Saturday, June 27, 2015


Hot on the heels of Mark Alfrey’s stunning volume on the works of 1970's/80's Italian pulp artist Emanuele Taglietti, Sex and Horror (Korero Press, 2015), comes another terrific book devoted to a unique Italian sub-genre of lurid pop entertainment. Authored by Troy Howarth (The Haunted World of Mario Bava and the upcoming Lucio Fulci book Splintered Visions), So Deadly, So Perverse is the first in a planned three-volume examination of the Italian giallo film, that distinct brand of thriller that was usually violent, often  lurid and sexually perverse, yet just as often beautifully surreal and hypnotically sexy, powered along by dark themes, pop-mod interior designs, creative camera work and evocative soundtracks that generated both mood and groove, and more than a fair share of dread.

Volume One of So Deadly, So Perverse covers the first significant decade of the giallo, the years 1963 - 1973. After an introduction by prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (Death Walks On High Heels, Torso), film writer Roberto Curti provides a encapsulated history of the giallo paperbacks and pulp magazines, and their transition from cheap yellow ('giallo') paper to electric shadows. Origins and early examples of giallo cinema are looked at, as well as films that almost-but-not-quite fit the genre, before the book settles down into its meat and potatoes: a massive reviews section, comprising nearly 200 of the book’s 234 pages, in which Howarth chronologically covers many of giallo titles released during this period, starting appropriately with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and taking us through to the 1973 Italian/Spanish/French co-production, Special Killers. In between,  of course, are some of the best giallos ever made, including Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (1968), Dario Argento’s early Cat O’Nine Tails, Lucio Fulci’s uniquely disturbing Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973). These titles are just the tip of the stiletto knife, however, and Howarth covers a lot of the more obscure titles, many of which I had not heard of, but have certainly had my interest aroused in after reading about them.

As a reviewer, Howarth doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking down plot, which I really like. A single paragraph synopsis is provided for each film, after which the author gets down to discussing and critiquing the film, its performances and filmmaking merits, and its overall effectiveness as a giallo. Howarth clearly loves and respects these films, but is still able to approach them with a fair critical eye, pointing out a film’s faults without  a sneer or condescension.  

Published by Midnight Marquee Press, So Deadly, So Perverse has a simple but clean interior layout design, and its pages a filled with many eye-popping illustrations, most of them reproduced in color and featuring beautiful poster art, ad mats and rare stills.  The striking cover art was designed by Tim Paxton, editor of Monster!, who really captures that lurid, eye-catching feel of not only the giallo poster art, but the original paperbacks as well.

My only real complaint about the book is that the index only provides the year of production next to each title, and not what page in the book the film is reviewed on. It makes it a tiny bit frustrating having to flip back and forth through the book trying to find a specific title. Fortunately, I believe that page indexes will be included in future volumes. But that is a small gripe in a book which is an essential read for anyone interested in its subject. It provides a near-perfect balance between being a useful reference work for the more knowledgeable giallo fans, and an excellent road map for the more casual viewer who wants to delve a little bit deeper.

I’m already looking forward to Volume Two, which will cover the years 1974 - 2003, while Volume Three will be devoted to giallo-styled films produced outside of Italy.

Order SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE from Amazon

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Exerpt from my article on carnival/amusement park-themed horror and exploitation films, appearing in the current issue of WENG'S CHOP, now available from Amazon and Createspace. This exerpt looks at the David Friedman production of She-Freak from 1967:


1967/USA/Directed by Byron Mabe

A grimy exploitation retelling of Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), She-Freak is one of the best carnival films ever made, and in my view the best film which producer David F. Friedman attached his name to after his split with legendary gore pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis. While Lewis hailed from a Chicago advertising background, Friedman had gained his experience in a genuine carnival environment, and his affection for the carnie lifestyle clearly shows in this film (which he both produced and wrote, as well as briefly appearing as a carnival barker/ticket seller).

Even before the opening credits role, we are treated to a wonderful five minute montage of authentic carnival footage, which Friedman and director Bryon Mabe filmed on a handheld Ariflex during a day trip to the California State Fair in Sacramento. This footage really sets the ambience for She-Freak’s sleazy tale of beautiful but bored white trash princess Jade Cochran (played so convincingly by Claire Brennan), who quits her job at a greasy middle-of-nowhere diner and runs off with the carnival that comes traveling through town. Making friends with the carnival’s sexy stripper, Pat Mullins (Lynn Courtney), Jade quickly works her way up from serving hot dogs at the food stand to walking down the aisle with Steve St. John, the well-off but rather boring owner of the sideshow attraction (played by Bill McKinney, who later made Ned Beatty squeal like a pig in 1972's Deliverance). 

Jade doesn’t let a little thing like marriage stop her from continuing a torrid affair with Blackie (Lee Raymond), the ruggedly handsome Ferris wheel operator. Her spiteful side starts to show itself in the way she treats Shorty, the carnival’s little person who knows the secret of her late-night trysts in Blackie’s trailer. When Steve catches his wife and Blackie in the act, he is taken out by a knife to the stomach, leaving Jade to inherit the sideshow. She starts snobbing former close co-workers and immediately begins to instigate unwanted changes, such of the sacking of the much-loved Shorty. Just like the climax of Todd Browning’s classic, Jade ends up paying dearly for her treatment of those around her, as a shiv-wielding Shorty and the sideshow freaks, toward whom Jade had always shown revulsion, converge on her and transform her into the show’s latest attraction, a hideous beast woman put on display in a pit of snakes.

She-Freak is a remarkable film on many levels. The authentic carnival footage is obviously one of its main assets - it helps give the low-budget ($65,000) movie a sense of scope and scale, and serves as a wonderful and important time capsule of the American traveling carnival and sideshow as it was at that particular moment in time (footage from She-Freak has turned up in numerous documentaries on the subject). The color photography really gives the film a rich and gaudy ambience, and there are certain moments, particularly those between Jade and Sparky in his grotty trailer, which look like the cover art of a vintage adult paperback come to life. There’s no nudity and only a small smattering of blood, but it’s still one of the classic exploitation flicks of its era, and it enjoyed a solid run of the grindhouse and drive-in circuits, where it did the rounds for several years. 

Despite the film’s lack of skin, Claire Brennan still manages to project a teasing and raw sensuality. There are a some terrifically framed shots which capture her at various times throughout the movie - particularly effective are an early shot of her standing at the door of the diner she works for, the sunlight providing a clear suggestion of the form which lies under her uniform, and a very Ruse Meyer-esque shot of her framed in a low angle shot between the tight-jeaned crotch of Blackie.  Brennan was in her early-thirties when she played the role of Jade, something which I think helped project the character’s sense of wanting something a bit better from life before it’s too late. Tragically, she died of cancer not long after the film was released, at the age of only 43. She looks amazing in She-Freak, strutting about the carnival in pink tights and matching sleeveless blouse. Among her other credits were the 1961 prohibition-set sexploitation flick The Touchables, appearances on numerous episodic television shows (including Gunsmoke, S.W.A.T. and The Streets of San Francisco), and a bit part in the 1977 Gene Hackman film The Domino Principle.

Elsewhere in the film’s cast we have Felix Silla as Shorty, and Ben Moore as a carnival advance man. Silla’s most famous role was as Cousin Itt in the original Addams Family television show (1964 - 1966), as well as Twiki the robot (voiced by Mel Blanc) on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981). He was also an Ewok, and played the child ape who spots Carlton Heston sneaking through a simian funeral in Planet of the Apes (1968). Rumors circulated that Silla and Brennan had a love affair in real-life, and that she had even fathered his child! Fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis will recognize Ben Moore from the classic Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and the lurid partner-swapping melodrama Suburban Roulette (1968). No genuine human oddities were featured in the movie - the freaks were all created with make-up that is rather minimal, but made effective by mood and some creative color filters. The final make-up used to transform Jade into a freak is a classic piece of exploitation design (courtesy of low-budget make-up artist extraordinaire, Harry Thomas), and made for a memorable image on the film’s poster and publicity material (it also graced the front cover of issue number 34 [June 1974] of the classic newspaper-format monster magazine The Monster Times).

Also released, briefly and without Friedman’s permission, as Asylum of the Insane (with unrelated 3D footage attached), She-Freak appeared on VHS through several labels during the 1980s and 90s, including Magnum and Something Weird, before the later issued it on DVD in 2000, in a nice special edition which featured an audio commentary from Friedman, along with the original trailer and a collection of rare archival black & white carnival footage from the 1930s (with sound). The DVD was also included in Something Weird’s four-pack ‘Freak Show’ box set from 2004 (a set which also included Brad Grinter’s Blood Freak [1972], Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks [1974], and Basket Case [1982]).

Saturday, June 20, 2015


No dino classic, but a surprisingly fun romp for the duration of the ride. I liked the little nods to the 1993 original (along with Jaws), and the sense of Westworld/Futureworld which director Colin Trevorrow brings to it. Bryce Dallas Howard doesn't hurt the film's visual appeal, either. Nice Saturday afternoon escapism.


With a running time of just over two hours, Mike Malloy’s 2012 documentary Eurocrime! is a mostly excellent and information-packed look at the violent Italian 'poliziotteschi' movies that were immensely popular in their home country and other foreign markets during the 1970's, but were pretty much ignored or scorned at the time in the US (though they started building a cult audience there on VHS in the 80's). Flourishing as an Italian genre after the popularity of the spaghetti westerns had started to die out, the poliziotteschi films were made up of such tough titles as The Italian Connection (1972), High Crime (1973) and Violent Naples (1976).
Eurocrime! traces the roots, rise and eventual fall of the poliziotteschi films, and interviews some of the biggest surviving players from the genre, including director Enzo G. Castellari and actors Franco Nero, John Saxon, Joe Dallesandro, Henry Silva, Fred Williamson and Antonio Sabata (the poliziotteschi films would often import a minor or once-major name from the US to increase their international marketability). Unfortunately there is virtually no female participation in the documentary - certainly the poliziotteschi films were very machismo and male-oriented, and the doco does have a section covering the misogyny inherent in the films, but it would have been nice to have had some input from some more of the female names who appeared in these movies (Nicoletta Machiavelli is the only female interviewee here).
The little moments of animation used do not really suit the style and tone of the subject, and the narration sometimes comes across like a bland high school classroom lecture, but anyone whole loves the poliziotteschi films should be able to overlook any of its little drawbacks and devour it from start to finish.