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Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1959) | A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)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)

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

[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.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

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.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

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.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

ALAN’S VERDICT
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.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

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

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Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) | Mario Bava’s pop art whodunit is simply ravishing on Blu-ray

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

With a Pop Art nod to Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, Ten Little Indians, Mario Bava’s 1970 giallo Five Dolls for an August Moon (aka 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto) is a tour de force, while Arrow Video’s new HD restoration release is a must-have. And here’s why…

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

Playboy industrialist George Stark (Teodora Corrà) gathers a group of bourgeois friends at his beach house retreat for the weekend, where the guest of honour is Professor Farrell (William Berger (Faccia a Faccia), a brilliant chemist who has developed a new formula for a revolutionary synthetic resin. Armed with $1m cheques, the guests try to woo Farrell, but he’s just not interested. The potential investors then turn on each other, with one of them restorting to murder to get their hands on the formula…

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

Maria Bava called Five Dolls his worst film and said he only did it for the money. But I think he does it an injustice (and it’s not anywhere as bad as Dr Goldfoot & the Girls Bombs). OK, it might have a wayward narrative, but it’s difficult not to get carried away by Bava’s dazzling visuals and production design, the camera and editing, the jazzy go-go lounge score, and the colourful characters, played by genre favourites, including Edwige Fenech and Howard Ross.

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

A master of the giallo, each time Bava returned to the genre he tried something different. This misfire, which he edited as well as directed, is no exception. If his Girl Who Knew Too Much was a ‘monochrome Hitchcockian masterpiece in terror‘, and his Blood and Black Lace, a ‘spellbinding essay in sexual perversity‘, then his Five Dolls is a dazzling Pop Art portrait of bourgeois excess, brought to maximum effect by the film’s gaudy fashions, modernist décor, and sly camera tricks (especially those purposefully hilarious close-ups).

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

While Bava’s slasher prototype Bay of Blood showed us each murder in explicit gory detail, all the deaths in Five Dolls occur off-screen. But it doesn’t matter, as Bava comes up with a gleefully grim-tastic device: wrapping his corpses in plastic and then having them hang them like butcher meat in a freezer to the tune of some off-key carousel music.

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

And speaking of music, the film’s kitsch jazz lounge score is by Piero Umiliani, who is best known for the novelty song Mah Nà, Mah Nà, which I’ve always associated with Sesame Street. But it was actually first used in an Italian mondo called Sweden Heaven and Hell. Now, I’ll never think of it the same way.

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

I can’t stress how gorgeous the Arrow Video restoration release looks on Blu-ray, which I’ve watched three times now (one for the film itself, one with Tim Lucas’ hugely informative audio commentary, and one with just that brilliant music). Which means I can finally chuck my copy of 2001 Image Entertainment DVD release.

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)THE ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations, re-mastered from the original film elements. Once you’ve seen this, you’ll be chucking out your old DVD versions (which is exactly what I did).
• Optional English and Italian soundtracks in original uncompressed mono PCM audio.
• Optional isolated Music and Effects track: If you don’t already have the Cinevox OST CD then this is the closest you’ll get to hearing Piero Umiliani’s knockout score, which includes his Eyes Without a Face homage, Fantoccio Grottesco.
• Optional English subtitles for the Italian audio and English subtitles
• Tim Lucas audio commentary: This is a must-hear as Lucas provides some amazing insights into the film’s production and underlying themes. But be prepared for some big reveals (like the fact the fab house is just a matt painting and a studio set).
Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre: This documentary may be 16 years old, but it does boast some informative interviews with genre favourites Joe Dante, John Carpenter and Tim Burton.
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring articles on Bava’s film and exploitation distributor Edwin John (EJ) Fancey.

Blood and Black Lace (1964) | Mario Bava’s sumptuous, spellbinding essay in sexual perversity is simply fabulous in HD

Blood and Black Lace (1964)A fashion house of glamorous models becomes a terror house of blood!
When model Isabella is strangled, she leaves behind a diary containing the dark secrets of her fellow models and colleagues, and evidence that a Rome haute couture salon, owned by Contessa Cristina Como (Eva Bartok) and her lover Max (Cameron Mitchell), is a front for drug smuggling and blackmail. When the diary disappears, a masked killer begins picking off the models in brutal fashion. But is the fiend really only after the diary, or is it ‘mere female beauty’ that’s making him kill and kill again?

Guaranteed! The 8 greatest shocks ever filmed!
Having established a template for the Italian thriller (giallo) genre with 1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, visionary director Mario Bava introduced a box of new cinematic tricks (including colour) for his highly-stylised Blood and Black Lace in 1964. Excessive, eccentric, experimental and elaborate in its cinematic style and language, this Grand Guignol murder mystery is one of cinema’s most influential offerings, and a real showcase for Bava’s inventive visual trickery.

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It’s hard to imagine today, but this glamorous shocker, originally titled Sei Donne per l’Assassino (Six Women for the Murderer), wasn’t that well received on its original release. But its cult status flourished and is now regarded as the foremost example of 1960s Italian horror cinema and a landmark film that spearheaded the giallo genre. Without it, Dario Argento’s psycho-thrillers most certainly would never have happened, nor the giallo-fused psychedelia of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and their ilk.

But Bava’s beautifully photographed, ahead-of-its-time, gore murder thriller is also genuinely disturbing; ‘confronting us with a sado-voyeuristic delirium that simultaneously fascinates and repels’.* In his faceless mask, the killer carries out his sadistic attacks in a most violent fashion: misogynistic it most certainly is. But in the haunted world of Mario Bava, violence, eroticism and horror is always carried out with impeccable taste and a dark sensuality that’s hard to resist. And with Blood and Black Lace, you also get a swinging bossa nova soundtrack and a sumptuous setting (the real life Vialla Sciarra park in Rome) to entice you back, again and again…

Blood and Black Lace (1964)THE ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
Blood and Black Lace has been exclusively restored in 2k resolution for Arrow Films with the participation of Bava biographer Tim Lucas, and features audio restoration on both Italian and English tracks, but keeps some of the loose audio synch (owing to it being recorded in post-production – hence why the legendary Paul Frees gets to dub pratically all of the male characters) as per the original theatrical release.

Arrow has certainly done itself proud with this HD release, which is presented in dual format (Blu-ray/DVD), as well as in a limited edition SteelBook (Arrow Store exclusive), and features new artwork by Graham Humphreys. Just look at what else you get for your buck?

THE EXTRAS
• Tim Lucas audio commentary (fascinating and informative, as you’d expect).
Psycho Analysis: Documentary featuring interviews with Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and crime novelist Carlo Lucarelli.
• Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani discuss their love of the genre (love these guys).
Yellow (2013): Writer/director Ryan Haysom’s loving-crafted 2013 crowd-funded cine-experimental short about an old man on the hunt for a vicious serial killer in neon-lit Berlin.
• Trailer: This restored trailer revels in the film’s graphic violence and eroticism.
Gender and Giallo: Michael Mackenzie’s visual essay on giallo’s relationship with social upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s.
Blood and Bava: 2014 Courmayeur Noir Film Festival panel discussion with Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava and Steve Della Casa.
The Sinister Image: David Del Valle’s two-part 1986 interview with Cameron Mitchell, in its entirety.
• US Opening: Excellent, evocative mannequin filled alternate Filmation credit sequence sourced from Joe Dante’s private print of the film. In HD.
• The collector’s booklet contains articles on the film’s cinematic artistry and the actors playing the murder suspects (including George Clooney’s uncle and Italy’s Peter Lorre), one on Joe Dante reflecting on Bava’s work and an interview with Cameron Mitchell, plus a review on the 2013 short, Yellow, and notes on the restoration.

* Phil Hardy. Encyclopedia of Horror Movies

Rabid Dogs (1974) | Mario Bava’s legendary lost psycho-drama is a blistering thrill-ride

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Lock the doors, roll-up the windows, and buckle up for the ride of your life!
One sweltering Friday morning, the Ajaccio street gang make off with the wages of a pharmaceutical company after a violent raid. When their driver is shot dead and their getaway car runs out of petrol, they take hostage a man on his way to hospital with his sick son in the back seat and a woman out shopping. The gang then head out of the city…

Rabid Dogs (1974)
Mario Bava is one of those film directors who really can turn his unique talents to any genre: horror, sci-fi, psychological thriller, fantasy. And his 1974 crime thriller Rabid Dogs (aka Cani Arrabbiati), is one that I have always wanted to see, but never got around to, mainly because Bava never got to finish it (the producer went bankrupt and the footage impounded), and the releases that came out after his death in 1980 were never his intended vision. Now, Bava’s psycho-drama has been given the Arrow makeover, and they should be commended for undertaking this once lost cinematic gem. It’s the best thing they have done, to date.

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Bava was really hurt by the failure of his dream project Lisa and the Devil (read my review of the Arrow release here), so he decided to try his hand at a crime thriller, which had become popular in Italy in the mid-1970s following the success of the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. The veteran director drew his inspiration from a 1971 mystery magazine short story (which is reprinted in the collector’s booklet), then put his own spin on the story (adapted by Alessandro Parenzo) by setting it in real time, using real locations (mainly concrete highways, petrol stations and an underground car park), and giving it a docu-Hitchcockian vibe.

It was a departure for a filmmaker best known for artfully-conceived, studio-bound Gothic chillers and psycho thrillers drenched in vivid purple and green lighting effects. But for this sun-scorched thriller, he dispensed with artifice to get up close and personal with the sweating cast crammed inside a stifling hot car (you can almost smell the fear – and the BO), while we, the audience, watch as the power play between the criminals and their hostages builds to a blistering climax (and very clever twist ending).

Rabid Dogs (1974)

It’s this claustrophic technique that makes Rabid Dogs rise the countless other ‘poliziottesco’ films of the era, and why it has its champions in the likes of Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas (who supplies the audio commentary on the Arrow release and also helped rescue it from obscurity in the 1990s) and genre specialist Stephen Thrower, who best sums up the film as ‘a taut, energised, antagonistic film suffused with an amphetamine intensity that leaves the viewer knotted with anxiety and frustration’.(*)

What also grabbed me was the mesmerising performances; particularly Lea Lander (who reminded me of Karen Black), whose unfortunate hostage gets pawed at, slobbered over and humiliated by two of the thugs, Thirty-Two (played by Luigi Montefiori, aka Western star George Eastman) and Blade (Don Backy). These guys are so maniac with their facial expressions its quite unnerving to watch. Brilliant though!

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Interestingly, it was Lander who helped revive the film from obscurity in the first place by putting together the film’s original DVD release in 1998. The film was then re-edited and re-scored by Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son) and released under the title Kidnapped (a re-mastered HD version is included in Arrow’s release).

Arrow’s restoration, however, is a re-master of Bava’s intended version of the film and uses composer Stelvio Cipriani‘s original retro score (completed for Bava’s first cut), which is way better than the tinny synth track he created for Kidnapped. I could go on – but really just do yourself a favour and add this one to your cult collection. It’s a winner!

Arrow’s special features include both the Blu-ray and DVD presentation of Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped with new English subtitles. Also included is the 2007 documentary, End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped, an interview with Umberto Lenzi, and the alternate Semaforo Rosso title sequence.

(*) Quote from Stephen Thrower’s Fear by Noonlight [great title btw] article in the collector’s booklet

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) | Mario Bava’s Hitchcockian ABC of terror gets a re-mastered HD release

 

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What Does It Want? What Will Satisfy Its Cravings?
Young American secretary Nora Davis (Letícia Román) loves reading murder mystery novels, but never dreamed she’d end up in a real life case. Whilst visiting an elderly aunt in Rome, she witnesses a murder on the steps of Piazza di Spagna. But with no body, the police and a young doctor, Marcello Bassi (John Saxon), refuse to believe her story. Nora then starts researching a 10-year-old case involving the Alphabet Killer, only to end up his next intended victim. Can she convince Marcello that she isn’t imagining things before the bodies start piling up?

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The first true Giallo?
Mario Bava is credited with inventing two of cinemas most iconic genres: the giallo (in La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo aka The Girl Who Knew Too Much) and the slasher (A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve). This inventive 1963 thriller was a new direction for the director, who had previously helmed the gothic shocker Black Sunday (1960) and peplum adventures like Hercules in the Haunted World (1961). Intended as an homage to Hitchcock and a macabre twist on fluffy European vacation romcoms like 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain, La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo ended up laying the blueprint for all those gory Italian thrillers that followed in its wake. Now it was the killings that took star billing rather than the mystery, and Bava would continue to hone this stylistic device from his 1964 shocker Blood and Black Lace to 1971’s A Bay of Blood (the ultimate slasher template for Friday the 13th and its ilk). Indeed, if it weren’t for this for The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Dario Argento may never have had the career he’s had.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Bava’s striking chiaroscuro lighting and masterful camerawork certainly comes to the fore in this, his last black and white feature, while his innate style makes this thriller something special indeed. The original Italian film was re-edited, re-scored and re-titled as Evil Eye in the US by American International Pictures, and is much darker in tone as it dispenses with much of the comedy that Bava envisaged. Which begs the question: which version is the better? Well, I prefer the moody original, although I love how Les Baxter’s score on Evil Eye makes the comedic elements shine through. Bava’s next effort, Black Sabbath, was also re-edited for the US market (read my review of the Arrow release here).

Star Letícia Román ditched acting five years after making this film and went on to make her fortune in the property market. BTW: The catchy theme tune, Furore, is sung by Italy’s best-selling male singer Adriano Celentano.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Digitally re-mastered from the original pre-print film elements, Arrow presents the film in both its original Italian version (La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo) and the longer US cut, entitled Evil Eye. Both versions contain new English subtitle track, and a High Rising featurette in which filmmakers Luigi Cozzi and Richard Stanley and authors Alan Jones and Mikel Koven reflect on Mario Bava’s first true giallo.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Evil Eye
• Uncompressed 2.0 mono PCM audio for both versions
• Optional English subtitles on both titles
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas (this was originally included in the Anchor Bay/Starz DVD box-set release in 2007)
• Introduction by Alan Jones (also on the Anchor Bay/Starz release)
Remembering the Girl: Interview with John Saxon (also on the Anchor Bay/Starz release)
• International and US trailers
• Reversible Sleeve featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse

Black Sabbath (1963) | Mario Bava’s trilogy of terror starring Boris Karloff now even more nightmarish in HD

Black Sabbath (1963)

THIS IS THE NIGHT OF THE NIGHTMARE… THE DAY OF THE UNDEAD
Boris Karloff plays master of ceremonies in 1963’s Black Sabbath, an Italian trilogy of terror from director Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Lisa and the Devil). The Telephone, set in the 1960s, is a giallo-inspired story in which a prostitute gets blood on her hands when she asks a friend to help her escape from her former pimp. The Drop of Water, adapted from a tale by Ivan Chekhov, concerns a Victorian-era nurse who gets her comeuppance when she steals a ring from the corpse of a clairvoyant. While the final sequence, The Wurdalak, adapted from a Tolstoy story, stars Boris Karloff as the patriarch of a 19th-century Russian family who turns out to be a vampire that feeds on the blood of his loved ones.

Black Sabbath (1963)

NOT SINCE ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ HAVE YOU SEEN SUCH HORROR!
Mario Bava, who kick-started the golden age of Italian horror with 1960’s Black Sunday, followed his monochrome masterpiece with this colourful horror anthology that has since become a firm favourite among horror fans.

The first two stories are atmospheric ‘sting in the tail’ thrillers featuring Bava’s unique camerawork and lighting, while the final one is a remarkable stylistic achievement that is pure Bava thanks to its comical ending. The US release was edited to make it more of a spookfest and replaced Roberto Nicolosi’s music with a score from Les Baxter (who also scored many of Roger Corman’s Poe films). But UK fans can now see both versions in Arrow Video’s deluxe release.

Black Sabbath (1963)

THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
The Arrow Films dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) deluxe edition features I tre volti della paura, the European version with the Nicolosi score, and Black Sabbath, the re-edited and re-dubbed US version with the Les Baxter score. Also included is a brilliant new featurette explaining the differences between the two versions, new subtitles, artwork from Graham Humphreys, collector’s booklet, plus the same extras that were included on the 2007 DVD release. Region 2/B. Cert 15.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beAcj_XNt78%5D

DID YOU KNOW?
It was in 1969 that a certain British heavy metal band from Birmingham adopted the film’s title (they originally called themselves Earth) and changed their music style after seeing fans queuing up to see Bava’s film at their local cinema. The rest is history.

Amer (2009) | A stylish, sensual love letter to the Italian giallo genre

Amer (2009)

When it comes to suspense, horror and the fantastique, the calibre of film-making can range from slick, big-budget blockbusters to fan-made, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, endeavours. I love them all equally but, only occasionally, does something come along that really touches me. One such film is 2009’s Amer. This meticulously crafted labour of love – the brainchild of Belgian film-makers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani – pays tribute to the the 1960s and 1970s Italian giallo (thrillers) that have greatly informed the duo’s individual artistic visions. Highly-stylised and virtually dialogue-free, Amer (meaning ‘bitter’ in French) explores one woman’s quest for sensual awakening over three stages in her life as experienced through her senses.

Amer (2009)

The first – which takes its inspiration from a segment in Mario Bava’s 1963 Black Sabbath trilogy – sees Ana as a young child attending her grandfather’s wake. Relying solely on sound effects – from heavy breathing to whispers – Cattet and Forzani create an air of unease and eerie dread as little Ana watches the family maid conducting strange rites over her grandfather’s corpse, and then is shocked seeing her mother having sexual intercourse.

The second part draws on Japanese ‘pink’ films. Now a hormonal teenager, Ana strolls into a seaside village one hot summer’s day and becomes aroused by the sights and sounds around her – in particular, the sound of the sea and of a youth playing with a ball. Originally planned as a short, this section was the springboard from which Amer grew.

The final act, in which an adult Ana returns to her family’s now rundown estate, is where Amer triumphs. After a taxi ride that turns into a wildly erotic daydream, Ana settles into the mansion. But her solitude is soon disturbed by masked men who chase her into the estate’s wild, overgrown garden. Ana’s surreal living nightmare finally comes to an end in a shocking, erotically-charged climax…

Amer (2009)

I had so much fun trying to pinpoint the film’s many visual points of reference – the mansion is a nod to Dario Argento’s Deep Red, while a runaway football recalls the Toby Dammit segment in Fellini’s Spirits of the Dead – and this from two film-makers with no formal training? Wow! As a paean to the power of seduction, Amer is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses and a wonderful example of ‘film as art’ that plays beautifully on both the big and small screens. Anyone who loves bloody good editing will lap this up and if you want to see what the Belgian Bavas did next, check out my review for their debut feature, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears.

Amer is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, and screens regularly on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138).

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