Sunday, February 8, 2009

In the Folds of the Flesh (1970) review


Eleonora Rossi Drago (Lucille Radiguet), Anna Maria Pierangeli (Falez/Ester), Alfredo Mayo (Colin), Fernando Sancho (Paschal), Luciano Catenacci (Antoine), Victor Alcazar (Derek/Alex)

Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli

"You have a little fun and then...all of a sudden, they all wind up dead. It's a regular ritual. You create the problem...and our job is the final solution. We're experts at to help us out?"

***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity and graphic violence***

A criminal escapes from prison leading the police on a high speed chase towards a castle by the sea. The convict makes it to the grounds of the chateau and spies a woman burying a corpse, the decapitated body of her husband, Andre. Startled, the escaped prisoner is recaptured by the police and hauled away. The castle itself is occupied by a demented family of psychopaths and thirteen years later, various family members and acquaintances make their way to the ominous abode for assorted nefarious reasons and all meet their doom at the hands of the crazies.

Not long after, the prisoner, Paschal, has gotten out and makes his way back to the citadel to blackmail the terrible triumvirate for the time he spent incarcerated without telling what he saw thirteen years prior. After sexually violating the women, Paschal is soon dispatched as well. A short time later, another visitor shows up at the bloody bastion, this time claiming to be the real Andre, a mobster who specialized in blackmail. Claiming to have altered his looks via cosmetic surgery, the presence of Andre sends the insane trio spiraling further into madness.

Exploitation director Bergonzelli directs this totally bizarre and maddeningly psychedelic trip into the world of a demented family of psycho sexual maniacs. Insanity and carnal depravity are the order of the day. Released right at the time when the burgeoning giallo thrillers were about to grab audiences by the throat, it accomplishes it's fitfully disturbing agenda without utilizing what would become the genre mainstay...the black gloved killer.

From the outset, it's no secret just who has committed a ghastly murder, or who else is involved. What isn't readily apparent is why this family of homicidal killers are the way they are. Over the course of Bergonzelli's movie, various flashbacks told from different perspectives reveal bits and pieces of information. It isn't until the last 15 minutes that the film takes on a dizzying amount of plot twists thrust upon the audience making a first viewing a confusing ordeal.

The film is haphazardly directed, but then the totally insane nature of the whole affair makes it all work in its favor. Perhaps all the zany zooms and chaotic editing was intentional. Not only that, but there's a good amount of experimental filmmaking on display featuring black and white photography, still photos that rapidly propels plot elements and sometimes are seen as pages from a book. There is also some swirling kaleidoscopic effects for some shots that help drive home the frenzied atmosphere of the picture.

Some of the weird and wild excesses found in Bergonzelli's movie include incest, animal murder, decapitations, flesh eating vultures in cages, acid bath revenge and numerous scenes of sexual lunatics at play. The crazy family unit also keep a good deal of human bones kept about the house. Chalked up to Etruscan discoveries, the method by which the sadists dispose of their victims tells a possibly different story. There's an uncomfortable scene of animal violence here. The close up strangulation of a dog that has sniffed out the location of a buried body is rather excruciating to watch. Hopefully, it wasn't real, but it adds a grim quality to an already unhinged movie. There's even a stopover to a loony bin to meet a character that figures later on in the plot.

One of the most over the top sequences and the most distasteful is a Nazi death camp flashback that's shot totally in black and white detailing an occurrence involving one of the main characters. A flood of completely nude women are herded into a gas chamber and killed. One of them is kept from this agonizing death by one of the officers and must stand by and watch her mother,sister and friends choke to death in front of her. This sequence has little relevance aside from adding one more sadistic layer to the debauched and sadistic nature of this European platter of immorality.

There's also a hint of some European crime film elements inherent in the movie. The escaped prisoner (played by the burly Fernando Sancho), the mention of the castle owner, Andre (whom is a mobster), a brief shoot out seen in one of the many flashbacks, the presence of crime movie actor, Luciano Catenacci and the roughing up of a captive by two thugs whilst a young girl watches swinging on a swingset all point to another genre that would soon be coming into vogue at the Italian cinemas.

The final 15 minutes is a cavalcade of twists and reveals that will cause even the most attentive viewer to lose track. Andre comes back home, revealing to his wife, Lucille, that he has changed his face with surgery so as to throw off the police and is curious where his other daughter, Ester is. Lucille, unsure if Andre is who he says he is, explains that she is dead, but Andre demands to see her body for consolement. Mere minutes later, viewers are assaulted with even more flashbacks that divulge everything you have seen up to this point as nothing more than lies.

A good cast with the most lively addition being the presence of spaghetti western player, Fernando Sancho. He looks as if he has just stepped off the set of a dusty Euroater playing a typical bad guy only this time in modern dress. His section in the film is one of the best and anybody that has ever wanted to see Sancho naked, you see his backside briefly in one of the more gross scenes in the movie. What's funny is that when Sancho steps into the tub, he is completely shorn of clothes, yet when the camera is in the front of him, he is clearly bathing with underwear on.

The aforementioned Luciano Catenacci will be instantly recognizable to Italian genre fans as he played many villain roles in the Italian crime genre such as ALMOST HUMAN (1974) and SYNDICATE SADISTS (1975). Also recognizable to fans of Paul Naschy, is the presence of Victor Alcazar (Vic Winner) as a doomed visitor to the castle who meets a bloody end at the hands of one of the insane females. He is onscreen briefly in this Italian-Spanish co-production.

Truly a long hidden and obscure genre gem, it is now available in a colorful DVD from Severin Films. It definitely offers up an incredible amount of sleazy and salacious charms for Italian genre buffs and giallo fans alike. Just don't go into this film expecting a blood bath. While it features a lot of severed heads, it never becomes overly gory resigning itself to just being unsettling and disturbing with its scenes of sexual deviancy and assorted other unpleasantries.

This review is representative of the region 1 Severin DVD.

Yellow Fangs (1990) review


Hiroyuki Sanada (Eiji), Mika Muramatsu (Yuki), Bunta Sugawara (Kasuke), Isao Natsuyagi (YUki's father)

Directed by Sonny Chiba; Cinematography by Saburo Fujiwara; Musical Director: Hiroyuki Sanada; Planned & Supervised by Kinji Fukusaku

"It only eats women. So far it's killed twelve. It ate five of them."

A blood thirsty, rampaging bear tears its way through the snow covered villages of Hokkaido carrying away and feasting on the female population. A group of heroic bear hunters brave the elements in search of the ferocious "Red Spots", the name given to the killer bear by the terrorized villagers. A vengeful and determined young girl named Yuki disguises herself as a boy and pursues the enormous 10 foot Asiatic Black Bear for the death of her family. The young brave, Eiji, tries to stop her. Ultimately, the two become trapped within a hut, the flesh hungry creature trying to get inside at them.

The legendary Japanese screen icon, Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba, in his directorial debut, tackles this unusual dramatic suspense thriller. It's a difficult movie to classify. The closest approximation would be Christophe Gan's French genre hybrid, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2002). Chiba's movie tells the true story of a voracious killer bear that raided the villages of Hokkaido in December of 1915 butchering the inhabitants and consuming the female residents.

Since the 1960's, Sonny Chiba has starred in well over a hundred television programs and movies. Appearing in sci fi fare such as INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN and the terrible TERROR BENEATH THE SEA (1966), Chiba would make a name for himself in action shows on the small screen and eventually, bloody and violent fight films on the big screen. Whether it was Yakuza dramas (BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY: DEADLY FIGHT IN HIROSHIMA) Karate movies (THE STREET FIGHTER, KARATE BULLFIGHTER) or Samurai epics (SHOGUN'S SAMURAI), Chiba was everywhere. He formed his Japan Action Club in 1969 and used it to hone a team of actor stuntmen that would be featured in many of his productions.

Chiba was always a passionate man about his work and he displayed his adoration by pouring some 10 million of his own money into what was meant to be the 20th year commemoration of the JAC (Japan Action Club). The film featured a number of JAC alumni in front of, and behind the camera. What is most perplexing is that Chiba, himself, doesn't feature anywhere in the film, nor is this a typical film as to be expected from Sonny Chiba. There's no martial arts sequences of any kind and relatively little stunt work. The film relies instead on telling a story of revenge and occasional horror punctuated by a love story involving Sanada and newcomer, Muramatsu.

One of Chiba's mentors, Kinji Fukusaku, supervised the production and no doubt gave Chiba's maiden voyage in the directors chair some guidance. It's definitely a well mounted production and is handled with a lot of flair and enthusiasm by it's respected actor turned director. One of the most striking and noticeable aspects of the film is the sumptuous cinematography of Saburo Fujiwara. There are a number of visually striking shots of snow encroached mountains and valleys. If nothing else, a lot of scenes showcase some beautiful eye candy.

The script is a good one, too, and speaks quite a bit on the place of women in Japanese society. Women's suffrage didn't arrive till the 1920's and it was still a few years away, so it was interesting to see it beginning to blossom here. There is also a love story between Eiji and Yuki. Eiji is initially to marry the pretty Mitsu, a beautiful woman who prefers her place at home as opposed to the more adventurous Yuki. She is perfectly at ease getting dirty or hunting out in the forests for wild game. Preferring a strong woman, Eiji naturally has been in love with Yuki for a long time. The film is also told in a flashback scenario. After 21 minutes, the film goes back one year prior and doesn't return to the present till the last 30 minutes.

About the only real negative I can levy at the picture is the woefully unconvincing bear suit. Considering the strides in effects technology in Japanese movies since GODZILLA (1984) and continuing with the then awesome and ambitious work of Koichi Kawakita on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), it's a bit odd more care wasn't expended on that aspect of the production.

The suit on display is barely as good as the one seen in KARATE BEARFIGHTER (1976) and is in the same mold as the mutated bear suit creations in the American monster film, PROPHECY (1979). However, there are a few good shots utilizing the costume such as a scene wherein the rampaging beast crashes a festival killing a pretty woman who has just become a bride. The bear clutches her in its maw and out into the street amidst screaming townsfolk.

There is also some real bear footage as well as an uncomfortable, yet brief, scene wherein a bear fights with a dog. Apparently the bear doesn't kill the dog (although there is a cutaway after the bear takes it down), but it looks like it did hurt the animal. The violence is strong, but spread out over the course of the 108 minute running time. The opening of the film is rather gruesome and heavily pushes the horror angle. The 1976 William Girdler film, GRIZZLY was a hit in Japan, but I doubt its success had much to do with director Chiba taking on this picture. The only similarities are both revolve around a killer bear eating the cast members.

The final 12 minutes are very suspenseful and tactfully shot. In it, both Eiji and Yuki are attempting to lure the huge black bear to their location. Yuki decides to use her body as bait since the creature is attracted by the smell of a woman. She strips down to the bare essentials and it isn't long before the huge animal shows up and becomes a bit more than they bargained for. The film has an attention grabbing and bloody opening, a couple of stand out set pieces in the middle and a fairly exhilarating ending that will especially be appreciated by Kaiju Eiga fans.

Hiroyuki Sanada is a great lead as always and his screen time is split between his character and that of Yuki, the girl he eventually falls in love with. Sanada also handled the interesting and at times, exciting and somber musical score. There's no pop rock ballads that populated the action pictures of the earlier 80's, but there is one electric guitar orchestral piece that is heard near the end. Like seemingly everyone else, Sanada puts a lot of effort into his participation here. It's only more saddening that the production would nearly destroy its director, a man who had enjoyed the fruits of his labor up until the release of his directorial debut.

The film bombed terribly in Japan and considering Chiba put up most of the budget himself, he was hit the hardest. Sonny Chiba's losses were incredible to say the least. He lost his mansion, his restaurant chain, and nearly all his other assets. He was forced to sell his beloved Japan Action Club, the organization that was responsible for so many works of entertainment art. The very film that was a tribute to the institute accountable for Japan's genre of action spectacles was the very film that would cause its demise and dissolution.

It's curious why the film was received with such a lukewarm response from the Japanese audience. Possibly it was because the film lacked Chiba in a prominent role. Also, for a film built around the 20 year celebration of the premier action choreography/stuntman association in Japan, it was sorely lacking in the typical JAC action style.

At any rate, the film is, and will most likely continue to remain a curiosity footnote in the career of its distinguished actor turned director. Despite its strong points, I would only recommend this to those interested in all aspects of Sonny Chiba's career, or those wishing to see something completely different and those open to a Chiba film that doesn't star the man in some capacity.

This review is representative of the Cinema Epoch region 1 DVD. No English dub is provided, only English subtitles.

A Fistful of Spaghetti: Mini Reviews of European Western Films

This column covers the Good, the Average and the Mediocre in the spaghetti western genre. The following reviews are for two obscure European western pictures.


Chip Corman (Steve Blasco), Franco Giornelli (Asher), Rosemarie Dexter (Katie), Piero Lulli (Sam), Dana Ghia (Lucy)

Directed by Franco Rosetti

After escaping the hangman's noose, Steve Blasco finds a dying Confederate soldier. The man tells him to deliver a message to the blind man named Sam, who lives in the town of Overton with his caretaker, Katie. But Steve has other plans. Swiping the dead soldiers clothes and his gun, he heads off to meet with Sam to proclaim himself as his son in an effort to get his hands on his money. However, a gang of killers are also in Overton to rob a stagecoach carrying soldier funds. Lucy, an old flame of Steve's, is a member of the gang. Steve eventually joins forces with the gangsters, but he later tries to flee with the stolen currency. He is captured and tortured and Sam is killed. Having slowly changed his morality, Steve, having been left for dead, avenges the death of the old man and goes after Asher's gang.

Andrea Giordana (as Chip Corman) plays a curious part in this fairly mundane Italian western. It isn't a bad movie at all, just nothing terribly memorable. It's difficult to really get behind his character, although he does make a change towards the end. The movie doesn't get really interesting till an hour in when the gang beats up Steve and then tortures Sam in a masterfully handled, yet grim and disturbing sequence. It was at this moment that the movie showed some signs of life, despite some interesting plot points prior to this sequence.

Piero Lulli, a character actor who has appeared in dozens of movies of various genres, will most likely be best remembered for his antagonistic roles in Euro westerns. Here, he plays a good guy, the blind and docile Sam. His character is easily the most interesting one in the movie and it is at this point when Sam is being tortured, that Steve also changes completely from a seedy individual to a full fledged avenging hero. During the last 30 minutes, the film is basically Steve hunting down all the gang members and administering frontier retribution. The best is saved for Asher who receives a particularly ironic piece of poetic justice.

There is a Gothic air about the movie and it resembles Corbucci's grim western style seen in such films as DJANGO (1966) and THE GREAT SILENCE (1968). Whether it be the mud caked and rain soaked streets of the abandoned town of Overton, or the wind and foggy nighttime scenes, there's a foreboding atmosphere through most of the film. The fight in the saloon is a bit of an eye opener. It's good compared with some of the earlier brawls and even stands out among other films in the genre which generally have some of the worst telegraphed fight sequences. It looks like portions of this bar room brawl have been slightly undercranked.

DIRTY OUTLAWS (1967) is only recommended to die hard fans of the genre. It has some stand out moments, but not enough to ride alongside some of the truly great movies to be seen in the Italian western genre. It's fine for a viewing, but is nearly forgotten soon afterwards.

This review is representative of the Wild East DVD.

The second feature on this two-fer western attraction is the average, yet enjoyable Euroater called...

CJAMANGO 1967 **1/2

Ivan Rassimov/Sean Todd (Cjamango), Mickey Hargitay (Clinton), Helene Chanel (Pearl), Livio Lorenzon (Don Pablo), Piero Lulli (The Tiger), Giusva Fioranti (Manuel)

Directed by Edoardo Mulargia

A mysterious gunman, Cjamango, wins a great deal of gold in a poker game against a Mexican bandit. As soon as he prepares to make off with his winnings, a gang of killers led by Don Pablo and the Tiger enters the saloon and massacres everyone inside. Left for dead, Cjamango takes off to reclaim his stolen cache of gold. Some time later, the gold ends up stolen again and the gang who took it has split into two factions with much animosity between them. Cjamango arrives in town heating up the rivalry between the two gangs.

He ultimately takes care of a scorned and abandoned little boy who is cruelly used by one of the gangs to get rid of the townsfolk enabling them to take over the peoples lands. Around the same time of Cjamango's arrival in the small Mexican hamlet, a well dressed stranger named Clinton shows up; his intentions not revealed till the final closing moments. A concluding stand off between Don Pablo, the Tiger and Cjamango ensues with the enigmatic Clinton watching from the sidelines.

Another riff on the FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) storyline and also throws elements of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) into the mix creating a very pedestrian effort by Edoardo Mulargia. Mulargia is hit and miss making some fun entertainment such as W DJANGO!(1972) and then some incomprehensible mess like BROTHER OUTLAW (1971). CJAMANGO (1967) falls somewhere in between. Kudos to the makers for injecting something new into familiar territory. However, the film seems to suffer from a rushed schedule or just plain sloppiness as some scenes seem incomplete or ripe with continuity problems.

Cjamango has seemingly stolen his gold away from the gang at the beginning but no passage of time is alluded to nor how he was able to do such a thing. Also, the little boy Manuel is burned badly on his body to fool the scared townsfolk into thinking he has the plague. His mother, Pearl, pays two individuals to dump him off at a convent, but instead, the two literally toss him from their wagon a good distance from town. In the next scene, Manuel is back in town again.

The movie features some poignant moments such as the terrible treatment given the little boy Manuel who is befriended by Cjamango not long after he arrives in the village. Rassimov's character is afforded some depth not generally found in the many anti-heroes dominating the spaghetti western landscape and this non comic book approach is a welcome change of pace even if the story is recycled from the Leone movies.

Rassimov comes off much better here than he did in the mostly dull IF YOU WANT TO LIVE...SHOOT! (1968) and in addition to the added pathos, there's a great scene near the end where the bad guys are going to blow up Manuel if he doesn't reveal where the gold is stashed. Helpless, Cjamango must decide either the boy or the money.

Mickey Hargitay is on hand but has very little to do and mostly observes from the sidelines. You would totally forget he was in the movie if not for the infrequent shots of him milling around occasionally asking questions or briefly aiding Cjamango in a bar. His intentions are revealed at the end and it, too, isn't quite what you would think.

The stunning Helene Chanel plays Pearl, the hot property that has seemingly caused the ripple in the gangs members. She isn't totally a righteous person herself but has a change of heart by the end. It's hinted at during a conversation that Pearl is Manuel's mother but the boy never refers to her as such and it's not mentioned again throughout the film unless I missed something.

Chanel is quite stacked and featured in numerous sword and sandal movies such as MACISTE IN THE COURT OF THE GREAT KHAN (1961), MACISTE IN HELL (1962; aka THE WITCH'S CURSE), the awful SAMSON & HIS MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964) and the hybrid THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965).

The score in CJAMANGO (1967) by Felic di Stefano is excellent and beautifully rendered and is easily the best attribute of this film. The music alone is worth watching the film again it's just a shame the film itself doesn't match up. One of the best pieces occurs near the beginning when the townsfolk are abandoning the village and Manuel desperately wants someone to take him with them but he's shoved around and discarded because the people are convinced he has the plague. Manuel only has one real friend here and that's Cjamango and this one thread is what holds the movie together bolstered by Stefano's lovely score.

The WE dvd appears to be sourced from a German disc as the title is in German with the remainder of the credits in Italian. The English dubbed sound is very clear and audible. There's a lot worse SW's out there but this is a decent enough oater with some novel ideas including an unusual hero and the pleasing score, but not enough to make it rise above being simply average.

This review is representative of the Wild East DVD.
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