Sunday, November 15, 2015

Spazzing out over Lenzi's Spasmo.

Title Card screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.
Spasmo (1974)
Director: Umberto Lenzi

Umberto Lenzi’s Spasmo has recently received a Blu Ray release from Scorpion Releasing so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to revisit this lesser discussed giallo.

Scorpion Releasing Blu Ray cover. 
 In Spasmo Christian Bauman (Robert Hoffman) is out and about and meets Barbara (Suzy Kendall), after heading back to her place he is attacked by a strange man in her bathroom. During the struggle Christian shoots the man and in a panic he flees with Barbara only to later realize that the man wasn’t dead and everyone they meet from here on out has some strange connection back to them, the man in the bathroom, and Christians brother Fritz Bauman (Ivan Rassimov.) All the while someone is leaving fully dressed mannequins with knives stuck in them around the countryside and somehow these events are linked.

Screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.
Umberto Lenzi is most remembered for his cannibal films but he is a capable director in many genres and more importantly to this review he is a maestro of the giallo who should be spoken about in the same context as Argento, Bava, and Martino. That being said Spasmo is a sterling example of the non “black gloved killer” giallo but I don’t think it’s Lenzi’s best, I prefer Paranoia and Eyeball. Overall though Spasmo is a great and fun film with a gorgeous look thanks to cinematographer Guglielmo Mancori (Paranoia, Manhattan Baby) and production designer Giacomo Calò Carducci (Seven Blood Stained Orchids, A Man Called Blade). Spasmo also features a well written taught story and characters who act believably while in somewhat outlandish situations. The film also features some stand out performances by genre regulars Suzy Kendall and Ivan Rassimov.

Screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.
The other strong aspect of Spasmo is it’s fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. It is a near perfect blend of the exotic-loungey music found in many gialli, the classical influenced standard score music, as well as Morricone’s then trademark avant-garde styling’s. It leaves the viewer on edge at times while relaxing us at others and this score recently received several limited pressings on vinyl from Dagored Records based out of Italy.

Cover for one of three limited edition vinyl reissues from Dagored.
The new Spasmo Blu Ray from Scorpio Releasing looks and sounds fantastic and is a noticeable improvement on Shriek Show’s already good looking DVD from the early 2000’s. There do not seem to be any major issues with the transfer but it is also not a disc I would use to show off the wonders of high definition equipment to anyone. Scorpio Releasing are kind enough to provide us with two full versions of the movie, one is a straight transfer of the film elements with minimal correction and leaving some of the visual imperfections while the other transfer employs a minimal amount of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) which “smoothes out” visual artifacts and grain but if over used can cause images to look artificial. Both versions look perfectly acceptable with any imperfections being barely noticeable on most home televisions. I personally prefer the un-corrected version for my re-watches because that is the most like viewing a print in a theater.

Cover for Shriek Show DVD release.
There isn’t much in the way of extras but you get a great trailer and an older interview with Lenzi. The interview is interesting since Lenzi claims that George Romero shot gory inserts for Spasmo’s U.S. theatrical release but I can not find any info supporting this that doesn’t come from Lenzi personally so take that as you will.

I would recommend that anyone who is interested in the world of the giallo and has maybe only seen a couple of Argento films should investigate Lenzi’s work in the genre and check out Scorpio Releasing’s new Blu Ray release while also insisting that this is a must own for the seasoned 
Euro-Cult fan. Spasmo can be ordered from Diabolik DVD at their web-store here.

Title card taken from trailer, screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Italy's secret Halloween horror film.

In my professional writing, mostly reviews of movies in current release, I recently wrote a list article on movies to watch for the Halloween season that are an alternative to the usual choices such as the Halloween series and 2007’s Trick ’r Treat. While doing some unrelated writing two days ago it suddenly struck me that I forgot one fantastic film entirely. For all of my love of Euro Horror it completely escaped me that Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead AKA The Gates Of Hell is a Halloween movie.

Fulci’s 1980 classic of abstract horror takes place in the fictional town of Dunwich, where the suicide of local priest Father Thomas has opened a titular gate to hell. After psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) sees the suicide unfolding in a vision she immediately goes into a catatonic state resembling death and is buried alive. Investigative reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) is luckily in the right place at the right time and saves Mary in one of the film’s most harrowing, exciting, and legendary scenes as Peter wields a pick axe mere inches from Mary’s face while trying to free here from her coffin.  

Once out Mary and Peter team up once they learn that according to the book of Enoch, the gates to hell must be closed by All Saints day (November First) or it could spell doom for all mankind. We then learn that the ghost of Father Thomas is wreaking havoc on the townsfolk of Dunwich and that the ghosts of his victims start claiming victims of their own. From here on out we are treated to a plethora of memorable scenes including guts, drills, maggot storms, and tears of blood.

Now I won’t go into any further description as to not spoil anything for those of you who may not have seen this spaghetti splatter masterpiece but suffice to say the film takes place in the last few days of October with the climax happening on the night of October 31st which makes The Gates Of Hell the strangest of all Halloween horror films. Especially considering that since City Of The Living Dead is the product of a country that doesn’t traditionally celebrate Halloween, the holiday is never once mentioned in the film.

Fulci treats us to a wealth of creepy atmosphere, odd characters, and genre defining gore set pieces in what many consider to be his best film and while I personally prefer The Beyond I find myself going back to this film just as much. Actually, now that I think of it City Of The Living Dead may be the Fulci film I’ve seen the most times. The movie has a beautiful visual style with its lingering shots of fog-laden graveyards and atmospherically lit locales shot by Sergio Salvati. The previously mentioned special effects by Ginno De Rossi are outstanding and still live up to their reputation thirty five years later while the films score by Fabio Frizzi is absolutely fantastic and memorable. 

So if you couldn’t tell I love City Of The Living Dead and highly recommend that all serious horror fans check it out if you haven’t already. And now that I have realized this movie is indeed a Halloween film it is certain to make its way into the yearly festivities. Now since this realization struck me I have been trying to find the time to sit down and write this piece but I’m worried that it is too late for me to remind you all to watch City Of The Living Dead this year because it’s after midnight… it’s already All Saints Day.

City Of The Living Dead AKA The Gates Of Hell (1980)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, Christopher George, Carlo De Majo, and Giovanni Lombardo Radice

City Of The Living Dead is available on Blu-Ray in the U.S. from Blue Underground and in the U.K. from Arrow Films.

Happy Halloween and re-welcome to the blog!

Welcome to the re-launch of my blog Hauntedracula’s House Of Dorkness.  As I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately for outlets such as Motif Magazine, Forces Of Geek, and Cashieres Du Cinemart I have decided to get the blog up and running for pieces I’d like to write that aren’t right for any of the other venues. 

In preparation I have cleaned up what already existed here on the blog and given the whole place the once over. Now as much as I would like to promise regular daily or even weekly content that just isn’t going to happen, but I assure you that there will be new content added periodically and that if you check back every couple of weeks you should find something new.

So please do check back and you will find my thoughts on movies, music, television, or whatever else strikes me as something worth writing about. And of course if you have something that you would like me to cover here on the blog be sure and contact me.