Black Sunday (1960) Review

It’s the 1st of June and the second day of my celebration for Italy’s Festa Della Repubblica, and so the second color on the Italian flag, and what better way to celebrate than with a black and WHITE film, Black Sunday!
So here is one from the re watch pile…

Black Sunday aka La Maschera Del Demonio (1960)


Film: One can’t celebrate Italian cinema without the name Mario Bava coming up. The son of special effects artist, Eugenio, Bava was born to make movies. His seemingly natural eye for misé en shot and his ability to be trans-genre made him a formidable director, and more importantly cameraman (It is out of respect I say ‘cameraman’ rather than cinematographer as he himself preferred that term). His eye for setting a scene is unrivalled and every new act in a film is a visual revelation.

Truly, Bava was a cinematic artist.

This review was done on the Arrow bluray release from the U.K. and upon watching, the first thing you will notice is the opportunity to watch either Black Sunday or The Mask of Satan. Black Sunday is the American International Pictures version of the film, whereas The Mask of Satan is the Galatea Jolly Film version of the film. I watched The Mask of Satan several times on this collection, but never bothered with Black Sunday as I knew it was an edited version. For this review I did watch both.


 In Moldavia in 1630, a vampiric witch Asa (Barbara Steele) and her consort Javuto (Arturo Dominici)are in league with Satan and are put to death by the the chief inquisitor, who happens to be her brother, and the townspeople by hammering the mask of Satan, a spiked iron mask onto her head. Of course before she is put to death she vows external vengeance in her brother’s descendants… Like we ALL do when being put to death by a sibling. They attempt to burn her body but the elements stopp it, so instead she is interred in a windowed coffin, which constantly casts the shadow of a cross onto her face to keep her there.

200 years later in the 1800s, a young doctor, Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) and his learned elder, Professor Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) are on their way to a medical conference in Moscow when their horse and cart loses a wheel in the forest they are travelling through. The horseman fixes the wheel, but the two go exploring in a tomb close by.: the very tomb the witch was buried in!!

The horseman requires assistance is resetting the wheel, and so Gorobec goes to help, leaving the Professoralone, but he is attacked by a bat and accidentally smashes the godly protections placed around the tomb to keep the witch in her stead. As they leave the tomb they are greeted by a young woman, Katia (also played by Steele) a descendant who looks like the original witch, and her good looks enchant Gorobec and they are soon on their way, accidentally taking with them one of the contents of the tomb.


What they don’t realise is they have revitalised the witch, and very soon she will returned reap her revenge upon the ancestors of those who killed and entombed her, but can she be stopped?

The two versions of this film on this disc have slight variations. Just by looking at the time codes you will realise the American version has had 3 minutes of ‘questionable’ material removed from it for American audiences, including a shorter ‘mask impalement’ and branding, and changed elements such as Asa’s brother Javuto now being her servant. The dialogue has also been altered slightly when it was entirely redone in the states as AIP bosses Samual Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson decided the Italian translations to English were stilted. The American version also has a title card with a small explanation as to what was happening in Eastern Europe during these times.

The first thing one must notice is just how damned grisly this film is for 1960. I remember when I first watched this film I checked and rechecked the date it was made as the special effects are stunning, and quite brutal. I completely understand why the American’s excised so much from it as in the 60s, even cut, it still must have created quite an impact.

Bava’s affection for special effects obviously comes from his father, but his skill as a cameraman and his understanding of lighting a scene is definitely on show here. His obvious and possibly natural comprehension of artists using chiaroscuro, the use of contrasting dark and light for effect, is used here in such an effect that the depth of each scene makes it almost three dimensional, and the way a closing door or a slight shift of light can change the mood of a scene is amazing.

I especially like the touch of having the emblem of the vampires being that of a dragon, which lends itself nicely and was possibly a tribute to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the character, and the actual real Vlad the Impaler, being of the ‘Order of the Dragon’, a chivalric order formed during the crusades in 1408. I also wonder if Amando De Ossorio borrowed his silent, slow motion horses from this film for his Blind Dead series, which was used here to great effect.

So is this my favourite Bava film? Definitely not, but there is so much to like here: the atmosphere is a tangible and the performances melodramatic and a joy to behold.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This viewing was done on the UK’s Arrow film’s bluray release which has been masterfully restored. Depending on which version you watch, the film The Mask of Satan runs for approximately 86 minutes whereas Black Sunday runs for 83 minutes, due to the aforementioned slicing and dicing by AIP. The film is present in 1.66:1 with a Mono 2.0 audio, both of which look and sound just fine.

Score: *****

Extras: You want extras? Oh boy, do we have extras in this package!


Disc 1 features a commentary by Tim Lucas, an Introduction with Alan Jones (the English Italian horror expert one, not the Australian one), and Interview with Barbara Steele, a deleted scene, the international, US and Italian Trailer, a TV spot and Bava’a ‘first’ film I, Vampiri, which when click upon take you to a sub menu that also features it’s trailer and trailers for other films from Bava including The Mask of Satan, Hercules in the Haunted World, Erik the Conquerer, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body, Blood and Black Lace, The Road to Fort Alamo, Planet of the Vampires, Knives of the Avenger, Kill, Baby…Kill, Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Danger: Diabolik, Hatchet for The Honeymoon, Five Dolls for an August Moon, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack, Carnage (Bay of Blood), Baron Blood, Four Times That Night, Lisa and the Devil, Rabid Dogs and Shock.

I have to quickly insert a mini review of I Vampiri here as well. This is a beautifully shot film that tells a modern (well, modern for the late 50s) version of the legend of Lady Bathory. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am glad it came as an extra on this disc… Honestly, I would say I enjoyed this film MORE than Black Sunday!

Disc 2 is a DVD featuring every thing above, except for the film I Vampiri, and the trailers.

Disc 3 is a DVD featuring the film I Vampiri and the other extras listed under the sub menu for I Vampiri on disc 1.

So that’s just the discs, also in the package we have a booklet with articles relating to the films on this disc: Black Sunday by Matt Bailey, a Barbara Steele interview, I Vampiri by Alan Jones and Riccardo Freda on I Vampiri and Mario Bava. It’s a cool booklet that is quite informative.

Honestly I think the only thing this package is missing is another run of Black Sunday, but instead with the U.K.’s less distressing title of the 60s, Revenge of the Vampire!

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s a Bava film so at the forbidden Castle of J.R. it gets a regular re-spin, as does a lot of his films, especially Baron Blood… But not so much Lisa and the Devil. It’ll be pulled off the shelf a lot more now though that I’ve experienced I Vampiri!

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Jungle Holocaust (1977) Review

Today is the first day of our Italian Festa Della Repubblica celebration, and for the next three days we’ll have a film representing a colour of the Italian flag. The first colour is, of course, green, and what better way to celebrate ‘green’ Italian cinema than with a cannibal/ jungle film…One from the to watch pile…

Jungle Holocaust aka Last Cannibal World (1977)


Film: Also known as Ultimo Mondo Cannibale.

I became a cannibal film fan late in my love of horror films. During the VHS era I was more interested in zombie films and American stuff, though I had seen Survive and Cannibal Apocalypse. It wasn’t until DVD that I saw Cannibal Holocaust for the first time, and was completely won over by what I magnificent film it was, not just as a genre/ horror/ exploitation film but also as a thriller about how no matter where you walk on earth you have an effect, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. This of course led to to pursue other cannibal films, and even though I have had this in my collection for a while, I had never actually watched it.

It is directed by Cannibal Holocaust’s director Ruggero Deodato, from a script by Tito Carpi, Gianfranco Clerici and Renzo Genta.


Robert Harper (Massimo Foschi) travels to Malaysia to visit a group of employees, but the airstrip has gone to ruin and his plane crashes upon landing. Soon, the pilot and his female companion are killed by a local tribe of natives, and Harper finds himself separated from his companion Rolf (Ivan Rassimov).

Harper is quickly captured by the locals and is tortured and humiliated by the tribe, though one girl, Pulan (Me Me Lai) offers him sympathy… And a hand shandy ( I guess that’s why her name is ‘Pulin’).

Of course, he is desperate to escape, but will he? Is he forever trapped?


I have to say I’m luke warm on this. This film came before Cannibal Holocaust and a lot of this feels like a testing ground for what comes after. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but occasionally it is hard to make a proper judgement on something when seen out of release order. I am sure if I had seen this before the others my opinion would be different.

That’s not to say it doesn’t tell a great story about the jungle environment, and what men might do to survive, and the three leads are quite good in their roles, and Me Me Lai isn’t too hard on the eyes at all!

I will point out, if nudity, or particularly male nudity, and I’m talking full frontal, sack up close nudity either offends or threatens your masculinity, avoid this film. There more sausage in this film than at a German butchers.

Also, animal cruelty is present in this film, though Deodato claims, in an introduction, that he was not responsible for it. If you have a tender sensibility or a weak stomach, boy oh boy is your constitution gonna be tested.

…aaaaand as far as feminism is concerned, well the offence may continue. I don’t admit to knowing anything about it, but I am sure a native girl who suffers from penis envy, and falls for a guy after he slaps her around and then rapes her isn’t a feminist icon.

Ok, so if your offended by nudity, a vegan or a feminist, you probably shouldn’t watch this.

For me this is far from the best cannibal films around, but I am glad I have now seen it as I can add it’s viewing to my list of cannibal films.

Score: **

Format: This review was done using the apparently uncut, 2001 Shriek Show release on region 1 DVD. It runs for approximately 88 minutes and is presented in a 2.35:1 video with Dolby 2.0 stereo audio. The picture is quite clear, but occasionally a touch soft and has a mild amount of tiny artefacts here and there. The sound though is pretty damn good.

Score: ***


Extras: Not a bad amount of extras can be found on this disc, including Memoirs From The Jungle which is broken up into Materials Archive, which is a series of promotional posters and lobby cards for the film, an interview with Massimo Foschi, some personal snapshots of the film taken from Foschi’s collection and another interview, but this time with Ivan Rassimov.

The original trailer is also here (though as Last Cannibal World), as well as text pieces of the director’s filmography, and Talent Biographies of Deodato, Foschi, Lai and Rassimov.

There is also a director’s commentary performed by Ruggero Deodato, though he does it in his native Italian, with English subtitles, and wow, he comments on everything. Fascinating!

There are also trailers for Beyond the Darkness, Zombie Holocaust, Nights of Terrors (sic) and Eaten Alive.

Score: ****

WISIA: In a world where Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Apocalypse and Cannibal Ferox exists; I probably won’t watch this again.

Italian Republic Day

June the 2nd is Italian Republic Day, aka Festa Della Repubblica so we here at the TWP are going to celebrate with pizza, lasagne, spaghetti and three reviews of Italian films, each one representing one of the colours on the Italian Flag, and culminating in a YouTube video with an Italian slant, and maybe a swig of J&B to celebrate!! The first review (green) will go up on Tuesday 31st May, the second (white) on the 1st June, and the final one, represent the profoundly deep red of the flag will be on Festa Della Repubblica itself, the 2nd June.

I hope you stick around and enjoy.

Doom – Xbox One – First Impressions

I love videogaming more than I care to share with others. I’m not very good at it, but I love everything about it: the challenges, the fun, the competitive online stuff, the art and design of it… Everything. I even entertained ideas of joining the industry and even did part of a college course to do it professionally, but the industry in Australia bottomed out and I quit the course.

Which is a shame cause MY game idea is pretty cool… well I think so.

The course did teach me a lot about game design though, and I believe I have become a more competent gamer because of it. 

My favourite games are First Person Shooters, or FPS’s and I have been playing them since Doom first came out all those years ago, and I’ve played many since on many different systems, of various degrees of entertainment value: Goldeneye 64, Lifeforce Tenka, various Halos, Fallout 3 and 4, Castle Wolfenstein, Dead Island, all the Call of Duty’s since Modern Warfare 3 and all the Battlefields’ since 2.

That’s not all of them, and yes, I don’t know why I can’t seem to get any better either.


At last year’s E3, Bethesda announced the return of Doom, and from the footage I saw, I was pretty freaking excited. I couldn’t wait to return to the world of guns and chainsaws versus demons in the Doom environment.

So yesterday I grabbed it and loaded it up, but as I’m used to Call of Duty excessive updates on release, I left it to load only to discover it loaded in no time at all, but I was doing other stuff for this very site, so I forced myself to wait until today, and climbed out of bed at 4am to kill some demons…

…and kill demons, I did!


The fighting starts immediately as killing takes place over any storyline the campaign may have to offer. There is a story about you, a person who has awoken on Mars, chained to an altar where Dr Olivia Pierce has, using bizarre rituals, appeared to have opened the gates of Hell. Will you, in your nifty Praetor suit, be able to kill all the demons and stop Hell making it’s permanent home on Mars?

Let’s home so, for Matt Damon’s sake!


So my impressions so far are this: the game itself is kickass fun and non stop: as long as an area still has demons in it, you are frantically going through the motions of killing and collecting health and ammo, but it’s never a grind like Destiny tends to be sometimes… Actually, ALL the time. The level design is beautifully done, and easy to navigate, especially with the accessible 3D map, and there so much to see that you’ll never get bored with what the devs and designers have done with the look of the game, which is ever varying tones of the dusty, sandy redness of Mars, mixed with the scaffolding and technology of mankind. It’s Richard Stanley’s Hardware with demons instead of robots!

The game is quite simple, if it is moving, shoot it or hit it or chainsaw it until it is dead, and some of the deaths, particularly the ‘Glory Kills’ (hand to hand kills that are like Mortal Kombat’s finishing moves) have to be seen to be believed… These are Evil Dead 2 styled kills!! The skill tree is also easy to navigate, and the new abilities for weapons make them… Is ‘funner’ a word?


Now for me the core to FPSing is the multiplayer experience. I dig the campaigns but executing my fellow man online is where my passion lies. I have been a regular on the Battlefield and served a couple of clans on the Call of Duty servers since Black Ops 2 and really looked forward to the online element of Doom, but alas, after waiting for 20 minutes for a game, no luck. During that time though I did modify my online dude to look to my specifications, which is always a fun element to add to an online gaming environment!


So all in all, so far I’m loving Doom, and hopefully will be able to report back on the online experience soon. If you like non-complicated FPS’s, Doom’s for you.

In 5 words or less: get your ass to Mars!

Note: I apologise for the lack of pictures of demons in this piece. The reason is two fold: one, I didn’t want to spoil some of the awesome designs of the monsters and two, the action is so frantic I didn’t get an opportunity to even think of getting a pic until the action was over!

Dead of Winter (1987) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Dead of Winter (1987)

Film: There are several actors and actresses whose work I will watch no matter what, even if friends tell me not to bother, or if online reviews are low, or even if the tale suggested by the synopsis on the back of the DVD/ Bluray/ VHS/ whatever doesn’t sound to my taste. There are many different reasons why I like these performers: acting skills, appearance et cetera but I’ll always keep an eye out for them.

Scarlett Johansson would be one at the top of that list for reasons that I don’t necessarily want to go into here, but certainly in my top ten is a gentleman by the name of Roddy McDowall, star of films such as Planet of the Apes, Class of 1984 and Fright Night, not to mention the TV series The Fantastic Journey, which I loved as a kid, and many, MANY cartoon voices, like The Mad Hatter in Batman The Animated Series.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was in this flick, as the only reason I nabbed it was it is part of 88 Films’s Slasher bluray collection (number 8) and being an OCD completist wherever possible, I had to buy it. The bonus was Mary Steenburgen’s star turn: I’d only ever seen her, where she had been memorable, in Back to the Future 3, so I wanted to see if she was capable of something other than the gentle spoken, sweet wife of Doc.


Struggling New York actress Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) lands an opportunity for a job after an audition with the pleasant, but odd Mr Murray (Roddy McDowall) who seems to be quite captivated by her. He takes her to meet reclusive, retired, and wheelchair bound Doctor Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubeš) who is impressed by Murray’s choice.

Soon she finds herself with her appearance slightly changed and recording a scene on video to send to a director whose lead actress, the spitting image of Katie, has had a nervous breakdown and needs to be replaced, but Katie is uneasy… It feels like she is being held prisoner in Lewis’s house, a feeling which gets greater as time rolls on… And the winter snows kick in… And Murray and Lewis’s motives for her being there are revealed…

Unfortunately, my synopsis makes the film far more exciting that it really is. 


This loose remake of 1945’s My Name Is Julia Ross is dull and asexual and is like a very VERY ordinary midday movie, or even after school special. Steenburgen gets a go in multiple lead roles, but she is just so vanilla that every scene she is in droops terribly. Thankfully McDowell’s effete and submissive role lifts some of them, as does Jan Rubeš bonkers reclusive cripple, who seems to be almost emulating Lawrence Olivier’s role in Marathon Man… albeit a Diet Coke, toothless version.

This movie is slow paced and dare I say it, boring, but it’s nothing that a better director could repair, oh, and change all the cast except Roddy McDowall… And the soundtrack is quite weak… Actually, it’s quite terrible: purchase only if you need to fill the space between 7 (Nailgun Massacre) and 9 (X-Ray) in your 88 Films Slasher Collection

Score: *

Format: This bluray is region B, runs for approximately 100 minutes and is presented in a satisfactory 1.85:1 picture with a decent Dolby 2.0 soundtrack.

Score: ***

Extras


There aren’t many extras on this disc other than this stills gallery, which unless it depicts poster art or associated merchandise, I feel is a worthless extra. It’s an animated visual medium for Corman’s sake, don’t just stick a piss-poor selection of images from the film together with some music. It’s lazy and frustrating. This one does at least have one movie poster at the end of the slideshow/screensaver.

This disc also contains trailers for other 88 Films releases Puppet Master, The Pit & The Pendulum, Demonic Toys, Bloody Birthday, Two Moon Junction, Dollman, Blood Sucking Freaks, Puppet Master II, Puppet Master III, Tourist Trap and Castle Freak.

Now the packaging also claims that this has a collector’s booklet by Slice and Dice director and journalist Calum Waddell, but unfortunately mine did not come with this. I’d say I was just unlucky, but I do have another Bluray in this collection by 88 Films which suffered from the same issue. That’s some pretty terrible QC right there. The packaging also claims to have the trailer for Dead of Winter, but it must be extraordinarily well hidden as I could not find it.

It also has a reversible sleeve, but the hidden one is quite bland.

Score: **


WISIA: No. I wouldn’t have watched it once as nothing on the back cover sounds even slightly appealing, and IMDB’s synopsis isn’t much more alluring, but it being a part of 88 Film’s slasher bluray series, I thought I’d give it a go. That thought was wrong.

Phantom of Death (1988) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Phantom of Death aka Off Balance (1988)


Film: Also aka Un Delitto Poco Comune. What do you get if you take two of the writers of The New York Ripper, team them up with the director of Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato, attach two well known English actors in Michael York and Donald Pleasance and then drop in the gorgeous Edwige Fenech?

Why you get a crazy Italian production like this film, Phantom of Death, of course!!

Robert Dominici (Michael York) is an acclaimed pianist who has been invited to London to expand his career, but this is to the detriment of his relationship with his girlfriend, Susanna (Mapi Galán). This, along with flirtations from the beautiful Hélène Martell (Edwige Fenech) are causing him to become distracted, which is even interfering with his ninjutsu practice.

Yep: ninjutsu practice!


When his girlfriend is killed though, he becomes involved in an investigation being held by Inspector Datti (Donald Pleasance) as she appears to be the second victim in a series of murders. The murderer taunts Datti with phonecalls, and claims to be so good at his work that he’ll drive Datti mad! 

When Hélène is attacked though, Datti immediately suspects Robert just due to his involvement in both cases. Unfortunately for his investigation though, DNA found on her to create a profile of the person who assaulted her, doesn’t match Robert’s and nor does the identity sketch created after she was interviewed.

So if it’s NOT Robert, who could it be… Or does Robert have a secret than disguises his identity from such tests?


The film is an interesting mix of traditional gialli tropes mixed with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera and Deodato’s choices of actors are quite fun here. You’ll see some great faces from other Italian horror films, my favourite being the ninjutsu master played by Hal Yamanouchi, who is also in such a variety of films like Umberto Lenzi’s House of Lost Souls and James Mangold’s The Wolverine, or maybe it’s the inclusion of Italian horror stalwart Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen as a priest.

Deodato drops in a few trappings of his contemporaries, like Argento, with stabbings to the neck, and a murder that sees the victim pushed through a window in an act of bloody violence, which echoes films like Phenomena.

I can’t let a review go by without pointing out that the murderer, when he makes his phonecalls, sounds like Billy Idol after a night with a carton of Marlboro Reds.  

All in all it IS pretty silly, but does a few unique things within the gialli environment like making the murderer a tragic figure rather than a selfish one, and some of the acting pieces have to be seen to be believed… Particularly Donald Pleasance taking the obsessive manic-ness of Dr Loomis from the Halloween series to the nth degree.

Score: ***


Format: This film is from Shameless Screen Entertainment’s ‘yellow’ series of DVDs from the UK. This particular film is number 2 in the series and is region 0. The film runs for approximately 88 minutes and is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The image isn’t the sharpest it could be and it is quite artefacty at times, but not so that it’s distracting. I have to say though one real issue I have with the presentation of the packaging. The blurb on the back quite clearly states who the murderer is, so if you are watching this after reading it, then there are no secrets. For me, the synopsis on the back of DVD or bluray packaging shouldn’t be spoilery at all.

Score: ***

Extras: The disc starts with several trailers for other films from the Shameless Screen Entertainment line, including The New York Ripper, The Black Cat, Torso (Carnal Violence), Manhattan Baby, Baba Yaga The Devil Witch and The Killer Nun, which can also be accessed on the ‘Forthcoming Attraction’ button on the main screen. The only other extra is the trailer for this film.


Score: **

WISIA: This film is far from an example of great Italian horror cinema, but the inclusion of Michael York and Donald Pleasance’s hilariously overblown performance make it a rewatch must!

Darwyn Cooke R.I.P.

Sadly, the TWP has to report today the death of multi Eisner Award comics writer/artist Darwyn Cooke, who has passed after a fight with an aggressive cancer, aged only 53.

Darwyn Cooke gave us the magical DC: The New Frontier which took the DC universe back to the 50s/ 60s, which his art style, a combination of Archie comics and Fleischer Superman animations, suited perfectly. The story was wonderful and was a who’s who of the DC Universe. The comic won multiple Eisner, Shuster and Harvey awards, and when re-released in the ‘Absolute Edition’ collected format, won another award for Best Graphic Album.

newfrontier

The series was also adapted in DC’s original animation series as Justice League: The New Frontier, which was magnificent: certainly one of the best of the series.

He was also given the task of creating essentially unwanted stories of the Watchmen which were to be prequels to the Alan Moore/ Dave Gibbons tale. I originally had no interest in this idea, but his work on theses series was spectacular.

WATCHMEN_2012_MM_Cvr

I am not a convention guy, and don’t live in the US so I never got the chance to meet Mr. Cooke, so my appreciation can only come from his words and pictures. His stories were always an fantastic read, and when mixed with his artwork, they became almost disconcerting as the art always showed an element of fun: I always felt like his characters were having the time of their lives in every single panel, even when looking grim, I still had a feeling they were thinking, like some kind of deranged puppy ‘I’m a superhero, I’m a superhero’.

Cooke09

Of course, these were only two of Mr. Cooke’s works, and I can’t suggest everything he has done, but please, research his name and track done any of his work: you won’t be disappointed.

Sadly, we comics fans will never get to experience that joy again, and the TWP would like to pass on it’s condolences to Mr. Cooke’s family and work colleagues.

Please do two things today: hugs your families and make sure they know they are loved as life is far too short, and please, if you have some spare cash, make a donation to one of the many cancer research charities. Cancer is a scourge, worse than any Lex Luthor or Joker, and  the TWP would like to suggest a charity dear to our hearts, Bear Cottage:

http://www.bearcottage.chw.edu.au/

and remember, it’s not how much you give, just that you have given.