Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I didn't expect to be depressed after seeing CRAVING DESIRE (GRAFFIANTE DESIDERIO, 1993). Really depressed. I expected that the film would be a kinky soft-core sex item that would, if successful, pleasantly stir the libido and nothing more. But, though it has some wonderful kinky moments, CRAVING DESIRE raises troubling and serious questions I wasn't expecting in regard to the man-woman relationship. Are the women a man falls in love with and lusts after a negative force in a man's life? Is there no "good woman" who will value and accept a man, if he is a nice guy, for what he is? And what is that damnable power a woman has that can drive a man to madness or destruction?
Ron Nummi plays the handsome and successful real estate executive, Luigi Muscati, who is nearing the date of his marriage. We meet his fiancee (played by Simona Borioni) and she is a poster girl for the bitchy female, situated in her own mind and behavior as Princess Who Must Be Obeyed, with giant expectations of how the man who is fortunate enough to be graced by her presence should act. As she gets ready for brief lovemaking, she admonishes Luigi: "Don't put your shoes on the bed. One of your habits that have got to go." Getting into bed, she nags him about the dripping faucet in the bathroom, and then: "Oh, God, what cold feet!... Don't mess my hair, it took me hours to get into shape!... You're so clumsy!" Hey, she's acting this way and they are still not married. Talk about jumping the gun!
Gliding into the picture is Luigi's cousin, Sonia, who has not had contact with him since she was a girl. A fully developed woman now (very much so!), Sonia's eyes twinkle with admiration and a mischievous coquetry. She initiates acts of seduction, while Luigi, still honorably devoted to his fiancee, tries to defend himself. Soon enough, the expectant happens: Luigi dumps his bitchy fiancee for the pleasures and giddy freedom that Sonia so joyously and provocatively offers. For Luigi, sex is now the best he's ever had. Where a man's penis goes, his head and heart follow. But, wait, there's a price to pay around the corner, which I won't get into so as not to spoil the plot.
Ron Nummi has an unassuming, likable, almost childlike presence here, thankfully absent any arrogance, and while initially you don't think he could handle the more dramatic parts of a role, Nummi, when necessary, proves himself to be an admirable actor with thespian stretch. As to the actresses.... Ah, this is the type of film that confirms (or keeps up the pretense) that every Italian woman wears sexy black stockings under her dress, and that sooner or later, a lingerie tease will be spotlighted for the man (temporary or not) in her life. As Sonia, Vittoria Belvedere is suitably hot and wild, and male viewers will greatly appreciate the moments when she reveals her body. Serena Grandi, known in the U.S. mostly for starring in Tinto Brass' MIRANDA (1985), is the epitomee of the MILF. To her, I surrender, and accept any damnation coming my way.
Both script and direction are by Sergio Martino, one of Italy's great directors of genre cinema. (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH, CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TALE, MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, etc.) Martino still remains active these days, and it's good to know that he's been able to keep himself employed in smaller cinematic dimensions, such as CRAVING DESIRE.
Because CRAVING DESIRE is presented full frame, the film as a TV quality to it, as if it were prepared, in part, for the United States soft-core cable market, with an option for worldwide theatrical viewing. If I'm correct in assuming that this film was partially planned for the U.S. cable stations, it may justify the presence of an American actor like Ron Nummi in the film, who obviously is speaking English, as opposed to most of the rest of the cast, who, clearly speaking Italian, are dubbed into English. Picture quality on the Mya DVD is impressive, though the audio (both English and Italian) seems on the tinny side.
Recently, the parody site, The Onion, had a piece about a fictitious Lifetime Television channel for men that would have a similar weeping ethos to the very real Lifetime Television for women. CRAVING DESIRE would be a perfect film placed in such a male channel's schedule. While watching such films as CRAVING DESIRE, men could cry over their fate and take solace in their united destiny of needing and delighting in women, but being damned by them too. But would this be a manly activity?
CRAVING DESIRE is on sale from Amazon.com.
Original Italian poster:
Monday, April 27, 2009
Lamberto Bava's DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE (A CENA COL VAMPIRO, 1988):
Sergio Ammirata's ITALIAN SEX (SESSO IN TESTA, 1974):
Camillo Bazzoni's MAFIA CONNECTION (E VENNE IL GIORNO DEI LIMONI NERI, 1970) [aka BLACK LEMONS]:
The second listed title is not on "The List," so we may see, on occasion, unexpected releases from Mya. Below is the cover of an Italian DVD of this title. This film is a sex comedy, btw.
I thought that the cover for ITALIAN SEX looked familiar and that the artist was trying to capture Laura Gemser. And the stand-alone pose on the Mya DVD is rather odd. A Google search turned up the answer. Here is a cover from the X-Rated DVD of EMANUELLE IN THE COUNTRY, obviously taken from an original poster, which the Mya DVD also uses:
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
A co-production between Italy (Imprecine) and Spain (Hispamer Film), THE REVENGE OF THE CRUSADER (1964) is a rarely seen movie, scripted by Riccardo Freda, that adds one more small piece to the bigger picture of the European adventure-romance film. Imprecine also co-produced with Hispamer Riccardo Freda's GIULIETTA E ROMEO (JULIET AND ROMEO), for which Freda wrote the screenplay and directed. Jose Luis Monter is credited as director of REVENGE, but the possibility exists that some, if not all, of the work is Freda's, as credit forgeries for quota purposes in foreign co-productions were not uncommon during this time. And, as sometimes happened in his career, Freda would walk off the set before finishing a film, handing completion off to someone else. The Italian credits make particular note of Freda by announcing before the title credit that the film is "realizzata" by him. If THE REVENGE OF THE CRUSADER is Freda's work, it will not advance his reputation much, however.
The original title, GENOVEFFA DI BRABANTE, clues us in that this was a star vehicle for Spain's Maria Jose Alfonso, a historical drama/romance set during the times of the Crusades, but not an epic filled with battles or any cast of thousands dazzle. What most will not know here in the States is that the film is actually based on a popular European legend. A Wikipedia entry informs us about Genovefa of Brabant:
"Her story is a typical example of the widespread tale of the chaste wife falsely accused and repudiated, generally on the word of a rejected suitor. Genovefa of Brabant was said to be the wife of the palatine Siegfried of Treves, and was falsely accused by the majordomo Golo. Sentenced to death she was spared by the executioner, and lived for six years with her son in a cave in the Ardennes nourished by a roe. Siegfried, who had meanwhile found out Golo's treachery, was chasing the roe when he discovered her hiding-place, and reinstated her in her former honour.... The Genevieve tale first obtained wide popularity in L'Innocence reconnue, ou vie de Sainte Genevieve de Brabant (pr. 1638) by the Jesuit Rene de Cerisiers (1603-1662), and was a frequent subject for dramatic representation in Germany." Italy already visited the subject in a Primo Zeglio directed film made in 1947.
While it's nice seeing Alperto Lupo of ATOMIC AGE VAMPIRE on the screen in a heroic role, the captivating presence here is Stephen Forsyth, known to euro-cultists for his role as John Harrington in Mario Bava's HATCHET FOR A HONEYMOON. Forsyth plays up his villainous role with gusto, continually exhibiting the brewing insanity in his piercing eyes and tweaking what may have been a homosexual veneer to his character. His performance is not as wild and over-the-top as what John Drew Barrymore would do in similar historical tales, but it is authentic and mesmerizing in its own dimensions, and sure to delight those who may have little interest in seeing this film. And his character has use for the axe here, just as his Harrington character would in the Bava film.
Despite the faults of this admittedly minor film, I have to admit to being moved by a couple of scenes near the end. Stephen Forsyth's performance is a vital element in keeping the film percolating, as leads Lupo and Maria Jose Alfonso merely perform their expectant duties. Carlo Rustichelli's score is appreciated for its workman-like job, and the talented composer shines with a melody employing a beautiful female vocal that is, unfortunately, little played in the film. The directing is fairly standard, but there is one murder sequence, coming late in the film, that is brilliantly realized, with its silent corridor and sinister steps perspective, and which reminded me of some of Freda's best work. Was he responsible?
The Mya presentation is in Italian audio only, with removable English subtitles that are occasionally too literal and oddly phrased. Picture quality is good. The framing at 1.85:1 is slightly tight at times for what probably was a 1.66:1 European exhibition, but generally this framing issue is not a problem and unnoticeable. My copy had some instances of brief motion jerks, indicating some PAL to NTSC conversion issue, but another reviewer of this DVD didn't mention this, so perhaps the problem is just my disc.
It's always good to have such a film, based on a European legend unfamiliar to Americans, available for the curious, the connoisseur and the collector.
The Mya DVD is available from Amazon.com.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
What surprised me most while I was filling in the list is how many giallo films are on it, many notorious and also many rare. There are a couple of spaghetti westerns in there, a good number of horror films (including a few from the 1960s), and the expected Decameron films and sex comedies (but not as much as I thought there would be).
So let's hope for the best, as this is a treasure drove.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
While most eyes in Mya's release schedule have thus far been on FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, another film, a better one I think, has been unfairly overlooked. SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (1982) has an interesting transformational history. The project started out as a two-parter for Italian TV (100 minutes for each part) and then morphed into a theatrical feature. I'm not clear on whether the two parter ever got actualized (it appears not), but scenes exist from it that were not in the subsequent main feature and which are now included in the supplemental section of the Mya DVD.
SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS concerns the connection a young woman in New York has with "the Immortals," who are represented by the Etruscans who once resided in a part of Italy and held mystical rites in sulfur-steaming caverns. This young woman, Joan Barnard, is naturally a reincarnation of one of the Immortals, and she travels to Italy to uncover the meaning of her dreams and the reason for the murder of her husband, the archeologist Arthur Barnard (played by John Saxon) who was found with this head brutally twisted around, apparently an old Etruscan method of sacrifice or extermination.
SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS brought me wonderfully back to the days when Italian horror cinema ruled the exploitation venues of the world. This is not only due to the subject matter, partially incoherent and partially psychotronic in that unique Italian way, but to the periodic clunky dubbing, the vapidness of the lead actress, the presence of an over-the-hill elder American actor (Van Johnson), the fluid direction from such a genre master as Sergio Martino and an intriguing script by the now legendary Ernesto Gastaldi, the world view that human life is cheap, and the score by Fabio Frizzi, which may be the most important element in giving SCORPION a Fulci feel without this being a Fulci film. There is even the obligatory weekend shoot in New York (with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in view) to evoke the memories of similar films that left the Italian production line in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Because the initial purpose for this film was for a television presentation, there is little gore and zero nudity, but instead SCORPION relies on the bizarre method of murder--the twisting of a head till the front is at the back--and sinister atmosphere to intrigue one and keep one captivated. And there's plenty of atmosphere, with much spooky adventuresome entries into and explorations of corridors and caverns below the earth, all scored melancholically yet tensely by Frizzi. (The television only scenes in the supplemental section are also damn chilling, too.)
As Joan Barnard, actress Elvire Audray is simply terrible--a doe-eyed pretty presence with little substance and acting skills on display. True, much of the fault can be placed in the fact that she seems to have been mouthing her lines in phonetic English for later dubbing, exaggerating the words in the process, so that she appears to be speaking more slowly--and therefore dumbly--than she should. To make matters worse, the actress dubbing her is also woefully uninspired. Somehow, however, Elvire Audray and her faults fit in with the foreign exploitation feel of this film. An exceptional actress would undoubtedly have spoiled the mood.
Many of the other players are euro-acting professionals, however, interesting faces with a viable presence--and it's always nice to see John Saxon turn up in something like this. There are a number of points still unresolved or not further brought up by the time the film ends, this due no doubt to the pruning of what must have been a much longer script. Why, for instance, is Joan continually sweating? (One can surmise because she's connected spiritually to the ancient Etruscan steaming sulfur pits.) What is the final significance of the "two tails" of the Etruscan scorpion design? Is the supernatural presence in the Etruscan cavern the lover/husband of the woman who would be reincarnated as Joan Barnard in the modern world?
Had SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS ever appeared in its full two-part form, it may have proved to be a notable and fascinating television program, one mentioned frequently in books on Italian horror and a holy grail for many. As it is, despite its faults, it can be easily considered a minor gem.
The Mya DVD is on sale at Amazon.com.