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 Daily Horror Grindhouse: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (dir by Andrea Bianchi)


Burial-ground

“For my final entry in October’s Daily Horror Grindhouse, I want to take a few minutes to tell you about an Italian zombie film from 1981.  Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is not very good but it certainly is memorable.  I think it’s debatable whether or not any pleasure can truly be described as being guilty but if there ever was a movie that some people might feel guilty about enjoying, it would probably be Burial Ground.”

“Is that the movie with creepy kid in it?”

“Well, yes, one of the characters in this film is supposed to be a 12 year-old boy and yes, he’s kind of creepy.  But you know what?  Whenever anyone tries to talk about Burial Ground, everyone always wants to talk about the creepy kid.  So, let’s hold off on the creepy kid…”

“That kid really is creepy…”

“Yes, I know the kid is creepy but there’s more to the film than just the kid!  For instance, I wonder how many people realize that Burial Ground is perhaps the most blatantly political Italian zombie film ever made?  I mean, let’s think about it.  This is a film where a bunch of decadent rich people get trapped in a mansion — the same mansion that was used in Patrick Lives Again, by the way — and find themselves besieged by zombies.  And who are the zombies?  They’re the former workers.  They’re the servants who used to toil in the fields and who died exploited and forgotten.  And now, without any explanation, they’re suddenly back and they’re determined to kill everyone.  And when it comes time to get inside the house, they actually use tools.  They have scythes and hammers and all the former tools of their oppression.  They are now using them to kill the rich.  Well, not just the rich.  There are two servants — a butler and a maid — who side with the rich and therefore, have to be killed as well because that’s the way things are in a revolution….”

“What was up with that kid?”

“We’ll get to him.  No matter what else you say about Burial Ground, you can’t deny that the zombies were amazingly effective.  I mean, they really looked like the living dead and, even if the ‘living’ actors were never quite convincing, the zombies were scary!”

Burial Ground (1981, directed by Andrea Bianchi)

“Not as scary as that creepyass kid…”

“You know, sometimes I think that y’all spend so much time going on about the weird little kid in Burial Ground that you tend to overlook some other fun parts of the film.  For instance, there’s the scene Janet — played by Karen Well — gets her ankle stuck in a bear trap and, every time that her boyfriend Mark (Gianluigi Chirizzi) tries to pry it open, he accidentally ends up letting go and it snaps back shut on her ankle.  On the one hand, I was having sympathy pains for poor Janet because, as a dancer, I know how much ankle pain sucks.  On the other hand, I couldn’t help but laugh because the scene just goes on for so long that it actually starts to resemble a poorly-written SNL sketch.  Plus, is it just me or does Mark look like a really young Jack Nicholson?”

“That creepy kid kind of looked like Dario Argento…”

“Yes, he did.  But there’s more to this film than the kid!  For instance, remember how it ends with this long quote from something called The Prophecy of The Black Spider but, on the title card, they misspelled prophecy…”

“Maybe the kid wrote that card…”

*Sigh*  “Okay, I guess I should just admit the truth.  The most memorable thing about Burial Ground is the creepy kid.  The zombies may be effective.  The film may be full of blood, nudity, bear traps, and misspelled words.  But ultimately, it all comes down to the character of Michael.  Michael is supposed to be 12 years old.  He has a small body but he’s also got this weird adult face.  According to the credits, he was played by an actor named Peter Bark and strangely enough, there seems to be next to no information available about him.  This has led to rumors that Peter Bark was actually a little person or that all of his scenes used trick photography to make him look smaller than he actually was.  According to Wikipedia, Peter Bark was actually 25 years old but he was cast because Italian law wouldn’t allow a child to appear in a film like Burial Ground.  I don’t necessarily believe that, however.  All I can say for sure is that Michael is a creepy little kid and the fact that he was obviously dubbed by an adult trying to sound like a child doesn’t help.”

peter-bark

“That’s not the only reason that Michael was creepy!”

“That’s true.  He also has a few … icky scenes with his mother.  She, by the way, was played by Mariangela Giordano.  Like Giallo in Venice and Patrick Lives Again, Burial Ground was produced by her boyfriend, Gabriele Crisanti.  For some reason, any film that he produced featured Mariangela dying in the most gruesome ways possible.”

“Plus, that little kid sure was creepy.”

“Yes, this is true.  He certainly was.   Happy Halloween.”

“Happy Halloween!”

“Before we leave, here’s two trailers for Burial Ground.  The second one is the real trailer.  The first one is all Michael.”

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Patrick Still Lives (dir by Mario Landi)


Patrick_Still_Lives

From the mid-60s to the early 80s, filmgoers could be sure of one thing.  If a film was in any way successful in America or Europe, an Italian filmmaker would end up directing an unofficial sequel.  These films usually had next to nothing to do with the original film, beyond having a similar title and occasionally duplicating a few plot points.  (Since these films were always dubbed before being released in non-Italian markets, dialogue, character names, and even plot points were often arbitrarily changed to take advantage of whatever film was currently popular at the box office.)  Occasionally, you’d have a film that managed to overcome its “unofficial sequel” status.  For instance, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 may have started out as a fake sequel to Dawn of the Dead but, thanks to Fulci’s skill as a director, the film transcended its origins and managed to establish its own identity.

Far more typical, however, was the case of Patrick Still Lives, a 1980 film that was sold as being a sequel to the Australian horror classic, Patrick.  Though the film’s title suggests that it was meant to be a sequel, nobody involved in the production of Patrick had anything to do with Patrick Still Lives.

Patrick Still Lives follows the same basic plot as Patrick.  A young man named Patrick (Gianni Dei) may be in a coma but he has psychic powers that he uses to kill various people.  Again, Patrick falls in love with a woman, in this case a secretary named Lydia (Andrea Belfiore).

There are, of course, a few differences.  Whereas Patrick opened with the title character murdering his mother and her lover, Patrick Still Lives opens with a hilariously awkward sequence in which Patrick gets struck in the head by something thrown from a passing car.  Or, at least, that’s what I think happened.  The way the scene is shot, it’s really hard to tell what exactly happens.  At one point, Patrick is standing on the side of the road.  Suddenly, he’s clutching his head and collapsing to the ground and we hear a car speeding away on the soundtrack.  Patrick’s head is covered in ketchup, which I assume is meant to be blood.

Next thing we know, Patrick is in a coma and, with his eyes always open, he’s even duplicating the infamous stare that made the first film so memorable.  Fortunately, Patrick’s father is a doctor who runs a spa.  He keeps Patrick hidden in a locked room, where he’s wired to three other comatose people.

Eventually, five people show up at the spa.  They’re looking to spend a relaxing weekend away from it all but Patrick is planning on killing them all…

There’s a few things that you notice immediately about Patrick Still Lives.  First off, everyone’s naked, but, on the plus side, everyone has, at the least, an okay body and the men get naked too.  The nudity is so gratuitous and so excessive that it actually becomes amusing. By the time the film’s male lead (who, it should be noted, had quite an impressive pornstache) was standing naked at a dresser and casually lighting a cigarette while ominous music played on the soundtrack, I simply could not stop laughing.

Secondly, you notice just how amazingly violent and bloody this film is.  Whenever Patrick’s glowing eyes are superimposed over a scene, it means that someone is about to die in the most violent way possible.  Dogs attack.  A hook is driven into a face.  An automatic car window is used as a tool for decapitation.  The film’s most infamous scene features Mariangela Giordano being skewered, in close-up, by a fireplace poker.

That’s right — Patrick Still Lives is yet another Italian horror film that features Mariangela Giordano dying in the most unpleasant way possible.  As such, along with Giallo in Venice and Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, it forms an unofficial trilogy of films in which Mariangela Giordano is brutally murdered.  Oddly enough, all three of these films were produced by Giordano’s then-boyfriend, Gabriele Crisanti.  If my boyfriend ever produces a horror film, I better be one of the survivors and that’s all I’ll say about that.

The third thing that you notice about Patrick Still Lives is the dialogue.  Now, I’m not sure if Patrick Still Lives ever got a “true” (and dubbed) release here in the States.  I do know that my DVD features everyone speaking in Italian, with English subtitles.  I have to admit that I’ve always resented that, in the U.S., so many Italian horror films are only available in a dubbed version.  Often the dubbing is so terrible that it detracts from the film’s overall effectiveness and makes it impossible to fairly judge the performances.  Well, with Patrick Still Lives, I got to see an Italian horror film in the original Italian and … well, the performances were just as bad in Italian as they probably would have been in badly dubbed English.

That said, I did enjoy reading the subtitles, largely because they were hilariously bad.  It was almost as if someone had typed the film’s Italian dialogue into Google translator and transcribed the results.  My favorite line?  “The cause of death was fatality.”

Anyway, Patrick Still Lives is a pretty crappy film and I don’t recommend it unless you’re a diehard fan of Italian exploitation films.  I do, however, recommend that you watch Zombi 2.  That’s a really good film.

10 Films I Must See Before I Die


I love movies.  I love watching movies, reading about movies, and talking about movies.  Perhaps most of all, I love the hunt.  I love discovering movies or finding movies that had previously, for me, only existed in reviews or as a collection of screen captures.  To me, there is no greater experience the watching a movie for the first time.  (Even if, as often happens, that first time turns out to be the only time.)  Listed below are ten movies that I have yet to see but desperately hope to at some point in my life. 

1)  Giallo a Venzia (1979) — This is supposedly one of the most graphically depraved Italian horror films ever made.  If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.  Actually, I haven’t heard a single good thing about this movie but it has still become something of a Holy Grail in my quest to see as much Italian horror as possible.  This is largely because the movie is nearly impossible to find.  When it was first released, it was banned in the UK as part of the so-called “video nasties” scare.  (Trust the English to not only ban a movie but to come up with an annoying name for doing so in the process.)   This led to it never really getting much of a release in the English-speaking world and, now years later, it’s only available on bootleg DVDs.  As such, I imagine that if I ever do see it, it’ll be because I made a deal in a back alley with some bald guy who speaks with a Russian accent.  Much as with drug prohibition, the fact that its “forbidden” has made this movie rather attractive.

The few people who have seen this always mention that towards the end of the movie, Mariangela Giordano’s legs are graphically sawed off.  This makes sense as Giordano was always meeting grotesque ends in Italian horror movies.  In Patrick Lives Again, she is impaled (through her vagina no less) by a fireplace poker while in Burial Ground, she makes the mistake of breast feeding her zombie son.  In many ways, Giordano was like a female Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  However, its odd to consider that while the sight of Giordano’s legs getting sawed off was enough to get the film banned, the sight of poker being graphically driven into her crotch was apparently totally acceptable.  Censorship is a strange thing, no?

One last reason I want to see this movie — its filmed in Venice.  When I was in Italy, I fell in love with Venice.  (I also fell in love with a tour guide named Luigi but that’s another story.)

2) An uncut version of Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981) — This is another banned Italian movie.  When Nightmares was originally released, Tom Savini was credited as being behind the special effects.  Savini, however, has long claimed to have had little to nothing to do with the movie.  As Savini, to his credit, has never been embarrassed to claim ownership for his effects (regardless of the movie they appear in), I’m inclined to believe him.

In many ways, Nightmares reminds me of a film that Savini actually did work on, Maniac.  Not so much as far as the plot is concerned but just in the same bleak worldview and almost palpable sleaze that seems to ooze from every scene.  The version that is most widely available on DVD (and the one that I own) appears to be the cut version that was eventually okayed for release in the UK and even cut, this is a film that remains oddly compelling in just how much its willing to immerse itself in sleaze.  The uncut version remains elusive but someday, I will find it.

3) The Day The Clown Cried (1972) — You knew this one was coming, didn’t you?  I think everyone wants to see Jerry Lewis’s never released Holocaust comedy.  Supposedly, Lewis keeps the movie in a locked vault which I just find to be oddly hilarious.  My hope is that, if nothing else, some enterprising filmmaker will make a movie about a crack team of thieves who break into Jerry Lewis’s estate just to steal the only copy of The Day The Clown Cried and sell it to the people at Anchor Bay.  Jerry could play himself.  I also think this film will see the light of day sooner or later.  At some point, either Jerry Lewis or his estate is going to need the money.

4) The Other Side of the Wind — Orson Welles apparently spent the last few decades of his life making this movie.  At the time of his death, the movie was reportedly 95% film but only 40% edited.  Apparently, because of a whole lot of complicated legal things, the movie has spent the last 30 years under lock and key in Iran.  Even if somebody could rescue it, the remaining footage still needs a strong hand to put it together.  While I’m sure that many directors would be happy to volunteer to provide that hand, the two names most frequently mentioned — Peter Bogdonavich and Henry Jaglom — do not fill me with confidence.  I’d rather see the final film put together by Jess Franco, who was assistant director on Chimes at Midnight.

5) The Fantastic Four (1994) — This is not the dull movie that came out in 2005.  This apparently an even duller version of the same film that was made 11 years earlier for legal reasons.  Apparently, Roger Corman would have lost the movie rights to the comic book if he didn’t start production on a film by a certain date.  So, this film was made on the cheap and then promptly shelved.  My main desire to see it comes from the same morbid desire that makes me look at crime scene photos.  How bad can it be?

6) Le Cinque Giornate (1973) — This Italian film is apparently many things.  It’s a comedy.  It’s a historical epic.  It’s a satire of then contemporary Italian politics.  And most of all, it’s also apparently the only non-horror film directed by Dario Argento.  This was Argento’s fourth  film, coming after his celebrated animal trilogy and it was apparently an attempt, on Argento’s part, to break away from the giallo genre that he has since come to symbolize.  Though the film apparently did well enough in Italy, it failed to establish Argento as a director of comedy and that’s probably for the best as Argento’s fifth film would be the classic Deep Red.  Still, it’s hard not to play the “What If?” game, especially when it involves an iconic a figure as Dario Argento.  It’s also interesting to compare Argento’s attempts to go from horror to comedy with the career of Lucio Fulci, who went from comedy to horror.

7) Cocksucker Blues (1972) — Robert Frank’s documentary of the Rolling Stone touring America was officially unreleased because of its title.  While that title certainly played a role, it also appears that the film was unreleased because of just how much hedonism Frank managed to capture backstage.  The Stones apparently went to the court to block the film’s release.  Somehow, this resulted in a ruling that the movie can only be shown if Robert Frank is physically present.  Mr. Frank, if you’re alive and reading this, you have an open invitation to come down to Texas and stay with me anytime you want.  Seriously.

8 ) The Profit (2001) — The Profit is a satiric film about a cult.  The film’s cult is known as The Church of Scientific Spiritualism and is led by a recluse named L. Conrad Powers.  Sound familiar?  The film’s release was (and continues to be) prevented by a lawsuit brought by the Church of Scientology.  Say what you will about the Vatican, at least you can attack them in a movie without having to worry about getting sued or blown up.

9) Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) — Probably one of the most famous film that most of us will never see, Superstar tells the story of Karen Carpenter through the use of Barbie dolls.  Director Todd Haynes supposedly failed to get the rights to the music he used in the film and, obviously enough, nobody in the Carpenter camp was all the eager to give him permission. 

9) Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness (1969) — God, don’t you hate that title?  And, honestly, are you surprised that a film with that title is apparently history’s 1st X-rated musical?  Anyway, this is a movie I’ve come across in various film reference books where it’s either described as a masterpiece or (more often) one of the worst movies ever made.  Myself, I love musicals and if the musical numbers are mixed in with explicit sex — well, why not?  But that title — that title just gives me a bad feeling.  Another thing that gives me a bad feeling is that the movie was apparently the brainchild of Anthony Newley.  I don’t know much about Mr. Newley but what I do know seems to indicate that he personified everything that most people hate about musicals.  The film is apparently autobiographical and its about a really talented composer who treats the women in his life terribly but has a lot of reasons (or excuses) that we learn about in elaborate flashbacks and — wait, I’ve seen this movie.  Oh wait, that was Nine.  Anyway, Merkin was a huge flop and it has never been released on any type of video format.  Yet, it has not been forgotten which can only mean that it must have really traumatized the critics who saw it.  In other words, this is another one of my “how-bad-can-it-be” crime scene movies.

10) The uncut, original, 9-hour version of Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) — A girl can dream, can’t she?