Category Archives: Euro horror
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!
Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.
Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.
Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.
My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.
Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.
Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…
• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno”
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s bizarre and eccentric horror Phenomena.
Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer.
This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, a razor-wielding chimp and that classic horror staple – a monster in the basement.
Argento’s cameras really soar to great heights here. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching Arrow’s new 4k restoration on blu-ray is a real treat watching on a big screen as you find yourself yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties buzzing about.
As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Phenomena when I first saw it on VHS back in the late-1980s, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous supernatural shockers. But it is actually much better than I remembered. In fact, I now ‘get’ what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale, with just a dash of surreal slash and gore. It’s not perfect, but it’s brutally beautiful work of cinematic art just the same – and probably Argento’s last truly great film.
Back in 2011 Arrow released a box-set containing a superb HD transfer of the Italian cut featuring some missing English audio sections, along with a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Now they have set their sights on creating the definitive home entertainment release – and if you look at what’s in the box, it just well maybe so.
• Brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative (Arrow Video exclusive) of the 116-minute Italian version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• New hybrid English/Italian soundtrack 5.1 Surround/or Stereo with English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Jennifer music video, directed by Dario Argento
• Rare Japanese vintage pressbook
• 110-minute international version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• The Three Sarcophagi: a new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie comparing the different cuts of Phenomena
• 83-minute Creepers cut on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• Of Flies and Maggots: feature-length documentary (March 2017) including interviews with Dario Argento, actors Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, Daria Nicolodi and Fiorenza Tessari, co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti
• Remastered soundtrack CD featuring the complete Goblin instrumental soundtrack, plus four bonus tracks by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex Gang
• Limited edition 60-page booklet
Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1959) | A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema
REVIEWED BY ALAN HOARE
The week’s big screen movie was a premier of Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (original Italian title: Caltiki, il Mostro Immortale, British title: The Immortal Monster) a 1959 Italian science fiction-horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava, which neither Chris or I had seen before.
A team of archaeologists investigating Mayan ruins who come across a creature that is a shapeless, amorphous blob. Meanwhile, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth, the very same comet that passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization collapsed, raising the question: “Is there a connection between the creature and the comet”?
* John Merivale as Dr. John Fielding
* Didi Perego as Ellen Fielding
* Gérard Herter as Max Gunther
* Daniela Rocca as Linda
* Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as Prof. Rodriguez’s assistant
* Daniele Vargas as Bob (expedition member)
* Vittorio André as Prof. Rodriguez
* Nerio Bernardi as Police inspector
* Arturo Dominici as Nieto (expedition member)
[WARNING: The following contains spoilers]
The opening narration tells us about the achievements of the Mayan civilisation and their unknown demise leaving their city empty and abandoned. We then see a delirious, worse for wear, man stumble from the ruins of the Mayan city and into his group’s camp (without his partner, both of whom have been exploring a nearby cave). He quickly babbles away madly, repeatedly muttering the word Caltiki. The group sets out for the cave to investigate what happened.
Upon entering the cave they find a huge chamber containing a deep pool of water, behind which on a stone pedestal is a large statue of Caltiki, the vengeful Mayan goddess who was ceremonially presented with human sacrifices.
Puzzled by the pool, they quickly decide to send a man with “full immersion gear” (in other words a diver) to investigate. Descending to the bottom, he finds the sandy bed scattered with Mayan skeletons clad in gold jewelry. Excitedly he surfaces clutching as much gold as he can carry. Although the group advises that he not go down again, he insists that he has plenty of air and suggests that they could all become millionaires from the wealth below. Relenting, they let him descend once more.
As he greedily collects more and more treasure he inadvertently disturbs something and his cable to the surface suddenly begins to move erratically. Fearing for his safety, the group pull him back to the surface, only to find, upon removing his face mask, that his face has been reduced to a decayed mass over his skeleton.
Moments later, a shapeless pulsating creature rears up from the pool, attempting to envelop anyone within reach. Max is caught by the arm but is rescued by John who chops off part of the creature with an axe, freeing Max’s arm.
As the team escapes, the shapeless mass begins to crawl out of the cave. Nearby, there is a tanker truck full of gasoline. John drives the truck directly into the creature , causing a violent explosion which sets fire to the blob, destroying it.
The team returns to Mexico City to take Max to a hospital to treat the small piece of the creature on his arm, which is slowly digesting him. The surgeons carefully remove the creature, wrapping it up. They find that Max’s arm is nothing more than a few moist scraps of flesh connected to the underlying bones and that Max’s face is also begging to deteriorate.
Through experimentation the scientists discover that sample of the creature is a unicellular bacterium that appears to be dead, only to revive and quickly grow when bombarded with radiation. Overnight the janitor inadvertently irradiates the creature which quickly grows, but is destroyed when the laboratory accidentally catches fire.
Investigating the origins of the creature they learn of a comet emitting radiation, which crosses Earth’s path only once in every 850 years, was in the earths orbit at the demise of the Mayan civilisation and now is approaching earth again. Unfortunately, the remaining samples of the creature are stored in the home of Dr. John Fielding. At the comet’s closest approach to Earth, the remaining piece of the blob begins expanding to an enormous size and reproducing. At the same time the deranged Max has escaped hospital and is terrorising Ellen Fielding.
While attempting to convince the Mexican government to send its army to destroy the reproducing blobs, Fielding is arrested for speeding but manages to escape. A colleague finally convinces the authorities to sound an alarm because if the creature multiples it will be beyond even their ability to control.
The government sends a regiment of soldiers equipped with high powered flamethrowers to Dr. Fielding’s home. Upon their arrival, they find that the creatures have multiplied and have overrun the house and grounds. Dr. Fielding’s wife and child have been forced to hide on a second-floor window ledge to escape being devoured. Fielding arrives just in time to save them, just as the soldiers lay waste to the creatures with torrents of fire.
A very enjoyable Italian take on the monster movie, that takes The Quatermass Xperiment as it’s basis, but goes well beyond this with graphic realistically detailed gore and a simply, but marvellously realised creature deigned by Mario Bava, which looks like old towels were utilised to incredible effect. Indeed there are elements of found footage genre and possibly the genesis of David Cronenberg’s body horror sub genre
Special mention must be made of Mario Bava’s excellent use of glass matte painting for the Mayan village were live action is skilfully mixed to strengthen the illusion of the painting, when the mystery man stumbles from the city and then walks directly in front of the painting. The use of sets combined with models is well handled and as realism to the film.
Allegedly, director Riccardo Freda was angered by the way the producers had treated his cinematographer, Mario Bava, on their previous film, I Vampiri. So Freda concocted a way to push Bava into the director’s chair of his next film, Caltiki, The Immortal Monster; he left the project early once Bava had been hired again as the film’s cinematographer. Freda felt that this would lead producer Lionello Santi into recognizing Bava’s talents as a film director. Bava described Caltiki, The Immortal Monster as “my very first film” while noting that Freda had fled the set “because everything was falling to pieces. I managed to carry it out, patching it up here and there”.
Arrow’s Blu-ray release of this long unavailable masterpiece is a wonder to behold. The black and white photography is crisp and detailed whilst still retaining a suitable filmic look. There is the option of English or Italian language, two audio commentaries and several documentaries.
A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
• Audio commentary by Italian Giallo cinema author Troy Howarth
• From Quatermass to Caltiki: a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master: an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki: archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti
We all know Rupert Everett for his foppish roles in a host of costumes romps, being GBF to Julia Roberts and Madonna in a couple of rom-coms, and for pulling on a frumpy dress to play an eccentric headmistress in the St Trinian’s movies, but did you know that back in the 1990s he also tried his hand at horror? It was in 1994’s Dellamorte Dellamore (aka The Cemetery Man), a strange brew of Italian arthouse cinema, horror comedy and Terry Gilliam-style absurdist humour, is director Michele Soavi’s adaptation of a novel by Dylan Dog comic book creator Tiziano Sclavi.
Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the complacent world-weary caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, where the dead come to life seven days after burial. Francesco’s job is to terminate these ‘Returners’ before they escape over the walls. Cynical, amoral and fearful of an outside world where falling in love only ends in rejection, Dellamorte prefers the company of the (un)dead and his routine existence in the cemetery which he tends the help of his faithful assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro).
But when Dellamorte does allow himself to fall in love – with a young widow whom he accidentally kills – his enchanted world is suddenly thrown into total chaos. What follows can only be ‘experienced’ as it’s a real rollercoaster ride of quirky and surreal happenings – a sort of Groundhog Day set in a graveyard.
Dellamorte Dellamore is stunning to look at – filled with the kind of light and colour that’s reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Italian horrors of the 1960s, while the use of an actual cemetery (in Guardea, Umbria) makes it even more fantastical. Everett is a bit wet as the titular hero (he’s certainly no Bruce Campbell), but Hadji-Lazaro is a revelation (his side story is a real treat). The humour might be a bit hit and miss, but it’s the visuals that will stay with you (my favourite – the talking head in a broken TV).
Back in 2012, Shameless Screen Entertainment re-released this mini-masterpiece onto DVD and got director Michele Soavi and writer Gianni Romoli together to share their thoughts (in Italian) as a special feature. I’ve been watching it over and over every since, and revisited it again last night after checking out Shameless latest additions to their Soavi collection The Church and The Sect (check out my review real soon).
Out on DVD through Shameless Screen Entertainment
From Screenbound come two brand new Euro cult film labels, Maison Rouge and Black House Films, which will specialise in sleaze and Euro Horror.
Maison Rouge kicks off with two classic titles, the first is from master of Jess Franco – Female Vampire (aka Bare Breasted Countess) – which arrives on DVD on 6 March 2017, followed by two Patrice Rhomm classics Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg on DVD 13 March 2017 and Elsa Fraulein SS set for release on 17 April 2017.
The first release from Black House Films will be zombie classic Zombie Lake from French horror maestro Jean Rollin, set for DVD on 20 March 2017 and Juan Fortuny’s Crimson on 17 April 2017.
Screenbound’s managing director Alan Byron said: ‘When Screenbound started as Odeon Entertainment 13 years ago with several music productions, our first step into film sales was representing Nigel Wingrove’s Jean Rollin and Jess Franco Euro-shock and sleaze titles for Salvation Films. In a sense, we have now come full circle by launching our own new cult labels – Maison Rouge and Black House Films – which will showcase the best and basest of Euro Exploitation over the next three years. Maison Rouge will focus on sexploitation and once established will bring in new as well as retro cult features. Its sister label, Black House Films, takes its inspiration from the Church of Satan and will release dark, Gothic horrors from the 1960s to 1980s.’
Both imprints are being released on DVD with each having multiple poster art cards inside for collectors. Most releases will have special features included and a selection of titles will be released on limited edition Blu-ray with O Cards.
Alan Byron continued: ‘Plans are already in place to pick up another 20 films for these labels which already have a distinctive design appeal that is being appreciated by the fan base’.
So what do you think? Leave a comment here about which titles you’d like the labels to resurrect…