Saturday, 30 August 2014

Suspiria (1977)

8.5 out of 10
Those with more than a passing interest in the world of Italian horror cinema could do far worse than track down Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta's excellent guide, Spaghetti Nightmares. It really is the final word on the subject. Indeed, the book jacket claims, not without a fair amount of justification, that this is the first complete reference book of the genre. As promised, over the course of thirty pages or so, it runs through the entire genre from A-Z with director details, release year and a brief description of each film is provided. But, in the age of IMDB, this is not the main reason for getting hold of Spaghetti Nightmares. The book is not, after all, in terms of the synopsis themselves, in-depth enough to be considered a horror version of the giallo reference Blood and Black Lace. No! There is another reason altogether to get hold of Spaghetti Nightmares. That is... the interviews. They are great and career spanning. Indeed, the book is packed out with interviews with loads of the key players of the second wave of the Italian horror genre, including directors such as Ruggero Deodato, of Cannibal Holocaust and Waves of Lust fame, and the brilliant and sadly departed filthmonger and grim horror helmsmen Joe D'amato. It also features discussion with those involved in special effects, stalwart character actors such as “Big Ape” George Eastman, and even some of the international figures who worked in the milieu such as Mimsy Farmer and David Warbeck. Beyond this, there is an essential interview with the Godfather of Gore himself, Mr Lucio Fulci, and there is even the exploration of both sides of the famous Tom Savini and Romano Scavolini dispute over a Nightmare in a Damaged Brain credit. In terms of considering Suspiria, one particularly interesting participant in Spaghetti Nightmares, alongside Dario who is also interviewed for the book, is Daria Nicolodi. The former wife of Dario Argento, and mother of Asia, talks in some depth of her role in the genesis of Suspiria. She explains that while Dario himself did have some interest in the more fantastic aspect of film it was she who guided the direction of travel of Dario as he moved from his thriller phase. Indeed it was this turn to the hyper-stylised dark fantasy, that itself would find its zenith with Suspira, that would shape his subsequent return to the thriller as would be evidenced by Phenomenon and its invocation of insects and the crows of Opera. This styling would even be passed on to a prodigy, Michele Soavi, who would particularly capture this particular feel in The Sect. In the book Daria speaks of her grandmother who would, so we are led to believe, attend a music school before discovering that the place was the cover for a coven of witches. In short Daria suggests that Suspiria is a very personal work for her. Directed by the one and only Dario Argento, Suspiria is, pretty much, the poster child for Italian horror film. While it is stylistically not typical of what the nation has to offer in terms of the genre, the exaggerated Bava-esque lighting of the blue and red gels have stuck more in the collective consciousness than the prior decade's immersion in Gothic horror and is certainly as fondly remembered as the gore of the VHS age. Indeed, it is a look that has come to define what the casual viewer considers as the Giallo look despite the fact that Suspiria is not strictly a Giallo. Nor is it a lighting technique that was especially that widely used throughout the catalogue of Italian whodunnit style thrillers. This technicolor styled world is one that has been captured, surprisingly, with earthy old Eastmancolor rather than the more intense palette of its predecessor. For sure, this tale of boarding school witchery is an essential. It is, after all, Italian horror at its most beautiful. Its most seductive. Its most imaginative. Here, the dancing school, with its sweet wrapper colouring and intense primary coloured walls, present a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house coating to a deeper, darker secret that menaces the wide eyed innocent Crabby Cook author and Shock Treatment star Jessica Harper. This is an appropriate vibe for what is, in essence, a fairy tale for grown-ups with added Red Shoes for good measure. Support, here, comes from, among others, Barbara Magnolfi. She is, as American fans of this stuff will no doubt know, a bit of a cult film convention regular. In Suspiria, the star of the dildotastic Sisters of Ursula, and wife of the late great Marc Porel, has a couple of lines and a few scenes with Harper who is, by far, the real star of the piece. Magnolfi would, later, go on to also appear for a few seconds in the muddled, but thoroughly enjoyable, Deodato helmed hokey jungle actioner Cut and Run. As for the film itself, it features some really inventive and stylish kills and, for those who would demand more, there are sequels of diminishing return that ultimately mirror the increasingly jaded and declining quality of work from director Dario Argento. The final part of the series, The Mother of Tears, being a world away from his golden age and, due to its effect on so many fans, is possibly one of the most appropriately named sequels of all time. However, for those casual viewers who may only wish to see just one film from the one time enfant terrible of Italian film, Suspiria should be an obvious choice as, while it is not really as representative of his work as a whole, it is a transitional work to a key phase in his career. Besides, it is certainly a razor cut above much else he would go on to do later with the exception of, perhaps, Tenebre, Inferno, Phenomenon and Opera that are, in themselves, things of sinister beauty. It would be a film that would certainly announce a particularly golden period for Dario before the wheels would eventually come off the giallo coloured wagon during the course of the following decades. Now, unfortunately, Dario's late films, pretty much, suck monkey balls. But, nevertheless, his legion of one-eyed fans will still probably buy them anyway in the eternal quest for that elusive return to form for the maestro. There still may be hope for that second coming.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Hell is a City (1960)

7.0 out of 10
Hell is a City is a British entry into the noir cycle. Noir, after all, would become a truly international form and, beyond The United States, would find favour in France, where it would influence the French New Wave, Japan which would produce a number of later noir titles such as the phenomenal spaghetti western meets noir classic Koruto wa ore no pasupooto and in Britain too, where Hammer would turn out a number of noir-like B features. Here Hammer, a studio perhaps better known for their gothic horrors and particularly their vampire films, retain many of the signature stylistic approaches of the noir. Except, Hammer transplants these genre tropes, and noir aesthetics, to the already visibly declining industrial region of Greater Manchester. Hell is a City is British noir at is best. Though , it must be said, it was just one of a number of Hammer noirs. Hammer also brough the world the likes of the mildly enjoyable, though far from remarkable, Montgomery Tully noir, 36 Hours. This one, however, is directed by Confessions of a Window Cleaner and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth helmsman Val Guest. Guest, a Hammer regular, lends the film a certain extra something that was not universally present among the lesser Hammer titles. The story here, which is based on a novel by Maurice Procter, concerns the robbery of a bookmaker. In the execution of this crime the band of baddies accidentally kill a girl, thus making their crime a murder rather than a robbery for investigation, while an indelible invisible ink mark out the desperados as handlers of the haul. The bookie here is played by Death Line and Phantom of Death star, and cinema's favourite oddball, Donald Pleasence. By this point, Pleasance was already something of a film veteran. However, here he delivers something of a low key performance compared to his later work. That would be, occasionally, far more intense and altogether more captivating. Here, the future beetle wanking entomologist, with his communion of insects in Phenomena, seems content with his nondescript, back-seat role. Pleasance simply, and appropriately, eschews limelight stealing. On the case is hard boiled Inspector Harry Martineau. He is played by Welsh Zulu and Guns of Navarone star Stanley Baker. Baker is great as a hard nosed, married to the job, copper. Throughout the feature, with subtle use of expressions that accompany his exchanges with female supporting characters, we get the sense of the midlife crisis of this man who's career driven impetus masks a failing marriage and an inner void. We understand, to a point, why he is such a jobsworth. Indeed this aspect is acknowledged in concluding remarks by his colleagues who recognise how one does not have to be alone to be lonely. The investigation is procedure driven but, as with the best of the American noir, it does this while making use of some incredibly well chosen locations that give an excellent feel for time and place. This, in practice, is realised here with Lowry-esque smokestacks that are contrasted with neon lit night-time streets. In this, there is a feel of the conflicting worlds of a prototype for the British social realism and the more edgy, but at the same time glamourous, worlds of the American-style urban crimer. Also, in common with the American noir, there is the presence of the femme fatale stock character, albeit one that is batted away with stuffy, do-the right-thing, Martineau and his stiff upper lip. There is also, for the aficionado, the genre familiar use of back projection for car interior scenes. It all leads up to a real gear-shift in pacing when this dialogue driven thriller decides to break out the stunts for an excellent rooftop chase that could have been straight out of French crime thriller Peur sur la ville. It all ends up in a place that is a far-cry from a world in which desperate villains say things like "crikey!" that the rest of the feature inhabits. Henri Verneuil, by the way, was the director of the paranoid political thriller I as in Icarus and Eurcrime heist favourite The Burglars. He brought the world Peur sur la ville in 1975. Known in English as Fear Over the City, or sometimes The Night Caller, this gialloesque crime thiller, with occasional noirish flourishes, was, in truth, a showcase for the excellent Jean-Paul Belmondo of Pierrot le Fou fame. It is said that, in Fear Over the City, Jean-Paul Belmondo would perform his own stunts under the coaching of the prolific Rémy Julienne. And what stunts they are too! Some of the work on Fear Over the City is borderline suicidal and make for one of the most exhilirating experiences in the whole Eurocrime canon. The highlight is, by far, one of the greatest extended rooftop chases in the history of film. It may be coincidental, but there is a great deal of similarity between the rooftop chase in Fear Over the City and one in the concluding scenes of the 1960 English film-noir, Hell is a City. There is even a similar feel to the scoring for these stunts-led segments. Even for the conclusion alone, Hell is a City is worth the price of admission. But, beyond that, the film really will appeal to those who like their noir as dark and urban as possible. After all Guest, here, has really embraced the genre to the max. Sure, there are no rain soaked nocturnal streets, but there are fedoras and there is plenty of smoking going on. After all, everyone smokes, all the time, in the world of film noir. So, this is proper noir, for proper noir fans. It deserves a far wider audience. Spread the word!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Glove, The (1979)

5.5 out of 10
Giallo, as you no doubt know, is a film genre with its origins in the populist literary tradition of Italy. In particular it is a filone that adopted and expanded upon a series of genre “rules” that were established by Mario Bava and explored further by the likes of Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. It was a film wave that would extend its influence way beyond Italy with France, Greece, Turkey and Spain, among others, coming along for the fedora wearing ride. With an origin in the pulp crime novels of the Il Giallo Mondadori these films were often characterised by black gloved knife wielding killers, stylised violence, psychoanalytical themes and convoluted plotting with complex whodunnit elements. Increasingly, through the 1970s, the extremely competitive milieu of the Italian film industry ran with the giallo theme, resulting in a genre that, while it was initially influenced by the works of Edgar Wallace, Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, would become a film wave that would churn out the sleaze of Giallo in Venice, the excesses of New York Ripper and the dildo killer of Sisters of Ursula. However, The Glove, despite its black gloved killer, is not a giallo film. But there are a number of stylistic touches and thematic nods that suggest director Ross Hagen, a genre cinema stalwart actor who was here making his directorial debut, at least may, possibly, have had some knowledge of the European genre. The killer in this, for example, does wear a glove, albeit a futuristic looking “riot control” gauntlet with steel knuckles. But, he also wears a motorcycle helmet when out and about killing in a manner not unlike the killer in Andrea Bianchi's Strip Nude for Your Killer. Continuing the theme, the outcome of one killing in this film, which occurs in a bathroom, has a particularly giallo-esque feel to it. While not as common as obligatory J and B whiskey bottle product placements that infuse the Italian genre, bathroom slaying are not especially rare in giallo as clinical white bathroom tiles provide wonderful backdrops for various bloody slashings and drownings. Also, interestingly enough, the investigator, as is common with giallo film, is not a police officer and the police, here, are relegated to a secondary role. But, beyond this, The Glove does not really try to imitate the Italian thrillers. Indeed, I have probably already stretched this point to the verge of snapping. But, what the film certainly does, is reach back into another European inspired genre. Albeit one that came of age in the United States. You see, The Glove certainly tries to be a film noir. Up to a point anyhow. So, we get treated to voiceover protagonist led exposition and plenty of shots of the hero driving his car down neon lit streets. However, these stylistic nods, while interesting enough, do not succeed in giving the film, throughout, enough noirishness to be considered a true modern noir. And, while the film does not really succeed as a noir, the film does not really deliver on what is promised in the promotional artwork either. This is, after all, certainly not a dystopian science fiction. Despite posters suggesting otherwise! But this charge of poster exploitation disappointment induction is hardly one that can be laid at the door of The Glove alone. That is, insofar as a glove would actually have a door! You see, there is a long, and less than fine, disreputable exploitation film huckster tradition of posters promising so much of one thing but delivering so little of something else. But, suffice it to say, the film offers none of the futuristic mayhem promised in a poster that suggests something along the lines of either Rollerball or Joe D'amato's Endgame. No, what we get here is something a little more understated. Nevertheless it is something that is still interesting enough to pass the time. Albeit in a more talkie and less action oriented way. The story sees John Saxon play Sam Kellog. Sam is a bounty hunter, womaniser and gambling addict. He is on the trail of Victor Hale, a giant of a man who has taken to beating his victims to death with his big glove. He is played by former professional footballer and one of the former heads of The Thing With Two Heads, Roosevelt Grier. All the while a guitar playing Grier seeks revenge on those who mistreated him in prison and taunts and teases Saxon in an under-explored game of cat and mouse. On this flimsy skeleton the film hangs an awful lot of backstory. Indeed, while there is little to offer in the way of action beyond some borderline-slapstick set pieces, we get to know almost everything about Kellog and his life with the exception of, surprisingly, what he likes for breakfast. So viewers will not, here, learn what is in Kellog's cereal! However, as much as the film seeks to give us some understanding of both hunter and hunted, the interplay between the two, sadly, is one of wasted opportunity. So, when the two ultimately go head to head it is not clear why, precisely, the playing field is levelled between them. That said, all in all, The Glove is an likeable and engaging hour and a half . But one that represents an unrealised potential. It could have been a great psychological thriller, but instead felt more like an absorbing episode of a seventies cop series. Beyond all this, the film is of interest as one of the final roles for the beautiful precode starlet Joan Blondell. However, since she was no longer the darling of the film industry here she is, sadly, relegated to a minor character role. Blondie Johnson really deserved far better than that!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

200 Pounds Beauty (2006)

5.5 out of 10
Bedevilled, 2010, is an excellent horror film from Korea. In this tale a stressed-out executive named Hae-won returns, Shuttered Room style, to the island of her birth. Here she discovers that her old childhood friend, Bok-nam, is being treated as a slave and is forced to dig potatoes, keep bees and perform sexual services for the menfolk of the island. But, among some Last House on the Left style roughness and an Anthropophagus scale massacre, the film makes some pertinent points with regard to what the filmmakers perceive as the role of women in Korean society and how wome are defined by how they look. The film emphasises the notion of what is considered to be natural beauty. It achieves this by spotlighting ta fictionalised "old" world as represented by an island "that time forgot" and contrasting this with mainland modernity. Bedevilled makes a reference to the water in the capital, for example. We are informed that this water is a source of beauty and that it is guaranteed to provide fairer skin without the aid of make-up. It is this beauty obsession, especially of the idea of a beauty that is natural and free of enhancement, that is also the subject of 200 Pounds Beauty. But, beyond this, the films are gazillion miles apart in terms of genre and tone. Nevertheless, both dwell on this common theme. Up to a point, at least! 200 Pounds Beauty, which is originally titled in Korean as Minyeo-neun goerowo, is an unashamedly cutesie South Korean romantic comedy that was directed and written by the less-than-prolific director Yong-hwa Kim. Yong-hwa Kim has, to date, only directed four feature films. One of these being an award winning comedy about a baseball playing gorilla! On this occasion he takes a Japanese manga, Yumiko Suzuki's Kanna-san, Daiseikou Desu, as a starting point and uses it to shoehorn in some serious points. You see, for all the candy coloured Fancy World wrapping, 200 Pounds Beauty is a film that allows Yong-hwa Kim to say something that is important to the clearly youthful target audience. He is making a demand for reflection. In terms of performances the star turn here, and the 200 Pounds Beauty of the title, is played by Ah-jung Kim. She is, no doubt, a major contributing factor to the significant success that the film enjoyed at the box office. She portrays Kang Han-na. Kang, who makes a living trading on her beautiful voice. Kang provides vocals, Milli Vanilli style, for a famous music producer Sang-jun, played by Jin-mo Ju. In particular she does this for Sang-jun's latest discovery “Ammy”. After all, Ammy at least looks the part. She prances, poses and pouts. But, unfortunately for Ammy, she can't sing. And this is where Kang, an occasional phone sex worker, comes into the picture. Kang is a shadow singer and gives the less talented, but more easy on the eye, Ammy the chance of being "the whole package". This idea, one of an unseen potential star who's light is hidden under a bushel, is one of the many themes that is explored in Minyeo-neun goerowo. This is, after all, a film that is especially interested in a vacuous world of manufactured celebrity. It is unfortunate that Kang fancies the ruthless Simon Cowell-like Svengali. For, while Sang-jun is aware of Kang as his meal ticket, and utters sweet platitudes to keep her onside, he confides to Ammy that he finds Kang a complete turn off. Kang overhears this and decides it is time to make changes. She gives in to the societal pressures to conform and sets out to become a star in her own right. To do this she utilises the services of a plastic surgeon. He is a customer of Kang's sex work and as the result of blackmail reluctantly puts her under the knife for free. Kang even gives her name a makeover and adopts the new celebrity name “Jenny”. Success however changes Kang on the inside as well as outwardly and her celebrity persona takes over. It is the more heartless and driven Jenny who becomes a star while the "real" Kang becomes increasingly pushed into the background. She even, for appearances sake, denies recognising her own mentally ill father who she dismisses as being yet another fan.   In this, the film provides a commentary on the superficial nature of popular culture to which the director appears to be somewhat unsympathetic. The message, it seems, is that the current state of affairs is that the celebrity fixation of beauty is one that should not be allowed to continue unchallenged. What, it seems, is being articulated is that talent SHOULD count and not the package it comes in. But, in reality, the film is casting a much wider net. In taking celebrity world and as a microcosm it expands the point to take into consideration of Korean society as it is equally a musing on the role of the demands of the fan in the whole equation . The film also ponders the idea of authenticity. Natural beauty is deified while, at the same time, the notion that someone with plastic surgery is fake and undesirable is emphasised. So, even in the superficial world of stardom, as constructed here, there is a hierarchy of surperficiality. Ultimately the rivalry between Ammy and Kang is one of two phoneys. Yet, still, we are invited to sympathise more with Kang as we get to share the mitigating circumstances in her backstory. Ammy is afforded no such luxury. Despite the points considered, surprisingly, the film is never preachy. Indeed it completely eschews polemic and heavy handed monologues. Instead it encapsulates any “issue movie” pretensions within the familiar romcom formula. 200 Pounds Beauty may well be a sharply satirical eye that is cast upon a society wide obsession, and even the consequences of this but, while this is a film with something to say, it is one that maintains its funny, and sweet, ambiance throughout. But, for the viewer, the real joy of the film comes from the performance of lead actress Ah-jung Kim. She is, in real life, a singer as well as an actress and, apparently, she performs her own songs here. For example, she belts out an excellent rendition of Blondie's Maria. Even for this alone the film is worth watching. However, beyond this though, to be honest, there is no reason to especially seek out the teen comedy “by numbers” that is 200 Pounds Beauty. You see there are, after all, hell of a lot of teen-oriented romcoms out there. Indeed, there are hell of a lot of South Korean teen-oriented romcoms out there. But, honestly, to pass a bit of time there is no reason to especially overlook 200 Pounds Beauty either. It is simply what it is. Sure, the whole Cinderella or Ugly Duckling, rags-to-riches, makeover thing has been done to death. Some of these themes had already been handled more directly in Shallow Hal. As has the whole weightloss transformation thing. In Umberto Lenzi's Cicciabomba, aka Fatty Girl Goes to New York, for example. After all, that is what 200 Pounds Beauty is! It is, sort of, Shallow Hal meets Singin' in the Rain meets Cicciabomba with added X Factor.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Iron Rose, The (1973)

7.0 out of 10
As was rather superficially noted by Scottish singer Sandi Thom the sixties was an era when revolution was in the air. Indeed, 1968 was a particularly turbulent year in France, for example, and there was a sense of imminent insurrection. During the May of that year the students and workers of the Paris Spring rode a wave of political radicalism that would sweep from Washington to Prague, and through Berlin, London, Belfast and beyond. It was a year when it seemed that great change was indeed possible. In Paris it was a time of sit-ins, strikes and violent confrontation with the monolith of state authority. It was also a time in which that radicalism would find expression in the arts too. This was, after all, the age of the Counterculture. Into this milieu would step Jean Rollin. Jean who had, by this time, already directed a number of short films would, in '68, make his feature debut with The Rape of the Vampire. And, with few titles being released in cinema at the time on account of the political climate, it would be a film that would face little, if any, competition for viewers. Unfortunately for Rollin, viewers were not receptive to his particular brand of radically experimental film making and audiences would, by his own admission, throw stuff at the screen. At the time people simply hated his film! However, it would still go on to be the most successful film in France that year. What these initial audiences witnessed, though clearly at the time did not fully appreciate, was the genesis of what would become the groundbreaking cult icon that is Jean Rollin. It was a debut would be heavily skewed toward the whole sexy vampire motif that would define so much of his oeuvre. Rollin was also, in this, very much the pioneer! Indeed, it is an area of film that would not only find favour with his contemporaries such as Jess Franco with his Vampyros Lesbos or Female Vampire or even José Ramón Larraz with Vampyres, but even with stylish, but slightly stuffy, Gothic horror studio Hammer when they too decided to get in on the act. After all, the Brits also sought to spice things up, a bit, with the likes of Lust for a Vampire and so on. Sure, the pinnacle of the post Blood and Roses vampire wave may well be, in my humble opinion, the delightful Harry Kumel directed Belgian vampire classic Daughters of Darkness, but no-one quite embraced the genre to the extent of Jean Rollin. Indeed, he based much of his career on this particular area of film while infusing these tales of female empowerment with a number of motifs that would become familiar to the many fans of his work. Indeed, as a debut, Jean Rollin's Le viol du vampire was a film that would lay out essential themes that would, ultimately, win the director critical acclaim. Albeit within audiences with a predilection for of a particular niche of film. However, it was a formula that Rollin would subvert, for the first time in 73, by stepping away from a vampire sub-genre in which he had been deeply immersed for the previous four feature titles. In this film, The Iron Rose, Rollin would be both making a break and maintaining a continuum. As, even though the premise would change fundamentally, the styles and signatures would, at the same time, be reassuringly familiar. As with all of Rollin's work there is a sense of the small scale and scope of the production. Indeed, if it is the case that Jean-Luc Godard is right when he states that all that is needed to make movies is a girl and a gun then Rollin is the director who takes this premise to the world of horror. After all, there are only significant roles for a lead cast of two here. For, while there a few suporting bit parts such as a woman in mourning and a clown that play an essential role in the underscoring of the experimental and quirky nature of the work, they are very much moved into the background. As is often the case with a Rollin feature, these micro-casts are made to appear insignificant, frail and vulnerable against a stark and inhospitable natural world. This is often, for Rollin, an environment distinguished by angry skies, stark, lonely ruins, misty autumnal countryside, and the incredible and lonely rugged and rocky beach near Dieppe that he would utilise time and again. With a Rollin film you get of a sense of unease that is borne of the realisation that man, stripped of gadgets and the trappings of technology, would probably struggle to survive in such harsh conditions. It may be a form of painterly visual poetry that Rollin presents us with but, at the same time, there is a sense of alienation from the traditional methods of production that sustained humanity since time immemorial. From The Grapes of Death to The Night of the Hunted, this is a sense of alienation that is ever-present. Albeit used to different ends in each case. However in the deliciously subversive Iron Rose, the theme of survival and the inhospitable nature of nature is re-framed ever so slightly. Sure there is the ubiquitous Rollinesque combinations of mist, the beach and the stark leafless vegetation, but here it primarily the sense of familiarity of place that is taken away from the protagonists. By making sure that his two leads, Françoise Pascal from Mind Your Language and Hugues Quester, are lost overnight in a graveyard, Rollin does something pretty clever. He renders the familiar as unfamiliar, the safe as unsafe and the peace and quiet as lonely and oppressive. By day they may well know the graveyard, but by night it is a strange and disorienting place. You see, just like the ocean of Open Water or the outback of Walkabout this is, to an extent, the setting for a natural world survival movie. But, whereas the aforementioned use remoteness to emphasise futility the setting of an urban cemetery places safety both tantalisingly close yet somehow distant and unattainable. The horror from the film is derived, primarily, from the realisation of the madness inducing futility of this situation. Even a moment of hope, where Quester discovers what he believes to be the perimeter wall, is shattered as it leads merely to yet another section of graves with a continuation of the maze of mausoleums, headstones, iron crucifixes and creepy statues of angels.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Lickerish Quartet, The (1970)

8.0 out of 10
In the February 1972 issue of British Eurocult magazine Continental Film Review, the one with the Edwige Fenech cover, there is an article about a film entitled Stanza 315, Ufficio Sesso. According to the article, the film, which translates to English as Room 315, Sex Office, is the sex story of a pretty secretary. There is even, in the flowery prose that will be familiar to readers of CFR, a fanciful synopsis that talks of Elizabeth and Marco and their working relationship in the Trastevere region of Rome. To accompany this there is even a two page spread and a pictorial. Except, the problem here is that there is no record of a film called Stanza 315 and, besides, the pictures are from a different film altogether. For, as it happens, the stills are taken from Radley Metzger's The Lickerish Quartet. The Lickerish Quartet was distributed by Radley Metzger's Audubon Films, a company that he established, a decade prior, in order to distribute Eurocult and erotic titles. This was before Metzger himself moved into film direction. As for the Lickerish Quartet, the locations give the film a distinctly European feel. The film was shot in Italy in and around the famous Balsorano Castle, a location that would be used in numerous cult and genre film titles including, among others, the likes of The Bloody Pit of Horror and Sister Emanuelle. The latter, here, being of interest because, despite the fact that the film, as is the case with the whole Black Emanuelle franchise, starred Laura Gemser as the titular Emanuelle, this one was not, in fact, directed by Joe D'amato. The whole Eurocult vibe here is, incidentally, further emphasised by a score that is provided by the great Stelvio Cipriani. For, even while this may well be a film from an American director, for all intents and purposes this is a European film, with a very European aesthetic. The Lickerish Quartet represents a pinnacle of an especially productive period of European work for Radley Metzger. This was from a time in which Radley would take advantage of cinematic freedoms in Europe to produce some eye-poppingly beautiful adult oriented film. During this period he would direct the likes of Carmen Baby, an update of the opera that would be shot in Germany, Therese and Isabelle, a Netherlands production filmed in France and Camille 2000, an Italian production filmed in Rome. But, the best of the bunch would easily be The Lickerish Quartet. It is brilliant and unashamedly cerebral. The Lickerish Quartet is not erotica for the sake of erotica. It is a film of ambition, and one that attempts to answer some deeper questions. It even has literary roots. For, The Lickerish Quartet is based on the pre-war Italian absurdist and existentialist play Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore that was written by Luigi Pirandello. With an English title of Six Characters in Search of an Author, the play tells the story of half-a-dozen incomplete characters who show up at a theatre rehearsal. They are seeking an author to complete their "story". It is interesting to note that none of the characters in this slice of cult erotica have names. So, they can only be understood in terms of their relationship to one another and, insofar as they can be defined at all, it is purely by juxtaposition. So, a castle has an owner, and he is played by tragic Eurocult favourite Frank Wolff. He is understood in terms of his relationship to the castle. Indeed, he is purely defined by possessions but, in a period of enlightenment he informs us that if he possesses something he has no need at all to understand it. The other characters are defined, in turn by their relationship to The Owner. He has a wife, also unnamed, who is played by Erika Remberg, and a son who is played by Paolo Turco. Here in The Lickerish Quartet, not unlike how it is with the six mysterious players of Pirandello's imagining, these characters are not fully "written". They are not aware they are merely part of a shadow play and that the key to understanding their lives remains out of their hands. The players here are a rich trio who are bored. They entertain themselves with 8mm stag loops while they ponder exactly what sort of people would star in such films. Deciding to go outside in order to find something to do, they end up at a fairground. Having watched a wall-of-death act they notice that one of the riders bear more than a passing resemblance to one of the women from the stag films. So, the trio invite her back to their castle for their own amusement. She is, so her credit informs us, "The Visitor". This particular visitor is played by Silvana Venturelli. She becomes the fourth piece of the jigsaw. Together these four are The Lickerish Quartet and so begins, what the trailer describes with such a wonderful turn of phrase, an erotic duet for four players. What becomes clear, early on, is that The Visitor is not like the three characters of the film. Indeed, she seems to understand the trio better than they understand themselves. The Visitor also, frequently, drops hints that she is aware that their world is no more than a film. Furthermore, through sexual exploration that is stunningly realised here, The Visitor helps the three come closer to understanding who it is that they really are. Then, having seduced them one by one, The Visitor disappears. She leaves the trio where they began: in the dark. So, at the conclusion of The Lickerish Quartet an answer, of sorts, is revealed to the viewer. But, frustratingly, the confused threesome never get to be made aware of this. Their world, one of flickering images, is ended with the extinguishing of the projector light. Only The Visitor remains. While the plot may seem extremely complex, and it is, the result is a film that is not just an essential for fans of intelligent, sexy, European cinema. It has a special kind of beauty that should give it a wider appeal. It is also a film that demands repeat viewing. Sure there is plenty of delightful visuals to absorb with a cursory viewing, but like a matryoshka doll this is a film of many layers that can be stripped away to reveal another. However, Roger Ebert didn't really get the film. Nor, if his review is to be accepted, did he really give the film much of a chance. Indeed, the cleverness of it all was something of an issue for him. Ebert, so it seems, found it "unbelievably, and unnecessarily, complex". But worry not, for it needn't be so. However the viewer is called upon to pay attention. Unless, of course, you are Ebert. In which case you must be willing to dismiss The Lickerish Quartet without even attempting to understand!

Films are rated by giving them a score from one to ten green pickles. The actual score depends on my mood at the time of writing and reflect no worthier a quality than how much the film actually entertained me. It is not a judgement of how good or bad a film is. Nor is it rocket science.