The TSL’s Grindhouse: Giallo in Venice (dir by Mario Landi)


(I know this is a boring poster but it’s literally one of the few Giallo in Venice graphics that I can post without running the risk of getting the site in trouble.)

So, I finally saw the infamous (and, in many countries, banned) 1979 film, Giallo in Venice.

Back when I first decided to learn about the history of Italian horror, Giallo in Venice was a title that I frequently came across in the course of my research.  Everyone — and I do mean everyone — seemed to agree on three points: 1) it was one of the most graphic and mean-spirited Italian thrillers of all time, 2) it had never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in the United States and, as such, it was not the easiest film to see, and 3) the film was really, really bad.

Now, I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have had any desire to see Giallo in Venice if not for the fact that I repeatedly read that it would be next to impossible for me to do so.  I hate being told what I can and cannot do.  Don’t get me wrong.  Everything that I read about Giallo in Venice was overwhelmingly negative.  Critics, some of whom I actually respected, were nearly unanimous in their dismissal of the film.  Unlike my hope that I’ll someday see fully restored versions of Greed and London After Midnight, seeing Giallo in Venice was never a number one priority for me.  Instead, it was just something that I kept in the back of my mind.  If I ever had a chance to watch Giallo in Venice, I told myself, I would just so I could say that I had seen it.

Last week,I got that chance.  I discovered that Giallo in Venice had not only been uploaded on YouTube but it was also the uncut version.   (I’m not going to include a link because of the film’s graphic content.  I don’t want to get either this site or the people who uploaded the video in trouble.  If you go to YouTube and search for “Giallo in Venice,” it should be one of the first videos to come up.) The only problem was that, along with being copied from a faded VHS tape, it was the Russian language version.  Basically, whenever any of the film’s characters spoke, you would first hear the line in the original Italian and then a rather angry man would shout the same the line in Russian.  Unfortunately, I know very little Italian and absolutely no Russian.

Needless to say, this led to a rather odd viewing experience.  If Giallo in Venice had been directed by a visual stylist like Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or even Ruggero Deodato, it might not have been a problem.  Those four directors are all rightly renowned for their ability to create mood and atmosphere.  (And, for that matter, the best giallo films are often more concerned with visuals than dialogue.)  Unfortunately, Giallo in Venice was directed by Mario Landi, an veteran television director whose style can best be described as “turn on the camera at the start of the scene, turn it off at the end.”

(Landi also directed Patrick Still Lives, which is a smidgen more interesting than Giallo in Venice.)

As for the film’s plot — well, it’s hard for me to say for sure.  Not to overemphasize this point but, quite literally, I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND A WORD THAT ANYONE WAS SAYING.

The film opens in Venice, with a man being stabbed to death while a woman drowns in a canal.  Inspector De Paul (Jeff Blynn) is assigned to solve the murders.  He has poofy hair that wouldn’t be out of place in a stage production of Boogie Nights and, for some reason, Inspector De Paul is constantly eating hard-boiled eggs.  In just about every scene in which he appears, he is eating an egg.  Though it was hard to judge his overall performance (though the Russian seemed to enjoy repeating De Paul’s dialogue), Jeff Blynn really got into eating those eggs.  It got rather sickening to watch after a while.  As far as I could tell, De Paul’s investigation amounted to talking to one witness and then talking to the dead woman’s roommate.

The roommate, incidentally, is played by Mariangela Giordano, who also appeared in Patrick Still Lives, Burial Ground, and Michele Soavi’s The Sect.  Any fan of Italian horror will not only recognize Giordano but will also immediately know that her Giallo in Venice character is destined meet an unlucky end.  Patrick Still Lives, Burial Ground, and Giallo in Venice were all produced by Giordano’s then-boyfriend and, in all three films, she played a character who was graphically and gruesomely killed onscreen.  In Patrick Still Lives, she was skewered by a fireplace poker.  In Burial Ground, she made the mistake of trying to breastfeed her zombiefied son.  And in Giallo in Venice, one of her legs is slowly sawed off.  Seriously, if my boyfriend insisted that I suffer a terrible death in every film that he produced, it would probably be an issue.  Just saying.

Anyway, while Inspector De Paul is investigating the murder, this young couple keeps popping up.  They’re young, rich, and fifty shades of fucked up.  Fabio (Gianni Dei) has apparently been rendered impotent by all the cocaine that he’s been snorting and the only way he can get off is by forcing Flavia (Leonara Favi) to play out all of his kinky fantasies.  I found myself wondering why the film kept switching back and forth, between the not-quite-loving couple and the murder investigation.  Was Fabio the murderer?  Then, suddenly, I realized that Fabio and Flavia were the same couple who were murdered at the start of the film.  The Fabio and Flavia scenes were flashbacks.  I’m assuming that my confusion was due to the Russian dialogue but it says something about Landi’s visual style that it was impossible to tell, just from watching, that the Flavia/Fabio scenes were meant to be flashbacks.

(As far as I can — and again, dialogue problems — the flashbacks weren’t triggered by anyone saying, “I remember one time…” or anything like that.  Add to that, most of the flashbacks only featured Fabio and Flavia so, logically, there’s no way anyone could have been telling Inspector De Paul what happened.  Instead, the flashbacks just felt like random scenes that were sprinkled in between the violence and the eating.)

Giallo in Venice is a mix of egg eating, sex, and sadism.  The graphic murders are probably what Giallo in Venice is best known for, though I have to admit that I found the constant egg eating to be almost as disgusting.  As for the film’s gore, it was just as graphic and extreme as I had previously read.  But, with the exception of what happens to poor Mariangela Giordano, the violence has no impact on the viewer.  Since Landi directs with no discernible style, there’s nothing behind the murders beyond the fact that, when you title a movie Giallo in Venice, you’re obligated to include a few deaths.  It’s violence for the sake of violence and therefore, rather boring.  Admittedly, I’m sure it was rather shocking in 1979 but, today, audiences are more used to that sort of thing.  After all, everyone’s seen that tutorial on how to be a zombie for Halloween.

While watching Giallo in Venice, it was hard not to compare it to Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper.  Both films are deeply unpleasant but, due to Fulci’s energetic and, at times, subversive direction, there’s at least always something going on underneath the blood-drenched surface of The New York Ripper.  You can debate whether or not he succeeded but it can’t be denied that Fulci was going for something more than just sadism when he made The New York Ripper.  (If you doubt me, read Stephen Thrower’s analysis in Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci.)  Landi’s style, in Giallo in Venice, is so flat that there’s not only nothing going on underneath but the surface itself seems to be pretty barren too.

To give credit where credit is due, I did appreciate just how ugly Landi managed to make Venice look.  I’ve been to Venice and I absolutely love it.  I would never believe that a director could make Venice look like a dump but Mario Landi managed to do it.  I don’t know if that was intentional on his part but it actually worked for the film.  Since all of the characters actually lived in Venice, it made sense that they wouldn’t be standing around and admiring the city’s natural beauty.  Instead, they all live and operate in the parts of Venice that tourists don’t see.

Finally, Landi did manage to get one interesting shot, when the reflection of one of the victims is seen in the killer’s sunglasses.  Unfortunately, Landi was so impressed by that shot that he kept using it over and over again until, eventually, it became far less interesting.

One final note: Giallo in Venice had a very odd score.  It sounded like it was being played by a cocktail lounge jazz quartet.  The music, itself, was actually rather boring but it was so totally out-of-place that it became oddly charming.  I found myself craving a drink with a little umbrella in it.

Anyway, that’s Giallo in Venice.  It’s not good, it’s not memorable, but at least I can now say that I’ve seen it.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Night Game (dir by Peter Masterson)


Apparently, today is the opening day of the 2017 baseball season.  The only reason that I know that is because of my sister Erin.  I don’t know much about baseball, to be honest.  I know that my city’s team is the Texas Rangers and they were once owned by George W. Bush.  I know that Houston has a team called the Astros.  But, really, the main thing that I know about baseball is that my sister absolutely loves it.

So, when Erin asked me to review a baseball movie today, how could I say no?  I mean, I may know next to nothing about baseball but I certainly know something about movies!

For that reason, I’m going to take a few minutes to tell you about a 1989 film called Night Game.  Night Game is many things.  It’s a movies that features a lot of baseball, even though it’s not really a sports film per se.  It’s a police procedural, though the film itself suggests that the police often don’t have the slightest idea what they’re actually doing.  It’s a serial killer film, though its killer is never quite as loquacious as we’ve come to expect in this age of Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan.  At times, it’s a slasher film, though it’s never particularly graphic.  Mostly, Night Game is a Texas film.

Directed by native Texan Peter Masterson, Night Game is like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it is one of those rare films that not only takes place in Texas but was actually filmed on location.  To be exact, Night Game was filmed in both Galveston and Houston.  The entire film has a friendly and quirky Texas feel to it.  Masterson may not have been a great visual director (If not for some language and nudity, Night Game could pass for a TV movie) but Night Game is a movie where the plot is less important than capturing the little details of a time. a location, and the people who lived there.  Though Night Game is 28 years old, it’s portrait of my home state still seemed very contemporary to me.  I guess Texas hasn’t really changed that much over the past few decades.

As for the film’s plot, someone is murdering young women in Galveston and leaving their bodies on the boardwalk.  Obviously, that’s not going to be good for attracting Spring Break revelers.  The film doesn’t make any effort to keep the murderer’s identity a secret.  We see his face fairly early on.  We also see that he has a hook for a hand.  Eventually, we do learn the murderer’s motives.  They’re pretty silly but then again, individual motives rarely make sense to anyone other than the guy with the hook for a hand.

Detective Mike Seaver (Roy Scheider) has been assigned to solve the case.  One thing that I really liked about Night Game was that Mike was pretty much just a normal guy with a job to do.  He wasn’t self-destructive.  He wasn’t always drunk.  He wasn’t suicidal.  He wasn’t always lighting a cigarette and staring at the world through bloodshot eyes while the lighting reflected off of his artful stubble.  He was just a detective trying to do his job and get home on time.  After sitting through countless films about self-destructive cops and criminal profilers, the normalcy of Mike was a nice change of pace.

Mike does have a backstory.  He used to play baseball and he still loves the game.  He goes to every Astros home game in Houston.  He’s in love with Roxy (Karen Young), who works at the stadium.  Things are only slightly complicated by the fact that Mike had a previous relationship with Roxy’s mother (Carlin Glynn).  Don’t worry, Mike’s not secretly Roxy’s father or anything like that.  It’s not that type of movie.

Anyway, Mike is such a fan of baseball that he realizes something.  The killer only strikes on nights that the Astros win a game.  And he only strikes if a certain pitcher was throwing the ball.  The obvious solution would be to shoot the pitcher in the arm and end his athletic career.  However, Mike’s too nice a guy to do that.  Instead, he just tries to track down the killer…

And, as I said, Night Game actually isn’t a bad little movie.  Make no mistake, it’s a very slight movie.  At no point are you going to say, “I’m going to remember that scene for the rest of my life!”  That said, it’s a surprisingly good-natured film and Roy Scheider’s performance is likable and unexpectedly warm.  With all that in mind, Night Game is an entertaining and (mildly) bloody valentine to my home state.

Plus, it’s a baseball movie!  I don’t know much about baseball but, if my sister loves it, it has to be a good thing!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Coffy, They Call Her One Eye, Cleopatra Jones, Ms. 45


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

I was going to use four other shots for today but then I was inspired by my sister’s pick for artwork of the day.

For those who might question my decision to highlight four grindhouse films on International Women’s Day, I kindly refer them to my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Coffy (1973, dir by Jack Hill)

Thriller, A Cruel Picture a.k.a. They Call Her One Eye (1973, dir by Bo Arne Vibenius)

Cleopatra Jones (1973, dir by Jack Starrett)

Ms. 45 (1981, dir by Abel Ferrara)

The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Year of the Yahoo! (dir by Herschell Gordon Lewis)


yahoooooooooooooooooooooooo

At the time of his death last year, Herschell Gordon Lewis was credited with having directed 38 films.  Though he’s best known for ground-breaking gore films like Blood Feast and The Gore Gore Girls, Lewis actually dabbled in several different genres.  For instance, he made one of the first psychedelic drug films when he directed Something Weird.  And, as a public service, he warned us all of the dangers of smut peddlers with Scum of the Earth.

And, of course, there was that political films he made…

WHAT!?  A political film directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis!?

Yes, it’s true!  The man who helped to give birth to modern horror also directed one of the most prophetic films ever made.  The Year of the Yahoo! came out in 1972 but it feels even more relevant today.  The Year of the Yahoo! not only predicted the rise of Donald Trump but also predicted the rise of Barack Obama as well, making it one of the few truly bipartisan satires ever made.  That’s not bad for an obscure film directed by a man who was never given much respect from mainstream critics.

The Year of the Yahoo! opens in Texas.  It’s an election year.  The governor (Jeffrey Allen) would love to get rid of liberal U.S. Senator Fred Burwell (Robert Swain) and he thinks that he’s found the candidate to do it.  The Governor wants to nominate an unimpressive congressman, someone who will be easy to control.  However, the President disagrees.  The President (who is obviously meant to be Richard Nixon, even if his name is never specifically mentioned) has decided that the man to defeat Sen. Burwell is a country singer named Hank Jackson (real-life country singer Claude King).

Hank Jackson has a television show, one that he hosts with his girlfriend, Tammy (Ronna Riddle).  Hank sings songs about how America needs to return to traditional values and how people just need to come together and help each other out.  He may be old-fashioned but he’s okay with the counter-culture.  In fact, when we first meet him, he’s at a hippie party.  He turns down an offer of marijuana but he does so with a hearty laugh.  He’s a traditional guy but he’s got no issues with the long hairs.  Not our Hank!  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dallas oilman, an Austin hippie, an El Paso policeman, or a Galveston fisherman.  Everyone in Texas loves Hank!

When Sid Angelo (Ray Sager, the star of Lewis’s Wizard of Gore), a political consultant with White House connections, approaches Hank about running against that lefty traitor, Sen. Burwell, Hank is skeptical but intrigued.  Once Sid get Hank to agree, Sid starts to shape Hank’s message.  As a disgusted Tammy watches, Hank starts to sell out.  Soon, Hank is making jokes about people on welfare.  He’s defending law and order.  He’s taking the side of the landlords against the rent strikers.  Everything from his campaign announcement to interviews with the local media is precisely choreographed by Sid.

Hank’s message starts to resonate with the voters.  This is largely because he doesn’t have a message.  Instead, he just has a bunch of empty slogans and coded phrases.  Hank’s campaign commercial features him riding on a horse while the word “Hope” appears on the screen.  (I mean, who could possibly vote against hope?)  What’s going to happen when Hank’s elected?  Well, as he explains in the film’s theme song, we’re going to run the nation “like a country store.”  Just vote for Hank and “you’ll see how everyone relaxes.”

(At times, The Year of the Yahoo! almost feels like a musical.  The majority of the songs were written by Lewis, who was a legendary figure in the advertising industry before and after his career as a grindhouse filmmaker, and Claude King had a nice voice.  The songs are surprisingly catchy, even if they often are a bit too on the nose in their satire.)

Now, make no mistake about it.  This is definitely a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, which means that it often appears to have been made with more enthusiasm than skill.  At times, The Year of the Yahoo! moves way too slowly.  There’s a riot scene that is embarrassingly filmed.  The action stops for a stomach-churning sex scene between the hairy Ray Sager and a campaign volunteer.  The entire film, in fact, is full of actors who appeared in Lewis’s other films and it’s a bit weird to see familiar grindhouse performers cast as governors and campaign aides.  This is a Herschell Gordon Lewis production, with everything that implies.  While Lewis’s style was perfect for his semi-comedic gore films (Who can forget the “Have you ever had …. AN EGYPTIAN FEAST!?” scene from Blood Feast?), it feels a bit out of place in a film that is attempting to comment on reality.

And yet, it’s hard not to appreciate and kind of resoect just how serious the film’s intent seems to be.  Watching The Year of the Yahoo!, you get the feeling that Lewis actually was trying to say something important.  In The Year of the Yahoo!, Lewis not only attempted to make an important point but it was a valid point as well.  He may not have had the resources to really pull it off but consider this:

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a candidate could shoot the top of the polls by enticing voters with vague promises of hope.

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a wealthy TV celebrity, one that claimed to speak for the common man, could be packaged as a populist and sold to angry voters.

The Year of the Yahoo! was incredibly ahead of its time.  Say what you will about the film’s production values but you can’t deny this.  Everything that Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted came true.  That’s quite an accomplishment for someone often dismissed as merely being a gore director.

In fact, it’s such an accomplishment that it should give us all one thing for the future:

yahoooooo

6 Trailers for Valentine’s Day


Well, since Valentine’s Day is nearly over, how about a new edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film trailers?

These trailers are all about celebrating the love so let’s get started!

The Diary of a High School Bride (1959)

I reviewed this one here.

The Harrad Experiment (1973)

Oh my God, this movie is so 70s.  Check out my review here.

Harrad Summer (1974)

The Harrad Experiment was so bad successful that it was followed by a sequel.

The Teacher (1974)

This actually isn’t a bad film.  I reviewed it here.

Gable and Lombard (1976)

I recently discovered this film.  I haven’t watched it yet but I hear its terrible.

In Love (1983)

I know that I’ve shared this trailer in the past but what can I say?  Even though it’s an edited trailer and I’ve never seen the actual film, I still love this trailer.  That song really gets stuck in your head.

What do you think, romantic trailer kitties?

Awwwwww!

Awwwwww!

 

Holiday Scenes That I Love: The Ending of Christmas Evil


Here one final holiday scene that I love.  I present to you the ending of the greatest psycho Santa movie ever made, 1980’s Christmas Evil!  Needless to say, if you haven’t seen Christmas Evil, the scene below counts as a spoiler.

If you have seen Christmas Evil then you know that, even though it’s about a possibly psychotic gentleman who thinks that he’s Santa Claus, it’s also a surprisingly sweet-natured and sincere little Christmas horror film.

And the ending, to me, is simply holiday perfection.  Even the grindhouse can occasionally can get in the Christmas spirit!

Here you go.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: 31 (dir by Rob Zombie)


31_film_poster

Are you scared of clowns?  Sure, you are.  All good people fear clowns.  However, if you somehow do not find clowns to be frightening, you may change your mind after seeing Rob Zombie’s latest film, 31.

Of course, that’s assuming that you actually see 31.  31 is not a film for everyone.  In fact, if you’re not a fan of Rob Zombie or his style of horror, you should probably stay miles away from 31.  Bloody, intense, violent, and occasionally rather nihilistic, 31 is perhaps the Rob Zombiest of all the films that Rob Zombie has ever made.

However, if you’re a fan of extreme horror, you’ll appreciate 31.  It may not always be easy to take but then again, that’s kind of the point.

The film takes place in the 70s, which means that it has a really kickass soundtrack.  A group of carnival workers are driving across the desert in a van when they are attacked and kidnapped.  They find themselves in a dark building, being lectured by three people who are dressed like 18th century French aristocrats.  The leader of the aristocrats (played by Malcolm McDowell) informs them that they are going to playing a game called 31.  For the next twelve hours, they will be locked away in a maze.  They will be hunted by five murderous clowns.

Yes, you read that right.  Not just one murderous clowns — FIVE!  (Even worse, a sixth bonus clown eventually joins the game.)

If they can survive for 12 hours, they win.  What do they win?  Other than freedom, the film is never particular clear on this point.  The motives of the aristocrats remain a mystery for the majority of the film.  Are they just sadists, are they perhaps devote fans of The Purge who were so disappointed with Election Year that they decided to recreate the second film on their own, or is there some bigger reason behind this game of 31?  The film leaves the question for us to answer.

The rest of the film is a collection of progressively more violent fights between the carnival workers and the clowns.  For the most part, the carnival workers are all likable and you don’t want to see any of them harmed.  The clowns, meanwhile, are just about the freakiest collection of killers that you’ve ever seen.  When one of them is cornered, he pathetically begs, “We’re all pawns!  We don’t want to do this!” but you never quite believe him.  The deadliest of the clowns is Doom-Head (Richard Brake) and his evil smirk will give you nightmares.

31 is an incredibly intense film and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.  Everything from the acting to the set design to the costumes to David Daniel’s stark cinematography comes together to make 31 into a harrowing horror film.  If you can’t stand Zombie’s trademark mayhem, I would suggest avoiding 31.  However, if you’re a fan of Zombie’s films, you’ll find 31 to be perhaps the purest distillation of his artistic vision.