn out quite the way one might think.

Good stuff.

The Fifth Cord (1971)

The Fifth Cord (1971) movie poster

director  Luigi Bazzoni
viewed: 07/14/2018

A Black Day for Aries (Giornata nera per l’ariete) is much more giallo title than The Fifth Cord, though apparently the latter is the title of the book from which it was adapted. By any other name, it still kicks off with a stylish title sequence

That style bursts out in spades in the tremendous cinematography by Vittorio Storaro who would go on to work on much more substantial cinema with directors like Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola, and Warren Beatty. Storaro’s camera obsesses over art, architecture, and physical space, and…oh, the story, too.

I’m not sure I’ve ever watched a giallo and not at some point wondered, “what’s going on again?”

Franco Nero is gorgeous but it’s all about the cinematography here. And that might just be enough.

One Silver Dollar (1965)

One Silver Dollar (1965) movie poster

director Giorgio Ferroni
viewed: 06/24/2018

Not as stylish or cinematic as the best of Spaghetti Westerns, One Silver Dollar still boasts a solid scenario.

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, two brothers emerge from a prison camp with emasculated pistols, but unbroken spirits, ready to begin life anew. The brothers part ways to try to make a go of things. Post-war America is still the Wild West, and Southerners are still held in contempt. When Gary O’Hara (Giuliano Gemma) finally gets an opportunity with a land baron for a dangerous job, it turns out to be a set-up, brother is poised against brother and both are shot down in a flurry of bullets.

Certainly, One Silver Dollar has some nice flourishes, but as others have noted, it bears less of the Italian Western than its Hollywood prototype.

I can’t help but continue to find it weird how Western narratives so often feature Southerners as the beaten and disenfranchised class and become the heroes. It’s easy to see where the sympathies lie, with the class that has lost its pride and power. Underdogs make for good rooting.

But to ignore the real reasons for the Civil War, the significance of Slavery and deep racism, it’s something quite common throughout the genre that I’ve always found gobsmacking.

Aenigma (1987)

Aenigma (1987) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/16/2018

“How does a young girl who is brain dead experience a violent emotion?”

Well, she’s brain dead but controlling a human avatar and seeking vengeance on schoolmates who pranked her into a coma in Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma.

Revenge is a dish best served … weird … and is meted out in dollops of reflections, snails, and living statuary.

Aenigma is derivative of a number of films and directors, coming in what would become the autumn of Fulci’s career. But it’s not not fun. It’s still Fulci.

Madhouse (1981)

Madhouse (1981) movie poster

director Ovidio G. Assonitis
viewed: 06/15/2018

I’m forever telling people that in any pair of twins, there is always one that is good and always another that is evil. That’s just science.

Madhouse is an Italian-American production directed by an Egyptian-born Greco-Italian and filmed in Savannah, GA. It’s another sort of slasher-giallo hybrid, with some nice cinematography and production values (except for the dog puppet, let’s say).

Savannah could be an interesting location but the film stays indoors a lot, shot at the historic Kehoe House, which seemed to be under some restoration at the time. The house is pretty cool and makes for some of the interesting shots and atmosphere.

But yeah, evil twins, a blood-thirsty Rottweiler, and a kooky priest who digs on children’s rhymes.

It’s not half bad. But then there’s the other half. Or slightly more than half.

Compañeros (1970)

Compañeros (1970) movie poster

director  Sergio Corbucci
viewed: 06/04/2018

After watching Compañeros, I realize how I’ve really got to get around to watching all of Sergio Corbucci’s Westerns.

Compañeros is a Zapata western, Corbucci’s second, after 1968’s The Mercenary. Stories set against the Mexican Revolution proved keen metaphorical landscapes for the more political Italian filmmakers, and they really deserve closer reading. I recommend Simon Gelton’s write-up on Compañeros at Spaghetti-Western.net.

On the surface, Compañeros seems more lightweight, as the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960’s moved towards more comedy in the 1970’s. Thomas Milian and Franco Nero are good, but as almost everyone has noted, Jack Palance steals the show, in what is definitely my favorite Jack Palance role. He seemed to be having a very good time, smoking weed with his prosthetic hand and vengeful raptor.

Good stuff.

Se sei vivo spara (1967)

Se sei vivo spara (1967) movie poster

director Giulio Questi
viewed: 06/02/2018

The title Django, Kill…If You Live, Shoot! is an inappropriate misnomer to what is definitely one of the most crazy, violent, and fascinating Westerns to come out of Italy in the heyday of the genre there. Since the Django piece of the title was tacked on for marketing abroad, I think it would be better to refer to it as the literal translation of the Italian original Se sei vivo spara (If You Live, Shoot!)

The whole thing starts with our protagonist, “half-breed” Thomas Milian reaching out from his shallow grave. Betrayed by gringos who ripped off a load of Wells Fargo gold, he tracks them only to find them lynched by the most villainous town in the West.

There is so much going on in this film: visual play in the camera work and editing, the bizarre deconstructed revenge story, four sets of villains, the gay caballeros, fingers digging into the patient’s wounds for gold bullets, that final shot of the children playing and distorting their faces. A sense of horror pervades the whole.

People just ain’t no good.