Friday, March 19, 2010

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Terror Tomes of Eurocult Cinema

This edition of Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews focuses once more on Italian horror tom(b)es. There are three books featured here--from the best to the least. All three are good reads, but two in particular are serious must haves for readers and fans of Eurohorror. First up is a book on one of the great directors of Italian genre cinema...


By Stephen Thrower

Softcover/Hardcover (softcover reviewed); 311 pages; color & B/W

Stephen Throwers exhaustive, exemplary book on the entire career of Italian genre specialist, Lucio Fulci is a wonderful and fascinating read. Every film is covered here in perfect detail. It's truly the definitive volume on the celebrated and controversial director. As much as I have already sang the praises of FAB Press, this is yet another achievement from them. I ordered this book back when it was first made available. It's still around and at nearly twice its cover price used. Still, rabid Fulci fans should attempt to track down a copy.

Loaded to the gills with analytical dissections of Fulci's movies, it's also jam packed with over 800 illustrations and 40 pages in color. Fulci's daughter, Antonella has an introduction and all 52 Fulci films are covered. Fans of his "Zombie Quartet" will lap up the generous display of pictures and full page splashes of the films most famous scenes. There's also behind the scenes photos and various promotional materials including posters and lobby cards.
As a lot of fans are already aware, Fulci had his hands in more movie genres than just horror pictures. He did many other types of films including comedies and westerns. The chapters are as follows...










There are also four appendices...





The book is quite large at 11.6 x 9.4. A good number of FAB Press's books are around this size and as per there usual volumes, it doesn't disappoint. Those looking for heaping amounts of background information may be a bit dissatisfied, but the sheer volume of pictures and interesting dissertations of the movies themselves makes this handsome package definitely one for the shelves.

Next up is another Pasta Land book on Italian horror and fantasy pictures. This one is an English tome written by two Italian authors....


By Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta

softcover; 192 pages; color & B/W

This very interesting book on Eurocinema is a highly interesting look into the world of Italian genre cinema and the people that made them. It contains over two dozen interviews with stars, directors, effects artists as well as two very brief articles regarding Italian fantastic cinema and the Mondo movies.

It's not all Italian filmmakers and other personnel interviewed, there's also a conversation with American special effects ace, Tom Savini. His interview is probably the funniest. For years it's been "rumored" that Savini was involved in the FX from Romano Scavolini's NIGHTMARE (1980) aka NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN. Savini has repeatedly discounted this information yet in this book, there is a picture that clearly shows him involved in an effects sequence. Why he refuses to acknowledge his participation here is unknown.

As with most Italians in interviews who like to put their cult films on a pedestal much higher than the stature they truly attained, the authors do much the same thing here. Such is one humorous bit in the 'Violent Adventure' index. The entry for L' ULTIMO SQUALO (1980) aka THE LAST JAWS aka GREAT WHITE reads, "The film that was a real threat to the success of JAWS. Excellent production with just the right cast." While I agree with the last bit regarding the cast, the rest is a bit overblown. There's nothing at all excellent about the film, unless you count how successfully bad it is.


Still, the interviews are all very entertaining and enlightening. While the book covers an incredible amount of ground, it's far too much to be considered definitive. The reference section does a decent job of covering the many different genres and key films, but it's far from the "complete reference book" blurb on the front cover. Only the horror and fantasy related films are given extensive coverage.

The only negative about this book would be the way in which the films are indexed. They are listed by their original Italian titles only. Some of these will be familiar to fans, but then a great many of them may not. This can prove frustrating at times. The interviews are the following....

Fabrizio De Angelis

Claudio Argento

Dario Argento

Lamberto Bava

Mario Caiano

Stefania Casini

Luigi Cozzi

Armando Crispini

Ruggero Deodato

Mimsy Farmer

Franco Ferrini

Claudio Fragasso

Lucio Fulci

Umberto Lenzi

Antonio Margheriti

Aristide Massaccesi

Luigi Montefiori

Daria Nicolodi

Gianetto de Rossi

Dardano Sacchetti
Tom Savini

Romano Scavolini

Michele Soavi

Terence Stamp

David Warbeck

Bernardino Zapponi

An index (as mentioned above) covers all the other genres including Horror, Thrillers, Violent Adventure, Peplums and Science Fiction among some others. This highly recommended book is still available much cheaper (half off its cover price!) than I paid for it back in 1996. Fans of interviews and learning about technical information will no doubt lap up this piece. At its current price, easily one for the shelves.

This last book is a minor one, but no less interesting....


By Jim Harper

Softcover; 252 pages; B/W

Harper's book is a nice little starter kit for the unitiated, but still offers a bit of substance for others more familiar with the movies listed therein. Relegated strictly to the years between 1979 through 1994, it does Italian Horror a bit of a disservice by not including Eurohorror from years prior to those discussed here. It doesn't completely ignore the Golden Age of Italian horror cinema, but doesn't dwell on it, either.

The book itself is digest sized and includes a surprising amount of lesser known titles among the ones fans are more accustomed to. There's also just enough background information and critical analysis to satisfy those in need of a quick fix. All the reviews and dissertations are rather brief and that in itself will be attractive to less patient readers who want to simply "get on with it". There's also around 15 pages devoted to the filmmakers themselves and their accomplishments. Indexes of alternate titles and pseudonyms are the books additional attributes.

The major negative here are that the pictures are poorly produced on the paper stock utilized. Other than that, Harper's book is a nice edition, if a bit pricey. The rather hefty $25 price tag will figure into many fans minds as to whether this is one for their shelves, or not.


Euro Western Cinema Classics: A Pistol For Ringo (1965) review


Guiliano Gemma/Montgomery Wood (Ringo), Fernando Sancho (Sancho), George Martin (Sheriff Ben), Nieves Navarro (Dolores), Hally Hammond/Lorella De Luca (Ruby), Jose Manuel Martin (Pedro)

Directed by Duccio Tessari

A band of cutthroats cross the border into America and rob the bank of a nearby western town. Making off with the loot, the leader of the gang is injured. Spying a vast hacienda, the gang takes the family hostage in the hopes of making a deal with the Sheriff and his men for free and clear passage back into Mexico. With his fiance among the captives, Ben, the Sheriff hires the sly, but ace gunslinger Ringo, to infiltrate the gang and get the hostages out alive before the army arrives.

Duccio Tessari, one of Italy's finest screenwriters was still in his infancy as a director when he wrote and directed this classic, sassy sagebrush saga. It was one of numerous films he would undertake with former stuntman, Guiliano Gemma. Tessari was apparently very fond of westerns and he was very good at directing them. He was also a good hand at writing sword and sandal adventures and also directed one entitled MY SON, THE HERO (1962) aka SONS OF THUNDER, which co-starred Gemma (as Krios), then a regular stuntman and supporting player in many of those movies. Unlike so many other Spaghetti's, you will find little to no "wasted space" in Tessari's view of the old west. Also, there's none of Leone's ultra close ups. Nearly every scene is filled with characters or objects. There's relatively few "dead center" shots. Instead, the camera is often filled from the left of the screen to the right.

George Martin, a Spanish actor, also appeared in above average spaghetti's such as A TASTE OF KILLING (1966) and RED BLOOD, YELLOW GOLD (1968) the latter starring George Hilton and Edd Byrnes.

A PISTOL FOR RINGO is a startling bridge between the American style of western and the barren windswept, rocky vistas of countless others. Tessari supports elements of both, although RINGO is closely patterned after the fading American Hollywood classic cowboy movie. Everything from Ringo himself, to the sheriff and the attire fuels the American west sensibility while the Mexican bandit gang and their shenanigans and the setting follow the template set down by Leone. The score by Morricone is also one of the maestro's best works and the theme song was a top hit of the day in Italy. The film was also successful in America upon its release in 1966.

"You know why I'm REALLY here? I'm here to kill you, amigo! You and all them gunslingers a' yers'.....I'm either with ya' at 40 percent, or against ya' at 30 that?"

Gemma was well cast here as the swaggering and sarcastic anti hero, Angel Face ("Ringo to my friends"). Gemma was one of Italy's biggest movie stars and one of the few Italian actors that was a major draw on the level of Clint Eastwood. A number of his oaters (including this one) are on the top box office grossing Italian westerns of all time. Gemma has a legion of fans (especially in Japan and Germany), but he also has some detractors who say he's too clean cut for their tastes.

Ringo:"I don't like the way you laugh. You sound like a jackass. When people laugh, it's a good thing. When they laugh at nothin', it annoys me."

Bandito:"Oh, yeah? And what do you do with someone who annoys you?"

Ringo:"Ahhh, you aint' only a jackass, you're a nosy jackass. Well, go ahead, laugh some more."

Whereas so many heroes of the Italian wasteland had lots of stubble and sweaty brows, Gemma's heroes were always clean shaven. However, in films like THE RETURN OF RINGO (1965) and THE LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE (1967), Gemma sported full facial hair for a good portion of those movies. Gemma was also an unusually special actor in these films. He could do all the things the typical western hero was supposed to do. His stuntman expertise came in handy as he was very agile and would often perform acrobatic maneuvers in his films. He was also a very fast draw and could do tricks with his guns; all things very few could actually do and do well.

Gemma also was blessed with some of the best productions the genre had to offer. Such films as ARIZONA COLT (1966; often cited as an unofficial third 'Ringo' film), FORT YUMA GOLD (1966) and DAY OF ANGER (1967) co-starring Lee Van Cleef. FOR A ROOF...A SKY FULL OF STARS (1968) was a pseudo comedic western which Gemma followed up with a full on comedy entitled ALIVE, OR PREFERABLY DEAD (1969). This picture reunited the actor with RINGO director, Tessari, who apparently enjoyed the Christmas holidays. Like RINGO, ALIVE is also set during Christmas, an unusual setting for a western.

"Alright, kids, step aside and keep your eyes open...a new game more fun than hopscotch. The first o' these gentlemen that steps forward gets a new lead bullet between his eyes."--Angel Face takes down the Benson Brothers while playing Hopscotch with some kids

"Well I warned'em not to step forward, didn't I?"

His character of Ringo (Angel Face) is one of the most memorable in the Italian western canon. He is incredibly sure of himself and his abilities. You could say he's the western hero version of Bugs Bunny. He's always one step ahead of the game and even when he's in danger, he always manages to trick his way out of a situation with his ability to talk. In the best of these scenes he's shockingly frank with the antagonists boldly stating why he's really there and what his intentions are. But even then, Ringo is pulling the villains strings and having a grand time doing it.

"No, thanks, no liquor Tim. It deadens the eye and makes your hands shake. I'd much rather have a glass of milk. I thought I heard some cows mooin' around here."

Ringo is also vastly different from the typical Italian western hero in that he doesn't drink alcohol. He prefers milk(!) This character trait is also utilized in Michele Lupo's excellent RINGOesque ARIZONA COLT from 1966.

"In San Antonio I used to work for a barber who was a surgeon on the side. I helped him operate on 12 to 13 horses."

Possessing arguably the most blatant self assurance of all the many Euroater heroes, Ringo plays a somewhat inverted game of "turning one against the other", akin to the YOJIMBO plot device borrowed by Leone for his FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964; which Tessari also co-wrote). Where Eastwood's character turned one gang against the other with him waiting patiently for the outcome, Ringo plays the gang for fools while working the young girl, Ruby, into thinking he has sold them out to the gang.

Nieves Navarro (left), Gemma (middle), Hammond (right)

There is also a hint that Ruby is falling for Ringo, but this plot device isn't explored very much. Such as a scene wherein he arrogantly tells her to hold back kissing him for it may derail her relationship with the sheriff! Later in the film, she does kiss Ringo without hesitation as is anxious to learn of his safe escape at the end. Trying to keep up this aura of a swindling scoundrel is a tough job, but Ringo expertly manages.

Fernando Sancho (whose lead villain is named Sancho) is an Italian western favorite. He seldom played a good guy in these movies and enjoyed a long career playing characters similar to this one. Tessari's movie grants him one of his best performances, though. His role as the bandit leader is one of the richest, most enjoyable of his career. Making the connection between Ringo and Bugs Bunny would make Sancho his Yosemite Sam and both partake in similar banter throughout the movie. Some of these moments are quite hilarious and raise this film above so many in the genre.

Nieves Navarro is a popular face in Eurocult movies. She appeared in a handful of westerns before moving on to giallos and then stripping away inhibitions and clothes in a string Italian sex/horror films

The script is full of blackly comical touches. A number of the shooting deaths are laced with slight humor. The casual way in which the bandits shoot down armed members of the town at the beginning are an example. Later, Sancho, in the midst of shaving, props his gun on his shoulder and takes out some peons.

"Mornin'! Dead, huh? Well, they say early to bed, early to rise gets you a bullet between the eyes!"

Another scene that is genuine gallows humor has a bandit waking up in the early morning and yawning from an open window only to be greeted by a bullet in the head.

Tessari was one of Italy's finest directors of westerns which included the in-name-only sequel, RETURN OF RINGO from the same year and LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH (1971), a highly entertaining western with a stellar cast that featured Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave and Horst Janson. The first Ringo sequel is considered by critics to be one of the greatest westerns ever made and superior to this one. As much as I enjoy RETURN, I much prefer Gemma's maiden voyage as this wisecracking gunfighter. A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965) is highly recommended for Euroater fans and a splendid introduction into the cowboy pictures of Guiliano Gemma.

This review is representative of the Koch Media Region 2 PAL special edition DVD.

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