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Favourite Five Series: DARIO ARGENTO

Posted in Favourite Five Series, Italy, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2013 by goregirl

My Favourite Five Series continues with director Dario Argento. Argento has 23 director credits on IMDB. I have seen all of Argento’s directorial efforts with the exception of the 2012 film Dracula 3D. It has been getting more and more difficult to be enthusiastic about Argento’s films as the years go by. The 70s and 80s were his high years, but he did produce a few intriguing efforts in the 90s also. Just the same, Argento’s name is still one of the first that comes to mind when I think of genre favourites. The following five films have endured multiple viewings and still shine with the lustre of a million jewel-filled treasure chests. Argento’s stylish visuals are what makes his unique, surreal, violent, sexy, dreamy-nightmarish and horrifying world so bloody special.

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DEEP RED (1975)

Deep Red has long been not only a favourite Argento film but an all time favourite horror film period. It has had a place on my top 100 favourites of all time for as long as that list has existed. As a matter of fact the same can be said for the next two Argento films listed here. Deep Red boasts Argento’s unique and stylish visuals; prolonged shots of inanimate objects like windows, shots around corners and weird angles. The man can make the most mundane of objects eerie. It is packed with interesting and unique set pieces; especially appealing is a collection of odd toys. Love the faceless yarn Wicker Man-esque doll with pins in its chest and of course this guy…

Deep Red2

The score for Deep Red is fantastic. The performances are great. David Hemmings plays a pianist who lives below the film’s first murder victim and witnesses her death. He is a pianist not a detective and he trips and bumbles his way to the end with a likable and natural turn. Daria Nicolodi does a solid job as an aggressive liberated journalist/reporter who works with Hemmings to solve the mystery. The twist and finale are one of Argento’s finest. Argento offers plenty of variety with the death, from hatchet, to scalding, to decapitation. Argento’s flawless Gialli is a Classic!

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TENEBRE (1982)

While all of Argento’s films feature creative death sequences Tenebre is one of his most graphic entries containing more violence and nudity than his previous offerings. Author Peter Neal has travelled to Italy to promote his latest book Tenebre. When he arrives at his temporary lodgings he is greeted by two police detectives. A local woman has been found slashed to death by a straight razor with several pages of his new book shoved into her mouth. This is only the beginning in a string of Tenebre inspired murders. As the bodies continue to pile up around him, Neal unwillingly becomes involved in the case and even does a little detective work of his own. Tenebre boasts plenty of twists and turns in what may be Argento’s most plot-driven offering. The Giallo features are firmly intact with red-herrings, black leather gloves and death most beautiful. There are several well-executed death sequences including a particularly impressive crane shot of the outside of a house that follows a busty woman in various states of undress whose life inevitably comes to a brutal end. There is also a dog attack, strangulation, stabbing, axing and razor slashing. There is also an outstanding reoccurring dream/flashback sequence of a woman in a white dress wearing red pumps. The viewer doesn’t know which character is having the vision, but the woman in the white dress clearly torments them and is central to the plot.

Tenebre

Anthony Franciosa is excellent as Peter Neal and Daria Nicolodi gives an amiable performances as his assistant. The two have great chemistry. The supporting cast give sweet support; John Saxon who plays Neal’s sleazy agent, Lara Wendel who plays Maria, the landlord’s jailbait daughter and Christian Borromeo who plays errand boy Gianni. Tenebre is a well-filmed, suspenseful and gory horror-thriller complimented by a brilliant score composed by ex-Goblin members Morante, Pignatelli and Simonetti. Tenebre is top drawer horror entertainment.

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SUSPIRIA (1977)

Suspiria is Dario Argento’s best known film and for good reason. It is without a doubt his most impressive film visually; particularly his epic use of color. Suspiria is the first installment in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy. The plot revolves around Suzy a new student at a prestigious dance academy run by a coven of witches. Inventive camera work, beautiful colors, impressively staged death scenes, an excellent cast and epic soundtrack are the icing on the cake.

Suspiria

Suspiria Without a doubt is one of the most beautiful horror films ever made; a truly stunning nightmare! There is pitch-perfect mood and a feeling of unease established from the moment Suzy Bannion arrives at the Ballet school that doesn’t let up until the final Credits. Its beauty is quite remarkable but is only one of its impressive qualities. Suspiria is claustrophobic, intense, suspenseful and thrilling. Suspiria is a bona fide horror masterpiece.

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INFERNO (1980)

Inferno, Dario Argento’s second installment in the “Three Mothers” trilogy is one of his best and most under-appreciated flicks. The story moves from a prestigious dance school in Germany to an apartment building in the USA. An architect named Varelli built separate dwellings for the three mothers in Rome, Freiberg and New York. Writer Rose Elliot acquires a tome entitled The “Three Mothers”; a trio of sisters who ruled the world with darkness and sorrow. Rose believes her current dwelling to be the former home of one of the sisters. An investigation of the building reveals horrors that appear to inspire a chain of violent events. Easily one of Argento’s most gorgeous films it does not let down in the horror category either. Anyone who appreciates Argento’s style should rank Inferno high among their favorites. The colors, shadows, hidden passages, black gloved-killers, amazing sets and especially the superb underwater sequence are just a few of its notable assets.

Inferno

Inferno is a visual extravaganza; the cinematography, lighting, fantastic surreal sets and beautifully bizarre and nasty images linger in the mind for days on end. Inferno is truly a feast for the eyes; sit back and let it wash over you with its dream logic.

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The above four films have long been favourite Argento flicks but choosing a fifth was rather a bitch. I re-watched The Stendhal Syndrome, Opera, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Phenomena before making this list as I gave all four of these Argento entries a 4/5 rating. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was the nicest looking film visually, The Stendhal Syndrome had the most intriguing story and Phenomena had the best effects but in the end it was Opera and its gore that won my heart and a spot on this list.

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OPERA (1987)

Performing Macbeth is believed to bring bad luck. The urban legend appears to be true after the lead of a modern operatic version of the play is hit by a car. The dead diva’s reluctant understudy Betty is brought in to replace her. The bad luck continues into opening night when a huge lighting fixtures falls from a balcony and a stagehand is killed. Alas the show must go on but at what price? Betty soon finds out after being assaulted. Betty is tied to a column, her mouth is taped shut and her eyes are forced open with needles. She has no choice but to watch the brutal killing of her boyfriend and is then freed. This sets the stage for a gory whodunnit featuring a masked killer, ravens, weird dream sequences, pulsing brains and memorable death scenes. The film’s ravens are used to great effect throughout and are pivotal to exposing the identity of the killer.

opera

The death scenes are all creative, bloody and grandly staged affairs. Specially notable and memorable is the perfectly executed bullet to the eye and a beautifully excessive stabbing death. The stunning opera house where most of the film takes place really is spectacular as are Argento’s countless trademark extended shots down hallways, up staircases not to mention a monumental dizzying birds-eye view. Opera has style in spades, but it does flounder just a touch in the substance category. Cristina Marsillach does a pretty good job with the wishy-washy character of Betty. Betty is downright useless for most of the film and really doesn’t do much of anything to help herself. I would have liked her character to have had a little more strength and depth. With the exception of Betty’s boyfriend who is as wishy-washy as she is, most of the supporting characters are actually far more interesting than Betty. Admittedly the killer’s identity isn’t much of a surprise although his motivation certainly was, and it left me sated nonetheless. The dream sequences are crazy cool and relevant to the plot so pay attention. I found the mix of opera and rock music interesting although the rock pieces do date the film; there is no mistaking this is a film from the late 1980s. Opera is perfectly paced and felt much shorter than its runtime and its visuals alone are easily worth the price of admission. A beautifully filmed, entertaining and energetic entry worthy of accolades.

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New YouTube Posts: Stelvio Cipriani (from The Coed Murders) & Goblin (from Suspiria)

Posted in Italian, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by goregirl

Stelvio Cipriani – Pandora. Music from Massimo Dallamano’s 1974 film La Polizia Chiede Aiuto (The Coed Murders) with a slideshow tribute to Giovanna Ralli!

Goblin – Death Valzer. Music from Dario Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria with a slideshow tribute to Alida Valli!

KILLER NUN (1978) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Italy, movies with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by goregirl

Like Flavia The Heretic I reviewed a couple weeks back Killer Nun is an exploitation flick that’s not all that exploitative. This was a bit disappointing considering Killer Nun’s title evokes such delightfully sacrilegious and violent possibilities! After watching the commentary on the DVD however I learned director Giulio Berruti had no intention of making a Nunsploitation flick. Loosely based on a true story, Killer Nun takes place modern day in a hospital for the infirmed and the elderly. It tells the story of a morphine-addicted, horny, middle-aged nun prone to blackouts and serious mood swings. For a film with this premise, it is surprisingly restrained. Berruti adds several Giallo ingredients to the recipe and scores 50’s/60’s sex symbol Anita Ekberg for the lead. Despite some issues and its exploitative shortcomings, Berruti manages to create something strangely mesmerizing.

Sister Gertrude has recently returned to work after undergoing surgery to have a brain tumor removed. She is experiencing terrible headaches, blackouts and mood swings that are effecting her work. Sister Gertrude has also become addicted to the morphine she received after her surgery. She begs the doctor to admit her but he only suggests she needs more time to re-adapt. When she appeals to the Mother Superior, she is told that it is a nun’s vocation to suffer. Sister Gertrude has no choice than to continue on with her work caring for the patients. Disconcerting incidents involving the sister begin escalating and they cut off her morphine supply. Desperately addicted, she gussies herself up and goes into the city to have a cognac, get laid and pawn her mother’s ring to pay for her drugs. Sister Gertrude attempts to function at the hospital continually pumped full of morphine but the blackouts become more regular and are soon accompanied by a body count.

Anita Ekberg is absolutely delightful as Sister Gertrude. She spends the film tripping out, flipping out and stressing out and has a commanding presence that screams authority. Her angst-filled performance is very entertaining. Age has caught up with the former Miss Sweden and star of La Dolce Vita but she stills brings some sexiness to the role. I found it quite amusing that she accidently asks the waiter in a lounge for a man instead of a cognac. She does indeed get her cognac and her man! Naughty Sister Gertrude ends up having sex with a stranger in the stairwell of some random building. Apparently there was a meaty scene of one of Sister Gertrude’s drug trips that was removed by the censors never to be recovered. What a shame that is! The director seemed pretty pissed in general about the treatment his film received. The film got banned in Italy due to its claims that is was “from the secret files of the Vatican”. Despite the director’s intentions, Killer Nun is marketed like a nunsploitation flick, and frankly, even with the Giallo elements added, it still qualifies.

Killer Nun’s biggest sin is that it drags in sections and the slow pace combined with its lack of punch isn’t going to win it fans. In typical Giallo fashion, the murders are seen through the eyes of the killer. The problem is I wasn’t aware there was a mystery to be solved until the film was almost over. The narrative is pretty straightforward and you don’t really question Sister Gertrude’s state of mind so the mystery element was lacking. And the most awkward part is even though I wasn’t aware there was a mystery it was still not the least bit surprising at all who the culprit was. As a straight up Giallo Killer Nun was just not effective. Killer Nun does have issues and wasn’t nearly as exploitative as I was expecting but regardless of this I still found it fairly entertaining. It has some fun and trashy moments and a few unintentional laughs that won it bonus points. Anita Ekberg is the star of the show, but it is former Italian playmate of the month Paola Morra who plays Sister Mathieu that reveals her ample breasts and her big old 70’s bush throughout the film. While there is some nudity, its one and only sex scene is a fully clothed affair. The only other sex scene is nothing more than a teaser of lesbian love between Sister Mathieu and Sister Gertrude. I had a bizarre dream years ago about Joe Dallesandro that has stayed with me to this day. Dallesandro was my dentist and instead of a dentist chair he had an obstetric bed (you know the kind with stirrups). In any case, it was additionally amusing to see the hot but utterly vacant Dallesandro here playing a doctor. Also making an appearance is the great Alida Valli who has a minor role as the candy consuming Mother Superior. The violence is also pretty spare but there are a couple particularly notable deaths. The best scene by far is the old man in the wheel chair having sex in the rain. His death is notable and may be the first time I’ve witnessed death by cotton wool. Another beautiful scene is the reenactment of a passage from the bible that Sister Gertrude reads to the patients during dinner that involves needles in the face. A particularly cruel way to kill a helpless old lady!

Killer Nun is almost clinical and takes a documentary style approach to observing its characters. There is not a lot of panache here but there are some very fun and occasionally amusing details. Sister Gertrude smashes one of the patients dentures, a scene that manages to be tragic and hilarious at the same time. She also nearly kills a patient by unhooking their IV. Patients begin to fear Sister Gertrude and at one point they protest and refuse to eat their meals to which she responds by sending them to their rooms hungry. Sister Gertrude’s trip scenes are one of the highlights of the film and perfectly convey her drug-riddled, angst-ridden state of mind. I felt a bit sorry for Sister Gertrude. She really seemed unable to control her behavior and her pleas for help went ignored. If only they had taken poor Sister Gertrude seriously! The soundtrack is a bit random at times but is occasionally frantic, strange and original. I particularly loved the musical accompaniment for Sister Gertrude’s “trips”.

Killer Nun has more than a few issues working against it. Chances are fans of giallo or exploitation will be pretty disappointed in this film. Killer Nun is the car accident I couldn’t prevent myself from looking at. I was downright bored and annoyed one minute, laughing in the next and then occasionally mesmerized. I felt as erratic and unstable as Sister Gertrude herself watching the film! That said, I liked Killer Nun. It is a little oddity with plenty of issues but it absolutely has its moments of glory. Recommended with warning.

Dungeon Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Giulio Berruti

Starring: Anita Ekberg, Paola Morra, Alida Valli, Massimo Serato, Daniele Dublino, Lou Castel, Joe Dallesandro, Laura Nucci, Alice Gherardi, Sofia Lusy, Nerina Montagnani

Les yeux sans visage – EYES WITHOUT A FACE – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in France, horror, movies with tags , , , , on December 6, 2009 by goregirl

We borrowed the Criterion Collection version of ‘Eyes Without A Face’ from the library (I really do love my library). It’s a beautiful, clean, sub-titled version with some pretty cool extras. The most fascinating of the additional material is Franju’s 1949 short documentary ‘Blood of the Beasts’ about the slaughterhouses of Paris. This documentary was extremely difficult to watch. I literally had to look away on several occasions. Films are pretend, but with that said, death or violence against animals is something I have low tolerance for even in fiction. This here is the real deal. This is a blunt and brutal display of the facts. After all, if you eat it, why the hell shouldn’t you have to watch it be slaughtered? An absolute must see extra if you rent this version. I wonder if Franju knew how his film was being marketed in the US? In the disc’s extras ‘Eyes Without A Face’ is shown being double-billed under the name ‘The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus’ along side ‘The Manster’. The Manster looks super hokey! Half-man, Half-monster! Don’t get me wrong, it looks like it could be good for some laughs but come on! It has no business being billed with ‘Eyes Without A Face’! This film kicked my ass! I freaking loved it! So the rest of this review will be me pouring all over this film, so you may want to grab a bucket.

Christiane lives hidden from the world, shrouded by a white featureless mask that hides her horribly disfigured face. Her father is guilt-ridden plastic surgeon, Dr. Genessier. With the help of his assistant Louise, they lure young women in and surgically remove their faces in hope of successfully grafting the skin to his daughter. But one failed graft after another leaves a pile of bodies and little hope.

Don’t we all wear a mask? At the very least, most of us attempt to hide our imperfections from the world. ‘Eyes Without A Face’ is about vanity, guilt, obsession, depression and redemption. It is a tale that is as bizarre and bleak as it is beautiful. How the hell could I not have seen this film until now? This one really is a stunner. Visually this film is most impressive. Some scenes are brightly lit and sterile while others are washed in shadows and completely surrealistic. The props are amazing. The huge old estate is awesome and the multiple rooms, hidden staircases and concealed doors make for a maze-like setting. Dr. Genessier keeps several dogs, as well as white doves in wrought-iron cages which he uses for experiments. And in the same wing of the house is his surgical room, where he kills women and experiments on his daughter. There is a scene where they remove a woman’s face that is extremely impressive. They have scissors holding down skin all around the face and Dr. Genessier cuts slowly and precisely with a scalpel. With extreme care, he pulls the face off. I was surprised by the brutal but matter of fact way they go about this scene, particularly gory for a film from that time. There are many other wonderful, unexpected scenes in ‘Eyes Without A Face’.

Dr. Genessier is the cold as ice Doctor who at times seems to be completely devoid of human emotions. Christiane seems more like a science project than a daughter at times. He is not the eccentric mad doctor often portrayed in old horror films. His monstrous tendencies are well hidden behind a mask of respect and authority in which a man of his calibre commands. During an awkward family dinner while Christiane is wearing her lovely new face her father suggests “Smile dear…but not too much.” The man does not exude a lot of warmth. His malevolent assistant, Louise has been a benefactor of his plastic surgery skills, wearing a multiple strand pearl choker to cover the scar. Aesthetically she exudes no deformities or abnormalities, hers are all internalized. She feels an obligation to help the doctor, meticulously planning how she will make contact with women, and get them to Genessier’s estate. The real focal point of the film is Chrisiane. Her character is an inspired visual. Thin as a pole and pale like a ghost. Delicately gliding through their massive home wearing that featureless white mask. Her mind is a prison she wants to escape. Death is friendlier than a mirror.

It was her father Dr. Genessier, who had been the driver of their vehicle when the accident occurred, that caused Christiane’s facial disfigurement. It was perhaps out of guilt that he had first removed the face of a young woman, but the success of a graft clearly became on obsession. In one peculiar, but effective sequence we literally see snapshots of Christiane’s deteriorating new face over various time periods, narrated by the doctor. Each female sacrifice equals another failed grafting experiment. With each failure Christiane becomes more solemn. Her sad eyes are the only life that emanates from the white featureless death mask. In the end it is all too much for Christiane. Which finally leads us to one of the most striking finale’s ever to grace a horror film. It is like some twisted and demented version of Snow White.

‘Eyes Without A Face’ kept me mesmerized from beginning to end. Even the musical score is perfect. Cheerful, yet twisted circus music with a hint of malice. I don’t go throwing this word around, but “masterpiece” is appropriate here. This amazing film stayed with me for days after seeing it. A strikingly original, bleak and beautiful contribution to the horror genre. Highest possible of recommendations!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Georges Franju

Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob, François Guérin, Alexandre Rignault, Béatrice Altariba