Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Rebel Gladiator (1962) review


Dan Vadis (Ursus), Alan Steel/Sergio Ciani (Marcus Commodus), Gloria Milland (Marcia), Jose Greci (Armenia), Tullio Altamura (Antoninus), Carlo Delmi (Septimius Leto), Gianni Santuccio (Emilius Leto), Nello Pazzafini, Sal Borgese

Directed by Domenico Paolella; Music by Carlo Savina

Villager: "But he wanted to take our women!"

Ursus: "In a way I can't blame him...he shows rather good taste!"

Sergio Ciani after a bloody duel

Stoic Emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius has died leaving his sole heir, Marcus Commodus as the new ruler. With Aurelius' dying wish that his son maintain peace, Commodus decides instead to use force and brutality to suppress the frightened people in his kingdom. With Christianity spreading throughout Rome, the maniacal Commodus attempts to wipe out any one associated with the religion. When his village is attacked by Commodus, Ursus, a newfound follower of the Christian faith, easily overpowers the mad Emperor and his soldiers. Greatly insulting Commodus, Ursus' lover, Arminia is kidnapped forcing him to become a gladiator in order for her to be set free. However, it is learned that Commodus was not responsible for her abduction and that a plot within the Senate to assassinate the brutal Emperor is discovered. Despite abhorring violence and transgression, Ursus is pressured to use his strength in an effort to topple the ferocious regime of Marcus Commodus and restore the peace promised by the deceased Marcus Aurelius.

Dan Vadis (left) captured by Emperor Commodus (Sergio Ciani)

Before the Brad Pitt spectacle that was TROY (2004), there was the Italian epic that was THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962). And before Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR (2003), there was Domenico Paolella's equally interesting and action packed THE REBEL GLADIATOR (1962). Like the classy production of ROMULUS & REMUS (1961), this picture has two slabs of beefcake for the price of one. With both the robotic Alan Steel and the energetically brutish Dan Vadis, there's plenty of grunts, groans, muscle flexing and gorgeous girls filling out the 90 minute running time of this fact and fiction gladiator movie. Also, fans of political spaghetti western director Sergio Sollima will find it interesting that he is one of the three script writers for this movie.

Sword & Sandal veteran, Paolella delivers this curious and exciting entry in the strongman cycle of Italian gladiator productions. One of numerous 'Political Peplums', it mixes fact and fantasy fiction to create an interesting stew of ideas. Paolella was an ace at delivering a lot of action interspersed with a sometimes convoluted storyline without a danger of much lagging in the flow of the movie and THE REBEL GLADIATOR is no exception. The film deals with the rise of the demented Emperor Commodus and the impending presence of Christianity that was not popular in Rome at the time. The theme of religion is also a strong plot point in the more talky, but no less entertaining Political Peplum THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964). No doubt the theme of piety in the Italian Torch & Toga pictures was influenced by the sprawling American 'peplum' production of QUO VADIS from 1951. It was shot at Cinecitta, the famed studio that was home to many of the Italian muscle epics.

The inclusion of Christianity is balanced against that of the brutal conflagration of villages perpetrated by the sadistic Emperor Commodus. While the script is above average when compared to many similar movies, some of the facts have been altered and others have been left alone. The depravity of Aurelius's son is retained, but the true severity of his violence is tempered for the film version. His propensity for partaking in gladiatorial combat is also seen here, but for the movie, Commodus keeps things on equal ground in terms of weapons used if not simply bare hands. The real Commodus was said to have used swords while his opponents were merely given wooden implements with which to defend themselves.

Gloria Milland (left)

Also, Commodus' woman, Marcia, was one of the key conspirators in his assassination while in the film, she tries to dissuade her lover to kill wantonly and doesn't want to see him end up dead even though she knows that for him, there's no other way for him to end. However, there is one rather well shot sequence wherein Armenia sneaks into the Emperor's chamber and attempts to stab him in his sleep. Marcia enters through a curtain from the other side and remains silent yet falls to her knees in tears hoping that Armenia will not kill him. Seeing her crying and hiding her face so as not to see the act, Armenia takes pity and puts away the dagger. The Emperor's actual assassination is changed for the movie, too, presumably for dramatic purposes.

While this movie is an above average picture, it misses greatness with the casting of Sergio Ciani (Alan Steel) as the lead antagonist, Commodus. While Ciani brings the necessary menace to the role, his acting ranges from stilted to sedated. Even when he smiles it looks fake. He's good in the fight sequences, but is unable to convey any true sense of villainy outside of beating men to death or giving orders to have helpless captives speared, or crushed under boulders. Steel featured in a lot of these movies and he's better suited to playing the good guy as he hasn't the range nor the proclivity to pull off a convincing villain.

Then there's Dan Vadis who plays Ursus. Vadis had the capacity to convey good or evil. He was generally good at both. He was one of the more agile of the strongman movie stars and would seem to have participated in most, if not all his own stunt work. He was one of the more successful actors in the genre later making the transition to Italian westerns then onto a string of character roles in many of Clint Eastwood's Malpaso Company movies such as HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978) and its sequel, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980) among them.

In THE REBEL GLADIATOR, Vadis plays the fantasy character, Ursus, the principle protagonist of a series of at least nine motion pictures. Vadis' entrance in the film is a grand one. As his village is being destroyed, he appears and promptly lays down a thrashing on the oppressive Roman soldiers led by Commodus. This is where the two characters first meet and begins Commodus' obsession with the death of Ursus.

Jose Greci

Also amongst the cast are two of the most beautiful and prolific of the peplum/fusto female stars. Jose Greci, as always, plays the hero's love interest. A striking beauty with alluring eyes, Greci appeared in around a dozen of these movies including notable entries such as GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1964) and its followup, HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964). Greci sometimes was billed as Susan Paget.

Gloria Milland is the other attractive woman sharing the screen with Greci. Milland was sensual presence on screen and also appeared with Greci in HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS. Milland sported blonde locks for the immensely entertaining GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (1961).

Even though the picture utilizes a fantasy character amidst its historical trappings, Paolella's movie would be tedious without the inclusion of the mythical muscleman. Ciani is simply not capable enough to carry a film about such a maniacal and interesting man of a bygone era. But then, THE REBEL GLADIATOR (1962) is just as much concerned with combat sequences as it is court intrigue. The movie offers an abundance of fight scenes including two between both Commodus and Ursus with the second duel being an exciting piece of choreography. While it takes about 15 minutes for the film to truly gain its stride, fans of sword and sandal should enjoy this entry in the gladiator sweepstakes starring two of the more recognizable stars of the genre.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Mandingo, Book & Film


By Paul Talbot

306 pages; softcover; B/W; first edition 2009

Fantastic volume on the Antebellum Era trash novel by Kyle Onstott (and its subsequent novels from other authors); and the two films that broke the chains of the printed page onto the silver screen in the mid-1970s. Hard to put down, Talbot's meticulous approach to his subject will easily enslave the reader's attention, allowing only to turn the page till the last of the paperback is reached.

In the late 50's, there began a titillating series of novels detailing the lurid, sexually charged, and violent circumstances occurring on slave breeding plantations in the pre-Civil War South. The entire series of scandalous books sold millions and led to one of the most controversial movies of the 1970's.

Paul Talbot (author of the likewise recommended BRONSON'S LOOSE! THE MAKING OF THE DEATH WISH FILMS) has taken up the arduous task of amassing virtually any and every piece of background information on both the provocative, sizzling novels--and everything you would ever want to know about the feature films, MANDINGO (1975) and its far more exploitative sequel, DRUM (1976).

Those involved in the production of the two films (both in front of, and behind the camera) reveal the controversy and the difficulties bringing the two films to the big screen. Talbot also goes the extra mile in detailing other cinematic entries in the salacious sub-genre of slavesploitation.

Over the course of its 306 info-filled pages, those with a taste for the exploitative and wild side of sinema will come away with a more enlightened sense of the popular (as well as critically revered and reviled) series of novels; and their shaping of a controversial film style during the era in which they were made.

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Two Tomes on Hammer Horror

HAMMER GLAMOUR: Classic Images From the Archives of Hammer Films

By Marcus Hearn

Hardcover; 160 pages; color & B/W

The author of the equally large coffee table tome, THE HAMMER STORY: The Authorized History of Hammer Films returns to British Gothic territory with this loving homage to those gorgeous ladies of of the famed production company. Filled with dozens of alluring pictures as well as behind the scenes and publicity shots of those beauties that stood alongside the beasts of Hammer's horror and fantasy film output.

With over 50 Hammer starlets as well as an appendix featuring many additional actresses, each entry discusses their careers (ever how brief many of them may have been); how they came to be discovered, their roles and what they went on to do after their tenure with Hammer was over. Trivial tidbits abound amongst the numerous and plentiful photos filling out the book.

The only negatives (which are terribly minor for the most part) is that some of the women get at least four pages while some others only get one and there's relatively few nude pics for those curious about them. Considering there are other books on Hammer with a handful of revealing photos, this book has relatively few. Also, where the hell is Dana Gillespie (THE LOST CONTINENT, Amicus' THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT)?

Nonetheless, HAMMER GLAMOUR is a highly recommended purchase. Any Hammer fan should have this book in their collection if only for the wealth of pictorials of the company's stable of beauties. It can be bought for under $20.

Next up is one of the most enticing and curious pieces of reference material on the British horror film company.

HAMMER FILMS: A LIFE IN PICTURES--The Visual Story of Hammer Films

By Wayne Kinsey

Hardcover; 224 pages; color & B/W; Limited to 2,500 copies

Wayne Kinsey, the author of the painstakingly mounted and exhaustively thorough HAMMER FILMS: THE BRAY YEARS and HAMMER FILMS: THE ELSTREE YEARS returns with even more unearthed goodies for Hammerheads to slaver over. Where those two aforementioned books featured many rare behind the scenes pictures, so does this hardback book feature hundreds of even more rare and unseen photos from the history of Hammer. One of the reasons that this book will be of interest to serious Hammer fans are the inclusion of rare photos from Hammer productions outside their more widely known horror realm.

There are 12 chapters and these are--

1. So, Who Was Hammer?
2. Hammer Noir
3. Frankenstein
4. Dracula
5. Horror
6. Science Fiction
7. Psychological Thrillers
8. Drama
9. War
10. Fantasy
11. Comedies
12. Swashbucklers

It should be stressed that, outside of the Introduction and the Foreword, the book is a massive collection of rare stills showcasing the actors and film technicians at work with captions detailing the scenes pictured.

Hammer fans will find much to enjoy here in visual form. Two examples are color behind the scenes shots of effects artists preparing the gruesome fate of the monster in FRANKENSTEIN & THE MONSTER FROM HELL. Another sees Chris Lee as Dracula rehearsing his manic stabbing of a mannequin standing in for Anouska Hempel from SCARS OF DRACULA.

There's really nothing bad to say about this book aside from it being rather costly at nearly $35.00. This magnificent manuscript is dominated by a plethora of pictures limited to only 2,500 copies and when they're gone, the price will only go up even further.

Like the above reviewed book, A LIFE IN PICTURES is another must own reference book for any serious Hammer fan as well as those that feel everything has been said (or seen) on the subject of the most famous British horror film company. On the inside jacket, there is a blurb for an upcoming book by the meticulous Mr. Kinsey entitled HAMMER FILMS-THE REAL STORY which features all new interviews with key players from Hammer including many detailing their accounts for the first time. This upcoming book promises to be a must buy as well and another winner for the enterprising Wayne Kinsey.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Martyrs (2008) review


Morjana Alaoui (Anna), Mylene Jampanoi (Lucie)

Directed by Pascal Laugier

A young girl, Lucie, held captive and tortured manages to escape her abductors. After 15 years of living only for the chance to gain retribution on those who brutally savaged her, Lucie and her childhood friend, Anna, seek out those responsible for Lucie's unhinged state of mind. Their journey leads them down a path of insanity, wanton despair and violent death.

For the last few years France has been the haven for extreme horror with a slew of releases that have breathed new life into the waning horror genre. Films such as HIGH TENSION (2003) and INSIDE (2007) are among a group of hungry filmmakers splashing their ambitious ideas in bold red brush strokes across cinema screens and television sets. Some of these gruesomely foul flicks from France borrow themes and ideas from American horror films of the glorious decade that was the 1970's and amalgamate them into something unique and often disturbingly fresh and unique.

Pascal Laugier's MARTYRS is one such movie, but totally flies over the heads of any other Euro horror of late. There are many words one could use to describe MARTYRS and many of those could be taken as praise or damnation. It's not an easy film to recommend, nor describe. Nor is it a film for just anybody, nor a film for just any horror fan for that matter. Beautifully shot and meticulously filmed, it's like a nightmare caught on celluloid unfolding before the viewers eyes.

Mere words cannot do the film justice in terms of the cavalcade of depravity that takes place over the course of the most uncomfortable 100 minutes you will see from a picture of recent memory. MARTYRS (2008) joins the ranks of other supremely depressing cinematic experiences like SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979) and MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988). Laugier's movie is the first in years that made me not want to finish watching in one go. Earlier this evening I managed to bring myself to sit down and bear witness to the final 40 minutes of this nauseating, yet mesmerizing movie.

One of the most impressive feats accomplished by the director is that the viewer totally connects (on both a visceral and emotional level) with the main protagonists; especially Lucie, the initial fractured and destroyed soul the film begins with and whose path to bloody revenge we follow along. During the first 50 minutes the viewer is bombarded with numerous shots of disturbing imagery in the form of a disfigured and badly mutilated form of what used to be a woman. This figure haunts Lucie's memory torturing her further. It isn't until later on that it 's revealed just who and what this frightening apparition represents.

Not only has Lucie been through a living hell, but she continuously punishes herself through an agonizing series of self mutilation in addition to attaining her vengeance in one of the most harrowing sequences of violence ever to grace the screen. The viewer is introduced to this family of four and aside from some raucous verbal exchanges between them, they seem like any other seemingly wholesome and financially successful family. What transpires after the sudden and vicious home invasion sequence is beyond words or reasonable sanity.

Once Lucie's appetite for grim retribution has been satiated, the film veers into an even more grim and reprehensible arena of revulsion. Just when the atmosphere couldn't get any more dismal, the audience is hit once again with a continuous slate of broken and destroyed bodies before the hour mark hits and this ostensibly clean cut family home is invaded yet again. What transpires from this point on is a cross pollination of repugnant scenes of cruelty and thought provoking connotations of a religious and allegorical level.

Despite being one of the most uncomfortable movies ever made, it's all brilliantly acted and painstakingly photographed. The films plot never makes itself known till roughly the hour mark once the home of the perpetrators is occupied once more by what appears to be a cult of wealthy and prominent men and women of some repute. Their purpose is explained by the elderly and cold faced Mademoiselle. During this sequence, the films title is also explained.

Prior to this sequence, the audience has been assaulted with a long series of nasty images and disgusting scenes of pugnacity that, upon first glance, appear to be violence for violence sake. The oppressive aura of aggression never slows down even after the film makes its philosophical, yet macabre purpose known. Once Anna has become a 'Martyr in training', we are again thrown into a dark room with nothing but merciless and callous cruelty as our company. However, as the film reaches its doom laden climax, the shock ending leaves the audience to make up their own minds as to the true nature of the final moments and its pitiless meaning.

Pascal Laugier has created a serious horror masterpiece that will be the subject of admiration and acclaim as well as scorn and unquestionable abjuration for years to come. One of the key elements aside from the highly effective performances are the grueling special effects. These (thankfully) practical effects are a breath of fresh air amidst the all too numerous American horror flicks of late that rely on horrendous computer generated "special effects" for their shock value. The scenes of bodily destruction and defilement attain a Cronenbergian level of unpleasantness. Once the films plot rears its metaphysically ugly head, the production transcends its appearance as a far more polished version of HOSTEL (2005) and becomes what is possibly the first ever thinking mans gorefest.

Despite the nature of the picture and its inescapable collage of cruelty, it's a hypnotic and mesmerizing horror film that some will find hard to classify and even harder to actually "enjoy". I doubt anyone with a serious interest in horror can outright say they enjoyed the movie. I don't mean that in a derogatory fashion, either. MARTYRS isn't your average horror film certainly not in the same category as prior French horror films of the last few years and definitely leagues above just about anything released in America in recent years. More of an endurance test, it offers up underlying themes that belie its many scenes of torture and sadism much in the way Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979) was about the cruelty the media can create through sensationalism with violent consequences. You will surely not like what you see, you may in fact hate it...but one thing is for certain, you will not soon forget it. Its a groundbreakingly offensive work that should be seen by any serious fan of the horror genre.

This review is representative of the Weinstein Company Unrated DVD.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Rebel (1980) review


Maurizio Merli (Nick Rossi), Francisco Rabal (Tony), Jutta Speidel (Vivian), Reinherd Kolldehoff (Heminshtoller), Arthur Brauss (Klause Veidt), Bobby Rhodes (Jamaica)

Directed by Stelvio Massi

Retired cop, Nick Rossi is payed a visit from his former partner, Tony about joining him as a bodyguard for established clientele. At first declining the offer, Nick quickly accepts and joins his friend for the job of protecting a visiting German banker. Touring a Venice glass making facility, the wealthy businessman is assassinated anyway and Tony is mortally wounded in the violent skirmish. Vowing to avenge his friend, Rossi goes to great lengths to learn the truth behind the spate of assassinations of wealthy entrepreneurs. In aiding the police, his journey takes him to Berlin where Rossi cunningly assumes the identity of one of the hitmen. While there, he meets a beautiful woman who initiates him into the secret society of international killers. Some time after, Rossi's cover is blown and he himself becomes a target of the powerful criminal organization.

THE REBEL (1980) is one of the last great movies to emerge from the dying European crime genre that flourished in Italy throughout the 1970's. Of the various movies I've seen from Stelvio Massi, this ranks up there with the best. The first few films of his I had viewed were mediocre, but then something like THE REBEL comes along and changes that perspective. The man has definitely directed some top tier entries amidst some lower level actioners. This production stands out as one of his best.

With Massi's notable career as an accomplished cinematographer, his penchant for innovative ways to shoot a scene is in evidence here through the lens of cameraman, Pier Luigi Santi. To Santi's credit, there are a number of unusual lighting effects in certain scenes with Merli. His face is illuminated while around him is more dimly lit. There's also some nice panning and dolly shots that add some extra emotional impact to certain sequences.

More suspense thriller than action film, THE REBEL (1980) also marks popular actor, Maurizio Merli's final bow in the genre. Like a few of his previous outings, this picture is vastly different from his more well known and kinetic cop films such as VIOLENT ROME (1975) and SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976). While there are the requisite shootouts and chases, the bulk of the movie revolves around the intrigue and assassination aspects of the storyline. Also, the characterizations are more deep than usual. Merli as Nick Rossi is a tortured soul who resigned from the force after his family was killed in what is presumed to have been in response to his then career of choice.

"You're too cunning, my friend, much too cunning for a simple crook."

Rossi is very similar to Paul Kersey, the character essayed by Charles Bronson in the seminal DEATH WISH (1974). Everyone he cares about, anyone he gets close to ends up dead. His relationship with anguish and loss only adds to the already somber atmosphere that permeates the snow bound German locations. Constantly watched and distrusted by the organization that hired him, Rossi barely manages to stay one step ahead of his employers. Merli's hitman is crafty and guileful, much different from his more popular roles as an impetuous and recalcitrant policeman.

"I believe a moment of true love is worth a life."

The character of Vivian is also well drawn and played with increasing trepidation by Jutta Speidel. Her character prefers to not ever get too close to one of her lovers, but she fails at this when she meets Nick Rossi. The two become involved in a relationship and you're not quite sure at first if Rossi is simply using her to get close to the killers, or if he genuinely has feelings for her. Not long after, she learns that Nick is actually a cop, but because she loves him, she ultimately puts her life at risk. The love story angle is quite different for this type of picture especially when so much time is devoted to it as it is here over the course of the films 104 minute running time.

Considering so many people (in Italy and abroad) say that Merli owed his popularity to his likeness to Franco Nero, the man obviously wished to alter his persona in ways to detach himself from this stigma. Not only that, but the proliferation of violent cop movies had pretty much ran there course at this point and change was inevitable. Merli delivers one of his most varied policeman roles made most notable by the relationship with the likewise tortured character of Vivian. Merli had been given love interests in past movies, but not quite to the extent seen here. The sad and heartbreaking piano backed love song that pops up infrequently as both an instrumental piece and vocally over the end credits perfectly sums up their relationship.

The amount of time afforded the characters does indeed pay off, though, as it greatly accentuates the action scenes and THE REBEL has merely a few, but they're all ably choreographed and very exciting. The Venice glass shop shootout/boat chase is a highlight as is the emotionally impactful conclusion in and around a railway station. Sprinkled in between these two are some mini action scenes ranging from some minor fisticuffs and gun battles. The Italians propensity for slow motion scenes are also seen here although it's used sparingly to emphasize action and not just for the sake of it. Overall THE REBEL (1980) is a very well made movie that I enjoyed very much mainly because it was so different and transcended the need for exploitation and excessive violence to bolster its marquee value.

While fans who watch these pictures just for that reason will likely be disappointed, I recommend this movie most highly. However, if you are new to the genre, I would say start with one of Merli's more fashionable action films such as VIOLENT NAPLES, or the sleazy delights of fan fave ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (both 1976) before investigating more "mature" works such as this one. Just the same, POLIZIOTTO, SOLITUDINE E RABBIA (aka THE REBEL) is one of the best films from both Maurizio Merli and director, Stelvio Massi and is long overdue some praise from more fans of the Italo crime genre.

This film can be purchased at the link below....
Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.