Saturday, February 28, 2009


I have the Mya DVD of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and will be watching the totality soon and reporting back here, but already there are noises on message boards that the Mya DVD may be slightly botched.

At this time, these seem to be the main problems:

1) The English audio is problematic. It seems in a lower register (slowed down), with the dialog being on occasion hard to make out or even absent in one snippet.

2) There are about 40 seconds missing. These missing seconds are from transition scenes, with the next scene being noticeably too quickly cut into.

On the plus side, the film looks the best it ever has on the video or DVD format, and the Mya DVD reinstates a minute and a half of footage cut from the original English release.

I've spot checked the disc and wasn't bothered by any lower register vocals, but my review was too hasty and brief to accurately access if there is a genuine problem here and not just an issue emerging from the general perfectionist pickiness over DVDs that message boards can burrow into.

Some message board members have expressed the hope that Mya will fix the problems for a replacement disc, but, given Mya's austerity and lack of contact information, I don't think this will happen.

More on this release forthcoming.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


While awaiting a viewing of the latest Mya DVD release, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, I'm going back to the first release from Mya--THE BLIND WOMAN OF SORRENTO (LA CIECA DI SORRENTO), a 1934 Italian film that heralds an early performance by diva actress Anna Magnani.

Based on a popular 1852 novel by Francesco Mastriani, the film is tight with intriguing plotting and cross-plotting, the central focus being whether a young woman, blinded when a child upon the murder of her mother, which she witnessed, will recognize the murderer, now a persistent suitor attempting to inherit the fortune of the blind woman's father. Insistent suspense is provided by a young doctor who arrives from England to perform an operation on the woman that will regain her eyesight, a doctor who happens to be the son of the person wrongly convicted of the murder of her mother.

Anna Magnani does not play the blind woman, but an important side character, the mistress of the murderer. Still in her twenties here, Magnani bristles with the intensity and solidity that she would become famous for later in her career.

The film has the expected older-fashioned acting style of the 1930s--dramatic glances and poses--though this comes across these days as charming and an endearing artifact of an earlier time. Direction, cinematography and set design are all top-notch.

My chief impression while watching this movie was how well many filmmakers knew in those days how to craft their material so that interest in the story was maintained throughout and a sense of fullness was achieved. It's a somewhat melancholic impression, but also one that is appreciative of the chance to view such films, whether on television or via a DVD.

Mya's presentation is in Italian audio with optional English subtitles. Picture quality is good for a film this age.

Click here to order the DVD.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


DOOR INTO DARKNESS (LA PORTA SUL BUIO) presents the four episodes of a Dario Argento produced short giallo series that first appeared on Italy's RAI television in 1973. Previously available in a PAL edition (which quickly sold out), Mya's DOOR INTO DARKNESS marks the first official appearance of this series in the United States. The original film elements have been either lost or destroyed, so any presentation must be sourced from video elements, something that is visually obvious when one views the two-disc set from Mya. Despite this, DOOR INTO DARKNESS is sure to be of value to Argento-philes, though its importance to the casual horror fan will be minimal. The episodes themselves spark and maintain a viewer's interest, but for this reviewer fail to ultimately deliver the thrilling surprises found in Argento's best theatrical feature films. All of the episodes are introduced by a then very young-looking, and, at times, surprisingly good-looking, Argento.

The first episode, "The Neighbour," establishes an efficient fission scenario of a young couple, with baby, who stay overnight in their new groundfloor apartment, over which, in the upper apartment, an older man has just murdered his wife. Naturally, this murderer will soon be threatening the young couple. The couple behavior regarding their baby, however, is unrealistically portrayed, though necessarily so, given how the couple's dilemma resolves itself. A solid effort, directed by Luigi Cozzi, but, because of the couple's odd unthinking lack of care for their child, somewhat wobbly in realism.

The second episode, "The Tram," was helmed by Dario Argento under the alias of Sirio Bernadotte. This is one of those mysteries that challenges the viewer to figure out a classic crime puzzle: How a person can murder someone in full view of witnesses and not be found out. The murder happens aboard a tram, and there are at least half a dozen passengers who should have seen the murder happen but didn't. Unfortunately, a vital clue to the solution of the puzzle is kept from the viewer until nearly the end, and when that clue arrives the identity of the murderer becomes anti-climatic. Still, the episode has it delightful moments, particularly when the detective's wife is chased in the night through the tram yard by the culprit.

The third episode, "Eyewitness," is described in Argento's introduction as the last, so there must have been some switch in order in this, and the previous PAL release's, presentation. A woman, driving home late from the city, almost hits a blonde female who shoots out in front of her car. When she gets out of the car to examine the fallen blonde, she discovers blood streaming out of the blonde's back and a lifeless glaze in her eyes. She notices someone in the woods, who approaches, gun in hand.... Escaping, the woman tells her story to the police, who investigate the supposed scene of the crime--and find neither body, nor any trace of blood. Apparently reshot by Argento when he became dissatisfied with the original director's efforts (Roberto Pariante), this episode will have you on the edge of your seat at times, though if you've seen enough murder mysteries you will be able to figure out what's happening fairly easily. In other words, it's not the mystery that works so much, as it is the way the scenes of suspense are handled.

The fourth episode, "The Doll," is another effort by Cozzi. In this one, a violent mental patient escapes from an asylum and the search is on to find this person's whereabouts before murder occurs. As with "Eyewitness," the viewer who has seen similar mysteries will be able to figure most of what's happening, making Argento's challenge to do so in his introduction empty bravado. Erika Blanc fans should note that she appears briefly in this episode.

Mya's two-disc set also contains Cozzi's 83 minute documentary on Argento, "Dario Argento: Master of Horror," which shows the Italian director in action (on TWO EVIL EYES) and being interviewed, and presents various clips from his films. Unfortunately, Cozzi's lengthy introductions to the television episodes, made for the PAL DVD release, are not to be found in the Mya presentation, so we are denied learning the backstory to this series produced, and partially writen and directed, by Argento.

Because of mundane film elements on display, and the general low-budget nature of the series, DOOR INTO DARKNESS comes across as somewhat depressing and certainly lacking the stylish sleekness of Argento's movies. If you are not an Argento maniac, DOOR INTO DARKNESS should at least satisfy your curiosity, give you an idea of what an Italian TV series from the 1970s is like, and provide you with a few chills and thrills. If you are an Argento maniac, and don't yet have this series in another edition, then this DVD set is clearly for you.

Click here to order the DVD.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mya's May Releases

Ryko Distribution has announced more Mya DVD releases, this time for May 19: THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE, THE RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR and THE SWEET PUSSYCATS. List price for each DVD is $24.95. Below are the covers and sell sheet descriptions (with minor corrections). Beware: Some spoilers are presented in the plot synopses.

THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE. When Countess Erzsebet Bathory (Lucia Bosé) is accidentally splattered with some blood drops from one of her nubile maidservants, the Countess finds out that the blood can preserve her skin young and beautiful. Compelled to kill innocent young girls to use their blood, the Countess is helped by her husband Karl (Espartaco Santoni), who fakes his own death and pretends to be a vampire to fool the superstitious villagers about the source of the exsanguinations. In the meantime Karl finds himself attracted to Marina (Ewa Aulin), the young daughter of a local innkeeper, perhaps another victim for the Countess. Sell Points/Extras Features: Believed one of the best adaptation of Elizabeth Báthory’s legend, this is one of the most disturbing and chilling movies from Spanish horror cult director Jorge Grau (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie). The Legend of Blood Castle is presented in its original full Spanish edit. Deleted and alternate (more explicit) scenes are included as extra contents. Extra: Deleted scenes, Alternate scenes, Italian opening credits, Poster gallery

RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR. Rome, 310 A.D. The Roman Empire is beginning to collapse, and Proconsul Tullius Valerius (Albert Farley) fears that provincial governor Gaius (John Barracuda) has been secretly working with those Germanic barbarians seeking to end Roman rule. Valerius then orders to former gladiator Marcus (Brad Harris) to go undercover and investigate this situation. In Gaius’ territory also lives Lycia (Maria Pia Conte), the beloved of Marcus. Gaius soon learns of Marcus’ plans, and has him captured and unfairly accused of murder. Led to believe that Marcus is guilty, Lycia turns against him, and Gaius condemns the gladiator to be pulled apart by teams of horses. Sell Points/Extras Features: International star Brad Harris leads this classic sword and sandal movie, set in ancient Roman times. Directed under the moniker of Al Albert by genre specialist Bitto Albertini.

THE SWEET PUSSYCATS. Count d’Alsay (Ernst Stankovski) and Colonel Delaroche (Sieghardt Rupp) live in opposite sides of the same castle, of which they contend the ownership. The two gentlemen bet each other who will be the first to bed their respective new virgin maid, and the winner will have the castle. In order to win his bet, Delaroche is forced to ignore his lusty fiancee (Edwige Fenech), who quickly turns her attention to another officer. In the mean time a whole stable of local prostitutes gets involved in the act. Sell Points/Extras Features: This erotic comedy is one of the first efforts by gorgeous Edwige Fenech, who would later become the queen of Italian sexy movies. A rare title, presented fully uncut, in which the young Fenech generously shows herself more than usual. Extra: Photo and poster gallery.